Schleping. Sales Solves All.

January 18th, 2012
[ Software Development ]

Paul Graham wrote that part of the reason great startup ideas lie dormant is because of hackers schlep blindness.

“No one likes schleps, but hackers especially dislike them. Most hackers who start startups wish they could do it by just writing some clever software, putting it on a server somewhere, and watching the money roll in—without ever having to talk to users, or negotiate with other companies, or deal with other people’s broken code. Maybe that’s possible, but I haven’t seen it.”

The cliche ‘sales solves all problems’ applies here as well. I spoke with friend recently who is a seed stage investor. I asked them what is the one thing they look for in an investment above all else? Product management skills, user experience, rockstar coder? Their answer was the ability to sell. They require all of those other skills but those can be augmented, taught, hired for. If the person they’re investing in doesn’t appear to have the ability to sell themselves and the product then no deal.

If I wake up in the morning stressed about a product or business I’m working on, I’ve trained myself to focus on selling more that day. If I wasn’t able to sell yesterday then my current plan is flawed. So I make a new plan and go to work selling it. Lean startup folks like to call this a pivot but believe me it’s nothing they created. This is a quote from 1937:

“If the first plan which you adopt does not work successfully, replace it with a new plan, if this new plan fails to work, replace it, in turn with still another, and so on, until you find a plan which does work. Right here in the point at which the majority of men meet with failure, because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.”

Remember that selling isn’t just about revenue. Selling is about acquiring a customer. Acquiring a customer gets you someone to work for, deliver value to. It gets you your list of todos for today. It gets you out of your office. You can’t hide in your office if you’re selling.

“Thomas A. Edison ‘failed’ ten thousand times before he perfected the incandescent electric light bulb. That is — he met with temporary defeat ten thousand times, before his efforts were crowned with success”

If you’re in software, chances are slim you have any experience selling. Selling doesn’t always mean you’re literally on the road selling. Sales support is selling. Product development is selling. Software development, done well, is selling.

I’m exciting about hosting our half baked session because of that, get us some time to practice selling. You’re given two random words, 5 minutes to prepare, then you have to pitch. You have to focus on who the customer is and what they’re problem is. Fail. Great, you have another 5 minutes to make a new plan and your partner pitches again. Rinse, repeat. The hope is this practice helps us all sell better.