Revenue Recap: Founder Led to Sales Led

4 months ago   •   10 min read

By Bravado Staff

The Founding AE is one of the hardest roles to hire for. You have to convince an exceptional salesperson to take a massive gamble on your tiny, unproven business. You need someone senior enough that they can close enterprise customers, but not too senior that they have lost the ability to sell themselves. Senior enough that they can hire and manage their own team, but not too senior that they get frustrated at the daily chaos that is early GTM.

Lumos managed to thread that needle by hiring one of the best sales professionals I’ve come across in my 7 years building Bravado: Kelly Kriegshauser. Kelly and Andrej worked together to scale Lumos’s revenue and sales team to incredible heights over the past 18 months.

Below is my conversation with Kelly about how she was so successful at Lumos. We cover recruiting (why she joined Lumos in the first place), ramp (what the onboarding process looked like), independence (taking over the sales process from Andrej), to scale (hiring and managing the Lumos sales team).

Here’s the blueprint on how to go from Founder-Led to Sales-Led:


Background

Prior to Lumos, I had spent the previous 8 years of my career at Facebook where I was one of the founding team members to build our GTM for the company’s first B2B product: Workplace. I was ready for my next challenge to join an early-stage company.

I’m a builder at heart, and coming from a large company, there were 2 main things I was looking for: a game-changing product to sell and incredible people to do it alongside.

I knew growth in my career, compensation, etc. would come with any startup I joined. But those were two things that would be hardest to find. Ultimately, your job as a Founder is to convince me that you have those two things.


Criteria for a Rockstar Founding AE?

  • Grit, Passion, Curiosity: You can teach almost any experienced salesperson how to sell your product, but you won’t be able to coach these 3 skills. Your first sales leader doesn’t have to come from the same domain or industry as yours, nor must they have experience selling into the same segment or ACV. Those are nice to have, but not what determines success. Instead, look for someone with hunger to learn and who is willing to dive head-first into the journey with you. It’s not just about the deals they’ve closed (those they are helpful!) or the potential they’re going to bring to the business. The key criteria to success is:how they react to things, how they approach their career, the achievements and hurdles they’ve overcome.
  • You’re looking for a hunter. Grit is extremely important, not only because it requires tenacity and hard work to build a sales motion. You have to be on your toes and willing to move fast and hang on tight. Hunters know how to be creative and build pipeline quickly.
  • Some things to look for: What life experience brought this person here? Were they selling a product that was well-known or not known at all? Is their experience unique?


What Do Founding AEs Want?

Product + Team: I interviewed with a couple dozen companies and founders before I met the founder of Lumos.

Andrej had the exact two things top sales professionals are looking for: a need-to-have product with a  path to a Billion-dollar outcome and people I’d want to learn from and grow with.

They had early PMF + one of the best investors in the industry. What struck me most was the design and user experience of the platform. I did my research and knew there was a need for a tool like this, but the care they put into design was what set it apart. They had their first few customers and there was a solid sales motion with several great logos already onboard, which is important for a Founders to do themselves first.

Ultimately, it’s all about the Founder: When looking at early-stage companies, there isn’t much to evaluate besides the Founder. That’s who had the most influence on my decision. The conviction and passion I saw in Andrej was unique. It was infectious. Every single person I met during the process was the same way. Andrej really got to know me on a personal level, as he does with everyone. He introduced me to their investor and board member, Peter Levine. He had me interview with leaders who worked with them previously and had invested in the company, and they added little touches that simply no other company had done — sent pho when I was sick, reached out over text during the holidays, etc. They ran an excellent sales process on me, which I care deeply about.


Onboarding

Read everything: Before I even started, I read everything and anything I could about IAM and Security space and about the product I was going to sell. I read Notion docs and Slack channels.

Shadow: When you’re starting out, you need to be shadowing the Founder’s every move. Join every customer call possible, take notes for him/her and begin to identify areas where you need enablement, use Slack or Zoom Chat 1:1 to recommend questions to ask and have a conversation with the Founder while the call is going on. Your fresh eyes can help the Founder with the sales-aspect of a deal while still learning the product and their existing process. I told Andrej to let me summarize the notes of every call and shadow write the reply email to him. I'd also prepare the slide deck for calls early on as I was him and we talked about the agenda and whether that's the right approach for the call.

Meet on a daily basis: In fact, several times, to ensure you’re keeping up with it all. I also spoke with everyone on the team to learn what they’re working on, how I’d interact with them on a regular basis and generally built strong relationships with key partners. This was critical to my success in the first few months. I made time for meeting people outside of work hours — team dinners, workouts together, and walks.

Remember to Think: You live and die by your calendar in sales, and that’s emphasized when you’re onboarding. Make time to process your notes, think about things/processes that need to be put in place, don’t be so reactive. I recommend blocking 1 hour each morning to prepare for the day and then a few other times for prospecting. When you’re moving so fast, it’s easy for customer calls to fill up your 8-5 hours. That is one of the biggest lessons I learned early on. I dove in too deep in the day-to-day, then had to play catch-up to reprocess my learnings a few months in.


The 1st Month Co-Selling

Start with Founder-Led: For the first few weeks, Andrej did 100% of the talking on sales calls so that I could be a sponge and listen. He set that expectation with the customer at the beginning of the calls “Kelly is our first GTM hire. She’s here to listen and learn so she can scale our business.” When he didn’t set that expectation, we had IT leaders asking what my role was and why I was there, since I didn’t participate at all. Expectation setting is critical. It also allowed me to reach out to the prospect after to ask — how would I pitch this to others? What did you feel went well, how would that call have been better? And, of course, it helped us multi-thread and ultimately close deals.

