Navigating your revenue journey

This year we’re running a series of breakfasts, dedicated to unravelling the knottiest portfolio problems facing founders, from Seed to Series B. Earlier in the spring, my colleague Jonathan Durnford-Smith published some of the learnings from our event exploring the question of how a non-technical CEO might best approach hiring a technical team – and that all-important technical number two, the CTO.

Last month, we approached a different topic, inviting not just founders but commercial leaders too, for guidance on navigating their revenue journey.

Previously, we’ve designed these portfolio breakfasts with a view to bringing founders into a space where they feel comfortable engaging with their peers, navigating some of the questions and challenges they come up against and giving them the chance to talk candidly about the struggles of building a business (not always the sort of thing founders want to do with investors around!).

This time, we wanted to open the session up to the wider commercial group, to ensure the wisdom our visiting luminaries had to offer met the widest-possible audience. In the spirit of change, however moderate, we also broke with our breakfast formula (admittedly not by much…). Over brunch, upstairs in a pub in London’s Belgravia, we welcomed assorted founders, CEOs, VPs of sales and more to hear from our guests, a group of individuals who’ve proven their expertise across some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing tech companies.

The experts

Sales is a broad enough topic, so we tried to keep the focus relatively close. After all, a consumer-marketing-led approach is a very different mechanism to a B2B SaaS product. Instead, we centred the event around recurring revenue models. Still, the topic was broad enough to capture attendees from across our investment areas, to hear from a handful of the most accomplished names in UK tech.

Snowflake made its record-breaking IPO in 2020. Before that, Julien Alteirac was one of the company’s first-on-the-ground in the UK and Europe, where he was instrumental in building it up to a $250m revenue.

Jolawn Victor’s career has taken her around the world. She worked as Chief International Officer at Headspace, before building Quickbooks at Intuit, growing average revenue per user (ARPU) by 20% in just 12 months.

We also welcomed Brónagh Crowley, former Head of Global Partnerships at Web Summit and most recently VP of Sales at Ultimate. An early hire at Adyen, Brónagh left as Vice President of International Sales.

Julien, Jolawn and Brónagh kicked things off with ten minutes each, sharing more about their journeys, and the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the businesses they built. Afterwards, a fireside chat opened things up to our attendees, offering them a chance to pinpoint techniques for navigating their own revenue journeys.

The advice

At our last breakfast, we learned about the difference between ‘hunters’ and ‘farmers’ in a technical team. This time, our experts agreed on the need for a similar vision when it came to recruiting sales. In early sales team hiring, character matters. Consensus emerged around the need for grit, determination – and humility.

At the early stages, a varied skillset will be more use than a specialist. Julien also emphasised the value of getting a solid revenue operations team in place early; the ideal first recruit, he joked, would come from the US military. Failing that, someone with start-up experience, with a clear knowledge of the tools of their trade and the capacity to hit the ground running.

When it comes to sales recruitment, Julien offered a top, secret tip. Failed entrepreneurs might just add more value than experienced sales leaders. The second group will struggle if they’re used to managing big teams, or if they’ve been recruited out of one of the major, established players. They need coachability, intelligence and, if possible, a character reference. In Julien’s words, ‘If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt’. That is to say, if there’s any doubt that a potential recruit is going to struggle to match the resilience a job on the sales team of an early-stage company demands, there’s no doubt that they’re not the right person for the role.

Brónagh also had a tip for motivating those early and more junior sales hires. Sales development representatives (SDRs), those at the top of the funnel, calling potential customers on the phones, can struggle if the key performance indicators (KPIs) are too challenging. Setting performance indicators around, for example, getting people through to the next stage as a qualified lead (essentially a completed sale for the SDR) is tough.

Instead, to build resilience, she suggested other KPIs; how long can the SDR team keep a person on the phone, for example. She found implementing this new KPI successful in building confidence and resilience and, ultimately, driving more sales.

Jolawn emphasised the importance of love metrics: metrics that describe how much users love the product, how often they come back and the delight they feel in using it. Delight was a key theme. Founders, she said, need to identify the customer problem – the one that causes the customer their biggest pain point, not the one founders want to solve. Their solution needs to maximise delight, and iterate from there. Failing fast, she said, is fine – so long as the learning happens just as quickly.

Together, they agreed that getting the right processes, infrastructure and hires in place early was of paramount importance. When companies are starting out, too often outsize emphasis is placed on getting a signature on the dotted line. Everything else falls by the wayside.

But onboarding, post-sales experience and customer success all matter if ARR is going to grow. It’s never too early to get a solid end-to-end process in place, to make sure the sales journey leaves customers, yes, delighted.

The Octopus Ventures People + Talent team is dedicated to supporting all of the businesses we back with their talent and recruitment needs. From forging new networks, amongst our founders and across all our contacts, to mentorship, to finding that new, perfect VP of sales, we put our expertise to work making sure that all the companies we work with have access to the people they need to thrive.

If you’re interested in accessing the support we offer, or share our view that people are at the heart of every world-changing business, pitch us your pioneering solution. Find out more about the Octopus Ventures Portfolio team here, or pitch us.

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