Musings of a “Generalist” @ — Technology Startup

How many of us have debated on the fact whether being a Generalist vs Specialist was the way to move forward. Well — there has never been a proper conclusion to this and its well left up-to an individuals preference to purse the former or later.

It’s been a good 56 months since I first started out fresh out of college at a SaaS based technology startup in the healthcare space. The product was solid and the marketplace was energetic to accommodate our selling.

We started off with a lean office space and during the first few weeks I was busy figuring out how work out the role of a Relationship Manager. Sooner then I imagined, I was introduced to selling a SaaS product on the phone. I mean whats the thing with a pitch, demonstration, quotations and closing a deal — & that too over the phone? Why would someone buy from me and how would they trust me enough to pay a good sum of money for a cold on a fine sunny day. Well — things moved on and I got the so called “pulse” of prospects and the conversion funnels looked all cold and miserable. 100 calls, 3 demons and 1 possible prospect — that’s a cool .33 conversion rate and the madness of the excel tables to track all this down.

All that wasn’t very difficult as I had been selling my services as a freelancer all this while before I joined a full time role. The tools I had to my disposal were Skype, an Elance profile & the good old Paypal. If weren’t doing decent enough why would someone pay me to fix their plugins or develop a core Wordpress website or even write sales pages for them. The learnings were immense — if you can sell yourself well, you’ve got all that is needed to keep rolling.

The power of persuasion & building trust are two very important skill-sets which come handy every now and then. They are either very difficult to build upon or come naturally to people.

Why couldn’t all this be so simple as walking down to a prospect, scheduling a meeting and closing the deal spot on. No — thats not what I was meant to be doing. So the way out was to experiment on selling on the phone and reducing costs maybe or generating enough leads across landscapes where we cannot setup a brick and mortar shops. Fair enough as you need to validate a MVP before you begin scaling up.

This went on for the next few months and as I got the hang of things, few sales started trickling in — prospects preferred being demonstrated by me and post sales support began building up. Phones started ringing and emails would stop neither. It was time to build the Customer Support team and I dived right in.

Midnight demonstrations to early morning payments coming in, indeed the time had come to keep rolling. But not long before I knew it — support was something that was taking my breath away. I had to transition soon but not without a strong back support. We got our next super hero onboard and I moved on to something different.

Before I knew it, I was dabbling onto Digital Marketing efforts, from landing pages to Adwords to a conversion funnel ,CPA, CTR, Google Analytics, Kissmetric blogs and the list goes on. My interest towards self learning new tools around these domains helped me to sustain and produce some value while being close to our customer base.

The focus now turnaround to lending our hands at few international conference shows and understand how the global market perceives our product. It was a no brainer for me to take up the lead and we made our entry into Singapore during early 2012 and later in Germany during 2013. Amazing feedback instilled in the team back home to build and scale the products for a global audience.

Once again I started brushing off my sales skills and accounted for a few customers in the international regime. This helped us to get a head-start and build up generous confidence in moving ahead at a faster pace.

Digital Marketing — Technology Evangelist. One fine day someone suggested that I change my email signatures to that of a Technology Evangelist, and a new role was born. I thought over this for a couple of weeks and finally dived into changing the titles all over again. But my hindsight was always troubling me to ask myself — is all of this needed? Can’t I just stay put as a Relationship Manager and still hustle across and manage other opportunities in the team. With time I realised all of this was a progressive change and I had to simply take on and move ahead.

Slowly our B2C product began catching up pace and we wanted to move into the S.E. Asia space.

It was an opportunity which would enable me to move global and bring about a considerable Impact. I re-located to our Singapore office as an Operations Manager for the Marketplace product.

Fast forward 24 months later, its been a good chase building the team, working on improving our user growth, figuring out hyperlocal fixes for the product & hiring across a global market where there is stiff competition along with improvising on our processes for better efficiency and productivity.

So you have been in the shoes of a marketer, operations guy, HR and the cycle complete itself as that of a “Generalist”.

The fine print here is that not every now and then will you be able to repeat this cycle. At some point of time one will have to settle down and focus on one particular role. But those can find their expertise and continue with being a generalist — that’s where you know that you have nailed it.

Even though I have not yet found my path where I would like to Specialise but the uncertainty does loom over my head every now and then. I have been able to convince my inner self to simple ‘go with the flow’ .I would like to hear about your experiences as a Generalist / Specialist ( esp at a Startup )and whether you have been able to find the fine balance between the two.

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