Being in a startup means going to startup events to meet other startups and talk about startups. You may think of a “startup” as two guys working feverishly in a garage and suddenly dropping the bomb of a revolutionary new product onto the unsuspecting world. But what I saw is best summarized by a friend’s comment: “have you actually seen them ship anything?”
Business is about earning money, and you do that by delivering something of value to a customer. A “customer” is, by definition of a befriended accountant, “someone who paid.” Startups, in order to be legitimate businesses, also need someone to pay and they indeed find such people. They’re called venture capitalists.
Now, before you start sending me examples of startups actually delivering something and getting paid for it, I assure you I’ve seen them. I just wouldn’t call them startups. You won’t meet their founders on most startup events. You can meet them at work, when they’re not meeting their customers, or spend quality time with their cherished families. They’re just plain, old businesses.
Who are you? How do you expect me to trust you? I know you do, because you’re trying to sell me something. You’re a startup; you put together a cool tool, working with your friends in a garage. You’re ready to hit the market. No-one knows you.
When you don’t have past achievements to speak for you, then all you have is transparency. Blog, tweet, share. Write about your ups and downs, explain your philosophy, speak of what you learn while working. It’s not likely to get you a seven-figure order, but it will build trust among your prospective customers and at some point some exec with a budget surplus will say “o hell, let’s check these guys out.”
I killed a salesman last week. He called from my cell phone company, he offered me a contract renewal, he kept using 10 words wherever 1 would suffice and kept pushing me to close the deal now, today, immediately. “I don’t understand; you already said you’re taking the offer!” Did I? He earned some well deserved frustration, hang up mumbling something about a time-waste.
“I’ve a better deal for you than you’ll get at our stores” said another salesman calling from the same firm today. I said “I’m listening.” 5 minutes later we closed the deal, the salesman congratulated, thanked me and left to cash in his commission. No pressure, clean, accurate facts, knew what he was selling. When I spoke, he listened. When I was thinking his proposal over, he stayed silent.
Too bad I’ve no way of contacting him in person. I’ve more contracts coming up for renewal.
Are you listening?
If a development team is the heart of an IT firm, then the sales team is its face. The eyes that scan markets, the mouth that speaks about products, ears that listen to customers and the nose that sniffs for opportunities and problems. There are successful companies with great sales and lousy technology, while marvellous technologies with bad salesmen perish quickly. Why would you want to operate your business without a face?
The first thing you’ll find out when trying to work in sales is that it’s hard. It requires constantly exposing yourself to rejection, ignorance, abuse and a lot of pressure. You get targets, which are strictly bound to your salary and therefore living standard, if not survival. Then if one-on-one meetings with customers weren’t bad enough, you have salesmen from other companies competing for the same dollars you’re trying to collect. Why not help yourself? Let another entity do the sales for you:
Pretty nice, isn’t it? With sales out of the way all you have to deal with is working to improve your products.
Truth is you’re not making the products for the fun of making products. Well alright, you do, but only after you deliver them to someone who’ll value them more than the money they’ll give you in exchange. Since you’re making products for others, you probably want to be in touch with them often, so that you get plenty of feedback.
Now, who knows your product best? Who cares the most about your product? Certainly not the commission-based salesmen. They’ll know what you’ll tell them, which is a small subset of what’s available. They’ll have products from different vendors, so if yours doesn’t fit, they’ll choose another. No feedback, no chance for you to adjust, improve and deliver. You cut yourself away from the very source that feeds you, both with new ideas and with cash to keep running: your customers. Think well before you choose that path.