Sales for Tech Startup Founders

Tonight I went along to a talk given by Vivek Sharma (Co-Founder and CEO of Movable Ink) at General Assembly London. The topic was startup sales tactics and it was aimed towards people who had no background in sales.

I am always very interested in how people kickstart their business and gain their first customers, especially since “build it and they will come” no longer exists in the tech world, unless you happen to be extraordinarily lucky or have some famous evangelists backing you.

Vivek stressed the importance of customer development and advocated lean product development. He went through the four ways to acquire customers: web, partners, direct and inside as well as the sales funnel.

It was a jam-packed and informative session; some key takeaway points for me:

  • Always focus on the problem and what you are trying to solve.
  • Early on, every sale is a direct sale and it’s best done by a founder as it will be more authentic and so you’ll learn what works.
  • When generating leads, warm entrances are better so look at people you’ve worked with, VCs/angels, and LinkedIn.
  • You don’t choose your sales model, it chooses you.
  • Companies, especially if they are big, buy solutions not products.

And as always, keep trying stuff and fail fast.

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This excellent presentation from Bloom Psychology explains why so many of us struggle with career decision making, and how psychology is key to understanding what you can do about it.

  • We’re bad at choice – too many choices makes us feel stressed and overwhelmed. When we finally do make a decision, we always wonder what might have been…

This is so true. When I graduated from my Masters, I had a choice between two jobs. They were both in the same industry, but were two completely different roles. I chose the one I thought I wanted, and have always wondered whether my life would have turned out differently had I chosen the other job.

  • We’re negatively biased – negative memories are 3 to 5 times more powerful than positive ones. We’re 10,000 times more sensitive to bitter tastes than to sweet. We tend to think of reasons why we can’t do something, rather than reasons why we can.

Fear is such a deterrent, and unfortunately so much more persuasive than the slight possibility that something may succeed.

  • We make decisions based on the past, not on our possibilities. Because we remember negative events much more easily than positive ones, our brains erroneously conclude that negative events are more common, and therefore more likely.
  • Our brains tend to think in set patterns. ‘Functional fixedness’ leads us to think we can only do what we’ve always done.

It also doesn’t help that when you are job hunting, recruiters always tell you that you can only do what you have done before.

  • We fuse our thoughts with reality. Known as cognitive fusion, when our minds tell us that: it’s too late to change, that we could never succeed doing something new etc, we tend to believe it.

That dialogue in your head? Pay attention to it and you’ll be surprised at how often you “convince” yourself to not do something.

So what can we do? The slideshow has links to a variety of free tools and exercises, I haven’t had a time to look at all of them but will post the ones I find helpful. In the meantime, have a look through yourself!


“Set a goal to achieve something that is so big, so exhilarating that it excites you and scares you at the same time. It must be a goal that is so appealing, so much in line with your spiritual core that you can’t get it out of your mind. If you do not get chills when you set a goal, you’re not setting big enough goals.”

- Bob Proctor


Here’s a great RSA Animate video done by Cognitive Media about motivation in the workplace; the animation is absolutely brilliant. It’s based on a talk that Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us gave at Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).


“There is no challenge, big or small, in the world that could not benefit from a healthy dose of cavalier creativity.”

- Chris Flink, IDEO


This interview is a few years old but it’s still brilliant. David Kelley is the founder of the famous design consultancy IDEO; they designed such products as Apple’s first mouse, the first laptop computer and even the world’s first no-squeeze standup toothpaste tube.

In this podcast created by students of Stanford University’s Business and Design Schools, David Kelley makes several points that really speak to me. The first one is that the end user often does not know what problems they have with an existing product. To find out what’s really important to a user, you have to watch them. Look and see when they are frustrated, when they curse, and also when they smile. And then try to design that moment or that experience to be better.

“You first find out what he cares about; I mean, the analogy that I recently worked on is look at gas stations.  You watch somebody, and if you ask somebody, ‘Do you have any trouble pumping gas at the local gas?’ they say no, no problem.  Then you watch them, right?  First they come up, they have trouble getting the car close enough to the thing, to the pump, I mean, and then cause it’s not clear, how long is it?  And then, my latest one is, they just changed where you have to enter the zip code, and I saw a lot of people leave without getting gas; they were too embarrassed to go inside because it says enter zip code, but it doesn’t say enter zip code and then enter key.  So, they put in their zip code, mine, 94301, and then they wait and nothing happens.  You look for those things.”

People may not be able to tell you, but you can figure it out. It’s important to always keep user experience in mind, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you like something or find it easy to use, it’s whether your client finds it user friendly and if it can make them excited.

The importance of having a prototype and being prepared: the quicker you can put your idea out there, the better. “One of my buddies always says never go to a meeting without a prototype, and he always wins.”

On fostering creativity and innovation in the workplace:

“Instead of saying things negative, you, every time you think of something negative, you figure out how to improve, and take that insight that there was something wrong with, that you think was negative, and take that insight and think of that as an insight rather than stating that out loud and building on that, and come out with a better idea based on your insight about what was wrong with the other guy’s idea, and saying the positive solution to what was wrong with it.”

When a creative person, who loves coming up with innovative ideas and solutions, suggests something that could potentially help the company and it is shot down straight away, it discourages future input.

“In a group where the boss talks all the time, or in a higher operation where, like people suck up to the boss or the boss’s ideas are implemented more than the receptionist’s ideas, there’s a problem there. In an innovative culture, everybody feels able to talk and will talk a lot.  In a non-innovative culture, the boss talks the whole time.”