Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Trevor Longino, the founder & CEO of CrowdTamers. I launch startups to market and have taken 15 different companies from $0 to $2M+ in annual revenue.
I use a combination of paid ads and content to repeatably figure out
- Who is this company’s audience
- What problem can I solve for them
- How do I offer to solve it?
If you know those 3 things about any business, you can build funnels that generate a million in annual revenue. For real. I talk about this a lot but here’s the short version of how to build a $1MM go to market funnel.
After my last salaried role as CMO of a startup where I grew from pre-revenue to a few million in ARR, I decided to be a freelancer for a few years as a fractional CMO for a few companies. I had 20+ years of experience as a marketer so when I decided to become a freelancer, I did practically everything a startup could need.
I did everything from content marketing to performance marketing, team leadership (goal and budget setting), design, web development, etc. Because I had such a broad set of skills, I was able to offer a solution to anyone who had a marketing problem.
A lot of the companies I worked with at the time had small teams so I was spending time working with those teams to handle their marketing challenges. As a freelancer, I was billing about $150 an hour which, depending on the client and the scope of work, made me about $150 - $200k a year.
Not a bad living, but it had 2 problems.
- I only made money when I was in a chair working.
- I had aspirations to help 1,000 startups reach $1 million in annual revenue by 2028.
Solving both of these things needed me to make the jump from freelancer to agency owner.
All this time, my freelance business had grown strictly by word of mouth. Things were going to be very different when starting off the agency; CrowdTamers.
I knew, launching CrowdTamers as an agency, that there were 3 key things I had to keep in mind to call it a successful business:
- The team working for me loved being part of the company. Most agencies chew up their team and spit it out; I wanted the average tenure at CrowdTamers to be >3 years, rather than the industry average of 16 months.
- It generates more value than it takes. I don’t lock clients into multi-month contracts because I want to make sure we’re earning our repeat business the hard way: by being F&^$ing good at our jobs.
- It serves as the launch pad for what I want to achieve as a founder and also trains and nurtures hundreds of thousands of others to master marketing so they can live their dreams, too.
Oh, and I suppose we need to make money, too. I might be blase about that last, but as a marketer of 20 years, I just kind of assumed it would be easy to make money. It’s what I’m good at, right?
Turns out, it’s not quite that easy.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At the beginning of 2021, I made a conscious decision to switch from freelancing to owning an agency. I had set a goal to end 2020 earning 200k working part-time. While I found that I was earning that much, I was working 18-hour days which was taking its toll on me. I’d wake up at 5 am and go to bed shy of midnight, just to meet all my work obligations.
I love launching startups and I’m pretty good at it. Many startups make the mistake of building first before validating their idea.
They run out of money–or belief in the startup–long before they have figured out the right way to tell the world that they’re out there.
Using the knowledge gathered over the years I’ve systematized go-to-market into a repeatable series of steps. There’s a roadmap to help most startups either find their path to $1 million in annual revenue or discover that they need to pivot to a new approach.
And I want to help 1,000 startups adopt that approach.
One of the key tenets I teach is that you cannot have too small a niche. The smaller the niche, the better headway you will make.
Because too many good ideas die because their founders are great builders and not great people at figuring out how to sell what they’ve built.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
I launched my agency without a lot of consideration for what I was doing.
Don’t be like me.
I did have kind of a rough plan: work like crazy and rack up the clients and then transition to an agency by handing that work off to people who I’d hired instead of me. I went crazy on booking new clients and was doing about 30k a month, but working insane hours.
Back in February 2021 someone who I managed as a fractional CMO quit her job without the next gig lined up. I made her an offer and suddenly I went from a solopreneur to a tiny agency owner.
But there was a problem: as a fractional CMO, my clients only wanted to work with me, not my team member–no matter how talented she was.
So by the end of April 2021, literally 100% of my fractional CMO clients churned. I was in trouble: my master plan had instantly failed.
