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Founders Led Sales - Why The Founder Must Sell

Founder led sales is critical for early stage startups. The founder must sell. Founder led sales is key to early stuccess.

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A lot of Founders, especially technical Founders, struggle accepting that they have to sell and take over Founder led sales. In fact, as the Founder of an early stage startup, the Founder must be the first salesperson. It’s non-negotiable. They must be the person who is acquiring those first customers. They must be doing cold outreach, getting rejected, booking meetings, running sales cycles, and closing deals. They must sell.

It’s imperative a Founder sells because you’ll learn so much. Although this is a broad statement, it is a true one. Founder led sales means learn how the market reacts to your product, you’ll understand who your customer is and who your customer isn’t. You’ll learn what product features resonate with the market, you’ll learn what problems are priorities for companies to solve, how to position your product, how the market describes your product, what they like, what they don’t like, how it compares to competitors and alternatives, and so much more. This early stage customer and market feedback is critical to refining your product offering and your go to market strategy. You’ll build a better product because of it, and your marketing will be more effective. A lot of what you’ll be doing will be invalidating and validating hypotheses. Things such as, “Is this title at this size company a customer?” or  “When we send cold emails saying we solve problem X, does that get a positive response?”

Founder Led Sales is Critical

It must be reiterated to save you a world of pain: You cannot outsource sales in the beginning.  A lot of technical Founders want to hire a salesperson once they have the funds. They see a pedigreed salesperson who works at a company like Salesforce and they dream of hiring this polished, experienced professional. Do not do it. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is not the right approach! Early stage startup sales do not work like that - It will be a gigantic waste of money and time.

Why not? Because your product is still very new. It may not be the right product for the market. You may not be targeting the correct ICP or buyer persona. Only the Founder with the product vision who understands what problem you’re truly solving and where the product will be headed will be able to capture these market insights by selling and talking to customers. Relying on a salesperson to convey this information to you will not be effective.

Remember the “telephone game” you played in elementary school? You’ll be playing that with a premature first sales hire. You’ll lose insights, they will not be able to ask the right questions, and they’ll be more easily discouraged. Nobody will believe in your startup as much as you do, and therefore nobody will put in the same amount of time or effort to grind out the early sales. Additionally, rejection is inevitable. It will come in waves. Outsourcing this emotional toll to someone who is not fully dedicated is a poor decision.

Founder Led Sales Before First Sales Hire

Keep in mind, your first sales hire is expensive. A junior salesperson with a little bit of experience could cost you easily $5,000-$7,000 a month. Someone who is experienced is going to be at least $10,000 a month. This is only their base salary. That's a lot of money for an early stage startup with a product that has not been proven to sell. Besides money, you’ll lose a lot of time. Depending on the type of sale, it could be months before you get any feedback on the performance of a first sales hire. Some sales cycles could be 3-6-9+ months long. Handing sales off prematurely can kill your startup. It can also demoralize the team.

But the main reason that needs to be emphasized is that you're going to get a lot of feedback. You’ll learn a ton. You're going to understand how you should position your product. You're going to understand what parts of your product are valuable and what parts of your product don't resonate with prospects. You're going to understand the pains and problems you claim to solve. You’ll also learn a ton about pricing, what the sales cycle looks like, how to get meetings, the list goes on. As mentioned earlier, understanding which problems are a priority for your customers to solve is key. Once you understand that, you can figure out how you can refine your product, marketing, and everything else. You’ll also figure out how to run sales cycles, which will put your salesperson in a position to succeed when the time is right to make that hire.

Founder Led Sales is Key

You’ll also have made assumptions about who your ideal customer profile is and what that buyer persona looks like. Now, you’ll need to confirm or reject these assumptions -  or as mentioned earlier, validate and invalidate hypotheses. The Founder is responsible for a lot of fact-finding. You need to meet with potential customers and try to get them to buy. What you learn will be invaluable. I know this section is repetitive but it’s important to hammer home: Founders must sell.

Founders can invest in sales coaching and help booking meetings via cold outreach. Founder coaching can accelerate learning while avoiding basic mistakes. There are plenty of resources available for someone to figure sales out on their own. However, working with an experienced sales coach can make a Founder a better salesperson, and can make that happen faster.


Q: Who is the first salesperson at your startup?

A: The founder