With recent events going on with the virus, I thought I’d take a look back 10 years and see what I was reading back then when I first entered the workplace.

Here are the books that I read just after entering the marketplace as a new salesperson, in honesty, I didn’t really read for the first 4 years after graduating! This drastically changed when I bought a Kindle e-Reader and borrowed a book from my best mate from university, who said I reckon you might like this story.

The books I read that had an impact on my thinking actions:

  • If You’re Not First, You’re Last by Grant Cardone
  • The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
  • Screw It, Lets Do It by Richard Branson
  • Entrepreneur Revolution by Daniel Priestley

Insights – If You’re Not First, You’re Last by Grant Cardone

  1. “Set A Deadline To Finish A Book In 4 Days Or Less”, e.g. I will finish this book by Thursday 6:00pm.
  2. “Activate Your Power Base” – at times of an economic struggle you need to reconnect with your network, your friends, family and past colleagues. Hold catch up calls as they’ll either know someone that can help or they’ll spread the word for you. And the same in reverse. Enter LinkedIn!
  3. “Past Client Activation” – after the crash, I came into a job where the previous year, the consultant had worked on over 200 opportunities, I was told from the key accounts team they were 4 this year. So I decided to look elsewhere and stumbled across this company I recognised called American Express. I found an advert online for an ‘FX Sales Executive’, I cold-called from the switchboard and was put through to an in-house recruiter, and competitor from Hays (didn’t even know they existed at the time), persevered and got the job on. I then called up my friend from my last company whom I’d trained as a young salesperson and said I’ve got a new role for you, I want you to consider. He sent me the CV, they rejected it outright, I called them again saying, I trained this guy, at least hold a phone interview. I coached him through the interview spending over 4 hours helping my buddy, he did well at assessment and he signed the contract with American Express 2 weeks later.
  4. “Converting The Unsold” – I scoured all the jobs that had ‘Final Interview’, ‘2nd Interview’ and ‘1st Interview’ and started calling them. After I’d asked American Express who their competitors where they mentioned a company called Travelex. I remember seeing that foreign exchange desk in the airport as a kid! I saw that we’d had some interviews at Travelex before and then called the Fx desk, where the Senior Dealer put me through to the hiring manager. After much persuasion, he allowed me to recruit for the job, I placed the role 3 weeks later.

Insights – The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

This was like no ever book that I read before. This was not on the recommended reading list of my bosses.

  1. Ask for forgiveness not for permission” – became my mantra for quite a while to do things that other people were unwilling to do or didn’t want to do. This has always stuck with me. I was never a goody-two-shoes.
  2. “Busy yourself with the money wheel, pretend it’s a fix-all and you artfully create a constant distraction that prevents you seeing how pointless it is.” Ok, what’s this money wheel thing? This seems like something I need to work out…
  3. “Relative income is more important than absolute income – £50,000 for 80 hours or £50,000 for 10 hours.” Ok right, James, what’s my hourly rate? Holy crap, my hourly rate is £6.72. That’s the same as a McDonald’s employee. And my boss keeps telling me I’m the future of the company?! Ok, what’s the percentage of salary & bonuses/ revenue created. Wow, it’s 2.5%. So I’m working for another person to earn 97.5% of all the work I do and I’m getting paid £6.72 an hour for a lot of hours. This is an important lesson. I need to change direction now!
  4. DEAL – Definition, Elimination, Automation, Liberation. What 20% of sources are causing 80% of unhappiness? Which 20% of sources are creating 80% of my happiness? “The goal is to find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them and find your strengths so you can multiply them.” Sounds like a pretty good plan to me. I’m never going to be the best at everything, I’d rather be a rockstar in some things.
  5. “Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing and is far more unpleasant.” Very true. Being selective – doing less – is the path to being productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest. Easy to get caught up in the minutiae but the key lies in remembering that not feeling rushed is remembering that lack of time is actually lack of priorities.
  6. If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?? Nevermore than 2 mission-critical items per day. Ok, I can do that! Really cool app www.e.ggtimer.com/30minutes
  7. Automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. Also, your problems are going to hit you quick and hard.
  8. Delegation – Virtual Assistants. There are other people around the world that can work for you and do some of your admin, that sounds amazing. Need to remember this!

Insights – Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson

I think this is one of the shortest most uplifting stories I have read of a man trying to work out life and its challenges and adventures at the same time.

  1. “Just Do It” – believe it can be done, live life to the full, never give up, try and try again and have faith in yourself.
  2. “Have Fun” – don’t waste time, grab your chances, when it’s not fun move on. I did.
  3. “Stand On Your Own Two Feet” – although I was responsible and wanted to chase my own dreams, this in practice took a while to do this properly.
  4. “Live The Moment” – love life and live it to the full, make every second count and don’t have regrets.
  5. “Sex Appeal” – a story about branding – walk the talk, create excitement in everything you do. Look beyond the obvious and put your ass on the line.
  6. “Be Innovative” – nothing is impossible, the system is not sacred, to win you have to break the rules, find another way.
  7. “Pow Shazam” – speed is the ultimate competitive weapon, be first in the field, do it now, cut the red tape, keep your eye on the ball.
  8. “Think Young” – you’ve got to challenge the big boys, everything is negotiable, do the right things for the band, move like a bullet, small is beautiful. Don’t lead sheep, herd cats!

Insights – Entrepreneur Revolution by Daniel Priestley

  1. “A business’s aim is to create IP. Income follows assets”, e.g. sales systems, marketing systems, operational systems. Very interesting, I think I’ll need to understand this further later down the line.
  2. Reptile, Monkey, Empire Builder brains. Reptile = Fight or flight, all or nothing, only resources it believes is what it can see – money, food etc. It will destroy everything in its path for comfort. Monkey – functional part of your brain, repetitive tasks, nit-picking, peak emotions on a daily basis. Only resources are those that it’s told. Only £45,000 or a credit limit that’s it, it is comfortable with scarcity. Empire builder – different to many, calculate future events, devise strategies, likes to live in a connected place and will work until the end. It focuses on resources it can have influence over, it doesn’t care on technically things they own.
  3. Stop spending time with people that bring you down. Inspiring people. Why am I learning from people who are not wealthy? Review my friends, done.
  4. Carry £2,000 around with you in cash, hand never left my pocket for the first few weeks. Wanted to earn it. What’s a lot of money for you? With cash in your pocket, you won’t be worried too much about immediate gain. Survival will not be an issue. Done.
  5. Tune out from the news – no TV, no radio, no papers. Done.
  6. Get a yearly calendar & plan your holidays- weekend and mid-week days, 8-10 weeks a year – how much do you need to earn then reverse engineer?
  7. Lean in. Dream of never retiring. Pursuing your dream, caring about your team, caring about the details and not wanting an easier way.
  8. Vital = be irreplaceable, own your space, business, marketplace and niche.
  9. Give up on passive income. Focus on things that I never want to give up on. Didn’t take this on board immediately and made mistakes but on my way now.
  10. Hard to scale your business by not writing. Agree.
  11. Influence comes from output and confidence comes from output.

Hope this was helpful. If you want to find out about the books that I re-read in January you can find that here too.

What books were you reading in the last recession?

 

 

We interviewed Fredrik Mellander, Head of Partnerships at Teamtailor,  the #recruitment and employer branding ATS; a new way to attract, nurture and hire top talent.

We asked Fredrik to shed light on the question of “when and how should a startup recruit?

So over to the interview with Fredrik and our founder, James Ker-Reid with the key questions and answers:

 

  • Could you give an overview of when you started at Teamtailor, what it looked like, how many employees, how many clients?

I joined in early 2017 – the company had been running for quite a while but growth had been slow. There had been a lot of time and focus ensuring that we had something to sell because this industry is a lot about having a good platform that actually works. You need a lot of originality, our work is more than just an ATS – we wanted to have a nice site, as well as a nice ATS. When I joined I was number 17 and we were in a small office, we had all our developers in one table, shoulder to shoulder, all wearing noise cancelling earphones. They were in the same room as the sales team who were always on the phone trying to book sales meetings; 6 people in sales, development team of the same number, one person running customer success team and one person marketing. It was cosy, but we were all intensely together and had the joint mindset of ‘let’s see what we can do’.

 

  • What was your first role when you joined the company? 

I joined as a sales executive so my role was to sell to every company I could think of and get hold of.

 

  • And what was the vision of the company at that time back in 2017?

We always had quite grand visions but we never had the global domination that we wanted. Initially we wanted more to change the industry and make it better for the people we recruited for. The company began to go international just before I joined and their goal was to become the biggest recruitment platform in the world. Back then, 90% of our clients were Swedish, before we went more international. I would say the mission is pretty much the same to this day, just closer to the goal.