I did what is not unusual for me: I wrote my way out of trouble. After outlining how I approach go-to-market for startups for a buddy on a call, I drafted a Twitter thread about that process.
For my standards of “viral hit,” it did quite well, and I realized that this systematized process resonated with a certain kind of founder.
A few iterations later, I had it all planned out: the Grow to Market funnel. Building a grow-to-market strategy for startups, the Crowdtamers way is a series of experiments that help you validate your business idea. We iterate on messaging and creatives tweaking the targeting as we go until we find message-market fit (and then product-market fit)
With that outlined, the rest of what I needed to do to grow and scale my own business became clearer: build a team that can deliver on Grow to Market experiments, write a book, make a course, and work like hell to promote the message: you can launch successfully. There are steps. Let’s go.
My first book goes into creating and testing the demand side of a business before you build it (it’s called Validate First), and I’m already working on the next book, a series of case studies around the Grow To Market launch methods.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After I’d solidified my goals for my business and for myself, I planned out the 7-year course.
Now, of course, it’s been two years since then and I’m already probably not following that projection for how to productize GTM fit.
AI has made great leaps in the last 2 years but I don’t think it’ll do what I need it to in time.
Instead, the focus has moved to courses, books, and partnering up with VCs and accelerators to teach their companies how to succeed.
One of the key tenets I teach is that you cannot have too small a niche. The smaller the niche, the better headway you will make.
So I needed to be clear about what my agency does and what it doesn’t do. By defining that, I was able to quickly disqualify bad-fit clients from my sales cycle.
Armed with that blog post about how to tackle Grow to Market for a startup and a commitment to write one chapter of my book every week as a blog post, I started to grow with literally only one channel: answering founders’ questions on Facebook Groups.
By answering 2 - 5 questions a week, I was able to build my agency from 2 employees to 5 employees and grow from about $120k in annual revenue to just under $600k–all during COVID
1 channel. 60 customers. 2 years.
How the heck did that work?
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I am not from money and none of my startup equity has earned me a big payout (yet!), so I was bootstrapping. My investment to start CrowdTamers the agency was only the cash in my bank I’d saved from freelance work–about $30k.
As I mentioned above, I answered questions to grow my agency–distributing my social media content not through SEO or social media reach, but by hand answering questions.
We created a content engine to demonstrate thought leadership and show that we could walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I outlined a book about how to validate your startup ideas and wrote a chapter a week for that. My first hire, Saumya, delivered a blog post every week or so about how to tackle specific tactical challenges–buy ads on a given platform or set up Google Analytics for your startup.
In our first year, we created over 61 blog posts, and this brought about 1k visitors a month to CrowdTamers consistently, between our social media distribution and our very modest SEO.
We also launched a podcast - short snippets that covered strategy, leadership, launching and validating your business ideas, and a ton of other topics. Our blogs covered questions from the most basic ‘How to use Facebook for business’, and ‘How to target an audience on Facebook” to the more complex ‘Prepping for your first go-to-market experiment, or different ways to write about your product.
We converted these blog posts to Twitter threads, making sure that they answered questions that the founders had.
We did a ton of social listening, joining relevant Saas and founder groups across platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Quora. There’s always a founder or marketing exec with questions on how to launch and scale and if your answers are spot on, it’ll spark up a conversation that can eventually lead to business.
Focus first and foremost on what you can deliver for someone, not the effort you put into it.
That got me from $100k to $600k. But growing from here is going to take a completely different approach.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We closed out 2022 at $580k, about $520k in USD (which are in my USD books, below), and another $50k in foreign currencies–CAD, EUR, and GBP. My margins are decent for an agency–about 30%--but there’s room to improve.
During the last 3 months of the year, we were operating at about 30% of capacity and we only had 1 or 2 months where I couldn’t fit another client in without starting to ask employees to work over 40h a week.
That represented about 67% growth from 2021, and I ended 2022 to make $1.1 million in ARR. And here, in March, I’m already 60% sure that’s not gonna happen if I don’t change course.
