This is the story you've never heard.
How Bravado nearly died before we ever got started.
April 13, 2017:
"What the fuck is taking so long?! This cannot be good." I'm pacing in a hotel room in NYC at 9pm, neurotically refreshing my inbox and checking my phone. I'm doing breathing exercises to keep calm, but my Apple Watch betrays that it is not working. My heart rate is 124.
Just a few hours earlier, I had delivered the most important presentation of my 10 year career. I paused to consider the irony: It was only $500,000. After closing over $50M in my sales career, it was a measly $500K that was making my heart burst out of my chest. Advice from my mother came floating into my head: "You'll never know how much it matters, until it matters to you." Mom is always so wise, so right.
9 months prior, in July 2016, I had landed a job at a venture capital firm in San Francisco. Expa is a unique VC; we incubate and launch our own startups rather than deploy capital for outside investments. I was surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs who were working on their own brilliant ideas to change the world. The process was simple enough: come up with an idea, build a business plan, get $500,000 in capital to launch. There was just one problem: I didn't have any brilliant ideas.
- Kidney dialysis clinics (Medicare funding rules made it impossible),
- Modern funeral + estate planning (If you've ever dealt with these sensitive matters, you know how burdensome this process can be, at exactly the worst time)
- Professional sales network (Wasn't LinkedIn good enough here?)
After months of work, the 3 of us became fascinated with the concept of trust in sales.
We passionately felt that the #1 job of any sales professional is to build trust. We all know that nobody does business with people they do not trust. You can have the best objection handling or negotiation training, it does not matter. If the buyer doesn't trust you, they are not going to listen to you. But here is the issue: buyers do not trust salespeople. Hubspot had just released a survey showing 3% of buyers trust sales. 3%! No wonder sales was such a grind!
We dreamt of a world where sales professionals were trusted by clients. Where they built their reputations based on customer testimonials. Where they came together to learn, share, network, and elevate the profession of sales. We were determined to build the one place on the internet where sales was respected and celebrated. (Side note: That's why we chose the name Bravado. Bravado evokes feelings of pride, a sense of confidence. We felt strongly that one should be proud to be in sales. Those that were would find a home at Bravado.)
So we packaged our idea for a sales network into 10 slides (which I'm happy to share, if you're interested?) and I delivered the most important presentation of my career on that fateful Thursday of April 13, 2017. I explained how Bravado was going to demolish the stigma around sales. We would encourage the brightest students from universities across the country to start their career in sales. We would serve the sales profession with integrity and love. We
would will be successful. I walked out of the room convinced it was a slam dunk, and we would have the funding in place. The entire process was a mere formality anyway, right? In 9 months, I had never seen an entrepreneur fail to get funded at Expa.
But now it's 9pm.
Hours have passed since I finished my presentation. I had been told I would hear back by 6pm. Maybe they are running late. Maybe they went out to dinner?
Something is wrong.
9:37pm. The text message from one of the Partners comes:
How'd it go?
Lots of reasons.
Talk in person soon.
I sank into the hotel room floor, eyes welling with tears.
What was I going to tell my cofounders, who were eagerly anticipating the good news? I was the one who had dragged them on this journey, pulled them from their full-time jobs because they believed in me. In my ability to secure this funding. Now I had let them down.
What was I going to tell my parents, who had cautioned me from the beginning: "Son, this whole VC / startup thing isn't for people like us. Rich white people have access to these types of things. Don't pretend to be something you are not. You are a great VP of Sales, and that is enough for us. It should be enough for you, too. Just go get another sales job." I had called them hours earlier, filled with pride at how well the presentation had gone. Now how would I face them?
I was convinced that Bravado was dead in the water. Who else was going to fund a salesperson wanting to start a company, if the very people who had encouraged me to do this in the first place were giving up on me? Founders come from product/engineering, not sales.
I was such a fool to think I could do it.
Such a fucking idiot.
I didn't sleep one second that night.
Woke up at 6am and threw up. Fell asleep on the bathroom floor.
Spent the entire day alternating between rage and depression.
It took me nearly a week to recover from that text message. But then... I picked up what was left of my dignity and confidence. I got to work. Started getting connected to other VCs. Turns out, there are other options besides Expa! I started working on the pitch with my wife, working on refining the business with my cofounders, started working on building the product even without the funding. I was determined to prove everyone wrong.
One month later, we secured $250,000 from Charles Hudson at Precursor VC.
One week after, another $250,000 from Ross Fubini at XYZ VC.
July 1, 2017, in less than 3 months, we closed $590,000 in funding for Bravado. We were in fucking business.
July 12, 2017: Our 1st user! Mckenzie Lock. She was a beta tester, but hey! One person was using a product that we had built! And soon thereafter, real sales professionals started signing up for Bravado. Amazing humans like Preeti Pinch, Stephanie Elsesser, Kevin Walkup, Tina Bean who were the top sellers at their companies.
2018: 100 sales professionals build their reputation on Bravado.
2019: 1,000 sales professionals.
April 24, 2020: 10,000 Bravado members in a single community. Over 70,000 worldwide. Bravado is now the largest professional network for sales in the world.
I shared this story with you today for two reasons:
- Never, ever, ever, ever stop believing in yourself. I know the world is hard right now. Sales has never been more difficult than today. Add in a global pandemic to the economic uncertainty, and you have a recipe for getting down on yourself. For wanting to give up. Do not do it. It took me 1 month to go from "my entire world just shattered" to having $500K in the bank and a 6 person founding team. There is no way that happens if I don't pull myself off the bathroom floor. In sales, we learn to persevere. We learn how to have grit. There are millions of others out there that do not have the armor that we've built from a million rejections and hangups. Use that armor now. Find your strength.
- To express my gratitude and love for you all. In those original 10 slides, we had one that was titled: "Community". It described how we dreamt of a community where thousands of sales professionals could learn together. Ask questions. Have honest discussions. Network together. Grow together. Sell together.
As the company has grown, we have tried our hardest to maintain that spirit. Today, each of you represents one of the top 10,000 members globally on Bravado. I am so thankful that you have trusted Bravado to be part of your lives. We will do everything we can to make that a wise decision.
Today is the first day of Ramadan, and in that spirit I'll end with a quote from Rumi, one of the great Muslim poets and philosophers:
"You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop."
This is how we view each member of Bravado. Each of you represents the future of sales. Individually, let's represent the best of our profession. Collectively, let's elevate sales forever.
I believe in you.