Life is tough for marketers at B2B tech startups. They grapple with tight budgets, little or no headcount, and big investor expectations. At the same time, they have to develop their entire marketing stack from scratch—“building the airplane wing while they fly the plane” in highly competitive markets.

But one world-class startup marketer, Sean Wilcox, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Rafay Systems, leveraged Gravitate’s know-how to address these challenges and take Rafay from startup to success story in record time.



Sean Wilcox, SVP of Marketing at Rafay

Our board recognizes that 20% of Rafay’s 2021-22 revenue can be attributed to Gravitate’s work.

Sean Wilcox, SVP of Marketing Rafay Systems

The Challenge

Rafay Systems developed a breakthrough software-as-a-service platform that helped take Kubernetes from a Google in-house software development tool to a mainstream technology. Top-tier Silicon Valley VCs (venture capitalists) recognized Rafay’s potential and invested aggressively—$33 million to date. And with big investments come big expectations: Tech investors typically expect 10x returns within 3-4 years.

And yet, VCs don’t want to invest in unproven technology. Budgets are tight and headcount is almost nonexistent until the startup gains sales traction. For his first year at Rafay, Sean was the startup’s only marketer. He knew he needed to jumpstart marketing programs without breaking the bank, so in October 2020 he retained us to drive his digital marketing programs.


The Solution

Sean says, “The Gravitate team’s understanding of tech startups and the Kubernetes market helped us launch fast and drive quick returns.” Within a few weeks, our team of digital strategists launched Google Ads and LinkedIn Ads, deployed SEO (search engine optimization) to increase website traffic, and applied CRO (conversion rate optimization) to maximize website-based lead generation.

The results speak for themselves: Website traffic increased 10x in the 18 months since we launched our programs, and leads across all channels increased 8x.

Building analytics dashboards for real-time visibility

We built analytics dashboards to track results for all of these programs, enabling Rafay to get the most bang for its marketing budget. Sean says, “Some agencies just deliver checkboxes and call it a day. Gravitate took the time to understand our big-picture marketing goals with a focus on results that matter most to our investors and board members. And with analytics dashboards, we could show our results and justify our marketing budget.”

We developed dashboards for two distinct audiences. First, high-level KPI dashboards focused on the big-picture results that executives care about such as sales leads, cost per lead, and website traffic—and all in real time so Sean was never caught off guard by drive-by questions.


Google Ads KPI Dashboard

In this dashboard, KPIs for Google Ads such as impressions, clicks, conversions (leads), and cost per conversion are tracked against agreed-upon goals. If a KPI goes in the wrong direction, our strategists jump on the problem. Here, cost per conversion exceeded the goal because search terms were tightened—an acceptable increase since the quality of leads improved.

Next, Sean and our digital strategists needed deep-dive analytics across multiple programs and platforms to optimize each of Rafay’s marketing programs: paid search and paid social by campaign, SEO by traffic and search term, and CRO by web page and leads generated.


Google Analytics 4 web traffic dashboard

This web traffic dashboard shows that overall sessions and new user traffic consistently improved. Rafay’s product marketing team used these results to determine which technology topics were hottest, driving the creation of future marketing content.

Leveraging deep-dive analytics like this, Sean and our strategists were able to double down on programs that worked, and fix or eliminate those that didn’t—all at a rapid pace thanks to weekly meetings and agile, results-focused processes.

Let’s take an in-depth look at Rafay’s digital marketing  programs:


Delivering high-intent prospects with search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a highly effective channel for startups because it puts their products in front of key audiences as they search for technology solutions. For the Rafay account, we leveraged Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, and even Facebook remarketing ads to drive top-of-funnel prospects into Rafay’s marketing pipeline. Sophisticated copywriting and keyword targeting drove early wins, and successful campaigns were quickly scaled up to drive rapid growth.

Ongoing analysis and optimization are the key to SEM success in competitive markets. When Microsoft Ads performed poorly, their budget was quickly redirected to higher-performing Google Ads. And when Google began disapproving Rafay ads that mentioned competitors, text was swiftly rewritten and resources were reallocated to more tolerant LinkedIn ads.

Overall, SEM-driven lead volume increased 17x under our management.


Targeting primary buyers with paid social marketing

It’s not enough for B2B startups to target prospects via search engine marketing, because those prospects may not even know that the new technology exists. A paid social channel like LinkedIn is key because it puts the new technology in front of the right prospects, based on known criteria such as their employers, job titles, technology interests, and industry verticals.

Our technology marketing experience combined with knowledge gained from Rafay’s SEM campaigns meant their LinkedIn ads could launch quickly. And leveraging sophisticated LinkedIn tools such as Forms, Events, and Conversations, plus a partnership with technology evaluation website G2, meant Rafay’s LinkedIn ads beat industry averages for form conversion rates and cost per lead. Our early success earned free consulting services from LinkedIn that are usually reserved for larger enterprises, driving further ROI.

Gravitate doesn’t charge a commission on ad spend, so I know they’re looking out for our interests – not just getting more markup – when they recommend bigger ad budgets.

Melanie Haughton, Director of Growth Marketing Rafay Systems

Getting to page one in Google Search

Rafay Systems was a newcomer in a technology space crowded with larger, more established competitors. Brand awareness was critical, but Rafay was ranking on page 100+ for key terms in Google’s Search. We leveraged deep SEO (search engine optimization) know-how and an understanding of the Kubernetes ecosystem to provide recommendations for website optimization, on-page optimization, focused gateway pages, and content such as blog posts and collateral.  The net result was frequent appearances on page one of Google Search,  a 13x increase in sessions, and an 8x increase in new visitors in 14 months.

Maximizing website ROI

The best websites aren’t online brochures, they’re brand awareness and lead-gen machines. It’s nice to drive more traffic, but if the website can’t convert, then you won’t see great results. As part of our holistic approach to the digital ecosystem, we deployed CRO (conversion rate optimization) techniques such as user tracking, heat-map analysis, and A/B testing to improve the user flow through the website, maximizing our lead generation efforts. In other words, driving better results across the board.

Making a startup look like an established enterprise

We aren’t just a digital marketing agency. We strive to be a trusted partner in the most competitive markets, and we pull out all the stops to drive client success. We introduced Rafay to candidates for hard-to-fill product marketing roles; recruited technical writers for blogs, web content, and collateral; recommended public relations and branding partners; designed hundreds of display ads; and we even busted out our best dad jokes for headlines in a campaign targeting a top competitor, Rancher Labs.

Display Ads

We also leveraged our technology know-how to create illustrations for Rafay blogs and social media posts. Sean says, “Most illustrators wouldn’t know what to do with a Kubernetes article, but Gravitate nailed abstract topics quickly, and the images looked great – like they came from a much larger company.”

Blog Illustrations

increase in web traffic
increase in lead volume
reduction in cost per lead

What’s the bottom line?

In the 18 months since Rafay Systems retained us, their revenue increased 15x. What’s more, Sean says, “Gravitate enabled us to prove that our marketing model was scalable and cost-effective, supporting our $25M series B funding round and laying the foundation for a successful series C.” He adds, “We asked Gravitate to increase their retainer to match our growth, and I’ve recommended them to several startups in our investors’ portfolios.” For a marketing agency, there’s no higher praise.

Want to learn more about our services for hypergrowth tech companies? Visit our enterprise services page or contact us anytime.

Sean Wilcox, SVP of Marketing at Rafay

I’ve recommended Gravitate to several startups in our investors’ portfolios.

Sean Wilcox, SVP of Marketing Rafay Systems