In this podcast episode, Grace Sai, Ajay Bulusu, Jeremy Au, and James Gilbert discuss the challenging but crucial transition from founder-led sales to building an effective sales team for a startup. They elaborate on their personal experiences and mistakes made during this process, the importance of product-market fit, and the need for passionate, competitive, and experienced salespeople. The group also delve into the principles of sales team design, compensation structures, and strategies to manage and motivate sales teams, emphasizing the need for regular sales calls by the founders, even after transitioning to a sales team structure.
(00:00) Grace Sai: You have only one task in your first 18 months as a founder. It's not to hire. It's not to fundraise. It's not to do anything else but to find PMF.
(00:20) James Gilbert: Welcome to the Asia Growth Forecast. I'm James Gilbert. I'm excited to be bringing you this HubSpot for Startups mini series of the Asia Growth Forecast in collaboration with Antler. In this three part series, you'll hear from some of Asia's most exciting startup founders and their sales leaders on how to build a successful sales strategy for different stages of growth and scale your startup across the region.
Our special hosts for this series stem from venture capital firms and incubators who have played a pivotal role in growing and nurturing Asia's startup ecosystem. We hope you enjoy this startup special miniseries. Now, let's get into today's show.
(00:59) Jeremy Au: Hello, everybody. Are we excited for another podcast part two, I promise that we're going to keep this fun, lively, and hopefully informative.
Basically, what we're going to do is today's topic is really about the transition from founder led sales and leveling that up in terms of the sales motion. As we transition as companies scale. So before we begin, I'd love to kind of introduce myself. And then after that, allow you both to introduce yourselves as well.
So for everyone, I'm Jeremy. I am a chief of staff at Mongsil Ventures. We are entrepreneurs, backing entrepreneurs investing in pre Series A and Series A firms across Southeast Asia. Personally, I've been a founder twice before. Once and I've known grace for over a dozen years, since I first built my first startup at gray size, first company, a coworking space called impact cup Singapore.
I built a second company as well. It was VC backed and grew that out to acquisition. And I'm also the host of the brave Southeast Asia tech podcast, just over 40, 000 listeners every month. And you can find out more across our 400 episodes at www. bravesea. com. On that note, I'd love for Grace to introduce
(02:09) Grace Sai: herself.
Hi, everyone. It's great to be back here. So I'm the co founder and CEO of Unravel Carbon. We are a Singapore based climate tech company, seed stage, 46 people headquartered in Singapore. And we're essentially a decarbonisation platform that helps companies measure, track, reduce and report on their carbon emissions.
We are YC, Sequoia. RebelFun, AlphaJWC, GFC, Bang.
(02:35) Ajay Bulusu: Yeah. Hey guys, I am Ajay and one of the co founders of NextBillion. ai. I was in Grab prior to this. So if you guys use Grab, which I assume you do everything you touch and feel, we've built at some point over a three, three and a half years there. So took the team from zero to 300 plus when I was there.
A prior life, I was at Amex and Google. I've lived in six countries. Fun fact. Yeah. Singapore has been the longest stint of that. And at Next Billion, we're building a like enterprise mapping platform. Essentially anybody who moves anything, we help you do it more efficiently. Preferably open source based.
We are a series B company, like predominantly selling to Asia and the United States. We are backed by Lightspeed, Microsoft, Mirai, and AlphaWave. Yeah. Nice to
(03:13) Jeremy Au: be here. You know, I think this is a tremendous delight to have both of you because both of you have some similar experiences in terms of growing the companies out, but also have slightly different experiences and takeaways.
So I'm really excited to go into this conversation, not just about the similarities and the best practices, but also the differences and the mistakes. So on that note, I'll start first with Grace. So, you know, you shocked Asia when you raised the largest seed round at 7. 4 million USD for a climate tech.
Startup. So because people were very bearish, we had a conversation about climate tech and Southeast Asia, but could you share a little bit more about why you were inspired to build this and how you went about building the
(03:54) Ajay Bulusu: support for this?
(03:55) Grace Sai: Yeah, I think we raced at, I don't know about shocking Asia, but it was the right timing.
We were very lucky. Mark and I, we met at this building, by the way, my co founder, we were friends for seven years before ganging up. I started Unravel Carbon when I was writing a will for my then two year old daughter. So this was two years ago. She's now four ish. And yeah, my mind just went crazy, you know, it went to the future and was imagining the world that she would live in.
