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Ask HN: How to find a co-founder that would help you sell your product?
51 points by willnw on Nov 29, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments
Well, we developed very cool app (both android and IOS) to help restaurants to speed up sales. Apparently it is not a very hot field to be in at this point, but we do have very unique product.

Myself is not a very good salesman, neither my partners, since we all come from a engineering background. We can do market research, manufacture hardware and build apps, but selling our product is hard.

Any suggestions?

I was in a similar situation when I was doing my startup several years ago. My advice:

1. Be very careful when dealing with sales people. They will be good at selling themselves, and you do not know how to evaluate them. Do not make any promises, do not make any vague statements, esp. about equity. Also be careful regarding statements about %s of deals, ie. do they get a cut from the first 3 months of payments, or the entire lifetime of the subscription? I got burned on this one.

2. In the comments you write: "I am afraid to speak to [customers]". I will be brutally honest with you: with this sort of mindset, you will fail. If you want your startup to succeed, you will have to stretch beyond your wildest dreams. Going up and talking to your customers is the zeroth step. Keyword: stretch. Corollary: if you can't get yourself to talk to your customers, you should stop right now and get a job! (No offense!)

3. At this early stage, the process of selling is undefined, and is a sort-of engineering challenge in itself. A salesperson [that you can convince to work with you at this stage] will not figure this out for you. A salesperson will ask you who the customer is, what to tell the customer, what the pitch is, you will have to write the contract, etc. Maybe they have a few contacts, in my experience that's the most you will get out of them. Based on your description of your business, you don't need that because restaurants are everywhere, you just need to walk in and hustle.

Basically, my advice is: do _not_ look for a salesperson. Learn to do the job yourself. Once you know what the job is, what it takes to be successful, what the rates are (1 sale out of 5 pitches) then you can hire somebody and evaluate them in their first month, and hold them accountable to be at least as effective as you were.

Startups are tough! If they weren't, everybody would do it :)

> Learn to do the job yourself.


You Can Negotiate Anything, by Herb Cohen

Riches Among the Ruins, by Robert P. Smith

High Stakes, No Prisoners, by Charles H. Ferguson

Power Schmoozing, by Terri Mandell

The Best Seller, by Forbes D. Ley

If you're selling to restaurants, read books or attend trade shows aimed at restaurant owners and managers.

I'd suggest doing two things. Start looking for sales & marketing people and learn some yourself. Kick the marketing tires, interact with restaurants. You'll learn a lot from the process, even if it's just establishing that your product-market fit is perfect (usually not). Don't delegate all your client interaction to "sales" because you lose a lot in the process.

Unless they have a serious track record, let any salesperson earn their way in. Don't give up equity on promises.

Checkout saastr.com http://saastr.com/2013/02/12/what-a-vp-sales-actually-does-w... http://saastr.com/2013/04/02/the-48-types-of-vp-sales-make-d... http://saastr.com/2013/11/06/if-your-vp-sales-isnt-going-to-...

P.S. I have a friend who has a restaurant-chain SaaS app and he's not enamoured with their sales setup. Speaking to him next week. Someone really needs to make a company that handles the relationship with restaurants and connects to all these related solution providers.

Hi, Thank you for your responce, I found those links are very helpful.

It is extraordinarily difficult to hire sales people, one of the hardest "business" tasks there is. Even on teams led by people with a background in managing sales teams, the hit rate on good salespeople is low. I came up in my career with a bunch of people who went on to start companies, and so I talk to a lot of founders, and the number of tech founders who managed early in their company to hire salespeople that actually worked out is (0) zero.

The biggest problem with this task is adverse selection. A salesperson who can take a product with no traction and no awareness and successfully sell it can sell any other product. The world is full of potentially but not kinetically viable products. Good salespeople have their pick of all of them. So if a salesperson is willing to talk to you... you have to wonder why you're their best option.

An approach that can work:

1. You figure out how to sell your product to some subset of its potential users.

2. You execute on that strategy until you can reliably hit some number every month.

3. You hire an inside sales person, a dial-for-dollars robot, to execute on the script that you worked out in the previous step.

Don't kid yourself about steps 1-2, or you'll just throw money away in step 3. It's important to understand the implications of this: it means you can't easily hire someone to figure out how to sell your product. You have to cross that gulf yourself.

I can reccomend finding a great salesperson in your network and ask if he would teach/coach you on your sale.

I did this and in a few days I improved my sales skills dramatically.

