2,000 leads from content marketing

How Nick Telson leveraged content marketing to be acquired and how he’s doing that again at trumpet

Nick Telson is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of trumpet, the sales platform (used by Amex and Sky!) famous for microsites, or Pods as they call them, that you can launch in 10 seconds to make the sales process more efficient, collaborative, and personalized.

Back in 2010 and before launching trumpet, Nick co-founded DesignMyNight which grew to 100+ employees, 15,000 SaaS customers, and 8M unique monthly visits.

After exiting to Access Group in 2017, he launched Horseplay Ventures, invested in 55+ startups, started a podcast, and he is now back in the game with trumpet.

Nick shared a lot of interesting insights with us, including raising a pre-seed round from a waitlist and the main growth strategy that got him acquired!

Fixing a broken sales process

Nick’s inspiration for trumpet came from his previous experience selling DesignMyNight to 15k bars and restaurants. That’s when he realized that the traditional sales process is broken.

He explains, “Sales involves a series of tools for finding prospects, outreaching, and managing them. Plus, actually getting a deal done takes 50 to 80 emails involving videos, documents, use case, legal, etc... It’s a pain.”

The idea behind trumpet is to allow salespeople to spin up personalized microsites, known as Pods, within seconds. You don’t need any design skills and you can add pages, documents, use cases, and videos throughout the sales journey.

Nick explains, “trumpet integrates with over 40 sales tools, like Loom, Typeform, Zoom, Gong for data, or Arcade for personalized product demos. You can drop all of that into your pod within 10 seconds.” That’s how sales teams using trumpet shorten their sales cycles by up to 40% — giving buyers what they need to make a buying decision, in a centralized space.

Raising a pre-seed round off a waitlist

As any good founder, Nick didn’t wait to have a final product before going to market. Instead, he started marketing it right away, building an impressive waitlist of over 2,000 startups. “We managed to raise our pre-seed from VCs because of that. The product wasn’t ready but we showed them our figma and our engaged, ready-to-go audience.”

Working on the waitlist since day one was a brilliant strategy to validate trumpet and build a robust pipeline. Still, Nick would do things slightly differently the next time.

He admits, “We ended up leaving our potential users on the waitlist for too long before launching.” Despite Nick’s efforts to keep the audience engaged, some of them eventually lost their interest.

One very important learning: “People don't care about your product as much as you do. They knew that what we were building was super cool but after three months, some of them moved on to something else.”

Analyzing data and iterating

Trumpet’s initial hook for customers was that they should stop sending PDFs and start sending personalized Pods instead. However, after analyzing data on how people were using the product, they realized something game-changing.

As Nick puts it, “Customer success teams were using trumpet to create onboarding pods for their customers, including training videos, call schedules, demos, and team introductions.”

By analyzing users’ behavior, Trumpet expanded their use cases further down the buyer journey from a pure sales play to a full-cycle resource. “After the first demo, the sales team can follow up with a personalized pod containing all the necessary information to get the deal closed…then handing the same Pod over to Customer Success to onboard that closed deal. That's been a killer use case,” he explains.

Nick’s secret to successful cold outreach

As my fellow marketers know, there are countless tools and resources for sending out automated emails. You can literally scrape (or buy!) +10k leads in a few hours and reach out to them in a matter of a few days. Still, this could be counterproductive.

For Nick, effective outreach is not about the 'spray and pray' approach. And it’s certainly not about bombarding people with some generic or spammy copy and subject lines. “I can smell those a mile off now and don't even open them a lot of the time,” he says.

Personalization is the key to crafting an exceptional cold email. He explains, “Identify a 'kill list'—the specific individuals you need to connect with—and spend time researching them.” This means looking at their LinkedIn posts, understanding their interests, and tailoring your email to reflect that you genuinely believe your tool or product can help them.

As Nick puts it, “Do your research on who you're sending it to rather than just finding 100 email addresses, writing a few variables in your HubSpot sequence, and just spraying out 100 emails.”

This is also supported by data from trumpet’s users. “We’ve seen that a personalized voice note at the beginning of the pod can increase engagement by 15%,” he notes.

Product-led growth superpowered by sales

Trumpet is perfectly positioned for product-led growth—whenever a sales team shares a Pod with their prospects, the recipients will see how beautiful and streamlined it is, sparking interest in trying it themselves.

Of course, Nick knows that, and that’s why he adopted a freemium model with free Pods and no credit card required. However, the interesting thing is that they don’t stop there.

His team uses analytics to monitor who has signed up, how they're using the product, and how engaged they are. “From this data, we identify who might be ready to transition to the paid service and reach out to nudge them,” Nick explains. 

That’s how they closed enterprise deals with companies like AMEX and Sky, which began using trumpet on their own before being approached by his team.

Getting enterprise clients

Dealing with enterprise customers is not the same as smaller businesses—it involves a longer deal cycle, multi-threading, multiple stakeholders, and discussion around security, and data protection.

According to Nick, the most important factor for working with enterprise clients is to have a well-built, solid product. “We spent nine months building trumpet. Many have told us that it feels like a more mature, Series A or B product. I think you've got to be there before selling to enterprise customers because otherwise, you will let them down.

Another key ingredient is approaching enterprise customers the right way. Nick calls it a “bottom-up approach,” where instead of directly approaching high-level executives, they aim to connect with lower-level employees such as SDRs or account executives and then work together to move up the chain.

He explains, “Even if you have a lower-level employee that loves the product, the deal is still a long way off. So you've almost got to coach them on what they need to do to move it up the ladder.” And that’s how they get trumpet and DesignMyNight in front of sales managers and higher-ups.

The strategy behind 8M organic monthly visits

The main growth strategy that got DesignMyNight to 8M organic monthly views and 15k customers is content marketing and SEO. “This was back in 2010 when content marketing wasn't a buzzword and content marketers weren't a job,” Nick recalls.

One of his biggest hacks in SEO is going for the low-hanging fruit. For example, at DesignMyNight they started by targeting smaller, more specific search terms like 'Best basement bars in Clapham,' instead of targeting broad search terms like 'London bars.'

By doing this, they were able to rank number one for these smaller search terms, which not only brought cumulative traffic but also increased their overall ranking on Google.

Over time, this approach also allowed them to rank higher for broader search terms like 'London bars' without having to put all their efforts into it from the beginning. This proved to be a very effective strategy. Nick says, “When we sold DesignMyNight, we were getting 8M unique visits per month and 65% of that was organic.”

Content marketing at trumpet

After the remarkable success of content marketing with his first venture, Nick is ready to replicate the strategy at trumpet, over a decade later. This time, SEO is not the only tool in their arsenal. He explains, “We focused on where our customers are likely to be most active. For us, that’s LinkedIn.”

Nick and his team work hard on building their personal brands. They consistently put out content that is genuinely helpful to their audience, not just promotional material for their product. Being an exited founder made it easier, as he was able to share his journey and experiences, which helped establish credibility.

Nick recommends posting at least four times a week on LinkedIn, ideally at times when people are most likely to be checking their feeds, such as commuting times and lunchtime.

The strategy is simple yet tremendously effective. By the time they launched Trumpet, Nick had a significant audience of +20k followers. He says, “We acquired most of our waitlist from LinkedIn, and today it remains our most substantial marketing funnel.”