Well that title removes any chance that Business Week, Inc, Forbes, etc will pick it up, and that other than Brad Feld and Mark Suster, no one will reblog/retweet/etc, so we can speak plainly.
(Just making sure…)
The past few weeks have been really interesting at Graphicly. We have achieved product/market fit, our new product launch has been overwhelming, and there is a clear direction and focus in the company. Revenue is doubling week over week, and our internal mantra has gotten equally clear.
“You are either building, selling or leaving.”
So much has be made of “vanity metrics” and our apparent love affair with them. As entrepreneurs, we are told by the media, investors, and other entrepreneurs that whats cool isn’t $1 million but $1 billion. That Instagram is AMAZING and their 15million plus users are the reason why.
How can we not buy into the importance of vanity metrics, when it seems that the ONLY THING THAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT is vanity metrics?
For a company to be successful there are literally only two functions the company has to perfect. Building and Selling. Thats it. Metrics and analytics are only the score card, the reporting mechanism to determine if what you are building will sell, and what you are selling is worth building.
Last rant on this point: Find a metric that is truly indicative of what makes your business go. It may be a vanity metric like page views, or something more interesting like reads/user, photo filters per session, or times my mom shares my baby pictures on Facebook. Find it and love it. Throw out all other charts and graphs. Put ONE FUCKING SLIDE in your board deck/presentation and tell your shareholders if that number is going up or down and why. Any other metric just makes it easier for your investors and employees to tell their friends why the company they are a part of is cool in a dumbed down fashion so others can understand. But DONT CARE about those numbers.
Care ONLY about the metric that proves that you are building something worth selling, and selling something worth building.
Now, about sales.
Both Brad and Mark have written about Grinfucking. Its an epidemic. No one wants to be the bad guy. The working stiff dreams of being involved in that super cool startup with the sick lounge. When he gets pitched by that startup founder in the flannel shirt and Warby Parker glasses, Toms shoes and Charity:Water rubber bracelet on a cool new technology and he doesn’t understand it, then he is full of FEAR THAT HE IS AN IDIOT.
Which makes the awful, awful truth that the prospect will never say no.
Your goal as an untested, unknown founder, who has a product to sell that NO ONE CARES about is to find what about your product makes your users lives better. Read that again. Thats not a feature. Thats not a price. Thats a feeling. Better is a feeling. Sell the feeling.
For enterprise its 99% of the time that you are making your prospect look good to his/her boss. Thats it. Focus on that.
For consumer its 99% of the ego or time. People want to be part of something amazing, or want something to help them become amazing. At Graphicly, we consider our “Content Empowerment Platform” an easy button for authors and publishers. They want their stories seen. We make it so. Its amazing and it helps each one of them show the world how amazing they are. It makes their lives better. It makes them happy. (I hope.)
Instagram makes people happy. Its not the number of users, but the amount of engagement that is what makes them awesome.
Stop getting excited by the “maybes” and “lets have another meeting” responses you get to your product. IT MEANS YOUR PRODUCT SUCKS.
Budgets, approvals, etc are all excuses as to why they don’t want to buy, but don’t want to say no.
If it takes more than a simple presentation of your value to a prospect to get to a verbal yes, YOUR PRODUCT SUCKS. (Ok, maybe you SUCK as a salesperson. But sales isn’t hard if you are a founder. You are just making it hard.)
Get to an answer.
Build, Sell or Leave. It IS THAT EASY.
Finally, about revenue.
In todays funding climate, if you are not thinking about your business in terms of speed to self-sustaining revenue, you are a moron. Seed rounds are, and will continue to be, relatively easy to raise (sub $1mm). Series A investors are now looking for real businesses with real potential. Call it a crunch, call it Jennifer, doesn’t FUCKING MATTER if you don’t have a real business, because you will be called DEAD.
Have a real path to revenue. Test that path immediately. Ensure that its a real path, with the real ability to simplify sales, and go that way. You never want to get in the car, see the path you need to travel, press on the gas and find the tank empty without a gas station in sight.