I was a climate crisis noob. I didn't even know the difference. Between net zero and carbon neutrality, right? I think I was motivated enough to understand why out of 400 million companies in the world, only 10, 000 companies were measuring and even fewer were doing something about it. Yeah. From having built and exited two companies, I really wanted, I had a chip on my shoulder, right?
Because the first two companies were not exactly product led and were very hard to scale. Right. So I really wanted to build something that was product led, software led, that could be a global product. out of Singapore from day one. So one thing led to another, I took about a year, just self learning about the climate crisis.
When I sort of bumped into the idea that I knew I was, you know, it was going to be scalable. I knew that it's going to be big. Then everything had to be the best co founder, the best investors, the best team. And yeah, here we are two years down the road. And what's
(05:15) Jeremy Au: been interesting is that There was a certain amount of thesis, right?
Which is that climate tech needs to be built to help the climate. And I think we were just recently discussing about how there's been a lot more regulatory tailwinds for the whole space. But what's interesting is that the definition of product market fit and what exactly you're out to build. So how did you know?
And when did you find out that you felt like, you know, this product market fit makes sense?
(05:37) Grace Sai: This is what I learned the most out of my experiences and YC sort of validated that. Which is, you have only one task in your first 18 months as a founder. It's not to hire, it's not to fundraise, it's not to do anything else but to find PMF.
Only one task. And so, being very single minded about how you define PMF. You know, having done this a few times now, I was very clear that it was my only duty in the first 18 months. And when we saw the science of PMF, that was the first time that we hired a commercial team. So for 18 months, it was purely founder led.
We didn't want to hire any sales team to fabricate growth. We really wanted to be close to absorb, you know, all the insights. The worries, the desires of our customers. We really had to because we raised quite a lot of money. It was easy to hire, right? But we really held onto our horses and only hired in Q2 this year.
And so Q3, Q4 now where A nine person commercial team is ramping up and October is the first month where the AEs would beat the founders in sales. So very happy about that. We have a small gong at the office where they can gong.
(06:52) Jeremy Au: And so my third and last question in this series is what was it like to be a founder doing those sales for the first two years?
(06:59) Grace Sai: Really fun. We follow some of the Airbnb founders best practices. Mark and I would personally interview our first 230 employees. And we are still very much, you know, we use Slack obviously, and we are in every customer channel and we're very close to how, you know, we could do better. The mistakes we make, we personally apologize for stuff.
We would attend onboarding sessions. I think it's super important for founders to be very close. Not just for the sake of not letting go or not. trusting the sales team. But I think one competitive advantage that founders have over competitors is insights, right? That is something money cannot buy.
And how do you get insights? You literally have to absorb and obtain it yourself directly from the market. They hold the truth. No one else holds the truth. And so, yeah, we see that as a necessary way to remain competitive. And for you,
(07:54) Jeremy Au: RJ, you've been quite an interesting journey, right? So over the past few years, you've raised 44 million in funding across your seed, your series a and series B to build this company.
Yeah. So could you share a little bit more about what inspired you to build this company?
(08:08) Ajay Bulusu: So, like, you know, back in grab when we were trying to do this on our own, so we realized there's only one, one big giant in the space, right? That's Google land. They don't customize anything for you. And also.
Also, Google is an enterprise. It's actually a consumer technology company, not an enterprise company. Since there was a lack of enterprise solutions, they just like built a layer of APIs, SDKs on the consumer tech platform. F1 inspired us actually, when we were even at Grab the first real task was Formula 1.
I joined in May and September there was Formula 1, they were closing their spill need the whole area. Right. We went to Google and they said, listen, we are doing like, what, 100, 000 rides a day here. And I cannot allow cars to go to Esplanade. They said, but I'm sorry, we can't do anything. We said, but we are grabbed.
They said, but you can't do anything. Then we're like, Oh, it really, they don't care if you're grab or anyone, because the same platform is being used by all of us today. If you want to reach F1, you will still use Google maps to do it. So we realized over that time that we need to build everything in house.
As we started building this in house, we realized, Oh, this is a rabbit hole. We've dug ourselves too deep into. And then we realized as we were like going to conferences and technology, you know, like summits, people are learning from us. On how did we do the magic and grab you go to Changi Airport, you see door one basement one entry bang on right?
