What comes before the Product Launch?

In this article, PM Alum Eric, explores different GTM strategies of top tech companies.

Eric Rascon
April 5, 2024

In my last article, I did a deep dive on Stanley 1 nd how they rediscovered their product-market fit. I realize now that I never properly defined what product-market fit (PMF) is. There are many ways of explaining it but Marc Andreessen defines it best as 2.

“You can always feel when product/market fit is not happening. The customers aren't quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn't spreading, usage isn't growing that fast, press reviews are kind of ‘blah,’ the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.

And you can always feel product/market fit when it is happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it — or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You're hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they've heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house.”

There's another important step that goes into this, which is go-to-market (GTM) strategy. And I want to avoid making the same mistake as I did with the last piece, so I want to identify what go-to-market strategy is, as stated by Product School 3.

“Go-to-market (GTM) is the strategic process a company goes through to make a product or service available to customers (i.e. bring it to market). This is the plan through which you let customers know that your product is available, communicate the value it brings them, and demonstrate why it’s better than the competition.”

I should note that every product is different, and each has its own audience it is targeting. I want to explore how three different companies use completely different go-to-market strategies. All of these companies are also in different industries, such as a cloud hosting service, a stock trading app, and smartphones. Each used their unique strategy, and with that, each found its own success. Let's begin.

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Dropbox may no longer be at the top of its game at this point, as many different companies, including Google and Microsoft, have their proprietary version of cloud hosting services. 

In their prime, in the early 2010s, every company was using Dropbox. Two organizations I was a part of had Dropbox as part of their tech infrastructure. In fact, in the university I went to, you could use your college account to sign up for a premium version of Dropbox at no cost. 

For their go-to-market strategy, they used a referral program. Now referrals are pretty standard amongst companies as part of their strategies. It would be more strange if a company that's starting out didn't use some sort of referral program in their GTM plans. 

Dropbox decided to add its own unique twist to that referral strategy. Dropbox does have a price plan, and within that price plan is a free version. With that free version, you are limited to the memory/bandwidth of how many files and folders you can save. That's where their referral program came into play. If a Dropbox user referred a friend to Dropbox, and that friend signed up, both the user and the friend were given an extra 500 megabytes for their storage. A simple strategy, but with their own unique twist to it, that brought great results.

So much so that signups increased by 60% 4, and they gained 4,000,000 registered users 5 in 15 months. Referral marketing programs, even if they're not traditional, can be used as part of their go-to-market (GTM) plans. Even though it's a decades-old strategy, if used correctly and tailored to your company, it can bring great results.


Even though Robinhood doesn't have the best reputation right now and credibility, they did have an effective strategy that had 1,000,000 users sign up6 before the product had even launched. 

The concept of Robinhood is quite simple. The trading app allows for commission-free trades of stocks and exchange-traded funds, and with its user-friendly experience, you're able to make stock trades straight from your phone. The purpose of the app was to enable the everyday person to trade stocks without having to rely on a specific bank to make trades on their behalf.

At the time of its launch in 2013, there weren't many competitors offering commission-free trade, so they essentially had the market to themselves in that regard. With Robinhood, using it directly from your phone made the process simpler and easier. It wasn’t until six years later that other online trading companies decided to go commission-free to remain competitive 7.

The concept of this business was already appealing to the masses, and Robinhood used a waitlist to generate even more excitement. The waitlist strategy is only effective if the goal is brand awareness rather than immediate revenue growth. The idea is to get people talking about your business and create a sort of magnetism around it that naturally draws people in. The point of a waiting list is to offer access to the product pre-launch, before the official public launch, adding a sense of exclusivity.

This is very similar to nightclubs with long lines. When you see a club with a long line, it suggests that it’s a popular/desirable place to be, based on the number of people waiting.

It did take them three attempts via their visuals for their waitlist campaign narrative to finally achieve a good influx of users signing up. However, their messaging remained consistent.

What helped with their campaign message was securing the first spot on Hacker News 8, which is a very popular tech news source that I recommend everyone to check daily. 

With the waitlist strategy, Robinhood added a bit of gamification, allowing you to see your position on the waiting list. And if you wanted to move up, you could refer a friend. With each friend signing up, you would climb higher on the waiting list. Yet, another example of a company using a traditional go-to-market strategy but ensuring they conducted thorough research and tailored their campaign specifically to meet the psychological needs of their target audience.


