As many people know, Focus.com is a startup/emerging organization again. I am doing what I love: Selling and marketing a new product and brand. As I go through the process of building a business again, I am learning and being reminded of a number of key points that I thought I would share.
My notes from the startup trenches:
1. Talk to as many potential customers or people who can help you get to potential customers as is humanly possible — When you “don’t know what you don’t know”, you have to start by talking to people, lots of them. You can’t be precise, you have to make some business guesses on your buyer persona and start talking. My old boss Stu Silverman who advises startups on building demand used to tell CEO’s to trade the budget for the extra sales guy and spend it on leads/meetings. He was right. You will figure it out, but you can’t do that sitting in a meeting room drawing diagrams on whiteboards.
2. There is no such thing as a conversion rate, not yet anyway — See above. If you aren’t exhausted, it’s not a startup. Conversion rates come with volume. You don’t have that yet.
3. You know how the buyer is supposedly 70-80% into their decision when they talk to a vendor? -At a startup they are 0% — Steady state rules don’t apply at startups. There is not BANT – you have to talk to people who likely haven’t thought about a solution like yours and certainly have not thought about you. Your goal is to find people who have a pain and get them to believe that you can solve it.
4. When they built pyramids, most of their population died along the way – That was saying my old coworker Steve Lilly used to tell me. This is HARD and some people just won’t make it with you to the finish line. All over Linkedin, you will folks who failed at startups (sometimes more than once) but made it somewhere else. The grind gets to some of the most talented people and unfortunately, there are casualties that you have to live with.
5. Humble pie, eat it — The best thing for me has been eating humble pie. One day you think you are the f-ing Funnelholic, and the next day you are wondering if you can sell anything. Startup selling and marketing is good for the soul and bad for the ego. Try it. Too much ego makes you arrogant anyway.
6. Bring your A-game every day — Yes, this is a corny one, but it’s an important one. I was whacked in the face with this mid-way through last quarter. You have to bring it because you can’t afford to miss opportunities and…
7. Time is the enemy — You have to make the most of every pitch, every call, every email, etc. No time to “check in”, every movement needs to have reason– keep your eye on the clock. In most cases, survival is predicated on taking long sales cycles down to less than three months. At Oracle, if someone misses their number, the ship still sails…at a startup, jobs are lost or worse.
I say a bunch of things, some are quoted and others are forgotten. I figured I would jot them down and see if we can learn anything from them…musings from Craig Rosenberg, like it or not:
1. Content won’t solve the problem, but you probably can’t solve the problem without content — I am completely bought into the content marketing game. However, if you need more deals/pipeline, the answer is not “more content” although content should be included as part of the plan. I talked to a couple startup marketers who told me the first thing they need to go do is create content. Let me get this straight, you are just starting to figure out how to make money and you want to create content first? Actually….
2. Don’t be a sissy, call people — I am sorry, you want to start a business? You want to launch a new product? The first thing you do is get on the phone. You will learn more from that than anything else. And don’t tell them you are doing market research, just sell…it’s ok. If you ask someone: “If I came to you and said you could do X what would you say”. If they know it will do no harm, they will say “yes”. If you ask someone, can i send you a proposal for X. You will know what they really think. Then you can create content. Buyer personas? Same thing…just make sure you know one thing:
3. You can’t create buyer personas without talking to them — Please don’t make buyer personas without talking to these people. I suggest you start with your theory and go test it live. Then create content, it will be better. By the way, have you noticed:
4. We have a bunch of people in the workforce who have never been spanked — I am telling you…I brought this up to a colleague and she said: “No kidding, can I ask that on a job description? Along with: Where you on a losing team and didn’t get a trophy? Do you call your parents’ friends mr. and mrs?” I remember seeing a tweet from @damphoux: “Please keep working hard #thingsIneverhadtobetold” Funny, sometimes I have whipped this one out:
5. There is a bus strapped with a bomb that can’t go less than 55 miles per hour or it will blow up. You are Keanu Reeves, please act accordingly — Net-net, look at the clock man and get urgent. I don’t want you to make bad decisions by rushing, but I want you to know a bunch of people on this bus are counting on you and f-ing up and saying “my bad” isn’t going to do anyone any good.
PS If you read this as bitterness, you don’t know me. I wrote this smiling and having fun.
First a preface on my inspiration for this post:
- Marc Andreessen’s blog is without a doubt one of my favorite business blogs. I read his posts like an engrossing book.
- The post that I am referencing here — “How to hire the best people you have ever worked with” — was published a year ago but still resonates with me, so much so that I felt compelled to write this.
- I have worked for over 27 startups or emerging organizations since 2000 and am in the midst of building one as we speak. Hiring the right people is one of the single most important things you can do.
- Yes, this is a B2B (business-to-business) lead-generation blog, but the lessons learned are critical: If you want your organization to be filled with “hitters,” then this post should still resonate with you.
- What makes a sales team work? The people. Process supports them, but human execution is the key factor.
Even if I am at a large organization, I want my team to be disruptive, admired and remembered for overachievement. That means I have to assemble a team of “A” players. The “Andreessen Three” as I call them have become my guiding principals.