How did we do it? Why aren't other people doing it? How do you build ecosystem around it? I mean, mapping in itself is a very interesting space because you're distressing the physical world and the physical world changes every minute. So you can't really have a perfect digital world. So as we started to explain this and like entertain other people, we realized, oh, there's a decently large opportunity.
We didn't do any TAM, SAM, BAM analysis. We just were in Bangalore. We knew some VCs, we took a deck and I call us a very entitled startup. Cause by the time we returned back in a few days, we had a term sheet. That's largely because of the team and sort of expertise. We frankly didn't know what we were building when we started up, but as we progressed over the three to five years, we now understand the space well.
Where the gaps are, who should be the time, who should we tackle, who should we do? So essentially fundraising, I think we're discussing outside and it was a couple of single digit millions a month, just one customer like Google maps makes a billion plus dollars, just one company that 25, 30 companies like that, or a billion dollar time at least.
(10:29) Jeremy Au: And what's interesting is that you said you didn't know what you were building initially. Yeah. And then you slowly figure it out. So how did you feel like you kind of clicked into a product market fit from your
(10:39) Ajay Bulusu: perspective? Yeah. So I think like PMF, we still don't have PMF. That's I think there is a bit of PMF for one product, but if you look at the world in our world, we have 17, 18 line items.
When we used to pay bills, there are 17 items you can pay for in just a space. It's like cloud, right? You pay for compute, you pay for something else. Same thing with map is the infrastructure product. So we've achieved PMF in one. Let's say routing and even in routing route optimization, even in that for trucks as an example, but there's bikes, strikes, cars, even within that there are a couple of verticals for me, PM of achievement is when proactively people come to your website.
They ask you for a product, they buy it, they pay you for it. Till then, I have not achieved PMF. I am going aggressively and trying to sell something to someone. When inbound starts coming organically, right, not through Google ads, there's enough conviction about you in the market for your VCs and for other people to reference you to say, listen, you want routing, go to Next Billion.
That is the time I think that you've achieved PMF for one thing, right? So till then, I would still say it is a chicken leg problem. Yes. You put some ads, you get a lot of leads and you think you're very excited. Oh my God. And then they turn out in two months, right? So this happens to every startup, every company that wants to build.
In my mind, PMF is when proactively people come to buy your product and then paying you for a couple of months, at least not one month, two month, you need to run a whole cycle of a year, then hope that they don't churn that's PMF for
(12:09) Jeremy Au: me. Yeah. And what's interesting is that we were discussing previously in the past about how product market fit.
It's a big part of what you're doing in your founder, that sales calls. Can you share a little bit more about what that looks like and
(12:22) Ajay Bulusu: how you go about it? Yeah, I think the biggest mistake I made was to step away from sales very early. We had raised a lot of money. As usual, we were first time founders. I had never founded a company.
So. Like some elders advised us and said, listen, go hire a VP of sales, go hire a director of sales. Like you don't open the parachute till you jump off a cliff, blah, blah, blah, whatever. Right. So we went and we like, we burned a lot of money hiring, but it is not about the people. It is not about the product.
It is you stepping away from sales. That exactly what Grace was saying. You miss trends and you miss patterns. As a founder, you should be in sales calls. Even if you're a series E, D, even if you're a public company, it does not matter. If you don't sit and sell, you should at least listen to calls. So even today, me and my co founder every week, we take one hour, we listen to almost every gong or every whatever chorus you use calls of our sales reps.
So that you understand what is the consumer asking. And we only have four member sales team today, right? So we don't intend to hire beyond four. The other two are me and my co-founder, right? All the larger deals I still sell. I may give my commissions to the salesperson, but I sit on the call and I close the lease.
So you don't receive commission? I wish . Yeah, me too. We're like underpaid.
(13:31) Grace Sai: Underpaid, but and do you still take like what, how many sales calls a week?
(13:35) Ajay Bulusu: So I still at least. I mean, like us times are ridiculous, but I still up to 12 am whatever I can, I do. But at least six calls a week I sit on, but I listen to at least 16 calls a week.
All right. I also then can coach my sales people on, Hey, listen, this is what I think you should not say. Right. And you ask somebody as a rep, they'll say, I think it's too cheap. So there's, there is never a pricing. mantra. So as a founder, you have to be on calls. And I think this is
(14:00) Jeremy Au: a good segue into the next part, which is that both of you have recently transitioned with different learnings and mistakes, I think, in terms of transitioning towards that sales team.