Just Fucking sell. Your company depends on it.
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We met up at Bug Labs Bug+NYC Meetup (which was rad, by the way. The device is truly a marvel of engineering, and while about the size of an old school GameBoy, it certainly would be something I would buy and play with).
After hanging out at the Meetup, we headed over to Lombari’s Pizza on Spring Street. And, as must often happen when two people of a similar ilk and profession get together, we began to discuss the perceptions of what we do.
The over-arching question was: Is Sales and Business Development the same thing?
After all, its hard to outline what “Business Development” is and is not. Sales, is much more of a process and a science. While the two disciplines share many attributes, they are different in distinct ways.
The major difference is risk. Follow me with this:
Sales: The process by which one person provides access to a product or service at the optimal price point.
For example, a sales person would rather provide a bottle of water to a thirsty person, than a quenched person, because the thirsty person will pay more.
Business Development: The process by which two groups of people determine the optimal business relationship to mutually drive revenue, and/or develop new revenue sources.
For example, I provide a widget to a blog that creates additional ad units and share in that revenue and/or am paid for the space.So what is the major difference between the two? Risk.
With Sales, there is truly limited risk to the sales person or the purchaser. Mechanically, there might be several ways a sales person is taking a risk (the price point is too high; the product stinks; etc.). But most of those are solvable through process.
With Business Development, there is a need for mutual risk to proceed mutual success. The publisher has to 1) be willing to install the widget; and 2) trust/believe that the widget will be used in such a manner that the resulting traffic will be significant enough to drive real revenue. The Business Development person has to believe that the publisher is of high quality and generates enough traffic to make the transaction viable.
Remember, with a Sales person, money is exchanging hands, while the Business Development person only has a contract with expectations for success.
This also wrecks havoc with the tracking of success. With a Sales person its relatively easy: Units sold is the primary metric. With Business Development, its not Deals Closed, but rather the results of those deals, which are not allows immediately evident.
So, at the end of the day, if you are unsure if your organization needs a sales or business development professional, think about the transaction and if it inherently carries shared risk.
Startups are based in faith, and the ones that succeed have no fear.
This morning, I read three separate lists of the rules of successful startups. I contemplated creating my own list, but among those 30 items, there are definitely some gems, so I kept reading. Fred Wilson linked to an article about Rick Rubin. The quote in the article that really got my juices flowing was:
To the right of Barnett’s large desk, above the framed Johnny Cash portrait, is a sign that reads, “Your Faith Needs to Be Greater Than Your Fear.” “I have always believed that,” Barnett told me in mid-August, “but it seems particularly relevant at the moment.”
At this moment in the startup world, this seems as relevant as it does in the music business. There are hundreds of startups showing up daily. Most are “Web 2.0″ or “social networks” or “the new new…”
With the success of a few like Photobucket, Fotolog, FeedBurner, there is much talk about a Bubble 2.0. And certainly, as it seems to happen in every industry, there will be a few winners and a ton of losers.
So, what does it take to be a winner? More than anything the startups that I have been around that have been successful have all shared the same thing. Faith that far outstripped their fear.
The first startup I worked for was Kozmo.com. We raised more than $250 million dollars in financing, with $60 million coming from Amazon. It was started in 1998, and I joined the company in late 1999 as the marketing manager in San Diego. I was hired to develop local business relationships and drive local marketing. By mid 2000, the company was dying, and I bailed out and moved to MyPersonal.com (now Synacor after a merger) in the SF Bay Area. Talk about walking into a town just to watch everyone leave…FuckedCompany was the most read website (mostly to see if your company appeared on it.)
MyPersonal raised around $6 million, and by the end of 2001 was dying and so merged with another company that was stumbling in the dot com bust. Like two drunks stumbling out of a bar, MyPersonal and Chek became a marriage of convenience/necessity and became Synacor. (True story, when the merger was happening, there was a three day meeting about the new name, among the discarded names was Current Wisdom, which I bought the next day, and used as a consultant and later as my search engine marketing company.)