 

  • Tell us how today looks like vs North Star back in 2017?

We always had the same vision, but now the company is much closer to those original set goals compared to 2017. We wanted to help companies across the world bridge the gap with recruitment and help them recruit more successfully. We are starting to see that this is really possible and is happening. Today we are at 135 employees, 3000 clients worldwide and almost 100 countries – working from the biggest manufacturing giants to churches, to tech companies, to agencies. The smallest has 1 employee, the biggest has 100s of thousands of employees. It’s been such a great thing to see and be involved with as we work with some of the coolest brands. We only had Swedish companies previously but now, with 3000 clients, we are targeting all over. Opening office in New York this week!

 

  • In terms of funding, what does that look like for you? Have you taken on funding and when?

Back in the early days we brought in some money from angel investors and friends of founders but since then we haven’t taken in anything. So we brought in about €600,000 to initially fund everything. Since then we’ve been pretty boot strapped and done this growth without any help. We’ll see what happens in the future, but for now this growth from just over the last 3 years, we’ve 10 x our clients, over 650% increase in our employees, without additional funding, has been great.

  • When do you think that point of pressure to take on funding will come?

We are curious. We know there is interest from investors to invest in companies like Teamtailor (since taken on funding of €5 million). For companies that have been as successful as us in terms of growth, of course there’ll be people interested. It’s more about timing and finding the right people – if we grow in the US that might come to something and could be an indicator for investment, but it’s more about finding the right people. Companies have done this journey in the past and built a great company – brought on investors that were the wrong investors meaning they were perhaps forced to make decisions they didn’t want to and therefore take the wrong steps. They would take the fun out of it. They still made a fantastic journey, but they know how valuable it is to find the right investor and right people. The investors should allow what you have done in the past that has been successful to continue, they like your ideas, you can use their network; aid the growth as opposed to hinder it.

  • Great to hear that – perhaps we’ll hear something in the news soon! Great to hear about the US expansion too and that you’re attracting a lot of attention over there. Funding on the East Coast is definitely increasing. 

Yes, so many investors are willing to invest and gamble on companies. If you have a company and are looking for investment, as long as you have a plan and mission, there’ll be interest. We can continue a good growth curve without investment but taking on investment can open new doors and opportunities, opening new ways for us to go certain routes that we couldn’t have done previously due to lack of funding.

 

  • So going back to recruitment, what are the big mistakes that companies make when recruiting?

In reality, in the early stages of companies it’s so much about mindset, mentality and finding the right people. You should never stop recruiting, even if you’re not hiring right now, or you can’t hire right now, you still have to make sure to nurture the right people that you might have met and are interested in joining your journey when the time is right. In the early stages, the right people will make the right company. Whether you find a young person who is willing to do the journey, or an experienced person who has done the journey in the past, it’s very different for every company. The right person in the right spot in the early stages of growth will make the company you want. A lot of companies in the early stages, will only try to put out the fire as soon as there’s a fire, they don’t think proactively and start looking before it’s even time to hire. It’s always good to already have these people in your network and bring them on board when it’s time. They don’t proactively recruit – you should always be thinking and looking. Always keep your eyes open and if you find someone, make sure you nurture them as they might end up doing your own job.

 

  • And what about the process – where do companies often go wrong with the process of recruiting, selecting and onboarding new talent?

In terms of the selection, in the early stages they often only use their own network, only people who are similar to themselves perhaps and don’t go beyond or even abroad. Some people tend to spend too much time and money trying to advertise as they don’t know how to do it effectively. People often make it more complicated than it has to be. The biggest resource a company has at any stage is their own employees – you should use their network, try to always remain recruiting and they don’t give the time it deserves. You have to allocate time for recruiting and onboarding. What story do you want to tell, what is the vision that you want candidates to see? Early stages a mis-hire is so crucial and can be fatal to a company. Take your time on the right people in the beginning. 

 

  • Where do you think companies waste most time when recruiting?

The selection process is a natural answer, but I think the attraction and reaching process to find the right people is probably the most time spent. Not urgent enough when it’s due time. A recruiting process can take days, or even hours, if it’s the right person. People often think they have to interview a certain amount of people – waste the most time they don’t HAVE to find people. 

 

  • What other tactics would you recommend for companies to find new candidates?

In the early stages, using advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook can be beneficial as you find people who are looking for jobs. Prioritise the free channels – google jobs for example – as you can find and maintain these platforms and people for cheap buck. Make sure your network and employees are engaged and included in the process. Make sure you take time in sharing the journey as people are looking more and more into a culture of a company as opposed to salaries. Especially with startups. Culture, talent and journey a startup can make are probably the biggest selling points that you have. Not everybody will fit every start up. Some people strive and love working in startup environments – those people are key. Finding the right mentality for the role is important. Young people should aim for startups as they often have a mentality of pushing to learn and do more – you’ll learn so much more, faster in a startup than going the traditional corporate route. Sometimes, start ups think about hiring senior people with experience for certain roles, and yes, certain roles do need that – perhaps marketing, customer success, sales – but the mentality of those people are still super important, irrelevant of experience. 

 

  • Talking mindset and mentality of people you hire, how do you test or evaluate that in the recruitment process?

It’s always good to measure certain hard skills, but in a startup you need to be able to measure soft skills as well in order to be able to understand. There is software you can use to test how people fit certain roles and allow you get a picture of who this person is when meeting them. Perhaps also get other people involved for different perspectives of a candidate – soft skills are hard to understand more and getting other people’s opinions helps get a better picture of a person. 

 

  • How does the recruiting function, and therefore process, change as they scale from, for example, a 10 person company to 100/200+ company?

Usually it happens in stages and companies now are adapting differently, especially if they are in a growth environment. In the early stages, everyone is so crucial that everyone will be involved and I think no matter what the size of the company, you should always have the mentality of involving as many of your employees as possible. Eventually you will get a dedicated HR person and that’s often where you will see more processes come in, you will start measuring more, you might get a recruiter in, talent acquisition team etc. 

 

  • Tell me a bit about your own journey – those functions that you use at Teamtailor for recruiting

I think we are a different beast to most other tech companies as we work in the recruiting sector and work with tech whilst recruited. We were very late at hiring and HR person as we expanded so quickly. A lot of the people working for us had perhaps experience of HR and worked with recruitment so we relied on them perhaps longer than another company would have been able to without hiring an HR person. At Teamtailor the CEO was the final decision maker but every manager had their own responsibility for their teams and all made sure they were involved with sourcing and interviewing. Then we hired an HR person so we could scale; as we got busier not everyone could dedicate time to recruiting as they could before. 

 

  • When did that point happen at Teamtailor that the CEO became less involved in the hiring process?

For us, when we had the HR person join when we were 50/60 employees. It varies hugely from company to company – some start with an HR person as a company forefront which is a fantastic foundation to scale on. Teamtailor had that within the employees as we were an HR tech company ourselves and had a lot of knowledge within that field. I would suggest finding someone who really enjoys and likes the role of HR because it will help the company in the long run. 

 

  • When you refer to an HR person, do you mean HR or would you perhaps refer to them as a recruiter?

Nowadays there are different types of HR people. Finding a dedicated recruiter isn’t probably what I would prefer. I would prefer someone who does a mix – a head of culture perhaps who does recruiting 50% of the time. Some companies do just need a head of recruitment due to their culture and growth, some companies need more of the dedication to culture in order to recruit. But all companies need someone who is engaged as the energy behind the team to recruit – someone who comes in to help carry the majority of the load, but engine to make sure the team gets engaged in the recruitment process. If you set a talent acquisition culture in a company from the beginning, that will be set for the future. 

 

  • What can startups do to avoid making hiring and recruitment mistakes?

Start thinking about it early, involve employees to a certain extent and make sure they are engaged. Train, skill and hire personality, depending on the role, but particularly for entry level roles. You can keep salaries down if culture is engaging. Never stop recruiting, try new things and new ways of approaching people. Try not to get tricked – sales people are incredibly hard to recruit as they sell themselves well but can fail at results in the role. 

 

  • Any further advice you would give?

The biggest advice for smaller companies, think about the recruiting culture and THEN start recruiting. It’s such a key thing for a company. The right people will make the right company, the wrong person will break the company.

 

Thank you to d Fredrik Mellander at Teamtailor.

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other successful CS leaders, Tech Founders and even recruitment leaders to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing existing accounts at tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.

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We interviewed Rajeev Nayyar, MD of Fixflo, the smart, web-based solutions for residential and commercial property professionals.

We asked Rajeev to shed light on the hot topic in investment right now – the proptech sector.

