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The hamburger model is a winning go-to-market strategy

Caryn Marooney

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Caryn Marooney is general partner at Coatue Management and sits on the boards of Zendesk and Elastic. In prior roles she oversaw communications for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus and co-founded The OutCast Agency, which served clients like and Amazon.

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David Cahn

David Cahn is an investor at Coatue, where he focuses on software investments. David is passionate about open-source and infrastructure software and previously worked in the Technology Investment Banking Group at Morgan Stanley.

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In the old software world — think Oracle and SAP — sales were the competitive advantage. Today, we live in a world of product-led growth, where engineers (and the software they have built) are the biggest differentiator. If your customers love what you’re building, you’re headed in the right direction. If they don’t, you’re not.

However, even the most successful product-led growth companies will reach a tipping point, because no matter how good their product is, they’ll need to figure out how to expand their customer base and grow from a startup into a $1 billion+ revenue enterprise.

The answer is the hamburger model. Why call it that? Because the best go-to-market (GTM) strategies for startups are like hamburgers:

  • The bottom bun: Bottom-up GTM.
  • The burger: Your product.
  • The top bun: Enterprise sales.

In the hamburger GTM model, your product is the meat. We’ll go through each layer before talking about some of the best ways to implement the model successfully at your company.

The hamburger model

The meat — product at the center: The hamburger model starts with a great product. As a founder, this means you don’t need to think about revenue on Day One. You do, however, need to obsess over your customers, what they want and how to build it. Nothing is more important.

The bottom bun — users not leads: In a top-down sales model, marketing creates leads that are then converted into sales by enterprise reps. In a bottom-up model, marketing creates users, not leads, and those users are never touched by sales. For companies that have been customer-obsessed from the very beginning because they built something people love, this bottom-up model can feel far more natural and fuel a successful business.

The top bun — building enterprise sales: Even the best bottom-up sales models aren’t enough on their own, and every company eventually needs top-down sales. It may sound counterintuitive, but even the companies most famous for their bottom-up approaches now have enterprise sales teams. That’s because there are certain types of customers — for example, healthcare, insurance and government — that require salespeople to engage with due to compliance and security reasons.

The Hamburger go-to-market strategy

The hamburger go-to-market strategy. Image Credits: Coatue


These are the basic elements of the hamburger GTM model: A killer product that sets you apart, a bottom-up sales strategy to convert users into paying customers, and a sales team to go after bigger customers that require more attention.

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