The Business Foundation Triangle: A Must for Technical Founders … Unless You’re Elon Musk

Handoyo Sutanto
5 minutes
May 11th, 2023
Handoyo Sutanto
5 minutes
May 11th, 2023

What is the Business Foundation Triangle?

Have you heard of the show “Silicon Valley” on HBO? The show is a parody of saas company culture in Silicon Valley, in which a programmer is trying to build a startup named Pied Piper from the ground up. In the beginning of the 3rd season, now CEO of Pied Piper, Jack Barker, introduces “The Conjoined Triangles of Success”- a philosophy that he created to explain the intersection between sales and engineering. This introduction is a hilarious interaction between characters, as seen below:

While satirical, there’s some truth to the Conjoined Triangles of Success. As a Silicon Valley fan and startup founder myself, I have had my fair share of experiences when it came to defining growth models and what a good business foundation should look like. Should a business’s foundation be based completely on sales? Is an engineering-based founder capable of driving successful sales and marketing in their first year? This has been on my mind a lot lately and I thought it would be beneficial for anyone looking to start their own business to hear about my own philosophy: The Business Foundation Triangle (the name is still a work in progress but just hear me out…).

A good way to think about a startup is comparing it to an equilateral triangle: each side of the triangle represents a different aspect of the business that should be growing to produce different results. These different sides, or foundations are product led vs sales led vs marketing led:

  • Product: The customer experience producing side
  • Sales: The revenue producing side
  • Marketing: The growth producing side

Perfectly balanced, as all things should be

The main goal of the Business Foundation Triangle is to achieve balance between each side of the business, namely engineering, sales, and marketing. Taking into consideration the effort and resources put behind each side of the triangle, it might be better to think of the foundation as this diagram:

The circles represent effort and resources allocated towards that specific side of the triangle. In the case of many startup founders, one side of the triangle is skewed and the circle is bloated, meaning all of their time and effort goes into that one side. Let's look at a sales-oriented founder, for example.

In the early stages of their company, a sales-oriented founder would naturally focus on driving revenue through sales and securing fundraising. Sales led companies often thrive initially with sales processes and killer customer acquisition costs, but find themselves struggling to cultivate marketing and product efforts, resulting in a product in its infancy and slow growth efforts. While sales processes might be refined, product experience/ users experience may be failing. Single-sided biases initially will skyrocket short term growth, but certainly be detrimental to long term growth, customer success and stability. 

Being an expert on the engineering, marketing, or sales side of the triangle isn’t necessarily the end of the world though! Starting off what you excel in can set a strong basis for your company and help you expand your team (preferably with a co-founder that excels on a different aspect) to further develop the other sides of the business that you might not be too knowledgeable in. In most cases, because of resource constraints, many startups are only able to focus on 1 side of the triangle initially, 2 if they’re extraordinarily gifted. The key for many startups is knowing which areas of the triangle are lacking and working towards expanding those sides with constraints- it’s doable but definitely easier said than done. For example, being product led vs sales led will leave you with a refined product and push you to fill the sales gaps through sales team and buying process enhancement.

Why Balance Matters

Finding balance within the foundation of your business is important because it provides stability and a sustainable method of growth, though it’s not easy. Each circle within the diagram above has its own growth plans and strategies, metrics and KPIs, and execution plans to make sure that there is continual growth with optimized resource allocation. And it’s not only balance that matters, but continual growth of circles that can allow for a stronger foundation.

In the above diagram, circles from engineering, sales, and marketing sides are all intersecting with each other. With this situation, the growth of one side will also equate to growth in another side. For example, growing marketing efforts will lead to better sales efforts, a better product and engineering process will also make marketing AND sales easier, and so on. With a balanced triangle, growth on all sides will be able to feed off of each other, making scale easier to achieve than ever before!

Having a balanced outlook on business operations also helps prevent unfixable situations from happening. While you can start a business, get funding, and build up your business sizably with just one side, the lack of care for the 2nd and 3rd sides of the triangles can spell possible doom for companies. Here’s what may happen for:

  • Product Led Growth (PLG) Companies: Product led companies often find themselves developing a vanity research project, or a product with no users and no sales. This happens when a founder engages in a product led approach and listens to the wrong crowd when building a product. PLG companies should initially cater to those who have a stake in the company for footing, and then work towards optimizing users who prefer free trials.
  • Sales Led Growth (SLG) Companies: A sales focus is great for driving revenue, but can be questionable for delivering a product worthy of the revenue. For example, a sales rep within an SLG company might be an expert in sales, but might have difficulty in explaining the product if it is barely developed. This can be a scam towards users or even towards the next funding cycle in the form of a faulty product
  • Marketing Led Growth (MLG) Companies: Marketing led growth may lead to overexaggerated marketing strategies and overhype. While this company might have a working product and some sales, they won’t be able to fill the gap between user expectation and actual product that they have created due to over marketing. 

Even though I put some compelling examples for why you SHOULDN’T completely focus on one side of the triangle, there are some cases for why this tactic can work, though I’ll go more in-depth about them in the blogs to follow.

By Founders, for Founders

Throughout my experience as a founder, I’ve learned that there’s no magic formula or direct way of achieving balance within a triangle. Like I mentioned before, a biased triangle is detrimental for a company’s growth. Upon starting Lyrid, I had a mind geared towards engineering and creating products, paying little attention to the marketing and sales side of things. Through trial and error, Simon (Lyrid co-founder) and I were able to address the areas we weren’t so competent in by hiring and filling our teams with people capable of caring for those areas. 

If I had advice for any founder looking to balance their triangle, it would be to focus on what you’re good at and optimize it. Expanding your team and working on the areas where you might not excel at will come naturally. 

To be honest, I’m still working on balancing the triangle of Lyrid as we speak, though Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you find yourself expanding one side of the triangle, or just want to learn more about this philosophy, feel free to book a meeting with me- I’m always open to helping founders make the most of their business.

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