Grace, can you share a little bit more about that transition for yourself? Yeah,
(14:14) Grace Sai: I mean, I still lead four to five sales calls a week. I think if anything happened to me, like I trust that the team can still take on those, right? I think that's the difference in the past. Those calls would have been canceled.
For example, if you fall ill or anything like that. I really think that the sales director or the VP of sales is the hardest role to hire for. At least in this part of the world. I don't know about your experiences guys, but like, so like, I don't know how many trial and errors we've had, maybe three, but unlike Ajay, I believe in hiring slightly earlier, mainly because of the data part.
So sales ops. So I would hire a sales. We have a director of sales. Who is both good at sales ops. So we also use HubSpot. And so we need to analyze a lot of things because we measure PMF through three metrics. One is sales cycle. Two is ACV, average contract value. And lastly is customer love, right? How much do you use the platform?
What do they say when they use the platform, the happy path and so on. So because of these two out of these three metrics are driven from sales data, we need to look at the data religiously. So we'll go through the data every week. Right. So the sales director, however, is really hard to get, especially when it comes to climate tech, it's a highly technical sector.
You know, you have to explain the GHG protocol. You have to, there's a whole like alphabet soup of frameworks and regulatory mandates and so on. And this was also a conversation with our Sequoia partners, right? Like, do you hire a very experienced B2B salesperson? That has carried and achieved 1 million quotas would pay for themselves 10x round.
Or do you hire X sustainability consultants? And some of you might who are in deep tech might face a similar conundrum when you hire your salespeople. To be honest, we tried both. We don't think still we have the answer. So right now we flank. A very experienced B2B salesperson with a sustainability consultant.
So a little bit more expensive cost of acquisition, but it's so technical and yet, you know, you need to run the sales process so professionally that we need both skill sets. And this is a, you know, a talent pool problem in this part of the world, right? Like how many of us have environmental science or whatever as a degree, right?
So I think in time that would change, but not in the next five years.
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(17:05) Jeremy Au: could you share a little bit more about what you've learned in terms of what attributes makes for good success? Sales leadership?
(17:10) Ajay Bulusu: Every startup makes a mistake in this regard, right? It's impossible to find the right talent. There is no clear cut resume. You need two things. When you go into sales, into a startup, you need insane amount of hustle, right? Because you are selling an unbranded non known product and you're trying to displace a giant in any case, even there's always competition in our space and also Greece's space is always competition.
So if you want to replace any giant. You need insane amounts of hustle and convincing power. One, what we went for initially was a network. When we hired, we had a very senior salesperson, right? We've paid them a lot of money because we had it right. And it's okay. I mean, like you learn, but the issue with that is very senior salespeople don't sell, right?
They, it's more like they've managed revenue. That's not selling, right? You have a team and you're managing. When I was at Google, like, like my book of business of 45 million. I didn't have to sell. They were anyway paying me. It's like tax. You're just collecting it. Yes, you do some wine and dine and you go and say, this is all good.
That's not the sales profile you want early stage because they are not used to, or they have not sold in a long time. So then we started thinking, okay, you know what? Let's go to a cloud based company where they've sold cloud. They're much younger in their life cycle. And maybe with us, they will grow. Now that also for us has not worked out really because I've realized if you not hit your targets that you can't be the growth platform for someone.
So the ideal person is somebody who has some experience in sales for a couple of years, has really hit quota, still has the hunger and hustle. wants to come to your startup would really springboard their career, right? They know there's a path to VP in your company or director in your company. That's a sort of hunger profile.
It has worked for us. I mean, I'm an engineer by background and in Grab I was doing product management, so I have never sold myself. And when I could learn sales, I realized that, okay, it is more hunger and passion, like rather than you having insane amounts of experience. So that is sort of profile we have seen work, but you will churn out.
A team or two, for sure, everyone churns out a team or two, then you fit the profile. I think that's the biggest learning I've had from transitioning. I have not transitioned still, by the way, like there's even I sell even today without a quota or without a bonus, unfortunately, but there is no transition really.
(19:22) Grace Sai: if I may add, right, there's a whole science on designing a sales team, right? So for example, if the salesperson, the AE, the account executive salaries, let's say a hundred grand a year. That would be just 50 percent of the total com, right? So 50, the other 50 percent is they're on target earnings.
