The Neue Industry
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The Neue Industry

The Founder Fix #1: Hiring for Sales

Finding a game-changing formula for success.

By Gonçalo Fortes, Founder and CEO of Prodsmart

I think we can all agree: Sales are a tricky bastard for early-stage startups. Even when you know your own company culture like the back of your hand, even when you have a great product, things can still feel like a constant uphill climb.

We found ourselves in that predicament last year. US expansion isn’t exactly a walk in the park — but we felt ready for it. We’d hired a VP Sales to get us going.

The problem was it just wasn’t working out.

It kept me up at night. Why weren’t we able to move our numbers?

Turns out you can’t master a tricky opponent without pulling out a few tricks out of our own. I just never imagined ours would be so heavily based in recruitment strategy.

Recruitment? But aren’t we talking about sales?

Here’s a cold, hard truth: 70% of Saas VP Sales roles fail, according to SaaS expert and Managing Director of SaaStr, Jason Lemkin. The cost of failure is up to 3x an annual salary. It’s one of the most common and devastating mishires startups can make. Salespeople in general also churn 3x more than any other department.

Another truth? A startup’s success is defined by its capacity to hire and retain great people.

So, putting two and two together, we realized we needed to dig deeper into our recruitment processes. The answer to stalled sales wasn’t actually in sales, it was in people and how we hired them. We’d been going by the numbers instead of by our own formula.

Working with Join’s Organizational Development Coach, Jennifer Diamant Foulon, helped open us to perspective shifts. We began thinking outside of our box and pinpointed why our old tactics weren’t working for us. Our interviews were too long, unstructured and not tailored enough to exactly what we needed in our hires. We had to find a way to figure out if our new hires would not only be able to do the job, but also function well in our rapid-fire communication environment. For example: Slack back-and-forth is huge for us, as is real-time collaboration, transparency and openness.

Finding our formula

In one month, we were able to make four transformations that now represent our fail-proof hiring strategy.

  1. We tightened up our recruitment process. It now consists of three targeted and structured interviews.
  2. We trained our team on how to do behavioral interviews. How we ask questions to explore the minds of our candidates makes all the difference.
  3. We created The Third Interview. I treat it as a proper noun because it’s so important to us now. It’s essentially an interactive online challenge and collaborative case study where we can communicate directly with our prospective hires as they solve a real customer problem. The only way to solve it is by asking questions, making spontaneous decisions and accessing information in real time. It helps us see how each other really works.
  4. We created a friendly, structured and clear-cut onboarding process for our new hires’ first 30 and 60 days with us. Time zone differences had us rethinking the way we communicated with and ushered in new talent — especially in the crucial first months.

FYI: Follow Your Individuality

As cheesy as it sounds, no two startups are the same. What works for us may not work for you, but the key is being receptive to finding your formula. More often than not, it has to do with people.

We’re now much more confident in the people we bring into our company. We ourselves know more about the roles we hire for, the behaviors of an ideal candidate and the tools they’ll need to succeed. Ultimately, that helps us create a better pool of candidates. The process itself works as a kind of filter that reassures us we’re hiring in the right direction.

The bottom line: When you’re going for that Series A round, setting your hiring strategy is key. Sometimes, that requires some outside support that can help you dig in deep to some truths you might not see from the inside. Looking back, I’ll always be thankful that we took the risk to change our processes. It’s what helped us kickstart our sales.

Needless to say, nowadays, I’m getting a lot more sleep each night.

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