Solving B2B Distribution with Viral, Persona-Focused Work Humor, Navigating Growth Plateaus, and Other Notes on Making Singular Bets with tl;dv’s Co-Founder, Raphael Allstadt


In the following exchange, tl;dv’s co-founder and CEO, Raphael Allstadt (@raphaelallstadt), tells us all about how they’ve cracked open an inspired, new B2B medium: relatable work humour that thoughtfully captures the day-to-day awkwardness of the modern SaaS office.

Winning with a uniquely comic approach to awareness
Why the best marketing is unattributable
How PMF plays out differently in different categories
tl;dv’s passionate stance on culture
Why founders should open up about their struggles


Winning with a uniquely comic approach to awareness

When we started out, we had this intuition to not just look at the same growth channels that our competitors were focusing on. We wanted to look inward first and understand what we were drawn to, what we were good at, and what we would enjoy.

That early probing made us realize that we were definitely excited about the idea of humor in communication. We also found that this was something clearly missing in the software industry. More, importantly, we felt we were good at it.

Not necessarily being funny, but at least knowing what’s funny.

So we partnered with a cool creator. And gathered great confidence from our Product Hunt launch video, which won the demo of the year award. We saw that that attempt really resonated with people and asked ourselves, “what’s the channel for videos?”

Those were two. Instagram and TikTok. So picking them was a sort of natural evolution for us. We hit it off quite fast, especially with Instagram. We were essentially doing work humor that was funny for everyone and no one.

Our videos started amassing a lot of engagement and reach. Ex: we were featured on 9GAG etc. But we also learned that nobody tied those viral videos with what we did. They didn’t connect us with anything beyond being funny.

So another round of introspection followed. Who did we really want to target? The product org. Not just product/engineering but sales and customer success as well, given that they all sit at the core collaboration that informs products.

We started making jokes about these folks.

With that we were able to align our impressions, our views, our follower growth, and our engagement with those who’d actually care about tl;dv. That’s when we started to see impact. Essentially, a correlation between a clip going viral and the product getting attention from a specific persona.

That being said, one important thing to mention for any social channel is that you always begin with top-of-the-funnel metrics. You just need to have the faith that if it’s the right audience, in the end, they’ll have enough brand love to check out the product.

So, it’s definitely a long-term practice, but it works!

How did we act on the learning that we had to be more focused? We started throwing in one or two product jokes in 10 generic ones.

Whenever you’re shifting positioning on a social channel, you must do it slowly and gradually. You need to be patient around such changes because your audience has a certain set of established expectations.

Within four months or so (yes, it took a while) of making this transition, we saw that we were going even more viral because we were niche. A niche, we discovered, is always bigger than one thinks.

We went deep enough that some people in the audience asked us, “are you secretly in our meetings?” or “how did you get so good at understanding my day-to-day struggles?”

Of course, the best and the worst of companies, we all struggle with the same core issues; there’s just a difference of magnitudes. Say: a clash between growth incentives and inner alignment. Or a lack of empathy for a different team.

Plus, the viewers told us things such as, “this is happening to me, but with a variation.” We listened and addressed that with another skit. Getting to a real symbiosis with our followers.

Why the best marketing is unattributable

I wish I knew how best to measure this work.

When you scroll LinkedIn these days, you can easily come across posts that are fixated on either killing/championing marketing channels. “Don’t do SEO,” says one expert, “do it like this,” says another. “Do paid.” “Don’t do paid.”

This particular moment is quite interesting as well, where a lot of go-to-market work stands to get (and is already) getting disrupted because of AI. We’re yet to see how that plays out.

There’s this “hard to swallow pills” meme which essentially says that the best marketing is unattributable. I think that’s completely true. It just makes logical sense.

If you reach people that you know can buy your product and you make them laugh/learn often, if your product is actually valuable, everything comes together.

Because humans aren’t dumb.

When we do customer interviews, almost 50% say they discovered tl;dv through socials.

As we scale, we’d definitely: track/benchmark more, diversify our funnel better, and run a lot more experiments. But, right now (a sort of 0-1 stage), I feel our decisions can be very qualitative and gut-driven.

This certainly varies from channel to channel and how attributable it is. With paid social, you can definitely put a number to every ad unit. In terms of what it takes to acquire a customer and such.

The funny influencer campaigns we’ve been running are much harder to attribute. So our goal is to grow profitably across our marketing mix. With a healthy knowledge of what we can/cannot measure.

Put another way, I don’t lose sleep at night because we don’t have a number attached to all our marketing channels. Primarily because attribution, to me, is in general a false flag. As it’s the final click.

People who discover us on TikTok, google us because that’s more convenient for them. We’d count that as a brand search on Google with no mention of TikTok.

Even self-reported attribution is broken. As everyone forgets things. That’s why we don’t obsess too much over attribution. We constantly review the overall marketing mix and see what makes sense for our goals.

Then, the last thing here is that if it’s obvious, it’s obvious. We ran an influencer spot and there was an immediate, obvious spike right after. So we made sure to optimize our spend there and got the most out of it.

I know this is not super scientific. But that’s it. That’s how we’ve been making it work.

