Advice: "I took a sales role at a promising startup, but no one here is closing any deals. What should I do?"

Dear Quota Team, 

A few months ago, I left a position at a big company to join a small startup. Part of the appeal for me was the stock options (if the company blows up I can get a big payout), and the fact that I thought I could have a bigger impact on the company rather than just being a cog inside a giant wheel. 

Since I’ve started here, I’ve been hit with a harsh reality: our customers aren’t interested in paying for the software. We book meetings and everyone is friendly, but when it comes time to commit, no one has the budget. I am getting the impression that customers see what we’re offering as a “nice-to-have,” and not a “need-to-have.” 

I am getting a solid base, and we have enough funding to last us at least a few years, but I’m getting nervous that I joined a company that has no future as a paid product (we have a free version, and a lot of our leads are from our free user pool). Obviously I am not an executive, so I am not part of the decision making process, but I feel like things are just going to get worse if we don’t do something. 

Should I stay here and see what happens or go work somewhere where there’s actually a saleable product being made? I just don’t want to waste my time if there’s no future here. What are your thoughts?

Unsure in Washington State 

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Dear Unsure,

It sounds like your company hasn’t found product-market-fit yet. Many startups pivot, changing their approach, and looking for that irresistible offering, until they do. 

The way we see it, you have three options, which we’ve ranked from worst to best: 

Option 1: Stay where you are and keep doing what you’re doing – hitting the phones, trying to sell a product that customers don’t want, and living off your base pay, while hoping that eventually something changes. 

Option 2: Find a different job selling a product that has a proven customer base. You’ll have wasted a few months of your time, but learned a valuable lesson about doing more research on a company before accepting a new role. 

Option 3: Set up a meeting with the CEO of your company and the head of product. You are the best point of contact between the company and its (potential) customers, so you’re in a great position to inform the people who make product decisions about what customers do and don’t want. This is the only way your company will get to product-market-fit – if they just poke around aimlessly without listening to their customers, they’re likely to run out of funding before anything clicks. 

Option 3 is the best place to start, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always move on. But if you actively try to make a difference instead of just sitting back and assuming you can’t impact the trajectory of the company, then not only will you decrease your chances of making your options worth something at some point, but you’ll also be ignoring one of your own stated reasons for joining a startup. Good luck!

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