527: Should Founders Be Doing Sales? Will Prospects Take Their Startups Serious?
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about if founders should be doing sales.
Sales can be tricky for experienced and new founders, and it’s very common for some founders to want to delegate sales to someone else as they worry that customer will judge them or see their company as a small company and not want to do business with them. However, the opposite is the case most of the time and in practice, people love talking to founders.
In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how some founders are concerned about doing sales themselves, why it’s better for founders to do sales themselves, how some founders’ let their insecurities get in the way of their success and much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:00 About today’s topic.
00:45 Why this topic was chosen.
01:55 How some founders are concerned about doing sales themselves.
02:25 Why it’s better for founders to do sales themselves.
04:06 How Hiten does sales for his own startup.
04:54 How some founders’ let their insecurities get in the way of their success.
05:30 How the customer wants you to solve their problem.
06:07 How the customer matters.
06:35 How people are thrilled to talk to founders.
07:50 How Hiten and his cofounder get on sales calls together
3 Key Points:
- I think it’s better if the founder sells.
- Insecurities can stand in the way of success.
- The customer wants you to solve their problem.
Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.
Hetin Shah: And this is Hetin Shah.
Steli Efti: And today on the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about, how do we want to frame this, should founders sell themselves, or is that projecting a weird or weak message to the world? So, this is going to be a short rent episode, but I feel like, maybe especially our audience or some people in the audience, will benefit from hearing this. I was on a mentor call recently, and there were a bunch of self-funded founders and self-funded SAS entrepreneurs on that call. And there were a lot of questions around selling. And then one founder asked a question. It’s one of those rare ones where I’ve heard it many times over the years, but I’ve never addressed it afterwards, in kind of a one piece of content to share that, my opinion about this, with the world. It kind of clicked and I was like, “I can’t believe I’ve never talked about this on the podcast. I’ve never talked about this on a video or something like that.” So I wanted to chat with you about this real quick, the basic premise being… And I’ll ask you first, see what you think and what you would have told this founder and then I’ll tell everybody what I told them. But here’s a founder that has built a SAS product that is in the early days. And he asked me, he said basically, “Listen, I’m a bit concerned that if I’m starting to reach out to people by email and cold calling and all that, and I’m like, ‘Hey, I want to sell you this product.’ And then they’re like, ‘Oh what’s your position in the company?’ And I have to say, ‘I’m the founder.’ Then it will obviously communicate that I am tiny, there’s nobody else working at this company, and I’m probably desperate because why otherwise would the founder involve themselves in cold emailing people, and ask them for appointments, and giving them demos, and trying to close them on a deal?'” And he was like, “Wouldn’t it be better if it just hired somebody to do this? So, we maintain the appearance of being a successful, maybe bigger company.” That question was directed to you, Hetin. If somebody was like, “Hetin, should I sell myself? Or will they create kind of a bad impression in the market because I’m the founder? Should I rather just hire somebody to do that, so people don’t think I’m desperate and small?” What’s your general response to that?
Hetin Shah: I think it’s better if the founder sells. And I think there’s some level of imposter syndrome happening when these folks are like making up reasons why they shouldn’t be selling. I think it’s all made up junk.
Steli Efti: Now let me ask you, Hetin, you have a really big profile. You’re really well-known around the world. In Sudden Valley, you’re were an icon in SAS, you’re a pioneer in this space, you and are around amazingly successful human being.
Hetin Shah: Is this my obituary?
Steli Efti: No.
Hetin Shah: I’m just kidding, Steli, I take the compliment.
Steli Efti: And you are notoriously bad at taking compliments.
Hetin Shah: There you go. Thank you.
Steli Efti: This could be on both of our…
Hetin Shah: Obituaries.
Steli Efti: Or tomb stones where it’s like, “Does not take compliments well.”
Hetin Shah: [inaudible] for the life of them. There you go.
