How to Beat the Trough of Sorrow with Inbound Marketing


The trough of sorrow a term coined by none other than Paul Graham that will live forever in the hearts of failed startups across silicon valley, is described in an article from Tetuan Valley entitled,"Beware the Trough of Sorrow,” and it goes a little something like this….

"When your startup first launches and gets some press coverage, there will be loads of people interested in it. You just got TechCrunch’ed! However, don’t be naive. Novelty wears off soon and probably 10% (if you’re lucky) will return to your website. Welcome to the trough of sorrow. ... Where the hell is that hockey stick curve?! That’s the tipping point for most businesses. The inevitable crash of ineptitude."

Unless, of course, you have a firm foundation in place to support a tracking and managing process for website visitors. To harness the benefits of your site visitors, you need a sound data collection process, or CRM, in place to capture website visitors / potential sales leads contact information.

Image compliments of Chart of The Day

Follow the Chart Of The Day on Twitter: @chartoftheday

But why is it that the trough of sorrow takes a huge hit to some business, and others make it out of the fight swinging like Rocky Balboa?

Joe Gebbia, Co-Founder of Airbnb, discusses in a video seen on

Audio Transcription from FastCompany Video:

Almost in any history of any idea that has every been launched there comes a time in the early days where there is no customers. Your assumptions were wrong. The way people actually wanted something delivered to them is different than what you thought. What they call this in the lifecycle of an idea is the “trough of sorrow”. It is a very bleak, dark time where you are just trying to figure out how to get your idea off of the ground. The way that most people, and we figured out how to get out of it was by going to meet our customers. By going and talking to our early  hosts and guests for Airbnb, it allowed us to understand their needs, and then make something people wanted. We used to travel and actually stay with our customers. I mean, it was the ultimate sort of enlightened empathy. Right, you were so close to the people you were designing for that it informed you in a way that an online survey never would. So by being so close to our customers we were able to listen to their needs and then design a product they loved.

Joe Gebbia
CoFounder, Airbnb

With Airbnb’s example, we can see that having a process in place to capture powerful customer feedback can provide you invaluable insight into their wants, needs, and pain points of the customers.

Inbound is a way to do just that. By creating content that appeals to your customers, you are more likely to build community. Airbnb tackled their community head-on. Can you think of some ways to best serve your community?

Andrew Chen discusses this very issue as he explains life in the trough of sorrow and how to get out.

“Identify the root problem. Is the product working? Does the onboarding suck? Or is execution on growth lacking? You can figure out the main bottleneck by trying to understand where it’s working and where it’s not. If the problem is high retention and high engagement, but not a lot of people are showing up, just focus on marketing.

Andrew Chen

By focusing your sorrow on lead generation, information-capturing, and delighting your current customers, you are one step closer to success with content marketing and the inbound methodology. Getting started with inbound marketing will allow your startup to get well on its way on the road to success. The cost of inbound marketing will ensure higher return on investment, and allow your company to meet its KPIs focused around user generation, building brand awareness, and the bottom line of selling more to the individual who best benefit from your product or service.

Inbound marketing by way of developing creative, informational, and innovative content will help beat the sorrow right out of the trough that may be plaguing your startup. For further reading on how you can best introduce inbound to your team start here:

Subscribe to our BLOG

Stay in touch & learn how to attract customers, become a thought leader, create effective marketing campaigns, & more.


Handy Toolkit


You might also be interested in:

11 Reasons HubSpot and Content Marketing Work for Startups

How to Use Inbound Marketing to Increase Customer Retention Rates

Five Ways to Attract Customers with Inbound Marketing


Topics: Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Thought Leadership

Direct Images Interactive is an inbound marketing agency specializing in high-impact video production and online graphic design. We are centrally located between Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. Come see us at The Gate in San Leandro, a thriving tech-hub of innovators. What can we do for you?

Learn more   How do you launch & measure a remarkable inbound marketing campaign? Get the tools you need.  Download tool kit.
Contact us  Share your challenges with us! We'll help you achieve your goals and ease your pain.  How can we help you?
Call us  Want quick answers to your problems?  What’s better than picking up  the phone and calling us?  510-613-8299 <>
The Power of Choice VOD

Recent Blog Posts

In-Sites LIVE! Video