How PMF plays out differently in different categories

When we started out, we knew this was going to be a really competitive space. Just like most other SaaS categories. That’s why, initially, it was important for us to keep the product free and focus on one metric: retention.

For the first two years, we measured our value based on just that metric. Only when we saw that retention had plateaued for a vertical, we started introducing paid plans. This was around year three.

And as all those highly-engaged users turned into paid customers, we suddenly hit, what then seemed like, hockey-stick growth. We thought we had product-market fit.

We didn’t.

Partially because we had a lot of bugs owing to infra changes. But mostly because our product wasn’t valuable enough to get enough new people interested beyond that first cohort of retained users.

This lasted for a good four months. And it happened well past 100K in ARR. So the first “100K is hardest” is likely relevant for spaces where there isn’t a lot of competition. In a crowded category like ours, you can find initial traction and then get stuck.

Product-market fit is such a journey. Even a 10m ARR business can lose it when incumbents move faster, make something free, launch something new, flip the economics of a marketing channel, or a lot of other reasons.

We’ve been growing ever since. Hitting double-digit m-o-m growth. It’s been great. But I know that we’re certainly going to hit the next plateau. And I’m obsessed with avoiding that every day. Which has made me really hungry for identifying and addressing future problems.

The overcoming of that first growth obstacle required us to align with the market needs a lot better. We introduced AI capabilities, for instance. When compared to other B2B products rushing to add AI, our case has a 110% alignment.

Essentially, AI makes the core jobs-to-be-done for our product a hundred times better. Thus it was a natural conclusion to bring it in. Plus, it isn’t just a GPT wrapper as we gather - combine, segment, label, and lay out - data from many different sources.

In general, this space has continued to grow. We’re already noticing that reflected in our sign-ups, where much more established companies (that weren’t early adopters) are integrating this solution into their workflows.

We’re perhaps at 10% of what this market can potentially be in a few years down the road. As they say, “rising tide lifts all boats.” I don’t see a short term problem in competition at all. In the long run, there can be a bunch of players that co-exist.

A competitive trend that we’ve decided against following is this expansive patching together of use cases, feature by feature. CRMs becoming meeting intelligence tools. Meeting intelligence tools becoming CRMs. This is a dangerous trend.

You cannot be good at everything, right? When you go really, really deep on the customers’ needs, there are tons of jobs-to-be-done that incumbents don’t solve, stuff that the product team solving for a certain feature within a suite will likely not consider.

That’s why we’ve stayed laser-focused on meetings. We don’t get too impressed by what others are doing with other features. Because I see so many powerful opportunities within our core niche. (In fact, we’re in the process of launching something game-changing. :))

tl;dv’s passionate stance on culture

I never really subscribed to the “hire faster” school of play that defined 2021.

Neither the idea of recruiting people with standard playbooks.

Our first two hires were long term friends and colleagues of ours; tl;dv is how they broke into tech. It started as a passion project, not a full-time job for them. As their personal learning curves aligned with our journey, we built a tight-nit squad.

All aligned around building something special together. That proved super infectious.

We deliberately stayed small which brought focus and energy to the team. As a result, every new person we added to the team experienced two outcomes: either they got infected or they didn’t.

Those that stayed were in it for the passion and our mission. The former translates to making every moment we work count (not working long hours) towards where we can take this product. That’s our culture.

The first person on our tech team wasn’t an engineer by training. They had just been through a coding bootcamp. Today, they’re the core culture driver on our engineering team. That’s the kind of passion we want to build with.

Why founders should open up about their struggles

I received a lot of reactions on that post. That led to me meeting the CEO of a 400-person company who said, “there’s rarely someone I can talk to about this,” to pre-seed founders still finding their footing. All of us have issues, right?

Starting up is a very lonely journey. And you cannot often show when you’re struggling with motivation or belief, because it could negatively affect your investors, employees, and customers. So you try to keep things to yourself.

As an industry we hide this stuff away. Almost like a taboo. Founders are expected to have this IPO vision. All the time. And they don’t. Period. There will be times when they’re not as happy, not as bullish, and kind of finding everything hard. We should be able to talk about it.

I think it’s totally okay to be vulnerable if you’re keeping yourself authentic. It releases a lot of pressure off of you and helps you think more clearly once again. It can get you back to the passion and vision necessary for making progress.


Related reading from the Relay archives:

Rodeo’s co-founder, Ben Fisher, on standing out in an ever-crowded niche
Geckoboard’s founder, Paul Joyce, on surviving a “world of [:unicorn:s], quick flips, and side hustles”
Outfunnel’s co-founder, Andrus Purde, on finding the right channels and first marketing hires


Thanks for doing this, @raphaelallstadt. Fascinating to read about how you’ve grown with a greenfield B2B channel. And completely agree on the importance of founders opening up about the journey, it’s one of the core reasons behind us building Relay. :slight_smile:

I’m sure the community would love to hear more on how you work with the makers of these creative skits. What’s the high-level process from observing something that customers do to turning that into a relatable 1-minute reel? What does the payout model look like given that attribution is decidedly tricky here? Anything you’d do differently if you were approaching this afresh?

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