So then their quota is 10 X the base salary or five X the overall. Okay. So if they're paid a hundred thousand, their quota, that means they need to achieve is 1 million a year. Right? So in that sense is very binary. Now what many people haven't worn founders is that. Not every person will hit their quota, right?
So, so what I've learned as well is that if you just hire one AE, You will lose potentially two quarters of the year if it doesn't work out. So what we have learned is we always need to buffer. At least two AEs, one BDR. So if we open up in Australia or in Hong Kong, it's always two AEs even though you need one.
Yeah. Because if one doesn't work out, you don't lose, you know, one, two quarters. And it's good to have some competition, right? Which implies, you know, for founders who are fundraising, you definitely need to raise more than you think because you need to buffer up these teams. Right. So we have a nine person commercial team.
We are prepared that, you know, two will blow it off out of the water. Two will hit target. Three will miss target. You just need to bake in these assumptions. If you think like all nine will hit targets, that's wrong, right? You're going to get a shock of your life and then you will miss your targets because you were setting the wrong expectations to investors.
So just buffer out for these human errors.
(21:03) Ajay Bulusu: And we've also like, like the science of comp is one, the science of cadence is one, like we've learned a lot from other unicorn level founders on how they have run sales teams as well. Again, that's a very long discussion, but how do you need to set cadence? You know, every week, what do you do?
Like what do you. Actually talk in the calls. How do you track? Is it account back on month by month? Like our first few sales people said, listen, even if I signed the deal on December 31st, I went my yearly quota. The biggest mistake. No, you've not met your yearly quota. If you sign December 31st, every week you need to track every account.
Especially early stage, you cannot leave any account. Every account is big. So it's very critical. People who come into your company have the same mindset of micromanaging their own accounts, right? You cannot macro manage your account saying I will sell this after six months. No, you need to sell it in six days, right?
Literally that is sort of mindset you're looking for in salespeople. So we've been
(21:53) Jeremy Au: talking a little bit about the principles of designing and managing and also compensating for these sales teams. What has been a surprising thing that you learned? About this along the journey, any differences or changes that you'd have cost correct or
(22:06) Ajay Bulusu: learn
(22:06) Grace Sai: about, I would say that I had underestimated the power of founder sales.
I think our conviction and our passion and our ability to, I guess, represent the vision of the product, especially in the early days. I think it's more appreciated by the market than we think. For some reason, people just love that kind of passion day. They want to work with passionate people, right?
And so I guess, yeah, that's surprising in a sense, like, you know, don't discount that.
(22:36) Ajay Bulusu: Yeah, I think so. The other thing is that people are buying you, not your product for a long time. So if they think you're a nice person in general. People want to buy stuff that you sell. So that's why it's critical apart from the passion, the fact that you have a huge incentive.
If your startup succeeds, you cannot expect the same from somebody coming in from the outside, which is a fair assumption, right? So it's extremely critical initially that you sell yourself also really well, that You are there to solve somebody's problem, actually not to sell. That's one thing that I've seen.
Also what we've done is try and give like actually good bonuses initially. Right. So to say, listen, if you close a hundred K deal, I'm okay to give you 10 K, right? I'm okay to let go of 10 percent of that is because even if it's a referral, even if it is anything else, I will have to spend that much money.
My CAC is way higher than your commission. So what I've also seen is be a little bit more generous. initially to your first few salespeople on the commission structure. So they also are encouraged to see what to do. Third, don't incentivize bookings. This is the biggest because I'm in a consumption based business where like some people have booked 100k and they've used 5 and I'm not kidding.
Right? So, they say, yes, I'll spend 100k on you this year. Then they say development is delayed or this is not happening or my project is delayed. So. Your booking is not invoicing. So you need to actually incentivize people on invoice. So life revenue. Exactly. Because clawback is the worst thing I've seen because it's not a nice thing to do.
Yeah. Like giving somebody money and taking it back. It's just the worst thing to do ever. So we try and are not doing clawbacks. Now we are trying to still say, listen. You try and get a commitment and we'll pay you on the invoice revenue, like rather than book because book is a vanity metric that you can use last three years of amazing fundraising.