Shift to Sales-Led Fast(er): Over the course of the first 1-2 months, I began leading calls with the Founder reverse-shadowing.

I’d lead 80% of the call, with Andrej chiming in with thought leadership that I had not yet mastered.

This is extremely important. Before you know it, the founder will disappear from the top-of-funnel activity and you won’t get as much feedback in real time. Reverse shadow and lead demos sooner than you think you’re ready for. I wish I had done more of this early on.


First Tech Stack

  • CRM: SFDC was in place already, but I immediately improved the use of it for taking notes and managing opportunities, creating reports and dashboards to help forecast and set baseline metrics.
  • Outbound: We implemented LinkedIn Sales Navigator and AmpleMarket to build an outbound machine, gain insight on competitive intelligence and Salesloft to begin capturing customer call recordings internally.
  • Account Mapping: We purchased Crunchbase and Lusha to expand our target account list and our contacts for outreach.
  • Collateral: We created sales materials and MAPS to guide set clear expectations for the evaluation


Highlights From the First Few Months:

Build trust: The collaboration between Andrej and myself was extremely crucial to scaling this from 0 to 1. Founders have to take time to get to know their Founding AE, their style and have some fun along the way. I was proactive with building out our playbook and asking Andrej for feedback. And being on top of deal management with regular updates on deals in realtime and provided potential solutions and plans for closing deals.

Prospect ASAP: The most important thing you can do when you first start is begin building your pipeline. We all know this is the oxygen for a sales team and it will be critical to scaling quickly. Reach out to old colleagues, dedicate 1-3 hours each day to writing outreach and reaching out to your target account list. I wanted to book 3 meetings every week and I wouldn't settle until I got them every week.

Get close to the customer: Learning all you can about the customer and make them your best friends. Find customers who are advocates and can help you make referrals. Don’t think you can do it alone. They will teach you about the industry and be your co-sellers. Code42 was one the first deals I closed for Lumos and they have continued to be a source of education, reference calls and customer referrals.

Domain Expertise: I wish I had taken more time to really study this domain and become a true thought leader sooner. It’s so easy to get into the day-to-day trying to book meetings, push deals along, but taking the time to learn more from the founder and others in the field was something I wish I had taken more time to do ealy on. Subscribe to well-known publications that your buyers are likely reading, attend webinars, etc.

Run a tight sales process: Don’t wait to create a very clear mutual evaluation plan and set expectations with your prospects. We created a Mutual Action Plan & Success Criteria for a POC so that we could guide the customer through our sales process, and we continue to iterate on it today.

You will ultimately get the feeling of desperation and wanting to make anything work to bring on that first $1M, but be careful with the habits you form and the examples you set with the rest of the team.

Quotas + Comp: Set super clear expectations and quotas for your sales team from the start. We had a company goal and a team goal. It was hard to figure out compensation for such an early company so we were loose with targets and did a base salary + % commission on any closed deal and there was no ramp time. It was harder to set quotas later down the line and I believe it would have made us more productive.


Hiring Up First Sales Team:

Start with an SDR: Once we had proved out how to do outbound at scale in the first few months, get someone who can support you there. Top of funnel repeatability is critical so you can begin focusing on how to refining the rest of the sales process.

Hire self-starters: The ability to handle ambiguity is extremely important in your first sales hires. You’re looking for renaissance reps who are entrepreneurial. There is little to no time for onboarding programs when you’re scaling a team so you’re looking for those who are truly self-starters and creative. What was their most creative way to close a deal? What project or process did they create that was successful enough to scale to the rest of their sales team?

Cast a wide net: You want to meet many candidates for initial conversations and begin to come up with your success criteria and considerations for the role. I collaborated with Andrej to come up with an MOC for the SDR and AE roles. After dozens of interviews, we finally started to really understand the profile and used Bravado Talent to help us hire quickly.

Find the right external vendor: We used Bravado Talent to help us hire and scale quickly. Within my second quarter, we had 3 SDRs and 3 AEs, knowing it would take 3-6 months to ramp them up and get to productivity.


Final Transition to Sales-Led:

Start slow: The handoff should be a slow, steady process that builds up over time. Slow down to speed up. We approached the handoff in phases by segment. About 1 month in, I felt I could own calls without Andrej and began working the SMB segment completely on my own. I would only bring Andrej in when needed.

Allies within the company: The technical side of the product was hardest to learn, so instead of the founder, I relied on a technical counterpart to help in any area I couldn't lead a call on my own. This was a forcing function for us to figure out a scalable sales process on our own. As soon as I mastered the 250-200 segment, I’d go up-market until I was at a place where I could then begin coaching the new hires on the same motion for each segment.

Overcommunicate: Founders are detail-oriented to a T. You need to be able to match their detail and hustle.

They want to see how much you care. That’s how you build trust. Building trust is the #1 thing the founder and the sales hire need to build.

I was constantly providing real time updates to the founder and we’d meet several times a week to discuss deal management and pipeline.

Never Stop Selling: Andrej still does a fair bit of outreach and books meetings based on his network and his hunger for sharing and learning thought leadership in the IAM space. He holds the initial meeting and then lets the sales team run the deals. We also loop him in for multi-threading and Exec convos as the deal progresses or if we need investor or angel support. The CEO is always, first and foremost, a salesperson.

Don’t forget about RevOps: Hire RevOps sooner than you think you need them. I tried creating my own plethora of SFDC dashboards and data, and ultimately I tried to do too much and did nothing well. Looking back, if I had the RevOps support I needed, I believe we’d have a more productive sales team today and could have scaled even faster.

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