After MyPersonal, I consulted with a few startups, and after making the move to Colorado joined ServiceMagic. ServiceMagic raised around $35 million (Including Tango and Mobius Ventures, where I met Seth Levine organizing a search marketing conference for portfolio companies), and was acquired in September 2004 by InterActive Corp for an undisclosed amount (guessing it was around a couple hundred million.)
At ServiceMagic, I was responsible for the early development of their search engine marketing strategy, which has certainly served them well. I left ServiceMagic in mid 2004 to start Current Wisdom, a full service search engine marketing company, which I sold to the Indigio Group in early 2007, making the missing out on the ServiceMagic acquisition a bit easier to swallow.
Since then, I have advised several startups in multiple stages, and have begun to make small angel type investments in early stage companies trying to get a clear understanding of the difference between startup success and failure.
It was the quote from the Rick Rubin article that finally brought it all together for me. Looking at each of the startups that I have worked with for a period of time:
Faith: There was definitely a faith that no one could do what we did better. Joe Park was looked at as a someone who could take Kozmo to the promised land.
Fear: From the beginning, Kozmo feared everyone. First there was UrbanFetch, which was seen a serious competitor. For those that know the story, the rumor was that UrbanFetch was started by a couple of hedge fund guys that Joe pitched Kozmo, and launched as a high end competitor. Every marketing decision was based in the fear that someone would beat us to the punch; that if we didnt pay Starbucks $150 million to put drop boxes in their stores, we would lose. Once the market began to dip and layoffs started, everyone became fearful of their jobs. In the end, Kozmo was killed by a fear of being copied and done better, the faith in the idea had died.
Faith: When I joined MyPersonal I knew it had a difficult road to climb. They were basically offering a MyYahoo experience for Colleges and University for Free. My faith was, and still is, in the MyPersonal management team (they have since left the company).
The interesting with the fear factor at MyPersonal, the employees began to not care about whether the company “made it” or not. In fact, we still busted our asses, just with a sense of impending doom, and given the market conditions, the longer we could hold onto our jobs the better. In the fourth round of layoffs, I was cut after being asked to sell a previously free product to our clients. Needless to say, it was not easy or very successful. No MyPersonal people are left, and the Emeryville office has been closed for quite awhile.
In a strange turn of events, Synacor recently filed for an IPO.
Faith: The was the first time that I saw faith overcome fear. We had faith in our management team. Co-CEOs, Michael Beaudion and Rodney Rice are two of the most intelligent, savvy, ruthless driven people I have ever met. Founded in 1998, I joined in 2002, after ServiceMagic had weathered the dot com storm. The feeling among those that were still there, that the experience made them stronger, more resolute and laser sighted on the future. When I was there, we launched real estate and lending lead generation services, and a few months after I left, the sale to IAC was complete. There was never a doubt that a liquidity event would occur.
Even, when I put on the day long seminar for Mobius portfolio companies, ServiceMagic was looked at as a clear winner. We had become the beast everyone feared.
Fear: The fear that had crippled both Kozmo and MyPersonal did not exist at ServiceMagic. The only real fear I felt was a clear understanding that as soon as I stopped showing value, I would be fired. For me, it was the best kind of fear to have. For many others, it was seen as draconian.
Here’s an example. When I started at ServiceMagic, there was a sales rep class of thirty every week. I would do part of the training every Thursday. For eight potential sales reps.
It has changed drastically since then, but the concept of value hasnt.
The startups that I speak to now have a mixture of faith and fear. Since many are early in their life cycle, fear dominates. The couple that have really impressed me have ultimate faith in themselves and their idea. They are easy to spot. There is little talk of their competitors; they dont talk about creating a market, or operating in a niche; they are the first or second comment on TechCrunch when they or a competitor are mentioned.
Mostly, they are calm and operate as if there is urgency without emergency. These are the hallmarks of a successful startup, where their faith is greater than their fear.