*We would like to highlight that this interview took place previous to the impact that COVID-19 is having on the economy and all industries right now*

So over to the interview with Rajeev and our founder, James Ker-Reid with the key questions and answers:

 

  • The proptech industry – we hear a lot about it in the news about a lot of investment going into the sector. What would you make of the investment you’ve seen from your position over the last 12 to 24 months?

We have been operating for 5-6 years, so we have seen a maturing of the way investment is made into the sector. I think that if you go back 4-5 years, there was a bit of a hype around proptech being the new fintech, money coming in without a real recognition of what was driving value to the ultimate stakeholders, I think we have seen larger sums of money come in from more sophisticated investors and that’s gone hand in hand with the maturing of the technology and the market’s willingness to adopt those technologies. So what I’m seeing is fewer smaller investments into early stage proptech businesses and more meaningful and larger investments, from mainly private equity houses into the more mature sectors of proptech.

 

  • Is there also a splitting out of the technology that these larger players are investing in within proptech?

If you peel back the layers and look at the largest transactions that have happened the market, what you see, particularly on the residential side but also slightly on the commercial side, is an influx of US private equity backed vehicles who are taking a platform play. The macro trend is that US money is coming to the UK to either acquire a platform or bolt leading players into their own platforms. Earlier stage proptechs are at the bottom of the pyramid, and those that reach maturity are either to become platforms themselves or to be gobbled by platforms that are backed by private equity houses. 

 

  • Where is that investment coming from in the US? East Coast/ West Coast?

The underlying funds tend to be relatively large so a recent deal I saw was Harvest Investments investing into MRI – a multi-billion dollar corporation. They are both East and West coast investors, these are big multi-billion dollar funds, taking platform plays globally in proptech.  

 

  • Coming back to the UK, how would you describe the UK proptech market at the moment, and the growth of some of the new companies and players?

I think there’s been a tale of two halves over the last 12 months and the latter tale has only come about since the election. Last year was relatively subdued – I see proptech as the property sector rather than something separate and it’s not like property technology is a new thing. Property industry has been using technology pretty much from the outset, whether it be spreadsheets or something more sophisticated. I think the subdued property market with uncertainty, particularly in the UK – we saw less proptech companies coming out and successfully raising money. I believe we are seeing the early stages of a bounce. New confidence from the media is permeating into property tech since the election and greater certainty on the economic outlook. It is a very interesting time for property and we would expect to see a further influx of capital. 

 

  • Hate to ask, but how do you think Brexit will affect the proptech industry?

Brexit will affect the proptech industry exactly the same way it’ll affect the property industry. I’ve been in the property industry my entire professional career, the rule of thumb is as long as transactions are happening, people are happy, bar if there’s a crash, the greater certainty more transactions can take place. So long as the confidence of economic outlook is there, whether good or bad, the property sector will thrive as there’ll be transactions, residential or commercial, therefore leads to greater demand for property technology solutions. 

 

  • How have you seen the development of the different value propositions of these new proptech players over the last 12-24 months?

It’s a cycle – the move from single stack solution, to API driven integrated solutions. Those integrated solutions in part being acquired by the platforms, the integrator, single stack solution, and back out again – underpinning this is a generational change. Historically, property transactions were analogue, I think consumers are driven by their experiences of general consumer apps, and expect mobile first, or smart solutions with appropriate updates with every transaction they are doing. As well as the historical trend to and from single stack solutions, I think the generational shift in the way in which people expect to do any transaction, property is just one of them.

 

  • In the eyes of the user/consumers of the app, do you think it’s easy to identify the different use cases for these different proptech solutions?

It comes down to the definition of the ‘user’. From the perspective of the customer’s customer, If supply is from property company to property company and the user uses it internally for their own users, or externally for customers, I think those end users should not be able to differentiate between the different technologies, they should have a seamless customer journey. Whether that’s provided by a single provider or multiple providers. That is a macro trend – beyond proptech, the bundling of solutions to provide a seamless customer journey, which ostensibly feels to the user as a single solution, but powered by multiple specialist providers is key. 

Using Salesforce – we have innumerable plug-ins but it’s still a seamless data flow. 

 

  • Within the market of Seed to Series C – what are some of the key mistakes you see proptech founders making within that funding tiers?

At the earlier stage I think the challenges of proptech founders are pretty similar to any B2B founder. Companies I’ve seen struggle to get market traction (a horrible oversimplification here), have typically been solutions to problems experienced by the founder without appropriate objective market validation that what they are doing could form the basis of a sustainable business if executed properly. They seem to be solving problems they had during the transaction without appropriate market validation rather than really driving at what the market needs. 

  • What recommendations would you give to proptech founders wanting to do a market validation that is proper and robust?

I would suggest they read two books: The Lean Startup, which is a common-place startup founder book, providing methodology whereby you can validate and understand what you’re doing. The Mom Test – helps you put the challenge you’re facing into objective terms and solutions.  Also I suggest using the business model canvas to get an overview of key elements of what you’re looking to construct and testing fundamental hypotheses. 

Also like the working backwards approach, from recollection, Amazon started with the press release of an ideal solution and validating that in an idealised world, recognising you’ll never get there for MVP, does what you are doing and solving, resonate and what assumptions are you willing to make in order to reach that idealised outcome?

 

  • Those founders with market validation, or at least on their way, what are some of the challenges you might then face as a proptech founder? 

Historically, not as much now, but due to the influx of capital, there was a lot of noise around the sector with relatively few decision makers to reach, relative to other more general B2B applications. So getting noticed is key and within the property sector there is a high degree of reference ability, making sure you get traction and recognising that referrals are critical to scaling business in this sector. You can’t cut corners. Whilst property is viewed as a rich sector from the outside, property is capital and asset rich but may not be as income rich as other sectors, so when comparing proptech to say fintech, my takeaway is that the closer you are to money, the more money is available to invest in technology by prospective customers, therefore more money available by the tech companies to invest in their own R&D. The amount of cash available for tech investment vs the amount that is tied up in the buildings is something to be wary of. 

 

  • We’ve talked about challenges – what would you say are some of the absolute ‘don’ts’ as a proptech founder?
  • Don’t write a line of code without getting proper market validation. 
  • Don’t write a line of code without properly understanding the landscape, which means peeling back the layers. There are lots of solutions out there that you might not be aware of and, therefore, not properly understand the competitors and landscape. Be respectful. People who come in shouting about disruption is great for short-term headlines, but that message sticks in people’s minds. 
  • Try to build a sustainable business that happens to be technology-based rather than build silicon valley technology business. 
  • Property is a sector that fundamentally works. So much of it is rooted in legislations – making assumptions without properly validating what can and cannot be changed is a sure way to burn through cash. Some of the ways the property sector operates, while archaic, are required. 

 

  • You’ve built up to 30+ employees now. What problems have you had around talent acquisition – we hear a lot about proptech firms needing industry experience, is that true?  

I’ve not particularly viewed talent acquisition as people with or without industry expertise. The challenges we faced were ‘this is the first business I’ve started’ and fundamentally, recruiting is hard. Knowing what you’re looking for, and why, and then being able to identify that in prospective hires is something I struggled with at the start. Everything we do in our business we try to simplify, therefore the 3 things we look for is attitude, drive and coachability and the industry experience is the bit on top. Generally, we take the view that the hard skills can be learned if someone has already ticked the boxes for those three points. We invest a lot in our team to upskill and teach a lot about the property sector but every hire we got right, they ticked those three points – in fact, we have had 100% success rate. I wish I had come up with this method myself, and to be fair we were coming to those three points conceptually, but I went to a talk by Glyn Trott who runs Agent OS and he said those three words – attitude, drive and coachability. The penny dropped at that moment and he had encapsulated exactly what we were looking for but we had been unable to articulate at that point in time. 

 

  • In your opinion what do tech founders fail to do that doesn’t create predictable revenue?

It’s very dependent on what they are doing. I think the subscription model has fundamentally shifted business models for both hardware or software. IOT providers doing things on a license fee model. There are very few, if any, proptech businesses that are stuck in that ‘one-off’ rather than the predictability of a revenue model perhaps? If you’re looking at the i-buyer or the online agent I wouldn’t view this as a proptech business, it’s just a differently enabled agency business. What I’m surprised by, given that property sales transactions are happening less frequently and more people are renting, is that I haven’t seen a knock-out tech-enabled lettings proposition. 

 

  • What do you think is the failure rate of proptech businesses today in the UK?

Depends what you define as a failure, and over what time period. I have seen friends launch businesses in the proptech space that have failed to get traction, but then pivoted, rebranded multiple times and THEN get the traction. I wouldn’t view that as a failure, instead part of the learning curve, but from the outside it would look like 3 failed companies before the one success. You only get the insights from being within the market – from the outside there’s lots of false impressions about how the property sector works. When you are in it, that’s when interesting opportunities start to arise.