But right now I was looking at is the money really coming into your bank or not. And that's also like, you're not bringing your own Kool Aid at that point saying, listen, I booked 10 million, but You know, the year when you already do statements of 1 million revenue. And we
(24:27) Grace Sai: also use like non cash creative ways.
So we, we have competitions like, you know, the first AE to beat the founders in sales will get like a two night staycation at the Mondrian. Right. Cause every salesperson is married. I think they deserve staycations. And it's just opposite our office. We're above Shake Shack on your road. So like, you know, things like that, they really like, and it's not that expensive.
(24:50) Ajay Bulusu: Also it's competitions. Like for example, I don't know if, I mean, you would have G2 and Captera, etc. So the reviews are very critical for early stage SaaS company. So we ran every quarter, a different competition, highest number of reviews, cash bonus. Highest number of actual genuine video testament as it's a staycations.
So yeah, have some budgets like this to be more innovative. I mean, like larger companies have done way cooler things for salespeople, I guess, but we can't afford it currently.
(25:18) Jeremy Au: So what's interesting is that you were describing some of the attributes of good salespeople, right? So we mentioned one was they should have experience selling, not just managing revenue. That's one. A second thing that you mentioned was hungry. That you mentioned was competitive and experience. Can you share a little bit more about how you look for those attributes for them?
Is this an interview process? Do you just, I don't know, have a race with them, foot race outside the office and see how competitive they are?
(25:43) Ajay Bulusu: In an interview, the job of a salesperson to sell, they will sell themselves first the most. So every salesperson is an amazing interview. Generally, usually SWAO is like.
really good at, you know, with their words, but I have a feeling that there's no interview process. Right. It's very difficult at your stage of a company to really take for hunger, etc. What we have seen is generally people who've slugged it out a little bit have worked out for us, right? If the people have had a very easy path jumping around companies to go to the next level or to the next stage, the one thing we don't hire is folks who've jumped around every year, like absolutely no.
Right? And it is true in sales. Actually, people jump every year because it just does not work out sometimes. But if you've been in a company for two to three years and you've sold well, you've reached a certain stage in that company. Then you're looking for a challenge. We try and get those profiles in our world.
Mapping is, again, an old school business. So most of the salespeople we get a little from the. Prior generation of sales, where they're used to events, they're just used to like camping at an event and then trying to sell. But what we've seen is that go outside your comfort zone of you're not vertical.
Like let's say I can go to AWS or GCP and hire a cloud salesperson rather than a map salesperson because they've been used to selling infrastructure products that are very similar to our Databricks and Snowflake. That's what we've been looking for. Rather than branded who've come from old, like the typical backgrounds.
But I think
(27:04) Jeremy Au: what's interesting is that we're talking a little bit about what is the transferable experience and what's not transferable experience. Could you share a little bit more about how you go about sourcing these candidates from your perspective? I personally
(27:14) Grace Sai: like step up candidates especially for managerial positions.
So step up candidates are people who have technically not held that role before, but they are. Just about ready. Right. They have done the rite of passage enough and are now ready and hungry to like lead a small team and grow with a fast growing startup. I like step up candidates and not like someone that has been a VP of sales for like 15 years.
Right. Because that coachability and it's very less. Yeah. And also like every startup has it. We have our own culture, you know, like the leadership has our own culture and it's very important for them that at least the direct report. I have like seven, I don't know how many here, but like that's too many.
Right. But that layer of the report has to really sort of reflect that and contribute to that. And someone that has been VP of sales for 15 years elsewhere, that's a bit harder. So
(28:06) Ajay Bulusu: for us, what we've done is by default, like no people management when you come in. Everyone reports to me or Gaurav or Shaolin first for a while, then we should be comfortable that they can actually blend into our culture.
So for us, it's all about culture as a company. We're a very small team, so we want to maintain the quorum of being a happy place to come into. And all of us have worked in happy places before, so we know how it is to be in a bad and a good place. So for us, we don't give people management, especially in sales and marketing.
Everyone's I see right then. If you're ready to step up inside, then we let you step up where other people think of you as a leader already, but we have the advantage because we are small. If I'm a, if I'm a 300 member team, I can't do that at 60. I can know. I know everybody by name, so I can do it. That's very critical for us.
Yeah. Right. And the other thing in sales, the biggest mistake I have made in the past is hiring a team with a team quota is because a manager always says, listen, my team's not doing well and blah, blah, blah. I'm accountable for it. But then you always ask the question that, like, what are you doing? Right.