Remember that selling is a proccess and a skill that can be learned, just like programming, and if you have a great teacher you can learn the basics really fast.

Too me the hardest lesson was that the more annoying and hard questions a person asks, the more interested in your product they are and the more they see how they could use the product. Not because they did not like it as I thought!

They are developers, they don't have a network. Only a network of other people that code.

But you are right, THEY have to learn it and sell their product. Nobody can do this for them at this stage.

That's a pretty limited view of things. It's possible that that's the case, but there's a lot of places where I've met people who are great at sales:

- Past startups that I've worked at. Unless someone has only worked at massive companies where they were completely isolated from the sales cycle, there's a pretty good chance they've had at least some interactions with sales.

- Barcamp (http://barcamp.org/w/page/402984/FrontPage) there's usually one of these in town on at least a semi-annual basis. It's not just "coders" that come out to these, people involved in all aspects of the business of software show up.

- Past clients. While doing freelance work, most of my clients were people who ran businesses, had a little to no tech background, and had an idea for a tech project that they thought could improve their business.

- Other "coders" in my network who have struck out on their own. Even if none of the above applies to you, there's a pretty good chance that there's only 2 degrees of separation between you and someone who could help.

I found a great salesperson while being one of two engineering based founders.

I found the sales guy through another engineer, all it took was me asking a lot of people if they knew any sales persons willing to help me.

Talk to your customer. Where do you live? You probably frequent the same restaurants and probably they recognized you in some of them. Ask to talk to them. Don't sell. Tell the story of why and listen. If you want to start with one (and you are in the Valley) hit me at @JDcarlu and I will go with you to a friends restaurant and introduce you. Don't be scared to ask.

I am afraid to speak to them, I did try, but I do not think I am good storyteller. Maybe I need someone to help me to make a pitch story? I am actually in Chicago right now, but thank you for your helps. I am considering moving to the Bay Area lately.

May be you can hack your way into talking to customers. You don't have to think of restaurant workers as people you are trying to sell to understand their pain points. This is one thing I have tried myself. When you go to a restaurant next time try to have a casual conversation with one of the workers. Try to get them talk about their pain points without directly asking them. In most cases they'd be happy to talk to you because you have leverage over them because you being their customer. And once you have understood some point points and developed a solution for them try to generate some demand for your product. You can go to one restaurant and tell them such and such restaurant is using this product and is doing great with it. And then go to another restaurant and tell them there is another restaurant using your product and killing with it. Also, read "The Paypal Wars." This book has a wealth of sales tactics you can use.

You don't need to sell your product in the first meeting. Just talk to them about their business and understand their pain. Later, you can guide them to your product and they will give some suggestions that can make your product better.

Sales is not about selling stuff and moving on. But it is about helping your customers success in their own business.

You won't like this, but sell it first. Your first few customers are buying a vision and if you can't sell your vision, no one can.

Then once you can show some kind of product market fit (eg your customers love it, and would be really disappointed if you pulled plug), and you're ready to begin scaling, THEN hire first sales person.

You'll have an idea of who likes your product and why, and that can give sales person a lot of confidence and focus.

this....i spent a lot of time with a potential co founder but it basically boiled down to me selling. he was a fantastic guy but it was just not possible for him to sell. the product and the customer base has not been established.

If you think you've done market research, but you haven't spoken to your customers directly (in person or by phone if in person is not possible. no email), you haven't done market research. And if you can speak to your customers to do research and discover their problems, you can sell them your solution if it's a good one.

To underscore what others have said, if you want to have any success, you have to sell this yourself.

You are saying you can do market research but it seems to me after building the product you realized it was not a very hot field to be in. Not to point fingers at you but this should be a good takeaway for you. It may be easier to assume before you build but in some cases it may not work out later on.

Now, to answer your question, if you cannot get to your customer yourself maybe you should have not entered this market to begin with. Even if you hire a "co-founder" or an independent contractor to "sell" for you this may still not work out. For one thing, it seems you have not tested out your idea with customers. So, you may or may not have a product that solves a pain point. Although, you may get lucky to find a partner who is effectively able to communicate back customer feedback to help you in product development.

This stuff will take time. Just don't give up. And I'd suggest if you really believe in your idea you should go talk to your customers yourself. If this idea doesn't work out, next time may be build something for yourself or your friends so you don't have as much anxiety when it comes to talking to your users.

