How to Start an EPIC Company – Part 1, MVP

I know a lot of you have considered starting your own company. Some of you have even launched a product already. It’s easy to find yourself dreaming up the biggest idea in the world to start with, but success is a series of wins.

I’m launching an app later this year. Yes it will change the business world, but the first version of it will seem minuscule in comparison. I want to take you through this journey with me and explain my thoughts along the way.

App idea: email open rate tracker

The Journey

Rather than talk about the app itself, I want to talk about the journey of a sales guy starting a small project. There’s a lot of work that goes into even the smallest application. In this case, a Google extension. Before a single line of code is written, it’s already an emotional roller coaster.

I knew the first thing to do was to strip the idea down to the most basic, go-to-market version. Originally the idea was much more grandiose: a platform to optimize growth operations. That’s not exactly a product and it certainly isn’t easy to bring to market.

The next thought was: ‘what is one basic thing every sales rep should have that some don’t even have yet?’ Thus the first iteration of the product is a basic email tracker.

From there I knew I needed help. I’m not technical at all. The first step would be to ask my friends and colleagues what it would to make such an app.

By the way, I’m calling this Google extension an app. You may call it something else, but I’m calling it a software application.

The Team

So I picked a few friends’ brains, some folks who know a thing or two about the topic. I got a decent high level overview of some of the challenges I would face. I also pulled in some resources I may need to get the project going. A received lots of info about how to scope out a project, where to find labor, and how to evaluate the suitability of that labor source.

In the process of all this I ran into a couple of technical friends who got interested. It’s not a big project and it’s fairly well thought out, so they figured they’d explore with me and see where things go. Obviously it’ll be nice for them because I’ll be the one growing the user base and they can worry about the technical side.

It’s been 2 months and so far we have:

  • Interested co-founders
  • MVP mock up
  • Labor sources
  • A deadline to launch

Next steps is where the real work comes in. From here we’re fully mocking up the app, sourcing the labor, and building the prototype. We have a tentative plan of a November 1 launch date. I’ll keep you posted on our progression and let you know how things unfold.

If you have any questions or if you want to share your experience, leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you’re working on.

The Art/Science of Sales Outreach w/ Steven Broudy

Whether in countless webinars, at another sales conference, or talking to other sales leaders, I keep hearing the following question:

“How do I succeed in driving sales for my company’s SaaS solution, AND do it in a way that is repeatable and easily conveyed to new reps joining the team?”

For this, I reached out to Steven Broudy of Mulesoft. Steven graciously offered his wisdom before in this article about his experience from moving from Army Ranger Sniper Team Leader to sales leader.

Frameworks NOT Scripts & Templates

I’ve run into several companies that give you a script and push you out into the world to figure out how to make that script work. That not only sucks for the rep because they never learn “how to fish,” but it really sucks for the prospect. It’s no wonder that prospects dread cold calls with tactless scripts.

Steven believes you should build a framework for the content you want to present, but not fill in all the blanks for the rep. They should understand the thought process behind creating the framework and fill that framework with their own words.

Personalize @ Scale

When engaging a prospect, you should always follow John Barrows’ old adage and be able to answer,

“why am I reaching out to you, and why am I doing it right now.”

What does that look like tactically? Speak to them personally. Address pains you know they are facing. Connect with them on a shared interest. If all else fails, hit them with some hard truth about how they size up to competition and their peers.

Use their first name. Address their company specifically. Reference recent news about them. Include articles that are relevant to who they are as a person or where their company is in its journey.

As important as personalizing is personalizing at scale. At first you may be able to over personalize each message. However, that doesn’t scale. With a communication medium like email, if you hyper-personalize each message to each prospect, you’re not being efficient with your time.

Prioritize your contacts and accounts. Spend the most time personalizing your message with the highest priority contacts at the highest priority accounts.

Reach Them Where They Live

If you’re prospects are all over Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, go there. Engage with that audience. Engage them credibly. Become influential in that community through effort and insight. If they aren’t online or don’t answer their phone, persist! Send them physical mail or knock on their door if you can.

It’s easy to sit at a computer and use some tools to mass email folks. However, that doesn’t bring you scalable success.