Steli Efti: But you, with your current startup, you’re doing it all. You’ve done, I don’t know, a bazillion customer development calls, and you’ve done surveys where you jumped on calls with millions of people, I feel like. And ask them about all their problems and everything. And, so I’m like, “Hetin Shah is offering almost anybody, hey, if you are the type of user that I want to build a product for and solve this issue for, I want to talk to you. I want to learn from you. I’m going to figure things out. I’m going to give you an hour and ask all the questions, trying to learn from you.” And here’s this less experience founder, or way less successful, way less known. And all of the sudden this person is like, “[inaudible 00:04:31] all these tasks, are they not beneath me? Will people not judge me if I sent them an email telling them I want to talk to them about my product, or sell it to them or whatever?” And so that kind of a thing drives me crazy, because it is an imposter syndrome problem, but it’s also so… This is the type of thing where insecurities are really standing in our ways of success, and of doing the right things.
Hetin Shah: Right.
Steli Efti: Right? All this insecurity that bubbles up, what will other people think of me?
Hetin Shah: Who cares?
Steli Efti: Boom. That’s why I love you. Who the fuck cares? Who cares? Who cares? Are you in the business of making this company and yourself successful? Or do you want to be popular? These things are not the same thing. Or do you want to have a glamorous appearance at all times with everybody you interact with? That is a…
Hetin Shah: Yeah. Here’s the thing, the customer wants you to solve their problem. They don’t care about anything else.
Steli Efti: They don’t care.
Hetin Shah: What is you as a founder, going out and talking to them have to do with that? In fact, it’s a framing. It’s a point of view. It’s like, “Yeah, I’m the founder, and I’m doing this. Because this matters. It just matters, because you matter, the customer matters.”
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hetin Shah: So of course, I’m going to do this, Ill go do it all day. I’ll do whatever I have to if it’s in service to the customer. The customer matters. And it doesn’t matter who you are and what your title is. In fact, if you think you’re a founder and you’re beneath sales, Steli is going to check you at the door.
Steli Efti: There you go. And first of all, it’s above sales, which nobody is.
Hetin Shah: Yeah. Whatever is, above, below, I don’t know. Either way, you’re going to get checked at the door if you’re [crosstalk] selling for any reason, dude.
Steli Efti: You have to check yourself before you wreck yourself, because…
Hetin Shah: There you go.
Steli Efti: This is bullshit. Number one, nobody gives a fuck. Number two, people are thrilled to talk to the founder.
Hetin Shah: Absolutely thrilled. I’d never seen a scenario where it’s not like that. So, yeah.
Steli Efti: People are like “Wow. All right. I’m talking to somebody that has ultimate power. That probably has expertise, that has influenced.” How is that a bad thing?
Hetin Shah: I’ll even tell you what, both my co-founder and I, Maria and I, get on calls for sales, at the same time.
Steli Efti: There you go. Look at that.
Hetin Shah: Think about what that signals to people. We give a shit. And this is at FYI, we’re about 15 people, both of us are getting on these calls. Both of us. That’s how important they are.
Steli Efti: And you know what? Some person will think now, Hetin… And this is another thing we should do a whole episode about, because it pisses me off, is somebody is listening to this now and is thinking “Well, Steli Efti and Hetin Shah, of course, once I’m an icon, once I’m successful, of course, people are going to be thrilled to talk to me. But if I’m a nobody, and I’m the founder, people will laugh at me and will judge me. And you guys are out of touch with what it means to be a nobody.”
Hetin Shah: These people are not getting anything else from me, except my need to learn from them. They’re not getting anything else. I’m not sitting there giving them advice. I’m not doing anything except trying to learn what I can do for them.
Steli Efti: Besides that, Hetin, you’ve been doing this from day one.
Hetin Shah: Yeah.
Steli Efti: It’s like me. When we launched clothes, I think for the first year, I called every single trial sign up. And I was like, [crosstalk] “Hey, I’m the founder. I wanted to welcome you to the trial. You’re awesome, how did you find us?” And people were like, “Are you really?” And then eventually, once some people knew me, maybe the people that came and signed up, they’d watched a video of me or something, they’re like, “Are you really Steli? Are you shitting me?” I’m like, “Of course.” They’re like, “You have time to call people?” I’m like, “What is there that’s more important?”