Then you go sell if your team's not selling. So what we've done is the biggest thing we've squashed all like sort of like leadership slash. Everyone's I see in sales. First you meet your million dollar quota, then you have earned the right to have another person to do the quota with you. That's really worked out for us because now everyone's hustling because they know that, okay, listen, if I have to really grow, I need to first sell.
Because that's the mistake we made last year. We just like hire team managers first.
(29:33) Jeremy Au: What's interesting is that we're starting to talk a little bit about the onboarding and the training of these sales folks. So from your perspective, how do you go about doing it? What's right? What's to avoid? The
(29:43) Grace Sai: technical training part has to be done.
So we use medpig as a framework. Before this, we were using bent as a framework. So everyone has to go to that, including the founders. It took me, I don't know, 50 hours to go through that. And then, you know, go through HubSpot training, the product training, the demo part, and then they would have to demo to one of the founders and we would really do a role play in our case.
We would be chief sustainability officers and we would grill the shit out of the person. And I have made people cry during internal demos, right? And that's, that says a lot about the pressure that AEs face because, you know, they face all sorts of people, nice people, not nice people, they just have to be prepared for that.
So we kind of be, you know, be more aggressive on purpose. And then after that, they have to shadow a couple of times for AEs before their first actual demo. We also give opportunities for BDRs to be promoted into AEs because yeah, they have at least done that sort of first qualification call. So
(30:44) Ajay Bulusu: for us, we again, a technical product by nature.
So what we've done a lot of self serve. I mean, all of us, like being ex product engineers, we've built a lot of like resources in house. So they go through something called notebooks that we've built and a lot of gong calls and recordings that we have done of Like good and bad sales calls.
Most of our people are experienced in the domain. Whoever are the four, they already sold some part of location tech. Like let's say I want to sell routing module. They already sold a lot of routing in the past. Ideally we've not hired. There's only one person we tried and experimented as I said. So for that, like even founder coaches and they should, they do a lot of shadows.
That's the only way to learn. I can give them lots of books, a lot of theory, but until they sit on a. Live call and get grilled by like, actually not even me, the real customer, they will not learn how to sell. So we do give a little bit of like the lower self serve accounts, we call them. Initiate them with another experienced sales rep on the side to
(31:37) Grace Sai: help out.
The common mistake for first time founders is that we hire fast and we fire slow, right? Whereas the reverse should be done, right? Higher, slow, but fire fast. That's almost always true, but there
(31:48) Ajay Bulusu: are also exceptions. It's not a nice thing to do, but you are running a business and it is it is tough, right?
So we have actually only been that like higher fast and fire ultra slow, not even slow because I was like, we just don't like firing. It's not a pleasant thing for anyone. But unfortunately in the sales world, it is very true for us as first time founders, like it was like giving us jitters in the stomach.
To do it. But now we know that it's a part and parcel,
(32:13) Grace Sai: you know, you can rehearse firing right in front of the mirror, but also no, no termination should be a surprise. On both sides when a termination of firing is a surprise to anybody that's not done, right? It should be leading towards a non surprise event.
(32:29) Jeremy Au: Got it. Yeah, I've gone through that same training I had somebody record me and I had to fire someone multiple times until I didn't go to the point where I was professional And amicable, right? But I think let's talk about As a result, performance, right? But what are the avoidable mistakes that you think sales folks should avoid from your perspective?
I mean, obviously underperformance and not hitting quota is the biggest mistake, but I'm just kind of curious. What are the common mistakes that you think lead to that situation?
(32:54) Ajay Bulusu: I think for me, like number one is over promising under delivering. That's one that I've seen on calls that. Since you're desperate to sell, you will say anything on the call, right?
Yeah, it's done. Like, you know, yeah, I can get it done. And then you come back to the product and say, can this be done? That should not be done at all. Actually, you are hired to sell something that is already selling ideally, right? It is a founder's job to sell something that doesn't exist. Like the whole fake it till you make it should not be for salespeople.
That is a number one rule because that also. What it does it, it creates a lot of noise in the company at early stage, because suddenly somebody says, Hey, listen, if you build this like feature, the customer told me I'll pay me 5 million as an example. Now, as a founder, you say, Oh my God, really? I will try and do it.