This rings true in my experience. A lot of my prospects don’t utilize or respond to email but they do pick up random calls. That is a heavy part of my outreach now. I don’t neglect the rest of the channels, but I tested in order to find how to engage with them effectively.

You’re Not a Pest if You’re Delivering Value

Steven read the same infographics you did about the ‘correct’ number of touches. Fortunately he didn’t take them at face value. Some quick testing proved that they especially didn’t ring true in his organization and market.

His data showed that more than double the touch points was required to be successful. He could even break down how many opportunities you’re leaving on the table if you stop at each step. If you’re on a prospect list, you’ll receive 6+ emails and 5+ phone calls before you’re put in the ‘get back to them in 3 months’ pile.

That may sound like a lot, but people don’t ignore his reps. His reps also create a higher percentage of opportunities from their prospect list. The numbers don’t lie. Persistence is key, but adding value ON EVERY STEP is the real bread and butter.

At the end of the day, you will mess up with something or someone will be having a bad day. Don’t be afraid to piss some people off. Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried.

Value Add Touches Only

Add value with every call, email, mailer, door knock, social share. Get the point? Don’t just follow up, give them content, resources, and opportunities to improve their work life (or personal life) with every outreach.

Value Add by Challenging Business Methodology

Perhaps the best way you can add real value: challenge their conventional thinking. Sometimes you have to help a prospect understand that there is a better way before you can get them to talk. Show them unequivocally that they can improve their efforts, save money, or eliminate hurdles by considering their options and evaluating your solution.

Show Them the Light

Once they’re onboard that there are other options, show them that the cost of change is radically cheaper than the pain of the same. Teach them about what other, similar prospects have been able to achieve by taking action and engaging with you. Help them create an evaluation process. Reference resources they can consume that will better their decision making skills. Teach them how to buy from you.

Remember, at the end of the day your goal is to positively impact people’s professional (and personal) lives. Focus on taking a doctor-patient like approach, challenge their conventional thinking, and watch as your prospects come to view you as a trusted advisor.

Startup Sales 103 – Growth at All Costs

It’s a common misconception that if you’re building a killer product, you’ll have killer sales. This is far from true. Failure rarely lies in the quality of what you produce. Frequently startups fail because they fail to get product acceptance in their target market.

Failure isn’t NO sales, it’s a low, slow, and expensive sales process. As we talked about in the Startup Sales 102, the best startups have a founding member that is selling the product from the beginning.

If a founding member isn’t selling the product from the beginning, you can guarantee mediocrity from that company.

Am I Failing?

Are you failing right now? How would you know? It’s often hard to identify failure while you’re in the midst of it. Check industry averages and compare your sales efficiency to similar companies. If you need to learn more about sales efficiency, check out Tom Tunguz’s blog post about it here.

Failure is essentially underperforming and failing to frequently improve every step of the process. One of the easiest ways to overcome growth failure is by simply moving past the initial ‘no’ that prospects will give you.

A core part of sales is the initial prospect outreach. We’ve covered what a good ‘Fuck Off’ ratio is, but we haven’t really talked about what a good objection ratio is. A large chunk of replies will simply be a ‘no’ of one sort or another. These ‘no’s aren’t actually no. They’re ‘not right now’ or ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘change is scary.’ Master salesfolk can identify the type of ‘no’ and help the prospect take a step toward a different perspective.

[WARNING: use of Jedi mind tricks to manipulate prospects will result in an Empire tribunal.]

How to Win

Failure is a matter of losing ground on one or all of the steps in your growth operations. To overcome failure, you have to identify which step is limiting success. If you can’t identify it, it’s the first step!

You’re failing at the first step.

Let’s list them out:

  1. Understanding your ideal customer and their needs.
  2. Identifying the companies and people at those companies who you need to be involve in the analyzing/purchasing process
  3. Reaching out to those folks effectively – intro, demo, educate, etc
  4. Generating rapport and overcoming purchasing objections
  5. Closing the deal
  6. Effectively and efficiently onboarding the customer – additional training if necessary
  7. Maintaining an effective relationship with the customer and making sure you’re still fulfilling their needs

Tons of growth ops teams are missing steps, don’t understand how to do other steps, or don’t know how to improve each step. That sucks for the rep who is stuck working with a broken process. Don’t be limited by the material and process you’ve been handed. If there is a more effective way to get the job done, test until you can prove it.

