Simplify it Down to Selling or Building

When talking to a founder or early employee in an early stage startup I always start by asking “What do you guys do?” After that, I follow up with “What do you personally do in the startup?” When they answer, I like to mentally categorize it in one of two buckets: selling or building. If the person provides a long answer without much clarity, I’ll make my question more specific and say, “Do you sell or build?”

One of the goals with this line of questioning is to get the person to focus on selling and/or  building. Too often, I hear that people focus on things like strategic direction, managing an advisory board, etc. Those are important occasional things, but shouldn’t be the day-to-day focus of a few person startup. Once product / market fit is achieved, more team members are brought on, and there’s room for specialization, it makes sense to branch out. Until then, almost all of the effort should be either selling or building.

What else? What are your thoughts on simplifying the seed stage startup experience as either selling or building?

6 thoughts on “Simplify it Down to Selling or Building

  1. Working with a number of startups right now. One of mentors said “nothing happens unless something gets sold” My experience with startups says identify the dangers, opportunities and strengths of the business… go through this exercise with the startup team. What will bubble up is a natural top 5 overarching categories to drive with a clear # 1 that I think everyone on the team needs to align around. There is a very cool method for drilling down and finding the top 1 called I think hoshin method.


    say the 5 things are

    1. New York launch
    2. Funding
    3. Streamline supply chain
    4. Service existing clients
    5. Advisory board

    As yourself. Does NY launch drive funding or funding driving NY… and so on… by pointing arrows to which one drives which….

    It is a very cool exercise for a startup.

    It is a great question. I think of the one startup I am working with. The two co-founders. One is a very analytical, technical guy and the other is a clear sales guy. Its a nice balance for the startup…

    As the company evolves I think a careful review of the top 5 for each quarter and the year and then aligning that with the strengths of the founding team and figure out where people’s unique abilities and passion areas.

    Great quesiton up above and I am thinking on this…..


  2. I tend to focus objectives on Creating or Communicating…essentially the same concept. And while I started doing that in the corporate world, as a means of career growth, it quickly became apparent how much this applies to the entrepreneur. In my personal experience, selling has always been much more about communicating a story or success…especially in today’s world of content & social media marketing.

    End of the day…Your Message + More Eyes & Ears = Growth. And of course, you have to Create something in order to tell a story about it. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.