Hetin Shah: What do you want me to do?
Steli Efti: What you want me to do?
Hetin Shah: [crosstalk] You signed up for my thing. You want me to help you out, right? I’m here to help you, what’s up?
Steli Efti: People are always going to be positively surprised. Nobody’s going to judge you on this. We’ve been doing this when nobody knew who we were, and it has nothing to do with, “Oh, once I’m so successful, then I could do this.” People are thrilled to talk to the founder. There’s nothing more important to do. Craig from Craigslist was doing support the entire time that Craigslist existed, it was hundreds of millions in revenue, where he was world famous, whatever, and he was still answering support tickets. There is no, this is beneath you, or people will judge you. And by the way, if there is a prospect or a customer that is so arrogant, misguided, and confused that they will judge you and go, “Oh my God, this fonder takes the time to talk to me. Well, then it’s not a company I want to buy from.” Then fuck them. [inaudible]
Hetin Shah: This is part of the experience. This is what you’re buying.
Steli Efti: If you have to constantly lie and pretend that you’re this big prestigious company, although you’re just a single founder that’s trying to get something honest and valuable out in the market, the effort it’s going to take you to keep up appearances with BS potential prospects, it’s going to burn you up, and you’re not going to accomplish anything. If somebody is telling you that your size is not a good fit for them. Fine. Move on. Find a customer that appreciates…
Hetin Shah: Yeah. They’re not an early adopter. They’re not right for you. It’s not a big deal. Don’t take it personally either. Just move on.
Steli Efti: Just move on.
Hetin Shah: I think the notion is a little crazy that, as a founder, you need to put up a front. And we sit there and we tell people, “We’re 15 people, and the companies we compete with right now are much larger.” And we don’t even bring that into account. As we’re talking, we’re like, “We’re 15 people, and the majority of companies are engineering, isn’t that what you want?
Steli Efti: Yeah. At the end of the day, it’s all an exchange of confidence. If you can find some level of confidence in yourself and belief, and you think, “You know what I’m doing can be really valuable. I really care. I have expertise and I’m going to deliver something valuable. I’m not going to deliver anything.” If you can bring that to the table, it doesn’t even matter what the answer is. You could see where two people or 2000 or 2 million people. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that people listen to you and feel like, “I think these folks are winners. I think these folks seem to be authentic and honest, and seem to be comfortable. And they seem to believe that what they’re doing is working. So maybe I should believe in it as well.” So, you have to find this in yourself, no number or no thing will make this work or not. You said you shared the amount of people that work at your company. We’ve been sharing that number from day one, and we’ve always, by a factor of a hundred X, have been smaller than all our competitors, right?
Hetin Shah: That’s right. Yep.
Steli Efti: We’re not shying away from this. We’re not pretending that we’re 4,000 people. We’re 40 people and our smallest competitors is like over 1,000 people. So, look at our products. Which product is better? And we sell it as a strength. We’re the best team in the market. Not the biggest. Don’t hide, don’t run away, and don’t try to pretend something you’re not. Ultimately, it’s just going to waste so much energy and it’s going to attract the wrong prospects, the wrong customers, the wrong employees.
Hetin Shah: Totally.
Steli Efti: And it’s going to be the beginning of the end. You’re the founder. Selling to customers, supporting customers, emailing customers, fixing bugs, all these things, nothing, cleaning the bathroom, your office, nothing is beneath you. You’re the founder. And especially when it comes to anything that relates to customers, you should be involved in the trenches and don’t feel two ways about it. And don’t make yourself crazy with these kind of bullshit things of like, “Oh, what will people think of me?” The right people will think that hopefully you’re awesome, and this is somebody that cares about their customers and cares about me. So I want to do business with them. And those that don’t…
Hetin Shah: That’s right.
Steli Efti: …think that, they don’t matter.
Hetin Shah: That’s right.
Steli Efti: All right. End of rent. This is it from us for this episode of the Startup Chat. Keep selling, keep talking to your customers, keep talking to your customers. Until next time, we’ll hear you very soon.
Hetin Shah: Talk to your customers.