So it's creating a lot of this undercurrent and noise, whereas it's not a short sale. That is one. So salespeople initially should be hired to be selling something that's already selling. And that's why founder let sales is very critical because you have to call the BS at some point and listen, I've already done this.
So if you're telling me that this feature already, somebody asked me last year about this, so they will not pay you. That's one very critical thing. Other mistake that they may make is underselling actually a better product than what is existing in the market. You have a feature that does not exist on a very established player.
But you're scared. You are yourself not confident in the sales call that listen, bro, I can get this done for you. That is a big and trust me as a buyer, I will read it because I have bought enough software in my life. So I know when a sales person is not assertive on the call, Hey, this product, they themselves are not confident.
So you need to be critical that you're representing the brand, the company and the product. Even if your product sucks on the call, you should be very confident. Right? So these are the only two things I have seen that can make or break a deal. Yeah, I think
(34:34) Grace Sai: for us, I think sales is more science than art for sure.
So, for example, for us, the conversion rate from demo to close one is 26%. So for every four demos and he does one will one will win, right? So with that. In mind, then, you know, if you have a 1, 000, 000 quarter, you need to build a 4, 000, 000 pipeline so that you actually attain that 1, 000, 000 quarter. So it's very mathematical from a funnel construction perspective.
And then because a lot of salespeople are very optimistic people, right? They are very like arty farty and very creative and very optimistic and sometimes deviate from the math. So, you know, we always need to come back to the data. And I think the second one would be that not enough discovery is done before pitching the product or before pitching the solution, because you get so excited that you have a 10 X better product out there and then you just jump.
And I still make that mistake, right? Cause I'm so excited
(35:30) Ajay Bulusu: about the platform. You say, Oh, if I discover too much, I get pissed off. They're bored. I like, they don't want to buy. Actually they want to talk, right? You should create friction. That is other point I was about right. If you do, if you have a frictionless sales process, it means you have a.
frictionless churn process also. Right. Anything easy to buy is easy to just like discard. So it's extremely critical to add discovery and friction from the first day. Three adding to that, please discuss commercials. You're there to sell, not to gossip on the call, right? If you're uncomfortable bringing up how much your solution is on the first call, it's not the right sales thing again, because I've seen that otherwise three, four, five calls, free pilots.
Then you've still not brought up discussion of exactly how much it would cost you. Then you're setting a wrong benchmark. So that's also Another mistake I've seen salespeople make.
(36:16) Jeremy Au: Last question for both of you is have there been any specific moments of, you know, courage or bravery that you've seen from your sales reps that you made you go like, "wow, this is something I respect"?
(36:28) Grace Sai: Yeah, a lot of times, and that's the fun part of being a founder. You really see these moments in the team. There was a time when there was a priority shift and the project was delayed. It can be demoralizing, but instead of moping around, he told my cofounder and I what happened and how he'd compensate back on the gap. It's immediately that bounce back mentality out of something that he was personally more vested in than we are.
(37:31) Ajay Bulusu: Awesome.
(37:31) Jeremy Au: Thank you so much. I love kind of summarize the three big takeaways I got from this. First of all, thank you so much for both of you sharing about your journeys, about what inspired you to build the companies that you have done, one in climate tech and one in the next generation of mapping.
I think it was just fascinating to hear not just about the good things, the, you know, the funding rounds and so forth and expansion, but also I think the mistakes that you made along the way. So thank you so much for being authentic and sharing about that. Secondly, thank you so much for sharing about I think what I call the management principles, compensation structure about how you have gone about building these sales teams, hiring for them, as well as making sure that they hit or exceed a quarter.
So I thought that was a really a strong masterclass on how to design that. As a founder, but also I think good advice for future sales folks as well. Lastly, thank you so much for sharing about, I think the moments of bravery for personally as a founder, as well as the stories of your teams. I thought it was just interesting to hear about the attributes you're looking for.
Hungry. Competitive, ambitious, and I was like this reminds me of both of you as well in person as well. But I think it's just really amazing because, you know, even though we're talking about the transition from founder sales to sales teams, the truth is, even at this stage, both of you are still doing multiple sales calls a week, no matter what.
For the sake of the sales, for the sake of authenticity, because you love the customer and because you've got to figure out the marketing and the product as well. So on that note, thank you so much for sharing your journeys and experience of all of us.
(39:03) James Gilbert: Thanks for tuning in to the startup special mini series of the Asia growth forecast.
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