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Practical tips and strategies for B2B sales, and helping founders navigate the idea-to-seed-stage journey

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Greetings all,

In this week’s episode of Ventures, my guest Ken Lundin and I discuss a wide variety of strategies and tactics for improving sales traction and business development processes in a growing startup. We talk about Ken's journey into sales, how founders should reach out to (and land) early customers, how tangible goods companies should think about retail sales strategies, and how to run experiments and make sales decisions with data.

Check it out: B2B sales strategies and practical tips for startup business development :: with Ken Lundin

Idea to Seed

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to think about, investigate, and practice the idea-to-seed-stage journey for over 15 years now via many different types of startups. Whether I intended to or not, I’ve run tons of “experiments” to learn how to optimize resources (time, money, people, etc…) to maximize the probability of startup success. Not surprisingly (especially to anyone who has been down this path before), most of my/our learning has come from failed experiments.

I’ve previously recorded a podcast on how I think about Team, Product, Market, Traction, and Financial Models when evaluating startup investment opportunities, but as I’ve been able to ramp up travel a bit this fall and talk about what I do for a living to new friends and colleagues, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts that may be helpful if you are thinking about (or currently) starting and scaling a new business.

First, it’s all about the people; i.e. those who root you on, coach/advise you, join you operationally, and write checks to fuel your growth. Unfortunately, most people around the world do not have a network of startup-savvy friends to do all this for/with them. This explains why, historically, people with the means to do so have flocked to startup hubs like Silicon Valley in order to facilitate building such a network.  

However, the number of people with the means to move to a startup hub is extremely small. What about everyone else? Is there a way to provide access to education and network opportunities for the rest of humanity that can’t afford to up and move, let alone successfully integrate into an established people network?

Fundamentally, this is the question my partners and I at Prota Ventures have been asking ourselves for the past 5+ years. We’ve been optimizing systems and people/trust networks to surround founders with amazing subject-matter experts, operating partners, super-connectors, and investors. We do this because the idea-to-seed-stage journey is incredibly difficult. The reason why most VCs/Angels won’t touch sub-$4m-valuation companies (at least in the USA) is because time is the resource most needed in the earliest stages, not money.        

In fact, in a brand new startup, “over-funding” can lead to inefficiency and the wrong incentives for people who join the team. Instead, what founders actually need in the earliest stages is a team of experienced, driven, and startup-savvy people with skin in the game to multiply efforts and specialize operationally across product, growth, and operations. THEN, as a startup grows, money can be used to hire a dedicated team at the appropriate pacing to fuel growth.

I empathize with all the frustrated founders out there not able to integrate into the trust networks that unlock talent and capital to fuel growth. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula or way to “skip the line” to build such trust. It simply takes time and a dedicated commitment to deliver on micro-promises on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly level.

However, if there is a way to facilitate the multiplication of “time” by adding more people to a network that can share information with each other and surround founders with resources and help, then perhaps this can solve the early stage dilemma. Perhaps this can break open the bottleneck that is preventing not just more startups from being successful, but the bottleneck that continues to prevent certain demographics from being represented proportionally in the global startup community.    

Encouragingly, we are seeing signs of this strategy working. While we haven’t yet updated our website and social media presences to tell the story adequately (this is coming soon!), my partners and I have been able to see scaled trust networks within our ecosystem around the world successfully surround founders - i.e. founders with a variety of cultural identities -  with more than just money to help them succeed.

I’m looking forward to telling more of these stories soon, but in the meantime I want to pause for a moment and thank you for reading this newsletter. It has been tremendously encouraging to run into people in my travels this fall who actually know who I am, subscribe to / read this newsletter, listen to a podcast or two, and have asked questions, shared feedback, etc. It has been yet another experiment to write this newsletter and publish a podcast weekly without being very active on social media (if at all), and - frankly - I’ve enjoyed the more personal 1:1 communications with people this has facilitated.

So. Thank you. Thank you for reading this far down an unusually long newsletter, and know that my partners and I are doing everything we can to put “experiment learnings” into practice to help more entrepreneurs around the world flourish (including, hopefully, you).

Have a great rest of your week,