  • What advice would you give to other proptech founders making a similar journey to yourself?

Don’t try to do anything too complicated, keep it simple! I’ve seen others come up with very complex processes for various things – the tendency is to over think and over complicate. The beauty is in simplicity, whether it’s a customer onboarding process, marketing process, attribution of marketing, recruitment etc – simplify! Challenge yourself to come up with the simplest solution to a challenge you are facing, rather than trying to solve lots of things through a single solution. 

 

  • Any guidelines or framework that you use to accomplish that point of keeping it simple?

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. If we are looking at a new tool, for example, the benefit of it has to be understood by people who are not specialists in that area. Everything we do, we try to explain as simply as possible.

Thanks very much for today, Rajeev Nayyar, MD of Fixflo!

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other successful CS leaders, Tech Founders and even recruitment leaders to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing existing accounts at tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.

If you’re looking for experience but don’t want to take someone on in a permanent role, a freelancer might be the ideal solution. Maybe you’re growing faster than you can recruit or have a one-off project needing extra people power.

The benefits of doing this are plentiful. Here are five that Sales for Startups have picked out:

  • Numbers orientated – notably motivated to stimulate profit
  • Minimal training, fast returns – serious experience enabling effectiveness from day 1
  • Up-to-the-minute thinking – abreast of the latest sales industry theory, models and strategies
  • Helicopter view – contribute advice and insight, having seen what works and what doesn’t elsewhere
  • Buy time – trial new approaches, strategies and processes, and grow your permanent team in a considered manner

The key thing about sales freelancers is that they DO the work. You are likely to receive advice along the way but they are primarily there to get a job done. This could be a strategy project, like developing your data science or software engineering, an interim position or replacement role.

Throughout November Sales for Startups are exploring all aspects of how temporary support can assist in developing tech companies’ sales. To read our eBook ‘The Different Types of Sales Support Available to Tech Companies’, packed full of practical information about how to make best use of what’s available, visit here.

We interviewed Julie Barber, CEO and Founder of Spark Consulting, working with ambitious organisations, from large corporates to innovative startups, who want to grow fast, innovate and transform how they do business.

We asked Julie to shed light on the investment process for tech startups.

So over to the interview with Julie and our founder, James Ker-Reid with the key questions and answers:

 

  • How open are investors in volunteering what they really want to see from those tech companies?

They are far more open than people think they are. This is why it’s really important to start talking to people as early as you can as you can go and have early conversations… ‘we’re thinking about doing a raise in 3 months, we think you might be the right investor for us, but we’d love to know what you are looking for and what are your key metrics, the key things that worry you’. That means you can tailor what you’re doing to what they need. It makes it easier for everybody. 

 

  • Do you find that if you were going out to a pool of investors, would you have a scenario where each investor wants something different from the start up?

90% of what all investors want is going to be the same, but then there’ll be a 10% differential where some will be looking for something very specific. That might be dependent on what they want to bring to the party, so they might be looking for a company in a particular situation that needs particular help, if they are an angel investor, for example, and they want to provide their own input, so no point joining in if you’re already at brilliant at sales and they are a sales specialist, there’s no value for them to add, whereas if sales isn’t your strength, that makes good sense to an investor. 

 

  • How do you assess the quality of those value adds that the investor might bring?

It’s all about doing your own due diligence – everybody talks about due diligence in the founder process, e.g. the investor checking out the start up, but there’s just as much that needs to happen the other way round. You need to know who they are, what they’ve invested in before, how long they left their money in a company, how much they’ve invested, what kind of relationships they have built with those start ups etc. If they run a company themselves, go and look up the company on Glass Door and see what people say about them as a person who runs that company – that can be very telling. You need to know who you’re talking to before you walk into a room, similarly to how you would go to a job interview, you would find out who you’re going to be interviewed by beforehand. 

 

  • Does Glass Door have good ratings for investors? Is there a lot of information available on VCs?

It depends on where they come from. If it’s a VC, they’re not going to be on Glass Door, apart from if someone who has engaged with that VC before, they might have put some stuff on there, but perhaps not necessarily about the particular people you might be engaging with. If investors come from private personal wealth, they won’t be on Glass Door because they don’t have a company. A lot of investors in the start up scene are actually entrepreneurs themselves who have perhaps had an exit and decided to use some of that money to invest in the start up scene – they will often have some kind of profile on Glass Door. That’s not the only source to look them up on, check out all the other social platforms, you can do generalised Google searches on them etc. You’ll be able to build up a picture of them. Equally, if you can’t find out anything about a person, in this day and age, that’s really telling – why is this?

 

  • Where do you see startups wasting most time in the investment process?

Talking to the wrong investors. They often have an approach of talking to as many people as possible with the thought that someone MUST want to invest in them – this is not a good approach and can be a huge waste of time. As a startup founder, the thing that you’re usually most short of is time and money. Talking to investors costs time and money – you have to travel to see them, it costs money to get there, it takes time to get there and prep for it. I’ve spoken to founders who have spoken to 200+ investors – that’s never going to work, it’s not a strategy, it’s a scattergun approach. What you’re much better doing is putting in some time up front to really research, based on the direction you’re going in, the sector, the stage you’re at etc, and finding 10-20 investors that fit that bill. Make sure they haven’t invested in anyone else similar to you recently, also check how recently they have invested in anything else because if they just invested last week a few million in something, they probably aren’t going to invest in something else straight away. Do that research, find that 10-20, go and talk to them. If they all say no, you have gained brilliant feedback telling you that you aren’t doing something right. You need to go back and ask each of them what were the reasons, then that will help you adjust your approach. You would have only spoken to 10-20, not hundreds, before you figure out what you’re doing wrong. You haven’t burned many bridges at that stage. Make sure you prioritise those original 10-20, working out who you would absolutely love to have on board, and ones you’re not too worried about. Start with the ‘oks’ and refine your pitch and proposition as you go up towards the golden investor. Don’t go in at the top as it’s a good way to burn a bridge early on.

 

  • You mention some people deploy a scattergun approach – why are these people not taking time up front and short listing the right investors?

Generally it’s inexperience. As a founder you start a company because you know how to solve a particular problem and you’re good at solving that problem and decided to start a company to help others solve that problem. But that doesn’t mean you have any skills whatsoever in raising money. It’s not a skillset you’re ever taught. People tend to think they need to get a pitch deck together, do that and then think I’ll go out and start talking to people. That doesn’t quite work. Even if you manage to get a decent pitch deck together and manage to get some interest, if you haven’t done the other work or prep that needs to happen beforehand, and you haven’t got a business plan that stands that well behind that, and you’re not prepared for a due diligence exercise, you’re going to fall over on the next step. As soon as an investor is interested and says ‘can I see x y z’, your answer is ‘oh I haven’t written that yet, that’s not ready or I can’t’, then your professionalism and credibility falls straight off a cliff. So doing all of that prep is something that is a skillset you have to learn and get used to. Often those who have passed Series A have done this many times, have nailed their pitch and can reel it off without thinking. It’s pre Series-A where you see a lot more inexperience. 

 

  • You mentioned about researching if the investor has recently invested in another company – how recent is recent?

I count it as recent if the company they invested in is still going and they still have a stake in it. The last thing you want is to be the dropout option – ‘I’ll invest in you and also invest in you and see which one works out’. How are they ever going to fully support you as an investor if they are also supporting a direct competitor? Never a good place to be. However, there’s a clear difference when people are investing in people in the same sector where there’s potential crossovers where you could join up with – those are great investors. These companies can be very close to what you do and some minor overlaps sometimes, but as long as it’s not completely the same as what you do, that’s great as it gives the investor an opportunity to join you up and create better value for everyone. 

 

  • From your experience, what are the hallmarks of some of the most successful fundraising campaigns you’ve seen of Seed and Series A level?

There are 2 things that really stand out. The first is that they start in plenty of time. Plenty of time to have early conversations, to find out what those investors want. They start in plenty of time to do all the necessary prep and documentation really well and they start in plenty of time to not run out of money in short periods. I get many calls asking to help with raising when they only have 8 weeks left of runway – at that point it’s too late, you’ll have to find an alternative solution. 8 weeks is nothing, particularly if you’re looking at VC or a family office – that can take anywhere from 3-9 months, even a year to get the money through. The ones that start early are the ones that do better. 

Secondly, the ones who understand that fundraising is as much about marketing as it is about actually raising money. If you are doing crowdfunding, marketing is obviously massively important to drive the crowd. But even if you’re not doing crowdfunding, showing your power and depth in the market and visibility in the market, and making sure you show this visibility to the investors, is key. The more you do that the better. Understanding that marketing plays as much a part as your numbers and deck is also vital. 

