Read, Learn, Apply: The books all startups should be reading

Read, Learn, Apply: The books all startups should be reading

Over the past 5 years, I have been helping startups build all the processes and systems needed to help them reach their first 100 b2b sales. Although the types of business models have ranged from SaaS, marketplace, physical hardware and multiple other platforms, they all had the same weakness when we first met – they didn’t know how to sell. No matter if your target market is consumers or businesses, in my opinion, the only thing that will ever matter when scaling your startup is if you can make sales.

Selling comes in many varieties and although you may not realise it, everyone needs to sell. I’m sure you remember a moment when you were a child and you were not allowed to do something, and so your automatic sales skills kicked in and you began to negotiate,”please please I promise I will do x,y,z in the future”. Maybe it was when you applied to get into university or even into an accelerator program or when you decided to build your startup and you had to sell the idea to get a co-founder to join you?

Selling is built within everyone. Therefore, I want to teach you how you can take your startup from the idea stage to your first 100 paying customers. My principles of sales are based on three key criteria:

  • Always be honest 
    • To your customers and to yourself.
  • Persistence is key 
    • There are millions of educated people out there, but the person who is willing to do everything it takes to be successful everyday has the best chance.
  • Listen 
    • The best sales people I know speak the least. Become an expert at listening and people will tell you what they want to buy from you.

Step 1: Read, Learn, Apply

As an early stage startup, you are either thinking about joining an accelerator program, bootstrapping your business or using your own capital to launch the company and start to grow. You are full of enthusiasm, willing to do whatever it takes to turn this idea into a highly successful business. Before you go full steam ahead and start building your product, pause for a minute!

Your goal of an early stage startup is not to prove you have learnt how to market or sell. It is to prove how you are an expert in finding a problem, solving it and using your marketing and sales expertise to rapidly scale.

I have witnessed too many startups, particularly on accelerator programs, that spend the whole 2-3 months learning the basics of cold calling, twitter marketing, email marketing etc. and then expecting to raise investment with very limited traction. My advice is to spend one week reading the following books, become an expert at everything they have to say and then apply the knowledge to your startup. As a bonus, once you have done this, you can describe yourself as autodidact!


Book 1: Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action by Simon Sinek

This is a must read for every startup founder. Over the next year of building your business, you are going to receive advice from multiple investors, programme leaders and friends on actions to take. Not all advice will be correct and a large proportion of it will not be in the context of your business. Learn the principles taught in this book to always be asking ‘why’.



Book 2: Traction: A Startup Guide to getting customers by Gabriel Weinberg

This book has had the biggest impact on everything I do to grow my audience and I recommend to 100% of startups that I work with. Traction is a manual explaining every single marketing channel that you can choose to gain traction and case studies to accompany it. The biggest takeaway I learned from this book are:

  • 50% of your time should be spent developing, 50% should be spent marketing and selling. Don’t neglect this balance.
  • Just because you are familiar using a marketing tool such as twitter, doesn’t mean this is going to be the best channel to acquire customers. Go out of your comfort zone, experiment with channel that both you would not normally use and other startups don’t use.
  • Apply the bullseye framework to build a strict method for testing, finding the 3 most effective methods of building traction then focus on your critical path to find the one marketing channel that you can rely on to scale.


Book 3: The Game: Penetrating the secret society of pickup artists by Neil Strauss

The similarities between real life dating and sales are absolutely fascinating! If you read this book with the context of how the tips can apply to your startup, then it is extremely powerful. Some of the main tips that I learned are:

  • If you ask a married couple what was the first sentence they said to each other when they met they often can not remember.”

This shows that what you say at the start of the conversation is not important, it is what you do once the conversation continues is the key. If you apply this to any networking or cold calling that you do then you realise that being yourself, being interesting and just going for it and breaking the ice to get the conversation started are more important than anything else.

  • Apply a cold call or first meeting like it was a first date. Be polite, be there on time, look presentable, don’t be too pushy, listen, be interesting, do enough to impress and get a second date (call).
  • Neil Strauss learns from meeting 100s of ‘pickup artists’ that the biggest skill that you can possibly have to impress someone is to be as genuine as possible and proud of the personality that you have, not use gimmicks or tricks. The idea and expertise that you have to build your business is all you will ever need to make sales. Be proud of yourself and use the books above to fine tune your sales approach.

I appreciate there are 100s of books out there and each person has their own takeaway of what they can extract and apply to their own business. As a habit, I try to read 2-3 books per month that can help me to fast track my expertise and learning. The majority of the time, every mistake and experience from a similar business has been documented with lessons learnt, just keep reading and learning from other people’s mistakes instead of making your own.

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