First time founders are often guilty of outsourcing their sales responsibilities, but all too often, they are even more guilty of delaying selling in any capacity until it is too late. This delay often comes down to fear and that is why I’m constantly asking founders to test their sales hypothesis as soon as possible. Unfortunately most founders, including myself at one point, don’t want to hear this.
Let me give you an example of a typical conversation that highlights this fear.
Me: “Your product sounds great. So do you have any customers?”
Passionate Founder: “The market potential is huge. We have done extensive market research,spoken to 50+ potential customers and conducted hundreds of surveys. The feedback has been great and really helped us shape our product roadmap’.
Me: “Did you ask them for money?”
Confused Founder: “Well, no. You see our product isn’t ready yet. That is why we are fundraising. We need investment to hire engineers, finish our beta product and hire a head of sales’
Me: “So… Could you ring 5 of your most excited potential customers now and ask them to register for your Beta program. Tell them that it will only cost them $50/500/1000/? today and for that bargain basement price they will get earlier access to your beta when it is ready, the opportunity to shape your product roadmap, and 3 months free when you go live.”
Ill Looking Founder: “…ahem… [voice cracks]… but… ”
By this stage the founder has typically gone slightly pale and looks like they might get physically sick. Their warm friendly expression will have left their face and been replaced with a look of disgust that often makes me feel guilty that I’ve insulted them somehow.
The next few seconds are usually pretty painful. However I’d rather that the founder experience some awkwardness now, instead of 12 months from now when they have finally run out of excuses to ask customers for money. I tell these founders to think of this approach as ‘Kickstarter for Business’.
If they cannot get 5 early adopters to write small checks today then they might change their assumptions on how real the demand is for their product. Conversely if they get 50+ pre-orders with ease then they may not even need to raise capital to get their product to market. They will also have demonstrated valuable traction data that should have investors clamouring to their doors.
By the way, that example conversation above is real. The CEO left the mentoring session soon after that conversation. She was dejected and glad to get out of the room. Happily, 1 hour later she was back at my door smiling from ear to ear. She had just closed her first 2 sales using the ‘kickstarter’ approach and was looking forward to calling back all her prospects. It was pretty cool as her confidence had soared, and more importantly, she now had the beginnings of a real business!
So stop delaying, pick up that phone, and ask for the money. NOW.