- I believe, for starters and industry outsiders, there is a lot of focus on the glamour and gossip – like how much funding did a startup raise, that popular ‘rags to riches’ story and how meeting that mentor can make you the next Flipkart
- As I believe, I’m still in the plateau between success and failure, I can give a balanced opinion on relevant topics. More importantly, share my learnings and insights so that, the people who read this can make their startups/ projects more successful
- I believe, it is my way of contributing to the startup ecosystem
- Selling is the most important thing in a startup. In spite of being a non-techie (in the startup lingo), I always underestimated the power of sales in a tech startup but I have ended up changing my opinion drastically.
- By selling, I don’t just mean selling the product or getting that first customer. It is much beyond – you need to sell yourself, your profile, your vision, your idea, your leadership, your network, your potential, your talent and most importantly, your confidence
- Moreover, I believe if you are starting up, you don’t need only confidence, you need some over-confidence. Because, the kind of criticism, questions and if you are fortunate, jealousy, you are going to face, is beyond the student or office politics you would have witnessed
- Before, I give you the actionable gyaan, let me just give you some context. Interestingly, I chose one of the toughest sectors possible in startup – edtech. Don’t believe me? Then please answer: Which publicly traded edtech company has been profitable?
- So, I’m not going to give you the “You can sell gyaan”. I’m going to break it down for you:
a. We started selling, even before, we had made the first version of the product. Since, we were selling a relatively newer concept of mentoring, we started interacting with schools and offering the product at a price, just to know if they would pay for it. This gave us a very good idea, as to what are the elements of a service the paying customer values.
b. We did cold-calling and walkins, just to get a feel on how difficult it would be to sell in a newer market or without any contacts or credentials. Through this, we got honest feedback on the idea and got a glimpse of how difficult B2B selling will always be.
c. We started publicizing in our networks, social media, families and even to strangers, about what we are building. Infact, that’s how we got the first paying customer – through, the reference of an acquaintance, who had a rough idea of what we were doing.
d. We participated in a lot of competitions and burnt the midnight oil to ensure that we atleast get a chance to make that elevator pitch. Of course, we didn’t win most of the competitions, but we won many – enough to ensure that we connected with the right mentors, came to know other companies in our sector and yes enough to keep that ‘Anu aunty’ quiet about what we were doing in our lives. Here, I’m a firm believer in the law of probability of success. I believe that the probability of success for any good candidate/firm is a constant, what can increase the total number of wins, is the number of attempts they make.
e. We collaborated and even helped competitors and allied companies. I believe, startups, no matter how big of a competitor they are with each other, can help each other, become successful. As, most of us are working on creating something which never existed before, we are creating new industries in some places, and if we stop sharing that ‘basic’ information, with each other, we might just slower the overall pace of the industry.
f. We reached out to sector experts and famous investors early on. This gave us some hard truths as to what they found scalable, questionable and most importantly investible. In some of the meetings, we did receive some harsh feedback, but I believe our over confidence or belief of some of the mentors (potential angels) in us beyond the 10X return or billion dollar company, helped us go beyond. One of the tips in reaching out to the biggies was, we never asked for any investment and we always asked for advice, and interestingly, most of the discussions ended up, they asking how much and when we plan to raise.
g. We exposed our vulnerabilities. In startup conferences and meetups, where people showcased that they were on to the next Facebook, we humbly told about the challenges we were facing. We openly discussed our ideas and business plans. This helped us in crowdsourcing ideas, getting some important contacts and even, get some volunteer help.
a. We depended too much on technology. So, when that web development company we were dependant on did a horrible job of postponing things and doing inefficient execution, we thought we were helpless. Only, to realise that we could build and execute much faster and even get paid customers through Weebly. (I’m ready to volunteer half an hour for any entrepreneur, who wants to learn more about weebly). We believe, I didn’t sell the concept or content enough.
b. I took time to build the team. Again, since I was caught in the chicken and egg problem of getting the basic product out and then, getting a co-founder, this process took a back seat. Although, I found the right people ultimately, there were moments, where I felt scared, lonely and even depressed. Only to realize now, that there are a lot of people ready to join someone on a mission. So, there need not be an opportune time.
c. We sold at the wrong time and thought that the sales were questionable. Not understanding, that selling to schools is a seasonal business. I personally tried to reach out to 30 schools in February (Board exam period), only to receive a contact us later or not interested. This is when, I lost some confidence, and started thinking emotionally, doubting the product and its value.
I’m really glad that you made it till here and would love your feedback on the blog, because like a good salesman, my objective is to make this of value to you. Also, if you are still interested in the glamour part – if we have raised funds or what’s our valuation, we are bootstrapping. And if you are thinking why? – That calls for another post on fundraising.
Hoping, this gyaan will help you Get Set Started!