There’s going to be a bit of grunt work in improving the process. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace the challenge, embrace the change. Success is testing and proving that what you knew was wrong and now you know better.

If all else fails, gamify it. Have coworkers compete for bragging rights or power or money.

Final Thoughts

To improve anything, first you have to measure it. This may be more complex than you thought. You have to first truly understand your current results before you can improve them.

Once you have a benchmark standard of your performance, change one isolated piece at a time and measure the change in results. If you’re really clever, you may be able to run as many as two experiments at a time. If you empower your team to run their own experiments, each of them may be able to run one experiment of their own at a time.

The team led experimenting seems to have the fastest results. Once you identify something that works really well, you have to be able to spread that across the rest of the team. This is the drawback of the individual experimenter.

Measure > Test > Institutionalize successes

Easier said than done. Best of luck!

Recruiting in Startupland – Tom Wilkinson @ The Collective Search

Old School Recruiting

If you’re in the startup world and have a skill, you’ve likely been hit up by a myriad of recruiters. It’s very much a spray and pray approach on their part. They look at your LinkedIn, match the experience to their required fields, and pester you until they can get you to come in for an interview.

A lot of these firms don’t even specialize in any niche. They’re a ‘we’ll hire anyone for you’ kind of firm. On top of that, most of them will screen you via phone and maybe meet you once face-to-face. From there it’s going to be a lot of ‘we have this great position for you.’ When really it should be ‘would this opportunity fit into your career goals?’

This type of approach is common and it lacks in some pretty fundamental ways. It’s not a great experience for the one getting recruited and it’s not exactly focused on long-term placements. It tends to be more of a checklist approach where they want to verify that you tick every box on their list.

New Kind of Business

Tom Wilkinson is a long time recruiter and serial entrepreneur. He’s worked with startups and sales teams around the world to build some of the most dynamic Go To Market teams at some of the coolest tech companies.

He’s taking that experience and building a new kind of firm of his own: The Collective Search. Tom has been in business for less than a year and already his client base is growing too fast for him to handle alone. The team is up to 4 people now and they’re hiring several more this year.

What differentiates Tom from most recruiters: personalization at scale. We touched on personalization at scale in a previous post about Jason Vargas @ Datanyze when talking about building an effective sales team. It’s not much different with recruiting.

Tom meets with each candidate (potential employee) and each client (potential employer) in person for an in-depth face to face. Most would call this ‘doing something that doesn’t scale.’ If you follow Paul Graham of Y Combinator, that’s exactly what a founder should do.

Most recruiters are highly transactional. You find a client, search for candidates, screen them, get them an interview, rinse/wash/repeat. According to Tom, this old school method works for some, but it’s not the future. One of the first things that struck me about Tom was that this personal touch comes as first nature:

I genuinely like to interact with people. I like to talk with people, hear people, learn from people.

What are these personalized interactions like? Tom is seeking to understand a few fundamental things about his candidates (what motivates them):

  • What are 3 things you’d like to see in your next role
  • What was missing in previous role
  • Magic wand for the perfect role, what would you want
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years

The answer to these questions change for some, but by asking these questions, you can establish how dedicated someone is to the position they’re applying for. My favorite quote from Tom:

The funny thing about recruiting is that it’s the only industry where the product you’re selling has to be perfect AND the product can change its mind

What Recruiting Success Looks Like

Success in the recruiting world is placing lots of candidates in lots of jobs. Sometimes that creates a perverse incentive structure. If those candidates churn out of those rolls and into new ones, more recruiters get more commissions. No one outright wants that to happen, but getting double commissions ain’t too bad for the ol’ pocketbook.

Tom’s angle is quite a bit different:

The duration of a candidate’s stay at a company is a success benchmark of ours – 2 years = success

2 years represents about 30% longer than the average stay for sales reps in the Bay Area. This sad fact is someone upheld by the multitude of opportunities, the wealth of HORRIBLE leadership in startups, and the lack of dedication of newer sales reps to the roll and the company.

