What Did You Sell Today?

No matter the business, no matter the stage of the business, that’s the single most pressing question. I wish I’d understood that sooner.  (This article first appeared here on Inc.com.)

In our cool, hipster space here in Durham, North Carolina (we’re in a complex called the American Underground, which is part of a million square feet of old tobacco manufacturing buildings), I have the opportunity to bump into every sort of entrepreneur and would-be entrepreneur. We count 100-odd software companies within a half-mile of downtown Durham, and with that number, I don’t expect to go anywhere without bumping into somebody in my circle.

Last week, a peer investor of mine turned to me and asked, “What did you sell today?”

I loved it. Today, my Startup Factory investment fund sells to these constituents:

  • Startup founders who will apply to be part of our program.
  • Mentors who will volunteer their time to help these companies.
  • Early-stage investors who will invest in these companies and help take them to the next level.
  • Limited partners (our current and future investors in our fund).

I can’t be successful without the best of all of these groups coming together. So I take every opportunity to get in front of them and sell my company. Furthermore, we continually strategize on how to look for opportunities to get in front of these groups–especially the entrepreneurs, as without them the rest falls apart. Lately I have taken to the road to spread our message. (Need a speaker and a beer sponsor at your next meetup?)

Before founding The Startup Factory, I was a senior executive at seven companies over 20 years, and I draw upon those experiences every day as I advise the founders in our program. Despite the broad nature of the executive roles I held, there is one single, uber-dominant thread that rips through my soul every day.

At every one of these companies, I wished that I had put more firm-wide emphasis on sales. That emphasis includes both me personally and the sales and sales-support teams that reported to me.

Every company. It is a huge regret. What if I had sold more widgets?

You see, I am very much like most of you in that I love to plan, design, and build things. I wake up in the morning thinking about efficiency and disruption and speed to market. But none of that matters if you can’t sell something! Simple formula for start-ups is you run out of money eventually if you don’t generate revenue. You can only raise investment funds so many times.

So, whether you are like me and have to sell to start-up founders, investors, and mentors, or you are a current founder needing investors, employees, customers, partners, or just a friend, the question still holds.

What did you sell today?

Speaker, investor, mentor, startup founder. One of 3 or 4 Co-Founders of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B). Managing Director of $25M Venture Fund in late 90's. CEO, COO or President of various companies ranging from $200k to $20M in size. One of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory (35 investments across 7 cohorts), founder and MC of the Big Top Reverse Job Fair and national writer and speaker waxing poetic around startups and startup communities. Currently EIR @ Techstars with Brad Feld ~ Startup Communities, to help community leaders around the world grow their startup community.

1 comments On What Did You Sell Today?

  • great article chris! focusing on sales helps you do two things:
    1) make money and thus have a real company (and hit milestones, validations, raise money, etc..)
    2) it forces your users, target customers, et al to actually give you real feedback that you can implement to make your product better. A free trial or giving someone a demo and ‘asking for feedback’ is not forcing the person on the other side of the table to vote with their wallet. will they buy this thing right now? no? why not? now go work on that problem and then ask them for the sale again.

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