There are no valid excuses for not selling already

"No sales yet" shouldn't be justified by "no marketing done"

As the Fundraising Manager for W Hub, I meet early stage entrepreneurs every week. Sitting down with passionate entrepreneurs is probably one of the most enjoyable part of my work. I get to hear the stories on how they created the startups and the bright future they envision for this adventure.
After 3 months and having met over 30 entrepreneurs, there are some observable patterns worth sharing. Founders usually prepare their initial pitch very well, sometimes with a supporting presentation. Afterwards, it is fun to ask questions and uncover anything they prefer to keep under the radar.

While the presentations tend to be focused on the product / service and its future, my questions are usually about the execution and the past. As expected, optimist guys aren't comfortable to look back at their past achievements (even if they should!).
I'm learning a lot from these conversations and it is a very positive process that I will try to share in this blog in the near future. There are also elements that I am quite surprised to hear from entrepreneurs and I get the following a lot when asking about numbers and traction:
"Of course I don't have any sales, I haven't spent anything on Marketing yet."

Somehow, this sentence tells me a lot about the founder and how she/he managed his work until now. It probably gives away her/his background as well and if it's the first venture.
As we are being honest, I will usually push a bit further and try to understand the real underlying reason(s) why they haven't had any sales yet. As convincing as some reasons may be, I will keep thinking to myself the following three things:

  1. Marketing is not "just advertisement"
  2. They have built something without testing their market
  3. They may be scared of selling and will do whatever to postpone this part

Marketing is not "just advertisement"

Many entrepreneurs assume that marketing is something that you switch on and off as needed. What some told me is that they may not be "selling" their service when they are meeting new people at networking events "because the app is not ready yet." Another statement goes like "as soon as I raise money, we'll heavily buy Google Adwords or Facebook Ads."

This is a big reduction of what marketing really is and by looking at its definition, we find:
"Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." AMA
It is as vague as a broad concept's definition should be. What I notice is what's missing from it:
There is no mention of a restriction of its application in time and location - when & where the message is being delivered.
My conclusion, and the way I work, is that at any given time - in public or private - what a founder says or represents is a reflection of her/his project.
Therefore, asserting that a product "is not ready yet" and taking it as a fact to not market it already is a mistake. Most likely missing many business opportunities. Marketing is happening at any time a founder mentions her/his startup and she/he better be prepared.

What to do then?
Get a short and sweet elevator pitch ready.
It doesn't have to be long, but presenting the problem and the current solution would already go a long way and pave the ways of a future successful marketing strategy.

Built something without testing the market

I sometimes have nightmares on behalf of the entrepreneurs I met:
What if they had built a product but nobody came to test it out?
Unfortunately for me, it's not only a nightmare but an experience I faced once...
The cost of building an app or a solution has decreased so much that many founders believe it's the first step they should go through to create something.
It's only after having spent precious savings and wasted months or years that they realised the major mistake. They would then agree on "how much they learnt" from this experience and move on. Too bad.

The Lean Startup methodology should really act as the road to execution for tech startups:

  1. Build something small that doesn't cost (much) anything
  2. Test it with as many prospects as possible
  3. Listen to their feedback & improve
  4. Again

There is a major difference when talking with an entrepreneur who knows the market versus someone knowledgeable about their product only.
With Anekdote or Jook app, we started the heavy development only when we had "clues" that people were interested. Namely over a hundred email signups for each service on no advertisement budgets (more on that later). Besides bolstering our confidence hat we were onto something that needed to be solved, we also launched our beta versions with immediate users ready to test them.

Scared of selling, postponing it!

Interviewing strangers to get feedback or selling them something is a difficult part of the founder's role. It's not as fun as brainstorming on a new feature or envisioning the bright future of her/his team.
We know how fundamental it is to sell in any occasions:

  • Test the product / idea
  • Get a different perspective on the problem
  • Get a recommendation or introduction
  • Actually presell and make business!

Nonetheless, it is common to discuss with founding teams not preoccupied by this part. It happens that they justify postponing doing sales by the needs to secure supplies, build the brand, create the team, etc. Basically putting the cart before the horses.
They risk a major reality check when they run out of excuses and are forced into selling and getting numbers. Postponing is a serious danger.


Discussing with passionate people is always a great learning experience. Diving into someone's hard work and way of thinking is also a great responsibility and I force myself to give honest feedback, even if it may hurt someone's susceptibility.
After that little time, I already came to respect the hustlers much more than the "product builders" because they know that without clients, there is no product.
There really are no valid excuses for not selling already.

There are no valid excuses for not selling already

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