The Role of a Renaissance Rep

A Critical Member of Your Startup’s Leadership Team

Jeff Gilmore
Jul 15, 2014 · 4 min read

There are a lot of ideas in Silicon Valley. But, an idea alone is barely worth the paper on which it’s written, even when it’s a good idea. Ashleigh Brilliant says it right: “Good ideas are common—what’s uncommon are people who’ll work hard enough to bring them about.” More than ever before, we have the resources and talent to turn good ideas into great products. But how do you turn a good idea and a good product into an ambitious and high-flying business?

A founder is challenged to both build the product and bring it to market. For so many of today’s startups, that latter part is the crux of business building. And once engineering led startups reach the marketing and selling phase of business building, they often think it is time to hire a costly, management intensive and inflexible sales team. So many startups assume the burden of a “coin operated” sales team before they’re ready for it, and this is part of the reason they struggle.

A renaissance rep is often the difference between a win or a loss at a startup. — Tweet This

Mark Leslie, founder of Veritas and author of the Sales Learning Curve, has proposed an alternative: the renaissance rep. The renaissance rep is a cross-functional early employee who knows how to smartly interact with both the product and engineering teams, as well as the addressable market, to build product-market fit into a business from the early stages. Identifying ideal customer profiles and ironing out a repeatable sales process is the basic task of the renaissance rep, but they’re not just a sales person. They also serve as a jack of all trades: operations, customer service, business development, manager, product tester, and scrappy right hand to the founding team.

A renaissance rep guides a startup through the challenging initiation phase. The rep’s creativity and leadership during the early days of a startup sets the stage for rapid growth as the company matures.

A good startup team always has product and engineering “hackers” who use their talents to do amazing things for the company. Equally important and fulfilled by the renaissance rep, is the “hustler.” The hustle of the renaissance rep means they embrace the ambiguity of a startup, and thrive on building things from scratch. A renaissance rep is known for having a passion for product, a love of people and most importantly getting the job done well.

If you compared a startup to a baseball game, the renaissance rep would be the utility infielder, a “five-tool guy,” serving as the clutch player who is always in the right place at the right time, who makes that key hit when it matters. They are often the difference between a win or a loss. In the business world, a renaissance rep is not the most flashy player on the team, yet their value lies in their ability to drive a company through the sales learning curve. They mold a fledgling organization by recruiting and working with a prospective user base of innovators and early adopters to determine true product market fit.

A renaissance rep is known for having a passion for product, a love of people and most importantly getting the job done. — Tweet This

Zak Holdsworth, co-founder of the startup Hint Health, describes it this way: “I needed an early hire who could build the business side from the ground up. While developing the product, I need someone with a strategic mindset who isn’t afraid to embrace the ambiguity of a startup. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t make a renaissance rep an early add to my team.”

A renaissance rep needs to be fully integrated into the startup’s leadership. They need the authority and autonomy to interact with the product and engineering teams. And, as somebody with their fingers on the pulse of the market, they’ll often have the most customer facing role of any person on the team. A good rep will use their unique position to collect the data and statistics necessary to provide strategic guidance on where to focus next. They also need to be compensated in a manner appropriate for a developmental role—based on milestones and objectives, rather than quotas. A renaissance rep is a broad, interdisciplinary role and utilizing it to its full potential should be the goal of every startup.

Jeff Gilmore is an innovator and tech entrepreneur. He just completed a 12 week business development program at Tradecraft, transitioning from 10 years of project management and flying in the Air Force. Twitter: @jjgilz

Thanks to Misha Chellam.

    Jeff Gilmore

    Written by

    Program manager, pilot and entrepreneurial thinker. Love innovation, technology, new ideas and America too. Now living in San Francisco.