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  • Writer's pictureJames Purvis

3 Lessons I Learned Selling in "Stealth"

8 months ago, I joined a stealth-startup for the very first time. As a guy who loves being part of early-stage, venture-backed tech companies - this was a major and difficult decision for me as I hadn't considered joining a company operating "under the covers" before. My startup experience has always been with early-stage companies with an already established customer-base, product-market fit, and at least three rounds of VC funding in the bank. But, when the familiar voice of Tarun Thakur, CEO of what is now known as Veza called me up, his extreme passion (which is an understatement), clear vision, and humbled approach was impossible to ignore so I decided to take the leap.

I knew a stealth-startup would be different. I knew this would be a lot more challenging. But I knew this was something I always wanted to do as it was the closest thing to starting my own company which is riveting.

The reality was, there was so much that I didn't know and couldn't expect and I'm here to share some of the lessons I learned along the way.

1. Selling in stealth isn't for The Faint of Heart

Startups in general are not for everyone. It takes someone with a high-level of risk tolerance and agility to stomach the day-to-day of the rollercoaster ride. After all, 7.5 out of 10 startups fail and 2 out of 10 fail within the first year. The odds certainly are not in your favor and nobody will tell you that it's easy no matter what your role is.

As someone who has sold at both early stage startups and large tech firms, I can confidently tell you that the challenges you face as a seller at a startup outweigh those at an established company. The main reasons are, at a large company you have endless resources to support you, a massive customer base to continue to lean on, a strong brand recognition that opens up new doors, a multitude of products, lots partners, marketing, events, and the list goes on and on.

The brutal truth is, revenue will still come in whether you're a top seller or at the bottom and in some cases even if you're not even there at all.

Yes, sellers still have their set of challenges at big companies because selling in general is strenuous and demanding. For me, the hardest part about selling at a large organization was figuring out how to overcome colossal boredom.

"Smooth seas do not make skilled sailors" - African Proverb

Then there are startups. They are filled with excitement, they're faster-paced, your product takes a new approach to solving a big problem, you get equity, you're a bigger part of something, you can get promoted quicker, and you can make a MAJOR impact for the company as an individual - daily.

Those are just a few of the benefits.

If you've never worked at a startup, you're probably wondering, "So, what's the downside?"

At a startup, basically take all the benefits of a big company and flip it on its back. There's limited resources, fewer customers, most people have never heard of you, you only a couple products (or maybe even just one), there's a short supply of partners willing to work with you, tighter budgets, leaner marketing, and the list goes on and on.

If you're a seller, this is like going into gun fight with just a knife. Only a few will survive.

Funny thing is, I'm not even referring to a stealth-startup here. Stealth startups are on another level. Stealth-startups face an entirely different level of difficulty. Take all the challenges of a "startup" and magnify it by 10 or hell, even 100.

Now, imagine this scenario. You don't even have a website, no marketing (heck, you can't even talk to people without them signing an NDA!), maybe a customer or two (if you're lucky), the first version of a product, and being surrounded by a couple dozen people who are wearing so many hats they don't even know which one is on their head half the time.

Welcome to stealth-mode folks. Let the games begin.

Oh yea, selling in this environment? You're probably wondering how it's even possible? If you've seen the movie Rudy, you might remember the scene where Rudy finally gets to practice with the team. Here he is, a 5' 6", 165-pound miracle walk-on going up against multiple 6' 5" 300-pound All-American lineman getting pancaked play-after-play which would put most people in the Emergency Room.

Rudy however, he got up every single time and lined right back up to go do it again knowing the consequences. Later in the movie, Rudy gets his one and only play in a regular season game and unbelievably makes a sack against the quarterback and is carried off the field as a hero.

That's what it's like selling in "stealth-life." You spend more time in practice than in the game and get the shit kicked out of you on a daily basis. But if you're able to embrace the pain, lead with grit, persistence and spunk - you can eventually get that chance to make a big play. And when you do make that play, like Rudy, you get triumphantly carried off the field and are praised by the entire company making it all worth it and then some.

"Sometimes a winner is just a dreamer who just won't quit" - Rudy

2. You have to have a "builders mentality"

If you're a seller reading this, I guarantee most of you started the job you're at with some sort of product and sales training which was nicely packaged up and delivered to you either live and in person, thru recorded videos, or at a minimum via a slide deck and supporting material (or all of the above).

Hell, before your first day, I'm sure you had loads of content to study up on that was right there at your fingertips just by going to your company's website (blogs, whitepapers, customer testimonials, etc).

The house has already been built.

At a stealth startup, you have a dirt lot, an architecture design, some tools, and a couple dozen hard-core construction workers with big goals and dreams that are ready to work around the clock to create something incredibly amazing.

As a seller in this situation, you need to pick up a hammer and nails just like everyone else and start constructing.

It begins by finding the answers to some critical questions such as:

  • What problem is my product solving for customers?

  • How is my product specifically solving this problem?

  • How does it solve this problem better than anything else?

  • What types of companies would be most interested in my solution?

  • What specific personas would benefit the most?

These are just a few of the major pieces you need to uncover so you can start to create v1 of your Sales Playbook. Like a pro football team, the players would have no idea how to line up, what routes to run, who to block, or know what audible to make depending on the situation.

The Playbook is just the beginning.

It will evolve as you talk to more prospects, partners, advisors, and learn more about the industry as a whole. Soon, you will have a rough draft of this sales construction plan consisting of some (hopefully all) of the following elements:

  • Your ideal customer profile (ICP)

  • Buyer personas

  • Prospecting templates

  • Elevator pitch

  • Key questions to ask

  • Product marketecture

  • Competition

  • Objection handling

  • Pricing & packaging

  • etc.

Building a customer base starts by having a plan and the Sales Playbook empowers you to go out and execute on that plan and then scale it to other dreamers who come join your team.

“A builder’s mentality helps us approach big, hard-to-solve opportunities with a humble conviction that success can come through iteration: invent, launch, reinvent, relaunch, start over, rinse, repeat, again and again. They know the path to success is anything but straight.” - Jeff Bezos

3. The only constant is change

We must have changed the pitch deck six times in 6 months. Several personnel switched over. The product headed down certain roads we thought were years away. Heck, we even changed the company name for crying out loud.

If you struggle with change, you certainly shouldn't joint a startup operating in stealth - that's for damn sure. Change is inevitable and the ability to adapt quickly in this type of environment is critical to you and the company's success.

For me, change is the opposite of boredom. Bring it on.

"To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often." - Winston Churchill


Has this journey been easy? Hell no. Has it been worth it? HELL YES!

The lessons I've learned (which go far beyond the 3 above) are invaluable and this experience is something that very few in my field can say they've ever been apart of.

So where do things stand as of today? Well, I'm excited to share with you that we officially launched out of stealth (last week) and announced another $50M round of funding bringing the total to a whopping $110M. Don't forget, this is out of stealth!

Wait, what about customers? Oh yea, we have them. Lots of them and an incredible lineup which includes, Intuit, AMD, Wynn Resorts, GoDaddy, Blackstone, Medtronic, Robinhood, SoFi, Best Western and more. Again, THIS IS OUT OF STEALTH!

If you're interested in joining this incredible, exciting, and market-moving company, check out my article on the '5 Reasons Why You Should Join the Ultra Hot Startup, Veza.'

After all, the hardest part is over.



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