Why? From October to now, the macro-economy has changed a lot in ways that I hadn’t understood in 2022.
Sales cycles are longer. Budgets are getting tighter. And VC funds are holding onto money rather than investing.
Our sales funnel has been quite simple in the past: read a piece of my content and maybe book a call.
The challenges of 2023 require I finally create something structured to keep alive, much less grow.
The book, the course, and the free giveaway that we’re offering at the top of the funnel are all combined to make paid growth function for the agency.
When we first started our ad tests back in November of 2022, we spent more than $150 to sell a $9 ebook:
Through iteration and improving the ads, we’ve dropped the cost per sale by 90%. We’re still losing money on an $8 book sale, but for every 20 books sold, we get 1 highly-qualified sales lead.
The course is rolling out next month, and the top-of-funnel giveaway is launching next week. If anything, our cost per sale and our conversion rates of book buyer to sale will improve.
We have an interesting few months ahead of us. Due to the current state of the economy, things are moving along a bit slower than projected but that gives us time to strategize and change our approach to finding new clients.
Beyond the short-term performance marketing to get us well on our well to $1MM ARR, we’re also forming strategic partnerships 3 ways
- Strategic investing - by funding some seed-stage startups and investing in some small-stage funds, we’re buying up nascent markets where our services may be useful and positioning ourselves to be major players in one or two big startup arenas in a few years.
- VC partnerships - we’ve partnered with 1 (and want to add 3 more) VC funds that specialize in Seed and A-round startups. Because we consistently drop CAC for our clients by helping them figure out their best target audience for their product, we’re an obvious fit as a way to de-risk growth in their portfolio.
- Affiliate sales partners - Partnering up with product agencies and sales agencies whose clients need GTM expertise has also netted us clients consistently.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Try. Try. Try. Try. Try. Try. Try. Try. Try.
Don’t be afraid to fail because behind every perceived failure are lessons that reveal your next step. Most founders fail to launch their ideas because they’re waiting for them to be perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist.
Outsource! There are no awards for being a superman/woman. Find good hands to handle the different parts of the business so you can spend time thinking about how to chart the future for your business. Before launching CrowdTamers, I was doing 18 hours daily, with barely enough time to rest much less spend time with family. Outsourcing gave me more time to chart the course for my team and for the future which is the job of every founder.
Macroeconomics affects your market. What worked 10 months ago doesn’t work now, and the faster you realize that the environment has changed and you must change too, the more likely you are to survive.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For launching ads, the business determines the platform but mostly Facebook and Linkedin for running ads. Because our clients are often quite at an early stage, we usually run their ad campaigns natively in Facebook or LinkedIn manager directly instead of in the front end. Beyond that, our toolchain is pretty simple:
- Notion - all task management and client delivery
- Slack - Internal and external communication
- Figma - General design
- Zapier - Automation
- MeetGeek + Tactiq - meeting notetaking and transcribing
- Fiverr - random minor tasks
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Some top books to think about:
- No Rules - Netflix and the culture of reinvention
- Influence: the psychology of persuasion
- Sell like crazy
- Obviously Awesome
- Zero to Sold
- Talent by Tyler Cowen
- Validate First by me
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
No one cares about what you’ve built, they care about how it can make their lives better, more comfortable, or less stressful.
Focus first and foremost on what you can deliver for someone, not the effort you put into it. People don’t care all that much whether it took you 1 hour or 100 hours to accomplish something for them–they care about how much value you created for them.
You cannot have too small a niche to start. One of the most successful entrepreneurs I know is a lady who runs a real estate investment company where all she does is rent small, secure photo-video studios to women who live in downtown Manhattan and make content for OnlyFans.
She makes more than $200,000 a month with the smallest TAM I can imagine.
Focus down and you will win more.
Where can we go to learn more?
- @TrevorLongino on Twitter
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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