 

  • Is there an ideal time to start fundraising?

It’s always a combination of factors – how much money you have left, what big milestones you have coming up. Ideally, I would start thinking about it at least 9 months before you need the money, so you can get out there and start getting conversations by 7 months, which even then could be tight depending on who you’re talking to. So in a totally ideal world, you’d start prepping a year in advance. Often it’s tighter than that as people are so entrenched in the running of their start up, they bring their heads above water and realise they are going to run out of cash and that makes it very stressful. This can lead to people taking on investors they wouldn’t necessarily have done if they had the luxury of time, which could make things stressful later down the line as you have someone involved that you might not ideally want. 

 

  • As a tech founder, what do I need to do to prepare for a fundraising campaign?

There are far more things than we can cover in this session – it would take me a whole day! Some key points are that you need to be able to assess your whole company through the eyes of an investor. It’s no good looking at it through your eyes, because you love it and you’re too familiar with it – find the things that might worry an investor and work out how to fix those before you go and talk to anybody. You also need to work out what the right investment route for you is – is it crowdfunding, angel investors, VCs, family offices and why? Be clear with that route so you don’t waste time talking to the wrong people. You need to prepare documentation that people actually want to read; taking the time to get those things right. You’ll need different documentation for which route you decide to take – everyone needs a pitch deck, but angel investors might also need a one pager and a video. Different things depending on the route. It’s about understanding the whole of the investment process and being well prepared for each step. For example, legal steps, due diligence etc and being well prepared for all these stages. A key challenge that founders often find is that they are really struggling because running a raise is essentially a full time job but you’ve still got to keep the company running and investors want to see you’re not missing numbers – balancing this is hard. If you’re co-founders it might be slightly easier as one can be in charge of raising, one can be in charge of the company. But it’s still putting pressure where previously you had 2 of you running the company. The more you can plan upfront and know what you do now that you’ll have to sacrifice later and prepare for that, the better it’ll be managed and can be delegated. How can you reshape your role to be freed up to do the raise? A really important part of the planning. 

 

  • How do I assess if I need outside help and if so, what are the options available?

If you have a really clear investment strategy and a small number of investor targets and you know how to assess your company like an investor would, that’s great, you’re probably doing fine and maybe you don’t need the outside help. If you’re looking at any step, e.g. legal, prep, and you’re not really sure or not feeling confident, or even if you don’t have time to do all of this, those can be good points to bring someone else in to help you. That could mean many things – an external marketing/PR agency, bring in lawyers or other routes. It’s assessing your own strength, knowledge and skill set and comparing against what you’ve got to do, working out where the gaps are and when do we need to bring that help in.

 

  • Are there any tools or tips you would give in terms of looking at the investment process, to actually making that decision, whether that’s the data or the reasoning at each of those steps?

You can look at the investment process as 4 steps. Prep step – realistically takes you a couple of months if you do it properly, then the finding and engaging investors step, then you’ve got going through the legal process and getting them signed on, then you’ve got actually getting the money. I used to always say, the last step is the only one that doesn’t hurt – unfortunately, and increasingly, getting the money can also be painful. This can sometimes take 3 months – and can be the point where you’ve run out of cash. Once you’re in the process with an investor, it’s worth asking how long it could take them to provide the money so then you can budget out. Look at those 4 steps, work out where you need help. Legal processes, you should always get help with this, if you don’t have a strong network you might need help with finding investors. The prep takes a very long time and is needed, can you do this by yourself or do you need help?

 

  • If any tech start up wanted to find you to get some help with their fundraising where can they find you?

Find me on LinkedIn as Julie Barber, or you can go to our website which is spark-consulting.co.uk 

 

Thanks very much for today, Julie Barber, CEO and Founder of Spark Consulting!

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other successful CS leaders, Tech Founders and even recruitment leaders to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing existing accounts at tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.

We interviewed Kate Forgione, Head of Customer Success at ServiceRocket and one of the Founders of Customer Success Network, a thriving peer learning community for Customer Success professionals across Europe who are looking to improve knowledge, skills and networks. And because there could be no one better to shed light on the question of “why do tech startups fail to grow existing accounts?

With so much at stake at winning often landmark and enterprise deals, we often falter as Founders and leaders within tech companies to systematically grow the adoption and usage,  and account spend within these hard-fought new customers.

So over to the interview with Kate and the key questions and answers:

  • What are the main causes for startups failing to grow existing accounts in your experience?

(Kate) Early-stage start-ups startups are searching for validation of their product, trying to prove their product is in demand and to ultimately prove to investors that given more money they can gain product/market fit. It’s often business-critical that they validate themselves with marquee names and logos. Enterprise customers are often very demanding on the initial version of the product. This can put a huge strain on the team as they try and manage an enterprise account with an under-developed product. 

There are a few things which will support the growth of these customers longer-term:

  • Invest in a customer success manager

The CSM will be responsible for ensuring the successful onboarding, adoption and embedding of your product with the customer. Their role is to understand your customer’s goals and align your product to achieve them for maximum value.

  • Build trust through a close customer-Product relationship

 

Secondly, the relationship between Customer Success and Product is critical for long term growth of early enterprise customers. Enterprise customers offer incredible insight into the product being used at scale. To grow, bring your early enterprise customers close to your Product team to help define additional value build in your product. Your CSM can facilitate this relationship.

 Your early marquee enterprise customers put trust in your company at an early stage. You can reciprocate this trust by working closely with them, not just to grow value with the existing product (CS), but give them space to guide and inform your future product roadmap. In summary, bringing together your Customer Success, Product Team and Customers can be the biggest driver for the future growth of your early adopter enterprise customers. 

Kate is almost professing that if you could manage to make progress on the product and meet the demands within reason of your first large customers, your future customers will receive such a great gain, especially when comparing servicing initial enterprise customers and then servicing mid-market or small-to-medium-sized businesses.

 

  • Why is there such a gap between Customer Success and Sales?

(Kate) This happens because of an underlying mindset in companies and teams of ‘Sales just do Sales, Customer Success do post-sales’. Customer Success should be the best friend of  Sales. CS should spend time with Sales and work together on pitch decks, sit in on pitch practice sessions and often ask the challenging questions to help them prepare for key sales meetings. The importance of this connection is often overlooked.

I certainly agree with Kate here that there is often a disconnect with Sales, sometimes even seen by sitting on different floors or other sides of the room, to the mantra of ‘let me know when it signs and we’ll chat then’. As Kate mentioned this is often too late as you are not directing and influencing the salesperson to sell the product on the core value points which make a customer successful. The lack of this feedback loop can cause a dysfunction in the productivity and culture of your team, which is ultimately passed onto the end customer.

 

  • How can the gaps between Sales and Customer Success be bridged? 

(Kate) Customer Success should understand the characteristics of the most successful customers; what are the common 3-4 characteristics these customers share? And demonstrate your findings with data. This data and insight needs to be injected back into the Sales team to help them sell close to the Ideal Customer Profile (ICO). 

The ideal customer profile is built by CS and executed by Sales. Using a joined-up approach to customer acquisition can help move the customer to time-to-value faster. The seller will be able to be better able to identify potential blockers based on previous customer data to give them forewarning as to the people they will need to get involved to have a successful customer and technical blockers to be mitigated.

This is a telling insight in that Customer Success will build the ideal client profile, an iterative and never-ending process, which also confirms whether the marketing and sales efforts align too. As sometimes there is a disconnect between who you are marketing to and meeting regularly and the other who is actually using your product day-in/ day-out. I especially like Kate’s take on giving the evidence and proof back to the sales team as to what makes a successful customer, this could be the involvement of a key stakeholder, a needed integration, even as simple as the first kickoff date agreed by key stakeholders or even downloading the desktop app of your product.

 

  • What’s your opinion on Customer Success owning renewals?

(Kate) I think that owning renewal discussions is a different skill-set to customer success. Customer Success should be focused on enabling your customer and understanding what works and what doesn’t work. Some people might say, ‘well if you give renewals to Sales they got all the glory, that’s not fair is it?’ In my opinion, you didn’t sign up to Customer Success to get the glory and significance of landing a renewal. You are in the role to empower the customer and to drive adoption. 

I think the renewal or expansion opportunities can be surfaced and evidenced by Customer Success but not owned by them. A salesperson is used to negotiating and managing multiple stakeholders to drive towards the desired outcome. Even down to the point of dealing with procurement distracts a Customer Success Manager from enabling a customer, and more importantly, it takes a lot of time.