I can’t stop thinking about this Andreessen post — it just resonates with me, I quote it, think about it and continue to admire it. Oddly enough, considering how brilliant he and the people with whom he has built companies in the past are, “smarts” is not one of the key traits he lists. Here are the “Andreessen Three”:
1. Drive: Man, this word is so cliché (e.g., those stupid posters you see in dentist offices with a picture of Pebble Beach and the definition of “drive”), but it’s still a very powerful concept in its truest form. Wrote Andreessen:
I define drive as self-motivation — people who will walk right through brick walls, on their own power, without having to be asked, to achieve whatever goal is in front of them. People with drive push and push and push and push and push until they succeed. … Drive is independent of educational experience, grade point averages, and socioeconomic background.
This is so dead-on. You may say it’s obvious, but it’s not. Sorry, it just isn’t. And by the way, I don’t mean that a candidate is driven simply if he or she says “I’m driven” or “I’m competitive.” Interviewees know that’s what you want to hear — and they’ll do everything they can to convince you it’s true.
The key to determining whether candidates are truly motivated is to find real examples of their drive. Note: these examples don’t have to be related to the job for which they’re interviewing, you just have to know they have it in them.
Example: The guy who runs my global lead business. I got his resume, saw that he had a technology background, did inside sales and had other solid qualifications, but what was most interesting was that he made a film. He had no experience in movie making, no money to do it — just an idea and heart. He raised the money, filmed the footage, edited the film and delivered it. (Here it is if you are interested) Soup-to-nuts. Boom! DRIVE. When he interviewed, he said, “Well, you probably want to talk about my technology sales experience.” I said, “No, I want to talk about how you got a movie made in three years.” His story was amazing. Getting it done with nothing and from nothing. That’s drive.
Do the math yourself. Who rose to the occasion in your work or personal life? One common trait pervades: Drive. Thank you Andreessen. My number one goal in assembling a team, no matter what I’m trying to achieve, is to fill my group with driven people and constantly challenge them to prove their drive.
Side note: It’s so ridiculously awesome that Andreessen wrote about hiring folks out of IBM Corp. I once hired an amazing inside sales rep — he was 69-years-old and was a VP of IBM in the day. His tip for me was to always avoid hiring IBM, Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc, (insert big company here) sales reps until they had worked for at least one or two additional companies. Let me tell you, when you get them after some pain and failure, you’ll be more than satisfied, but if you get them directly out of Big Company XXX, you’ll have to live through their “real world” adjustment. As Andreessen wrote:
Finally, beware in particular people who have been at highly successful companies. People used to say, back when IBM owned the industry: never hire someone straight out of IBM. First, let them go somewhere else and fail. Then, once they’ve realized the real world is not like IBM, hire them and they’ll be great.
2. Curiosity: This was interesting for me, since I typically define what Andreessen called “curiousity” as passion. Nonetheless his point is the same:
Anyone who loves what they do is inherently intensely curious about their field, their profession, their craft. They read about it, study it, talk to other people about it … immerse themselves in it, continuously. And work like hell to stay current in it. Not because they have to. But because they love to. Anyone who isn’t curious doesn’t love what they do. And you should be hiring people who love what they do.
Again, BINGO. I never called it curiosity, but I do now.
I do have one challenge: Finding a person with curiosity in B2B sales and marketing can be tough. I mean, if I were hiring 24-year-old kids to Facebook, I would certainly worry about this a lot less, but in B2B there’s a lot less sizzle.
How do I figure out if candidates are curious? It’s hard. See above, but my first step is to determine if they have drive. After that, I have to figure out if they’re curious. Remember the trait of being curious can overcome actual field-specific experience. For instance, if candidates don’t have a B2B background, I can say with confidence the curious will do everything they can to get up-to-speed — and do so with vigor and enthusiasm.
I have had plenty of people come through without B2B experience. The ones that worked never said, “Well, I’m not experienced in B2B.” They said, “I will be as knowledgeable as anyone in 3 weeks.” Those people stay longer to read, they are initiating coffee and lunch with company thought leaders, and they are meeting with friends in the business.
Example: Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots. Brady was a late round draft pick by the Patriots. The coaching staff took a flier on him but never really knew he would be a stud (as a matter of fact, general manager Scott Filoli keeps a picture of Brady on his desk to remind him how lucky he is to have gotten him). In his rookie season, the coaching staff figured out that he was going (or sneaking) into the film room on his own and watching game film for hours. He never told anyone, he just did it. Tom’s drive is legendary, but his curiosity is just as much a part of his character. And we all know how that story finishes.
3. Ethics: This is simple. Andressen recommended asking a question candidates won’t know and seeing how they react. If they say “I don’t know,” you may be better off than if they start spewing BS. I would add that there are ways to react to tricky questions without saying “I don’t know,” such as, “I don’t know that answer now, but I guarantee you that I will by 9pm tonight.”
Example: Do I need one? Anyone heard of Enron? The unethical don’t always break the law, they just don’t always tell you the truth. And let’s face it, that just isn’t going to work for anyone.
When I catch someone at work in a lie, it’s over. It’s been like that long before I read Andreessen’s article. Trust is not over-rated, it’s an absolute must.
So there you have it. I start with drive, work my way to curiosity and then cut ’em if they’re unethical. But don’t take this from me: read Andreessen’s post.