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The curse of Sales in startups
Look at yourself, you once were a man of dignity, and now you're smiling on a call trying to convince a stranger to buy your SaaS
Man, how tired I am of constantly bending over for someone trying to persuade them.
Let me share an unconventional idea: selling as a founder is not much more pleasant than serving a table as a waiter.
During the Paris events, looking at everything from a bit outside perspective, I realized how accustomed we got to over-selling ourselves and running after people to get them interested in what we do. And it's not just us, practically everyone in the space does that. Recognizing this makes me sick. This is not what I dreamed about when I wanted to build my company, and it's not what I work 12 hours a day for, to be a doormat for new feet.
Let's consider extremes: service personnel, customer support, the hospitality industry. They have always amazed me. Lots of rude and arrogant assholes whom you have to smile at, explain politely, and try to keep them satisfied. It's a job I couldn't do for any amount of money. To me, a homeless person is happier overall than someone whose will is so oppressed.
Now let’s look at dealing with clients/partners/investors/etc: sometimes they don't respond, sometimes they act dumb, sometimes they promise and don't deliver, and sometimes they blatantly disregard you, demonstrating how insufficient you are of their expectations, or how you’re not worth of their time. And you have to respond to it politely, adapt, and try to turn it into a positive interaction. Bullshit! How is this any better?
Look, there's nothing pleasant about persuasion or sales. The perfect salesperson is someone who endures all the rejections, addresses all the objections, and turns the most toxic "no" into a positive "yes." In other words, a person who eats shit all day long but manages to digest it.
And yeah, we all understand that in the business world, nobody "begs" anyone. That would be humiliating and unprofessional ofc. But when you send a third follow-up after being ignored twice, "gently bump" a stagnant chat, tailor custom solutions for clients, allow them to book calls at any time of the day, or cancel them at the last moment—are you really not begging, or are you just doing it “professionally"?
The most psychologically challenging moments for me in the past year were when I had to deal politely with inadequate individuals. And now, I'm starting to see that there might be another way. These are two points on the same line, but there's also another line. There are many roles where a person depends on themselves and the results of their work. For example, with consumer products, you can't convince people to use them; you can only create a good product. Sports, trading, science, gambling—they can be successful even if the whole world goes fucks itself.
As long as your results depend on other people, you’ll have to swallow it. The only way out of this is abundance. If you have a line out of clients, you can afford to lose one or two if something doesn't suit them.
But along with that, hotels and restaurants are not empty; there are enough people who can smile in response to negativity if they know it will help them achieve their goals. I feel the same people end up filling sales roles. As if for sales, the main things are not persistence, communication, or discipline, but having a character flexible enough to bend under pride and then spring back.
For myself, I've realized that I see no future in doing business like this. We have gone above and beyond for the time it was necessary, but we need to stop it. We have a good product with a strong team. If people won't use it without us convincing them to do it, then the product simply doesn’t provide enough value. Trying to compensate for this with service is possible, but what for?
Remember why you wanted to build a startup. Was it to have 100 bosses in the form of clients/investors and cater to their whims instead of having one boss? Look at the effort you are currently putting in for one client and rather spend it on someone who’s important to you.
I want to figure out how to build a business without demeaning myself and devaluing my work. Or I might have to accept that this role is not for me.
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