Kate makes a very fair point here, the difference lies in the motive, time and skillset of the Customer Success Manager. In small teams at tech startups, you won’t have Renewal Managers, Account Managers and Customer Success Managers. This plethora of roles and options are not available to you and the options are more limited. Does it lie with Sales or Customer Success?

Therefore sales are often motivated by keeping the original accounts to make their targets and commissions. They also won the new account in the first place and will have relationships with the original stakeholders that sign off the purchase but maybe don’t use the product day-to-day. Furthermore, on time, a salesperson’s role is to grow revenue for your tech company and so don’t mind the constant chase, where a Customer Success may shy away from initial confrontation or difficulty, as they are keen to protect the relationship with the customer and the end-users.

 

  • What backgrounds do you get great Customer Success managers from?

(Kate) There is no rule to hiring great CSMs. Much depends on what the product is, where the start-up is in its lifecycle and what the goals are for the customer success role.  The best CSMs I’ve worked with are ex-consultants. They are often exceptionally customer-focused, project and time-orientated and outcome-driven. Additionally, they are often good at getting to the root cause by asking the customer the why and what questions on the back of the customer requests. ‘Why do you want this new feature?’ If we were to build this feature, what would you use it for?’ And often, ‘what are you wanting to achieve by getting this new feature, what’s the result you expect to get?’ It’s this challenger mindset that is commonplace within consultancy, as you are often tasked with discovering why companies perform certain activities and actions and explore options for improving their situation. 

This is a great insight. Often we go ahead and build just what the customer wants rather than understanding why and measuring the risk/reward of a given product request or feature.

 

  • What’s the link between Customer Success and Marketing?

(Kate) Customer Success has the duty of sharing what’s working, what are activities are frequent users actually doing or performing on your product. These insights can then be shared with your target audience and sales can be educated simultaneously too. 

One of the most useful things I did was to do a week-long Digital Marketing course with General Assembly, it was only then I really understand what marketing is about and hence how it could connect to Customer Success. 

CSMs should be supporting marketing by sharing use cases and identifying customer case study opportunities. I believe that as a department we need to be capturing the insights of user value as we are closest to the customer and then passing that original story onto marketing to help with branding, format and distribution. This can, of course, be used by Sales too. 

We’ve seen video can have a tremendous effect on user behaviour within our platform. Videos of how our customers use our product and the value they get from is not just a great way to drive adoption at the customer-level but can be a valuable source for Sales Enablement too. 

I agree with Kate here, even having knowledge of the customer life cycle from the awareness stage to referrals and renewals is really important. As you are informed as to what could be used to drive awareness, acquisition or even revenue for the salespeople. We’ve used the pirate metrics as a way to show clear roles and responsibilities within a team of inbound marketers, lead generators, salespeople (closers) and customer success. It’s this transparency which brings interdependency, trust and opens up opportunities for collaboration too.

Secondly, on the customer case studies, I believe this is one of the most overlooked areas within Sales and Marketing. If you are a tech company and you are starting to win customers frequently month in month out. You will have a big (good) problem of turning these customers into frequent customer testimonials, references and case studies. These will fuel your marketing, sales and referral engine. Often the question of, ‘what’s our customer case study creation process?’ is never asked by anyone. Furthermore, if you don’t have a process you’ll look back in 6 months or a year’s time and be like, we need more testimonials, and often you would have missed a great opportunity and not created a scalable process in your business to share value consistently with your target audience.

 

Any final thoughts, Kate?

I really enjoyed this James. I always come away from our chats learning something either about my field or just hearing it from a different perspective. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

 

A really insightful interview with Kate Forgione, one of the Founders of Customer Success Network and Head of Customer Success at ServiceRocket. Feel free to join us and many others in the community at one of CSN’s next events.

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other successful CS leaders, Tech Founders and even recruitment leaders to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing existing accounts at tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.

 

We interviewed both Richard Lane and Lee Durham, Co-Founders of durhamlane, generating demand through outsourced sales & marketing, training and recruitment.

We asked them both to shed light on demand generation for businesses.

So over to the interview from our founder, James Ker-Reid, with the key questions and answers:

 

Thanks for coming on the line Lee and Richard, it’s great to connect with you once again to discuss demand generation with the experts and on your 9th birthday too, congratulations!

  • So to start with, demand generation and lead generation – are they different, are they interlinked? 

Lee: Great question, are they different, yes. Are they interlinked, yes. Put simply, demand generation is the process of getting people interested in what you have to sell, so creating demand. Lead generation is a task of turning that interest into lead for your sales team. There is definitely a gap between the two and more alignment required. In summary, demand generation is an alignment of sales and marketing – SQL (sales qualified leads) and MQL (marketing qualified leads). 

Rich: To build on that – they are absolutely intertwined. Demand generation traditionally sits in the marketing space and lead generation sometimes in marketing remit, but sometimes in sales too. Something we are trying to become is the conduit between marketing and sales so taking and creating the MQL and converting it to a SQL. 

 

  • Where do tech companies typically go wrong when it comes to demand and lead generation?

Rich: Great question and hard to be too general, but one thing that often happens is a lack of consistency. Creating demand and converting demand into interest takes persistence and consistency. For example, they say it takes 5-12 attempts to get someone’s engagement, and most people stop at 3 or 4 so don’t normally even hit the stats! Being agile, responding and reacting to the market place is really important. Often people get stuck with how they’ve always done it and that mindset. You have to really think about everything you do, continually adapt and change what you’re doing. Check the message you’re putting out is still resonating, even the message you put out last month might have to be changed again.

 

  • Is that where you see a shift away from the typical 90-day marketing campaign to a shorter time frame?

Rich: Yes we have done, we have always tried to bring an agile approach to our demand generation solutions, for the reasons just mentioned. Things are changing all the time, it’s about being relevant and having a solution to solve the right problem which is harder rather than fitting the same to everyone.

 

  • Typically what time scales are you seeing or advising companies to take?

Rich: It’s many different cadences including the mixing of media in terms of how you’re communicating and connecting. Some clients are running 14 day sprints on particular campaigns, others where we are doing 30-60-90 days and some where we are providing a continual service, but within that service perhaps running different campaigns. We always talk about lots of plates spinning at the same time to make sure we are consistent. 

 

  • To pick up on your point about consistency, what advice would you give about being consistent but also building long/mid-term nurturing campaigns about prospects? 

Rich: I think you’ve got to mix the media up. We track all our campaigns, we’ve digitised our qualification process. As we are creating qualified opportunities we are also tracking how many contact attempts have been put in. For some of our clients, particularly where we are blending marketing and sales, touch points are pretty small to engagement. But others, we are up at 20-30 touch points. One piece of advice is don’t give up. If you’re connecting with someone because you believe there’s a good fit and believe you can add value, why stop. You’ve therefore got to be persistent and keep going. Mixing media – linkedin, social channels, blogs, videos, perhaps even ABM? Have to be relevant, consistent and professional at all times. 

Lee: You’ve probably seen on socials we coined the phrase #neverstopselling – as Rich rightly says, there’s a time and place and professionalism that you must keep higher than ever before in the current climate. For the older generation in us who have lived through other disasters, 9/11 or SARS, what we learnt from that experience is post-disasters or similar situations, now more than ever before, there’s more of a reason to engage and speak with people. Most people are much more approachable and willing to listen and learn about what you’ve got to say in terms of your product or service – never stop selling!

 

  • Using a multiple media approach – what advice would you give tech companies to put some of these together?

Rich: An absolute proliferation of tech tools now available to us. We’re looking at one at the moment called VanillaSoft – a tool that allows you to streamline your focus whilst also providing the ability behind the scene to add intelligence to ensure our reps get the best out of their time. We have used HubSpot, Capsule CRM, Pipedrive, Salesforce, we probably use most of the CRM systems out there – ultimately they all do the same thing. You need to have a discipline in place where your sales teams are registering those contact points and connections. You need to blend your marketing and sales team and have them working on a common goal. All too often, particularly in larger companies probably, there is still a massive disconnect between the Marketing and Sales teams – I see that as an opportunity for us for sure. I would say keep it as simple as possible, but of course it is different for every organisation. 

Lee: I think it’s important for startups to know and appreciate that there are people out there, like all of us, that can help in all the key functional areas of any business, whether you’re in startups, scaleups or even enterprise. Finance, operations, marketing, sales, the list goes on. The word outsourcing now is a much more common word and used more than ever before. It’s not just about buying data, it’s about the core services you can acquire, even if it’s just for a certain period of time perhaps before you choose to build and scale a team yourself. 

 

  • What are some of those simple things that tech companies really get wrong in demand generation?