However, for those motivated to do sales in the long run, startup sales is an easy way to get in to the tech world:

  • No bachelor’s required
  • You can be trained to perform at top levels
  • Passion will lead your success
  • Financially drive works to your advantage
  • Introverts can succeed too

For more on how to get a job in the tech work, check out my post on it here.

Also check out my recent Startup Sales series post – What a Quality Startup Looks Like.


Startup Sales 102 – What a Quality Startup Looks Like

What to look for in a startup sales position

This is the 2nd post in a series about working in sales for startups. Find the first post here.

If you are looking to get into startup sales, there are a few things you need to look out for to ensure your own success. It’s easy to find a job, it’s hard to find a great position at a great company and grow with that company. I’ve worked with dozens of startups over the last few years and I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned.

One of the founders has to be selling from the very beginning

This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many co-founder think they can sign up a few beta customers and just hire someone to make their company grow from there. At least one of the founders needs to be selling the product from the very beginning. Ideally, the CEO would continue to sell even after they hire their second, third, and fourth reps.

Know the Ideal Customer and Their Needs Before you Start Building a Product

Founders have to first understand a need in the world before they can successfully build a company around it. This requires doing real market analysis, customer interviews, and beta trials. The quality of these beta trials is determined by how many people join and how applicable the feedback is.

Generally speaking, it is likely not worth it to join a team before they establish product/market fit. This tends to mean they’ve built something but haven’t verified that people desperately want to buy it.

As a rep, this puts you in a place to do all the founders’ dirty work. It is your job to verify that they have a killer product. It’s your job to find who would buy it. It’s your fault if/when it doesn’t take off. It’s not a great place to be. And founders who don’t sell won’t understand why you can’t sell what they’ve built.

The best startups build a product around a clear deficit they see in the market. After you launch a product like this, there is immediate uptake in customers. Right there they know they have something. Those are the best startups.

Join a Team That’s Going Somewhere

If a startup doesn’t have clear traction and one of the founders isn’t selling, those are two massive red flags to steer clear. Don’t join any team who isn’t diligently focused on both of these aspects of their business.

Take your time and have the co-founders explain where they want to be in 5 and 10 years. If you can’t get excited about the product, team, and future of the company (or at least 2 of these), back away slowly.

Great team + great product = OK company

Great product + great future = great company

Great team + great future = robust, great company

Great product, team, and future = priceless

What’s in It For Me

The amount you learn from working in a great team FAR outweighs any title, pay, or benefits you can receive. If the team is mediocre, but they’re offering you a lot it may be worth it in the short term. What will you gain in the long term and how long will you have that job?

However, the best experience is going to be with a winning team where each member is extremely talented at what they do, and they’re successfully applying that to a product with traction. If you find that, you’ve found a figurative pile of gold that may well turn into a literal pile of gold.

Above anything else, remember that your highest priority is you. Do what’s best for you. Don’t sacrifice if you don’t want to. Build your experiences and skill sets. Follow your interests. Don’t keep doing things you don’t enjoy.

If you find yourself procrastinating a lot, it means you’re not interested. Stop doing it right now and find something that you find engaging.

As always, leave comments and I’m happy to respond.

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4 Steps to Double Reply Rates w/ Jason Vargas @ Datanyze

TL;DR 1) consistency, 2) add new prospects every day, 3) first touch is key, 4) follow up

Picture a teenager from California who’s decided to thrust himself into the uncomfortable situation of selling books door to door in rural states across the mid-west. Now imagine that he did so well that he cites that early experience as a catalyst for his continued success.

That’s how Jason Vargas @ Datanyze got his start in sales. To this day, that is one of the most influential experiences he’s undergone. When it comes to hiring, if Jason meets a fellow door to door sales person, he instantly has a connection with them.

The biggest take-away from that experience was that it forced Jason to thrust himself into an uncomfortable situation, face a lot of rejection, and come out successful. He cites the depth of training as a primary resource that allowed him to meet the demand of the position.

Even today Jason crafts his training to be on par with the training he received when he threw himself into the challenging yet rewarding world of door to door book sales.

After he felt comfortable with his door to door pitch, the challenges were mainly around handling rejection. Handling that rejection and teaching others how to do the same has been a driving force in Jason’s success as a sales rep and recently as a sales manager.

