What’s the Right Time for Paid Marketing in 4 Startup Stages?

Mili Kataria

Head Branding & Marketing – Hesa | Founder @ Pandora’s Box | Mentor – I help Startups understand and explore their Core & translate it into their Growth Story | Passion that drives me – #Impact1founderAday

A statistic by Hubspot highlights that 87% of marketers believe that paid marketing efforts generate a positive ROI.

Indeed, it’s a powerful tool to reach and convert your target audience faster, gain valuable insights, and build brand recognition and a positive image, but its effectiveness solely depends on when and how it is used.

The time, strategy, extent, and type of paid marketing your brand chooses will vary based on the stage of your startup, the financial priorities, your budget, team strength, and brand marketing & business goals in that stage.

In this blog, we will discuss what is the right time to invest in paid marketing for startups at 2 crucial stages: Ideation and Early Stage.

So, if you’re a Startup in these stages, this blog is for you.
Part 2 of this series will delve deeper into the next 2 stages of a Startup: Go-to-Market and Scale-up.

Paid Marketing 1

Ideation Stage (Bootstrapped Startups)

It is the first stage in a startup’s journey and a step towards transforming your concept/ idea into a validated solution that solves a real problem and offers a benefit that’s desirable by your target segment.

It is a time where you should strategically invest to discover more about your product’s market category, its target audience and their needs, competitors, your value proposition to guide your business strategy through concept validation.

Doing so enables you to –

  • Build a product that solves an unmet need or pain point of your target consumers. 
  • Understand and leverage your strengths compared to competitors and use it to create a differentiation in your offering.
  • Identify your ideal customer profile and refine your value proposition for better targeting, positioning, and communication through various organic and paid marketing efforts.

Financial Considerations During the Bootstrapping Stage:

There are some crucial investments you should make in this stage to thoroughly prepare your business to gain growth through paid marketing –

  1. Market Research: You should focus on both primary (focus groups, customer surveys and interviews) and secondary research (competitor website analysis, industry reports, and market studies) to gather insights about –
  • What’s the gap your product can fill in the market?
  • Who will benefit most from it? 

What are the unmet needs and challenges of your target audience?

  • What are the features/ functionalities in your product that they will value the most?
  • Who are your direct and indirect competitors? 

How can you differentiate your product and make it stand out in the market?

You can use free market research tools such as survey tools (Google Forms, SurveyMonkey), social media listening tools (Hootsuite, Buzzsumo, Brandwatch) , and trend analysis tools (Google Trends, Answer the Public) to kickstart your research and guide your brand marketing strategy.

Click to learn How to Conduct Market Research in 4 Easy Steps.

  1. Initial Prototype-Building: You must invest in developing a cost-effective minimum viable product (MVP) with core functionalities of your concept and share with your ideal customers to gather user feedback for further optimization. 

Here, your goal is to build a prototype that highlights your value proposition through its features and not a design-rich and aesthetic one. There are a lot of free prototyping tools available online to help you with it like Proto.io, Figma, and Tinkercad.

Start with Organic Marketing. Paid Marketing Comes Later

During the early-stage of your startup, it is crucial to focus on building brand awareness, acquiring leads and building a customer base, and getting engagement and visibility.

Here are some Marketing Strategies you can leverage –

  1. Content Marketing: You should start focusing on building content in various formats such as blog posts, infographics, video and reel scripts, social media posts and ads, that can be used in various channels.
  1. Search Engine Optimization: You can identify a main keyword you want to rank for and optimize the back-end and front-end content and visuals of your website with it.
    You can further work on optimizing your website for faster load speed, smooth navigation, and clear CTAs to enhance user experience.
  1. Social Media Marketing: You can create profiles on the channels your target audience is active, post and share content, reach and engage with the audience, participate in online communities and groups, and host contests and giveaways to attract early followers.
Paid Marketing 2

Early Stage (Seed Funding)

It is a stage where you have validated your concept, developed a minimum viable product (MVP), built brand awareness and recognition to an extent, and have a small and potentially loyal customer base that actively contributes through feedback and insights.

Here in this stage, before stepping into paid marketing, you have to start focusing on building your founding team and the first person to bring in is a co-founder, who has complementary skills to what you already have.

For example, if you’re building a SaaS product and have deep expertise in technology, operations, and sales, your co-founder can be someone who is skilled in brand-building, marketing, and customer service.

Financial Considerations During the Early Stage:

Though you have upgraded your startup one step from the bootstrapping phase, there’s still a lot of groundwork you have to invest in to build a steady base to support your paid marketing efforts.

In this stage, some of the areas you should further invest in are –

  • Building your Founding Team: As we discussed above, at this point, you have to put in the efforts to build a founding team with skills and expertise in the areas you don’t have. The first step in this is to pick a right co-founder who has complementary skill sets to the ones you already have.

    Apart from the co-founder, you can outsource tasks such as content creation, graphic designing, videography, and website development to enable your business functions smoothly and cost-effectively.
  • Product Development: The journey of building a great product only starts after you have built your MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

After developing an MVP, you have to validate it in the market and conduct user tests to gain insights and feedback on how you can optimize it further.

You have to incorporate the features, build an upgraded version of your product, and test it again.
It is an iterative process that goes on until you have made a product that’s highly functional and desirable to your target audience and market.

  • Organic Marketing: Now that your initial product has reached a small part of your target segment, it is time to focus on your brand marketing and widening your customer base by building a robust online presence.

    You have to navigate your buyer’s journey, find the touchpoints they come across and channels they interact with, and then build a mix of channels you want to be present on.

    Some of the high-effort, high-ROI marketing strategies to attract organic traffic, boost engagement and loyalty, and build credibility are Content Marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, and Community Building.
  • Paid Marketing:  It takes around 4 weeks to get enough data to draw accurate conclusions from various experiments on marketing campaigns. Hence, it is recommended that you be flexible with your budget and optimize it in real-time to achieve best insights about communication, campaign, and targeting.

Getting Started with Paid Marketing:

Here are a few channels you can consider for your paid marketing endeavors in the Early Stages –

  • Social Media Ads: You can run ads on channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube from your mix to reach your target audience through their demographics and interests, engage them with your content and offers, and guide them to your brand pages to widen your audience.
  • Search Engine Marketing: Once you have optimized your website through organic SEO, you can take a step further to run targeted Google Ads on relevant keywords. It helps you appear at the top of search results for terms your target segment might use to find solutions like yours.
  • Referral Campaigns: It is a cost-effective way of validating your customers (whether they value your product and recommend it to others) and gaining higher conversion rates (as referrals often come from people in your consumers’ network). 

You can attract them through either monetary rewards like discounts, cashbacks, or commissions or other incentives such as early access to certain products or premium services and content.


As we can see, there is no One-Size-Fits-All when it comes to deciding what is the right time and extent to invest in paid marketing for startups.

That’s part 1 of the right time to invest in paid marketing.
In part 2, we explore the other 2 stages of a Startup: Go-to-Market (GTM) and Scale-up and what’s the level of paid marketing they can do.

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