Rich: One thing I still find, might be a generalisation, but often tech companies are started by people that understand tech. Very clever, smart tech people that create businesses. That inner core of ‘tech-ness’ shines through loudly – part of the challenge is that they have this ‘best thing ever’ and they go out and tell everyone about it without thinking too much. Work out who you want your customer to be and then put your feet in those shoes. Not necessarily what you offer, but more about what the challenges you solve and if you understand those challenges, then what are the problems that you can be looking out for, or triggers you might be finding in the audience and the target base of your customers. A simple thing like that will have you using the language of your customers, thinking about WHY they should be interested in you. That in itself is a massive differentiator; most organisations still talk primarily about themselves.

Lee: To add to that, it’s also very important for a lot of the people reading this is that if they haven’t already taken on investment, they are probably looking for it very seriously. I would put the VC, PE guys in the same bracket, they are all professionals in their own right as we are. There’s experience, connectivity and capital to tap into that can benefit you, the investment is important but be very clear about what you’re planning on doing with it. VCs/PEs will know very clearly what they want from their money, ultimately a return on their investment in a sustainable way. There’s credibility and experience as well as capital out there, you just need to use it in the right way. 

 

  • Given the interesting climate of today, what advice would you give tech companies to do right now and in the next 1-3 months? 

Rich: Hold on tight! We have a very difficult business environment right now. We’ve seen some interesting stats – our core activities have actually been higher. We very quickly mobilised to go 100% remote and we’ve seen an amazing performance from our team in terms of making that happen, but then also keeping the creation of opportunity going for our customers. Also our opportunity creation has been really high which is interesting. People are at home, probably more accessible than they’ve ever been – you can get to decision makers quickly. However, from what we are seeing, I think it’s all about sewing seeds for tomorrow really. Advice for companies right now, be very mindful, engage really well with customers. Don’t overtly try and sell things to them, make sure you listen, be very present. You create a void and customers will fill it – what everyone should be doing is keep active, busy, give back and be present in the marketplace.

Lee: Don’t panic. Don’t feel like you’re on your own, whether it’s VCs, PEs, Sales for Startups, Durham Lane, non-exec directors, there’s people that have been there and through this kind of thing before. I agree that it’s quite an unprecedented time, but it is still uncertainty that of which others have been through in different scenarios. I agree with Rich – what a time to connect! The connectivity is there, many people have more time due to lack of commuting to the office. People are more willing to be open and listen than ever before. Keep one eye on the now and the other eye on the future. We will get through this – there will always be casualties, but the more we stick together, the stronger we will be and get through it faster. 

 

  • If we look at a shorter time scale, e.g. 7 days, what are the practical steps that people could take to improve the results of their demand generation?

Rich: Broadly, this situation we are in is allowing everyone to be more open than normal, therefore an immediate rapport build opportunity, questioning opportunity. Make sure that your messaging is still resonating. Make sure your activity is high. Make sure you’re asking all those questions and getting into conversations. Get alignment from everything you’re doing online and activity from personal email and calling. Don’t forget to pick up the phone! At this time it’s an amazing opportunity to build that relationship. Be open, personal and professional. 

Lee: Just remember this is not a holiday, it’s still business as usual for most people. If what you’re selling or promoting at the moment is generally at the C-level, now has never been a better time to educate people – use the time wisely whilst learning from others that perhaps you normally wouldn’t listen to. Every cloud has a silver lining – if you’re opportunistic, opportunities will come. 

 

  • If people want to find out more, where’s the best place to connect with you?

You can visit our website, durhamlane.com, and Twitter, LinkedIn.

 

Thanks very much for today to both Richard Lane and Lee Durham, Co-Founders of durhamlane,

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other successful CS leaders, Tech Founders and even recruitment leaders to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing existing accounts at tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.

When looking at the ways in which hired-in help can support your tech business, Sales Trainers play an invaluable position on the field. Where a self-employed Sales Freelancer will get a job done, a Sales Trainer will make your team more effective and consistent.

They will help instil behaviour that communicates your value proposition, generates more leads and closes more deals, with leaders that head up engaged, successful and fulfilled teams.

Whether delivered in the form of workshops, one-on-one training, phone support, process guides and online learning portals there is an ever-growing list of mediums that can be tailored to suit your requirements.

Benefits of working with a Sales Trainer include:

  • Implementing proven techniques, rather than reinventing the wheel
  • Taking a personnel focused approach by up-skilling your team and investing in their future
  • Improving sales consistency, and therefore both performance and customer experience
  • Spreading the ROI to produce long-lasting impact

If this has whetted your appetite and you’re keen to step back to take a look over ways in which temporary support can assist your tech business in scaling up its sales output, have a look at Sales for Startups latest eBook, ‘The Different Types of Sales Support Available to Tech Companies’.

In the day-to-day thick of things, it can be such a challenge to stop doing and take a more considered approach. Utilising the support of an experienced, objective and skilled contractor may well be a shrewd way of doing this. Consider it.

We interviewed James Lizars of Thriveworks – Xero accountants for technology businesses, talking us through the finances and accountancy journey of Pre-Seed, Seed and Series A tech companies and startups.

So over to the interview from our Founder, James Ker-Reid, with the key questions and answers:

  • What are the journey points that a tech company goes through in regards to finances?

Certainly, Pre-seed, Seed, Series A and maybe beyond are the big general gateways, but another way of looking at it is company headcount. Each company has their own variations but pre-seed, 0-3 people perhaps, up to Series A, you might find a way to stretch to 20-40 people in that time, depends on your business model and how well you are selling at that stage and how you are doing with sales and cash as the variations can be quite big. Funding rounds are probably the most obvious journey points. Headcount is more a day to day thing. On a macro level, the funding round is the first layer and the second layer is headcount. How you are spending your money, therefore show what the size and the shape of the business is; most tech companies will be spending their money on people and marketing. 

  • If we were to pick those journey points, Pre-seed, Seed, Series A and maybe beyond, what happens in each journey of those l points with regards to the finances of a company?

Pre-seed

You are buying on price, that feels really important to you. But you also need to be getting value. Keeping Companies House happy, keeping HMRC happy, making sure you’re not screwing up somewhere, make sure you understand VAT. Something nice to have would be projecting forwards and looking at commercial models and cash models and feeding that into the design of your business or product. That kind of thing can be very costly to buy in, and I’ve seen it be even more costly with a DIY approach which is often done badly. There are lots of helpful resources and lots of people happy to help if asked. Get that advice, it’s a stage where you can seek help and it can be freely given. The personnel and layout of the company at this point could look like; you have an external accountant, the finance function could be a piece of software (e.g. Xero or Quickbooks) where you are maintaining your records, preferably not excel and not your bank account, but making sure you have accounting software. Make sure you have an accountant who can see that and can talk to you about VAT, in particular. In reality, the first filing demands, VAT aside, come quite a way down the road, perhaps 12 months of post-incorporation, followed by 9 months before you need to file accounts, giving you a good period of time there.

Failure points of Pre-Seed companies

People who get it wrong usually at Seed level, get to the end of those 21 months and then seek an accountant to get it done immediately, or do it themselves. And the reason I say they get it wrong is that they have been open to risk a lot of that time and for a tech business, from day 1 you should have an R&D strategy. Tax credits are a really valuable source of cash for a tech company and you can see that by this huge industry that has formed in the last decade, seeking to win you a tax credit for a large cut of the proceeds. For a new tech business it’s a pretty simple exercise though.

You need to demonstrate there’s been a technological advance – i.e. developing your own platform – and all you might need is a one-pager that explains that no one else out there is doing what you’re offering and it’s a technological advance and it was hard. And then you need a spreadsheet explaining what you spent to get there. As long as you are gathering information from day 1, and splitting out where you’re spending R&D, or on marketing, or sales etc. The mistake that has been made early on when you buy on price, is that the opportunity cost is pretty dramatic.

By not having an accountant who understands how to get you the R&D maximised, or just deciding to fall back on an R&D specialist firm to handle your claims, then you’re losing far more money than you would have saved by choosing someone who works in the tech industry and helps you navigate this exercise. The whole R&D industry exists based on fear of getting money from HMRC – however, it’s a tax credit, it’s an entitlement, you’re going to use it to pay someone else! The government loves giving it away as it just goes straight back into the economy. It’s one of those things that we really push.

The other big mistake is VAT – VAT is by far the worst tax. The mistakes pre-seed companies make with VAT – if you’re B2C, you want to delay that registration as long as possible. If you’re B2B, the chances are that your customer isn’t going to care if you’re VAT registered or not because they recover the VAT on their own return. Often, if you’re not VAT registered and trading B2B, people can think it’s slightly odd and you must be a small company. If you’re pre-sales and spending money and spending money with VAT registered supplies and you’re VAT registered, you can get that money back. There’s a good argument to get your accountant on board early and register for VAT ASAP as what you will get back on VAT alone could pay for your accountant, several times over. 