38% Reply Rates are the Result of Personalization and Objection Replies

If you’re wondering what industry averages are for reply rates to cold outbound campaigns, check out my post about it. TL;DR most good reps get between 16-18% reply rates.

Jason’s team at Datanyze receive, on average, a 38% reply rate to their cold, outbound sales campaigns. You might be wondering how door to door sales preps you for industry shattering numbers like that. I’ll explain in just a little bit.

According to Jason, you can dramatically improve the quality and longevity of a sales rep by providing excellent training with a clear progression map. When reps are out there on their own, they know what to do and they know how they’ll be rewarded for their results.

One element that his team is mastering is the reply to objections.

“Whoever can master the reply to an objection – that’s the rep who stands above the crowd.”

Of those 38% replies, a small portion of those are ‘no’s of some sort:

  • No – not now
  • No – not me
  • No – no need
  • No – too expensive

At Datanyze, they don’t reach out to the wrong person, they only reach out at the wrong time or into a lead that is unfamiliar with how they add value. Jason’s best reps understand the prep work they’ve done and his best performer identify what kind of a ‘no’ they received and just how to react.

When asking about what else makes a sales rep successful, Jason had this to say:

Sales reps who just leverage tools won’t be as successful this year – sales reps who can build a relationship will kill it

How to Replicate Datanyze’s Success

1. Daily consistency

Daily consistency is key to success in this sales game we play. Understand and focus on your goals. Build daily and weekly routines that bring you closer and closer to those goals.

2. Reach out to new prospects every day

At Datanyze, Jason’s team is adding as many as 20 new prospects into the pipeline daily. That means researching, analyzing, and executing on 20 new, targeted prospects EVERY DAY. Sometimes they are in new accounts in that rep’s vertical, but often they are more contacts in the accounts they’re already reaching out to. It’s not a ‘load em up on Monday’ and hope for something on Friday. New leads every day = far more consistent and scalable success.

3. The first touch is important

Once you’ve identified your 20 prospects, it’s time to research them. You need to understand who they are, what they like, and where they hang out online.

You then need to translate that knowledge to a very personalized first interaction. No generic language allowed. We’re not just talking about including their title and company name. You need to be speaking to that person’s interests and affiliations.

A great example of personalization is ‘hey, I saw your blog post about you interviewing Jason from Datanyze. great stuff!’

The first email is not only personalized but a major value add. You’re reaching out to them. Make sure it’s worth their time to read your email. Add a pro tip that you would prefer that will improve their career or personal life.

When they read your email:

  • What did they learn?
  • Did they gain a new source of information?
  • Did they make a new connection?

These are the things you should focus on.

Pro tip: precede the first email with a social touch like a LinkedIn connection.

4. Follow up

All of the follow up is to point that person to that first, personalized, value adding email. You took a long time to narrow in on who you wanted to reach out to and why. Why stop there? Make DAMN sure they read it.

Follow up 4, 5, 6 times if you have to. If they’re opening your email but not replying, call them! They’re obviously interested. Worst case scenario: they say they’re interested but don’t have time now.

Remember, you ARE NOT selling in the email, you’re working to get a demo scheduled. Focus on results. Build that repeatedable framework and you’ll excel! How do Jason’s best reps perform:

61 scheduled demos in one month leading to 40 qualified opportunities

One of his reps even got 2 demos off of twitter interactions.

Now that is game changing performance!

How Sales has Changed over the Last Several Years

The biggest factor to change: technology (duh!). Custom tools have been built for each sales function and that has led to a lot of change. However, not all of this change has been for the better.

First came the marketing automation tools, then the sales automation tools. Sales tools across the board have helped bring more insight into prospects, the sales process, and the success criteria behind high performers. This new suite of tools has enhanced the way sales reps do their job.

However, one of the major draw backs according to Jason is the lack of personalization (step #3). Personal touch has always been the key to engagement. Know who you are reaching out to and why and you’re far more likely to start a conversation.

With automation, a lot of sales reps are throwing leads into an auto machine and expecting great results. This isn’t the case.

