How to “Sell” as a Startup Founder – A Formula + Hack

Disclaimer – The role of sales (bringing leads and customers) is critical in a startup. When I talk of sales here, I talk more broadly – pitching the idea, product vision, hiring etc.

I do not consider myself good at selling at all.Yet, as a founder, especially over the past year, I have learned to “sell” my vision to people on the street, interns, friends and mentors. I have great people on the team, awesome advisors and mentors.  Considering I am obsessed with boiling things down to frameworks, pictures and graphs, here is what I came up with. The explanation follows –

SALES in a startup = part delusion(magic) + part passion + part reason

Selling is perhaps the most important job of an entrepreneur. (And I glad I did not know realize that staring out, since that would have probably prevented me from starting at all.) As much as I seen that it is true, I have never heard stats that say the best sales people make the best entrepreneurs. Good entrepreneurs learn to sell well enough until they hire their first sales person. Seems that it is  about a formula and learning to nail that formula. I have discovered that hack (my hack) over the past 2 years and I hope the next time you have to “sell” (your vision/ raise money etc) as a startup founder, you can work this in.

Selling is indeed the most important job of an entrepreneur.As a founder, you are selling all the time. Every minute. Every day. You are selling when you find partners, hire employees. You are selling when you speak to investors. You are selling to customers. You are pitching your idea, your product and vision, day in and day out.

If you are someone who is just cannot sell, this can be hard.But then, don’t fret. Selling as an entrepreneur is not “sales”. What makes you a good entrepreneur should actually make you a good sales person. This is what I have learned of sales. When I think I cannot sell, I go back to these basics, find the missing components and go back on the road to sell ;)All I do is apply the formula, adjust for shortcomings and get on with selling. Seems easy but I have had to learn that the hard way ….

So what is the formula?

SALES in a startup = part delusion(magic) + part passion + part reason

I use the world “delusion” to mean supreme optimism. I use a negative sounding word just so people understand that there is nothing optimistic about “supreme optimism” when it goes out of bounds 😉

Selling in a startup has 3 parts –

  1. Passion/Vision/Mission – This is the STORY. The real reason you are doing what you do. The “need”. Not the numbers, but the story that hits home. You need to have that, at all times.You need a high delusion quotient to get started at all – without which you will always be stuck at the “idea” stage. Over time, if the delusion remains too high, with no Reason to show, the”selling” becomes harder and harder.
  2. Reason – The reason is all the practical stuff. The numbers, the business case, the product. It is the part that makes tangibles in a business. The rapid iteration for products is essential so as to quickly grow this. People who raise money on an idea most probably made the “Sell” because they created a super successful startup in the past. (Externality at play then. ;))
  3. Delusion (supreme optimism) is perhaps the most important thing and supremely essential in limited quantities. Nope, it is not a negative thing. At the start, delusion is key to the startup taking off at all. It is the difference between someone who has the courage to start and someone who does not. With time, delusion is becomes essential for your survival as an entrepreneur. Over time, it becomes a differentiator – if combined in the right quantities with the other two. Think Steve Jobs in one of those iPad demos ….

Selling At A Startup is not equal to sales. (The first person I hire will be a real sales person ;)). I see it as a right mix of delusion(ability to show you can create magic/dream), passion and reason. When you go about your day, see who wants to see/hear which on of these components and craft your “sell” based on that.

What do you think?

  • J.D. Meier

    I really like the fact you called out delusion as a key ingredient to the startup mix.

    It really does take bold beliefs, bold action, and a disregard for practicality to bootstrap the potentially impossible or at least improbable.

  • Muhammad Ghazali

    Okay, this is a great post man :)
    I like your formula:
    SALES in a startup = part delusion(magic) + part passion + part reason
    I think I can apply it to mine.
    Thank you

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