Awesome People - Ep 38

GTM, geo expansion, strategy, early-hustler, exec coaches

Hi founders and fellow VC Friends!

Each week we deliver one awesome person to your inbox. These are the people you need to know—the marketers, sales gurus, engineers, ops whizzes— who give your startup superpowers 🚀. The best part is, everyone is hireable on a part-time basis.

Please meet Laura Du, your Market Expansion Leader 🎉

Laura and I met through our Awesome People List COVID-layoffs project. She reached out to help and I was immediately impressed by her strong communication skills and commitment to high-quality work. She’s currently halfway through Stanford GSB and working part-time with Afore Capital, a $124M pre-seed fund. Before Stanford, she spent 3 years at Opendoor (a $3B+ real estate startup) where she held leadership roles across product and operations. She helped the company grow from 100 to 1500+ employees and from 2 cities to 20+. She often advises founders on market expansion. Prior to Opendoor, she was at McKinsey and Sierra Ventures. 

Laura’s a total rockstar. At Opendoor, she built the 300-item, week-by-week cross-functional playbook that powered Opendoor’s nationwide expansion to 20+ cities in 18 months (eng, product, data pipelines, legal, HR, finance, marketing, customer support, you name it!). On-the-ground, she served as Launch GM of Opendoor markets in California, Florida, and North Carolina, hiring and training local teams and managing $25-50M in monthly P&L.

One little known fact about Laura is she’s obsessed with motivational quotes and beautiful vistas. If you send her an inspiring quote, especially overlaid on a sweet background, she’ll probably make it her phone (or Zoom!) background 😊.

You can hire her to:

  • Workshop your launch and expansion strategy

  • Lead your team in building a repeatable playbook for expansion 

  • Design the right operating model for growth - structure, ownership, tasks, accountability

Want to expand into new markets or need someone to help you think about growth? Email me and I’ll connect you with Laura!

Laura generously shared 3 tips for expanding into new markets ✨

Align market expansion goals with company-level strategic priorities   

In most cases, market expansion comes with significant costs: personnel decisions, resources, and product development efforts. Once you’ve launched in a new market you have brand and customer obligations.

Before expanding, clarify your hypotheses and milestones. Keep in mind both short and long term goals. At Opendoor, market launch served different priorities at different points in time. 

When we were established in 1 market (Phoenix), our next 2 launches were designed to:

  1.  grow revenue

  2.  test product-market fit in different real estate environments

We were still validating our value prop and figuring out operations on the ground.

When we were in 4 markets (Phoenix, Vegas, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Atlanta), our next 8 launches were designed to:

  1. grow revenue 

  2. build an expansion growth engine to prove we could scale rapidly

  3. capture the first-mover advantage in as many regions as we could

At 20 markets, we took a break from rapid expansion to:

  1. double-down on market share and operational excellence in existing markets

  2. re-organize our operating model to support future expansion beyond dozens, into 100s of markets

Prioritize markets based on your rationale for expansion

Once you’re clear on strategic priorities, you should be able to prioritize markets. Below are a few selection criteria:

  • Market size and growth - often in service of revenue growth

  • Customer demand - it’s hard to sell something into a segment or locale that doesn’t want it

  • Feasibility - this may include the availability of local talent, customer demographics, operational considerations, proximity to headquarters or existing markets, cost of operations, regulatory environment

  • Competition - markets that you can’t afford to lose

  • Geographic diversification and first-mover advantage

  • Synergies with other markets

  • Learning by expanding into markets with unique features or differences

For example, Opendoor’s decision to launch Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, and San Antonio as cities #5 through #8 was a balance between:

  1. growing revenue in medium-sized cities

  2. expanding into the Southeast

  3. taking on some, but not a large amount, of operational complexity

In contrast, Los Angeles and Houston were larger markets with more significant operational challenges. We were better equipped to tackle those markets (and did, a year later!) after getting a few launches under our belt. 

Use early launches to develop a playbook

You can get away with launching the first market or two haphazardly - you just kind of pull the product and operations together, and it kind of works. This doesn’t work at scale. There are too many people involved, customers at stake, and conflicting deliverables across the company.

For cross-functional teams and products like Opendoor, each market launch spanned 70+ teammates across 10+ cross-functional teams, e.g. HR, Finance, Marketing, Engineering, Product, Operations, etc. With so many cooks in the kitchen, coordination is critical! Unfortunately, slippage compounds across teams. When three 80% complete deliverables meet, you get a 49% delay (80% * 80% * 80% = 51%). All of a sudden, your launch takes 2x the amount of time as you thought 😬!

At Opendoor, we built a well-oiled market expansion machine. To start, we interviewed every team lead and consulted notes from earlier fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants launches. From there, we solidified a timeline and Gantt chart to project manage launches. Our team drove 20+ city launches. One of our core tools was a “playbook,” a living, breathing document that specified every expansion task. Each of the 300 line items included an owner, a due date, “how-to” guide for future team members, key dependencies, and a status flag. 

Your playbook should include what success looks like on launch day 1, in the first three months, and upon graduating a city from “new market” to normal and fully-functional. Make sure to break down KPIs into bite-sized chunks. Include customer acquisition and market share goals for months 1, 2, and 3.

Need a geo expansion or ops expert? Lmk and I’ll intro you to Laura!

FT Gem 🤩

Josh Friedberg is looking for early-stage strategy and operations roles. He was recommended by Brian Nichols, a friend who was early at Lyft and now leads the On Deck Angels program. Josh has helped multiple early-stage start-ups design and launch products, including Skyryse (autonomous mobility) and Space for Arts (marketplace for creatives). He thrives in businesses trying to solve complex problems like mobility, transportation, aerospace, defense, and deep tech. 

Interested in connecting with Josh? Feel free to reach out directly!

That’s all for this week ✨! Email me if you want an intro to Laura!

Stay awesome, 

Julia Lipton

Founder of Awesome People and Awesome People Ventures

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Ask 🙏

Do you have a founder or exec coach? I’d love to hear your recs!

Coaches are the best. Seriously the best. If you can 2x your output and mental wellbeing, why wouldn’t you ❤️?

A few of you have asked for coach recs lately. Have you worked with anyone you love? If so, let me know! I’ll share the list with this crew next week!

Offer 😎

Need an early-stage generalist hustler type? I’ve got someone for you!

Our summer intern, Zach Glabman, has decided to take time off from school! Woot woot! He’s a young hungry hustler generalist type who will run through walls to get things done. If we had enough work for him, I’d hire him FT myself. He spent this summer launching Practicum, a student-built and operated startup studio, running a side-hustle hot sauce biz (it’s delicious), and working for Anthos Capital, a venture capital fund that invests in early and growth-stage companies. Check out his newsletter!

This year, he’s looking for new adventures around the US, to learn from operators and to try his hand at Growth, GTM, and/or BD 😃.

Zach loves meeting new people. Reach out to him directly or ask me for an intro!

Most recent Awesome People 😍

Fabri - Go-to-market consultant and product marketing leader. He’s worked with Alan, Snapchat, and Square to launch products, tap into new markets, and scale revenue exponentially.

Megan - Marketing Program Manager and campaign whiz. She’s worked with NerdWalletSamsara, and Twitch to develop strategic partnerships, marketing campaigns, and growth strategies.

Behzod - Product, design, and user experience research expert. He’s worked with companies like Slack and Facebook to help them launch new products and better understand their users.

Feel free to send me a message for intros to any of the awesome people above!