One of the guiding templates for improving this has been Predictable Revenue. This book and Aaron Ross in general have been very influential in improving the strategy and messaging of highly efficient sales orgs. However, with it’s wide spread adoption many teams are copying and pasting the templates and building a ‘spray and pray’ approach to sales. That approach lacks focus and is probably not what Aaron intended.

For Jason’s team, the biggest piece is going back to building relationships. Starting genuine conversations with real people to add actual value to their working life.

The Future of Sales Development

Personalization is back, baby! Personalization at scale is the key for sales outreach. When you’ve mastered that, you have built a long-lasting sales empire.

Over the next few years, the most important bit is to maintain that personalization at scale while taking into account new tech tools on the market. Build the framework that allows you to keep messaging personal but also include new tools and techniques.

What big tools will be coming out soon? Jason believes super granular insights into prospects and how they fit in their org will be one area that will soon be disrupted. If he’s right, this will send ripples through the sales ecosystem. Teams who don’t take advantage of highly granular info will QUICKLY fall behind.

If you forget everything, remember this:

Focus on personalization and keep evaluating the newest tools and techniques.

Tool Stack

Finally, I asked Jason what’s in his tech stack:

  • Datanyze – sourcing
  • – outreach
  • LinkedIn Premium – personalization
  • + CRM – storing data

His pro tip: focus on your top 3 tools – crm, data provider, outreach


This article is part of a continuing series where I interview top startup sales professionals to tease out their wisdom for you to enjoy. Find more here:

On the Road to Success

I used to pursue things I wanted. I still do, but more than that I avoid things I don’t want. In my experience, this has been a far more rewarding and productive route to achieving goals.

I use to think that the best way to achieve a goal was to write it down, set a timeline, and work really hard to get there. Those first two steps are tremendously powerful still. However, the idea of working hard in my mind has changed.

Big battles are rarely worth fighting. I’d rather take the most creative path with the least resistance to get to where I want to be. I’ve found that fighting big monsters and dredging up hill has led to small wins. The biggest wins come from working my way around an obstacle.

For me this means, work smart NOT hard. Working smart requires keeping a keen eye on the prize. But on the flip side, it means really knowing what you want to avoid.

It’s taken several years to nail down the things I don’t want. In the end, this running list has been very helpful. Whenever I don’t feel like doing something, I ask myself if it’s because it’s on my list of things I don’t want. If so, I find a way around that to-do.

And now without further adieu, things I DON’T want:

  • To date a woman who can’t hold an intelligent conversation
  • A job where a suit is required regularly
  • Nipples
    • Like I don’t get why we have them
    • Men don’t need them
    • I’m getting side tracked
  • To work in or with government agencies
  • A ‘9 to 5’ job where I don’t feel rewarded and engaged
  • A car – the whole idea of an idiot like me driving a 3 ton killing machine is terrifying
  • Cable because Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, HBO, and internet service are (combined) still cheaper with better quality shows and variety
  • A boss who is vein or self absorbed
    • Or condescending
    • Or immature
    • Or loud and rude
    • Or manipulative
  • Friends who don’t know what they believe in or who they want to become
  • Roommates – duh!
  • Beer
    • I want it so bad, but I want to not want it
  • Employment at a company with a toxic culture
  • To ride public transportation daily during commuting hours
  • Beans – I’ve tried them every month for 29 years. I don’t like them. I’m pretty sure I’d like them by now if I did.
  • To be poor
  • Racism, sexism, etc practiced in my immediate vicinity
    • Don’t be a dick. Especially around me.
  • Massive fame – no thanks
  • Regret
  • Facebook
    • As soon as my Nana was on it, I was off
  • An iPhone – I have a brain, I don’t need to hold a brick up to it to prove it to anyone (GO SAMSUNG!)
  • One partner
    • I want multiple partners in everything I do
  • Sports related injuries
  • Man boobs
  • A PC
    • This one is controversial for me because I love building PCs but I’ve become quite fond of Macs
  • An expensive cell phone contract
  • To be part of a team that doesn’t innovate and grow
  • Religion
  • Death
  • To finish this list

That’s pretty much it so far. I’m sure there are more that I’ve forgotten, but it’s more fun to share what I have here and add more later.

What are some things that you know you DON’T want? List them in the comments below.