When doing your market research (by which I specifically mean talking with your target market about their pain - you can't do market research in your basement, only competitor research which is not the same thing) ask them about sales reps for their other providers that they like and trust. Get an introduction wherever possible.

1) If nothing else, people who already sell to restaurants understand the market and can introduce you to other owners you can speak with, and

2) You probably want a salesperson with industry expertise and existing relationships, rather than someone with App / SaaS experience. Even if they've previously sold produce or tableware or linen services, you can teach them the technical basics and they can sell it in terms that will create cutthrough in the market.

Lastly, when people Ask HN about finding a technical co-founder, the advice is nearly unanimous: try learning some of the skills yourself. The same is true of Sales and Business strategy - you may never become an expert, but forcing yourself to learn the basics will help you identify the really good operators in that space.

Good luck!

Thank you for the advise.

Pay attention that some sales people will be good at selling themselves to you but not your product to the customers. ABC: there's no way to know if he/she's a good sale person if not seeing it in action.

To know which kind of sale person is best for you - you have to try to do it yourself first: know your customers, know their problems and which are the values they see in your product (I assume you have done this before building the product).

Then start searching key people in the industry you're targeting and ask for help - get into that network and you'll find your person.

Avoid sales consultant. Avoid external sales company. It's too early for you. You need someone internal that will do more than just selling your product. You need someone that will listen to any comments, feedbacks, needs, feelings of your potential customers and will identify opportunities, product changes, propositions and values.

To get him/her on board pay attention to do not give out shares on day one. Setup an option pool with vesting and link i.e. salary with company performance (not personal one). I can give you some further tips on that if needed. I did that myself with a new biz dev guy.

All the best!

Thank you for the advise, I believe that you are right. I will try it myself first.

This is a really hard question. It's also the reason my product never took off. I've got ~50 loyal customers who love the platform and send millions of emails a week but I never found a co founder to come along for the journey.

I looked locally and abroad for a founder, and had investors ready to continue to back me. I'm a good engineer and gave sales a go but realised I'm just not cut out for it. I put up ads and got plenty of interest (early product hunt advertiser) but never found the person making investors were willing to put their cash on the line for.

It's a tough find. Especially if you don't have a sexy as fuck product. I wish you luck!

Tl;dr without a go to market or sales co founder, chances are you're fucked.

Edit: Abysmal spelling.

In my experience business owners are very open to cold email introductions. Somewhere it became legend that nobody responds to sales emails but if you rethink your pitch as an earnest attempt to either listen to their problems or provide them a solution, they will respond. Just write as a person in an honest tone about the solution and ask for a few minutes to discuss on the phone or in person. Send ten of these personally written letters and I can almost guarantee that you will get at least 3-4 meetings. From those you will learn more than any salesperson could teach you in two years.

Thank you for your suggestions, I will try it.

You are a salesperson, you just don't realize it. You sell in most facets of your life.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others: Daniel H. Pink - http://www.amazon.com/To-Sell-Is-Human-Surprising/dp/1594631...

Feel free to reach out if you need some guidance or advice.

We have found our CMO on AngelList.

You can post an something on it saying your are looking for a CMO or a VP of sales. People on AngelList are usually really smart, get startups and are looking for opportunities like that!

> ...help restaurants to speed up sales. Apparently it is not a very hot field to be in at this point.

Money and confidence. It's probably better than you think!

Or worse. I see a new startup looking for salespeople for a new point of sales app every week, so the "not a very hot field" observation is more likely to be commentary on the overall market potential than it not being popular to try. Of course, there are a lot of restaurants out there, but they tend towards being the opposite of the type of customer you want to sell to: small, traditional, not very technically or commercially minded and needing an in-person visit. And quite possibly having been pitched by two other iPad/Android/SaaS apps in the last 12 months.

It's possible this product does something completely different, but its also possible that some of the difficulties the OP and his cofounder are having selling it are more down to it being particularly difficult and time consuming to convince the market they need it, and less down anything they're doing wrong in their sales approach.

Do you have an email? I'm in the industry.

yes, My email is willwang4202 at gmail.com

Take interns to see how it goes


if you can't sell it yourself then somebody else will have a tough time. you have to figure out how to sell it on your own, you being the creator.

once some product market fit is established, and you need more bodies and time to expand, you should do it.

this is what I learned this year.

This is what I learned this year also. Well said.

I'll respond with a quote by Rumi (and try not to sound pretentious as hell while doing so):

If you are hungry and unable to find food, be the bread.

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