 

  • Moving on to Seed tech companies, perhaps who have raised £300,000 – £2 Million. What does the finance function look like?

Now you’re spending money. You’ve raised the investment based on ‘this is what we’re doing to do with the money’. And you’re starting to spend -usually recruiting heavily and in truth, not an awful lot changes in the base finance function happen; you still have VAT returns, still have the annual stuff, still got bookkeeping etc. Now you’re just adding people into what you’ve already set up. It starts to really increase, the number of things going through, the number of transactions, therefore the likelihood of errors and mistakes also increases. What you need is to ensure there’s robustness, but pair that with efficiency as you still don’t want to be dealing personally with this. 

Robustness is ensuring there’s not a single point of failure, it’s not the founder picking up bank payments at 3am when they’ve just finished work. Whoever is doing the bookkeeping is having their work reviewed, as everyone does make mistakes, but it takes both the accountant way of reviewing stuff and the knowledge and input of the business to say it’s wrong. You don’t want the Founder having to do this stuff, the Founder wants to be able to review the information they receive from the accountant, rather than having to find or collate the information themselves. Robustness is ensuring no failure by empowering the bookkeeper and accountant to make vital decisions, knowing your business and set up. 

Inefficiency costs money, but it’s when inefficiency costs the Founder time and frustration that’s where it’s really expensive. If you don’t have an efficient process for gathering supplier invoices and getting them paid, for example, and not paying these invoices on time, it’ll be the founder and the team that’ll be receiving the stress of supplier follow-ups. If you want good and quick access to information, you have to sort out the inputs – for example, if you have 5 personal credit cards that you’re putting expenses through because you want the points and benefits, then you’re creating a whole load of inefficiencies that block the production of management information. It’s about getting the systems and processes right so that you can access quick accurate information. Getting people paid on time, getting yourself paid on time and knowing what the risks are. The Founder is still quite involved in the finances of a Seed company – they are aware of invoices and bills etc. 

At this stage of companies, I also see a lot of time being sunk into excel – modelling, monitoring, planning, editing and so much of it is not good because often the output a week later is totally obsolete. The only value in this process is the thinking time that is put into creating the spreadsheet – the thinking time is valuable. 

  • To dive deeper into the CEO modelling and this thinking time…why are CEOs putting into that time into excel?

They are probably looking ahead to their next round, they probably feel like they should be giving data to their current investors, and feel this investor burden, but it’s not really doing much at this stage. They’re still really early on their product-market fit and they are still exploring that. So measuring your CAC? Lifetime value!? It’s still early days for that. Things that are important are cash runway, burn rate, the pipeline for sales. It’s not even measuring sales really. It’s often measuring how your pipeline is doing right now versus the time period before. If you’re tracking your pipeline then you’ll be measuring your sales cycle and your conversion rate which is what’s important – lead indicators and managing those. You don’t really need to be investing time or energy into forecast models, unless it’s driving your thinking on the commercial model itself. 

  • Let’s round it up with Series A. What does the finance function look like for Series A?

Potentially you’re going to hire a Finance Director – when is the best time? Only when you think you are getting the right person for the duration. You can get a finance director for £90K but they aren’t going to carry you through international expansion. So it’s when you are willing to spend perhaps £150K and put that into your resource plan – even then you’ll end up with someone who is using their finance skill set maybe 20% of the time. And the rest of the time they are just another senior leader, but how valuable is that? Another leader who’s in the office 5 days a week and who can take some business management off the Founder, that’s where you start to make the argument to hire a Finance Director. Numbers alone perhaps don’t quite stack up for the senior hire. 

  • You mention hiring a Finance Director, when you look at the decision criteria of the Founder who has just raised to Series A, what are the criteria they should go through in order to decide what type of finance person? Manager?  Director? 

Someone with a Financial Controller background is one who is experienced at running a finance function and a team and they know the ins and outs of keeping the accountancy up to date, working with the external accountant, very much the stuff that gets you to the month-end P&L and balance sheet and keeping the cash flow healthy. A Management Accountant is much more analytical about everything going on in the business. Looking at projecting all the inputs/outputs, finding insights into what’s working and what’s not etc. Much more commercially focused. The Finance Director will have both these skill sets and also bring a strategic approach to the whole business.

  • What are the mistakes or challenges that Founders have with their finances at Series A? What behaviours do you see?

That’s quite broad, as it’s now starting to look like any established business at that point in time. It comes down to dynamics, wrong processes and maybe the finance function not being integrated enough into the company. To counter that, there may be more transparency and sharing of numbers and finance really comes into the fold – and this can be a great thing for aligning people behind the company’s mission. That’s where ultimately having a finance manager or director in-house really helps you because when someone says ‘I think we should increase the prices’ someone can actually work out what the impact of that would be, over perhaps a 12 months period, and therefore the sales and marketing team could know what the might mean for them and their budgets etc. Post-Series-A is when you start to bring people in-house because the osmosis effect is really valuable. The osmosis effect of just hearing conversations, it goes into people’s minds and you’re more aware of what’s going on in the business every day, you can learn from it and be more relevant in what you feed back to others. 

  • In terms of your company, would you help recruit the right people to take it in-house?

I certainly would help define the role and with some companies, we’ll carry on being the outsourced finance function because maybe they have a distributed workforce, that would still make sense. I wouldn’t necessarily decide to do it at that point in time. We’ve got series A clients, we’ve got a distributed workforce in general, but we still have an office, there is an HQ. If we didn’t have a solid outsource arrangement already with a client that moves beyond Series A, I probably would be recommending they hire in-house. Ideally, someone does need to be there full time, as day to day operating stuff should be in-house, but you might outsource specialist financial analysis, end of year etc. 

  • An accountant normally completes a piece of work, a return for example, and then that’s it. I feel It’s almost an instruction, task-based industry, rather than a proactive and predictive industry. Is that right?

Yes, a lot of accountants do this. I set up Thrive to be a full-service finance partner. You’d work with a Finance Director who you can sit down with for the outset and who can say ‘this is your journey, this is what the next 5-10 years hold for you, and you’ll go through these gateways, to get to these points where you’ll start to enjoy your work’’.

The right choice is the accountant who can talk to you about that whole journey and how they can add value at every step of the way. Rather than you having to ask them to do certain tasks, they are telling you the things you need and will get them done. Year 1 you might find it to be a relatively large cost, but by year 5 it’ll be a tiny fraction of it. The right accounting partner at that stage is delivering so much value, based on a long and detailed understanding of the business, from the ground up.

What is happening in an awful lot of tech businesses is that you have this grudge purchase through the accounting line forever. They may hire someone as an in-house admin who can do a bit of bookkeeping etc, but it’s not joined up, it’s not strategically focused. The bit that’s invisible throughout this whole journey is that the founder does not know that they are doing the job of a Finance Director – taking all those inputs and interpreting them into an investor deck for some performance tracking. They are plugging the gap of this skill set that they didn’t have in their previous career, they have just had to wrestle it together through necessity. If you go external, it’s expensive, if you ask a business coach, they can only point you in the right direction, so you find you have to start fixing mistakes with your ‘not really a bookkeeper’ and equally your bookkeeper is not your accountant anyway. 

  • That’s interesting – you say the bookkeeper is not an accountant, but also the accountant is often not an adept bookkeeper – is this where fragmentation can happen?

Yes, this happens all the time and is a big source of the frustration that Founders experience. You’re lacking in the clarity that you feel you need to make decisions with confidence. The bad version is that you are just not sleeping as you are stressed about the finances because you just don’t know what’s going on. You can see your bank balance, you can see what you’re owed and that’s about it. You just don’t know how you’re actually doing as a business. And opportunities are being missed in a big way.

  • Any final recommendations you’d give to, Pre-seed, Seed and Series A tech companies?

The main takeout for me, throughout that whole founder’s journey, is a version of compromise, the ideal solution of hiring a full-time finance team isn’t available to you and you wouldn’t choose it because it’s very expensive (> £250k), so it’s about choosing the right compromise. So often this is done unknowingly and is a fire fighting exercise in most startups in that range. Just solving problems as they arise rather than looking ahead at what the needs are likely to be.  Think through the options and choices before making them. And know that there are services out there like ours, where you can have a full-service finance team adding value from day 1.

Thanks very much for today to  James Lizars of Thriveworks. 

Over and out from the team at Sales for Startups. We’ll be interviewing other Tech leaders, Tech Founders and industry-leading partners to see why we are missing the mark when it comes to growing B2B tech companies.

If you’d like to be interviewed please comment below or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or submit a request on our website.