Beta testing 9 is predominantly utilized by the video game industry, aimed primarily at understanding user interactions with the game. This process is vital for identifying the aspects of the game that players enjoy, the features they dislike, and any glitches present. Beta testing bears resemblance to the waitlist strategy in that signing up is required, but registration doesn't guarantee participation in the exclusive beta testing phase.

When executed effectively, beta testing can generate excitement amongst users. The extent of their enjoyment can lead to them writing reviews or creating videos that highlight what they find most appealing about the upcoming game, setting expectations for potential players. Indirectly, beta testing can serve as a source of free promotion, be it either positive or negative feedback.

This methodology is not confined to video games alone. Apple, for example, employs it extensively with their iOS updates, inviting users to beta test major transitions, such as from iOS 16 to iOS 17. The focus is to figure out how users adapt to new features or identify any bugs. Facilitating the development of a finalized product optimized for the best user experience upon its official release.

It's crucial, however, to ensure that the beta testing environment is authentic and not a polished version 10. A failure to provide a genuine beta experience can lead to bad outcomes, as seen with Cyberpunk 2077. The game, despite its immense anticipation, expenced a significant loss in its player base almost overnight due to critical issues like frequent crashes. Thus frustrating players and going from a place of anticipation to frustration 11.

Honorable Mentions

Some other strategies that I'd like to mention quickly.

• Facebook's "Little Big Horn" 12 Strategy: This approach involves targeting adjacent markets when traction in the primary target market is challenging to achieve. The concept is based on generating interest and demand in the target market by first attracting those in nearby or related markets. It plays on the idea of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), suggesting that seeing adjacent markets engage with a product will naturally draw in the initial target audience.

• HubSpot's Shift to Chatbots: HubSpot, a CRM platform, transitioned from using live chat to employing chatbots 13 for interacting with potential users. This move resulted in a significant increase in engagement, with 75% more people interacting with the chatbot than with live chat. This strategic shift led to an impressive number of qualified leads, showcasing the effectiveness of embracing automated technology to enhance customer interaction and lead generation.

• The "2GIT" (Too Good) Methodology: This self-coined term describes products that achieve viral success with minimal marketing, primarily through word-of-mouth. A great case is Helldivers 2, a sequel to the original Helldivers game. Despite the first game's small audience, the sequel's significant improvements and high-quality gameplay led to an overwhelming response. The game's success exceeded expectations to the point of server overload, prompting an apology 14 from the developers for the technical issues caused by the high demand 15. This scenario proves how product quality alone can sometimes generate buzz and attract a large audience, even without a distinct marketing effort.

Each of these strategies emphasizes different aspects of market engagement, from expanding target markets and optimizing customer interaction tools to relying on the intrinsic value and appeal of a product to drive its success. The variety in these approaches underscores the importance of adaptability and innovation in reaching and expanding a customer base.

What’s The Common Theme?

To sum it up, different companies use different methodologies for success… but there is a common pattern among them all.

1. Conducted thorough research.

2. Had good insights into the psychological needs of their audience.

3. Understood what they needed from their audience to properly scale.

Traditional strategies are foundational, yet companies continue to tailor their approach to align with the modern era for their GTM plans. This adaptation promises relevance and effectiveness in today's rapidly ever-evolving market landscape.

"Hi there. I’m Eric Rascon. I run Viable Paths, where I help companies with their strategy, execution and product development. Dropby and say hello I reply to every email."

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1 How Stanley Rediscovered Its Product Market Fit

2 The only thing that matters

3 What is Go-To-Market (GTM)?

4 The 7 Ways Dropbox Hacked Growth to Become a $4 Billion Company

Dropbox Startup Lessons Learned

6 How Robinhood Did a Stellar Pre-Launch Campaign

7 Lookout, Robinhood. E*Trade, Schwab, Ameritrade go zero-fee

8 Hacker News

9 Beta Testing Your Game; Finding Success in Criticism

10 Cyberpunk 2077 Reviewers Have Not Played the Console Versions of the Game

11 Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Review

12 5 of the most famous (and effective) growth hacks of all time

13 How Using Humans And Chatbots Together Generated 182% More Qualified Leads

14 Helldivers 2 Developer Apologizes and Shares Update About Ongoing Login and Reward Issues

15 Helldivers 2’s Biggest Battle Continues To Be Servers, Disconnects, Login Errors

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