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.