Entrepreneurial Advice on Building a Sales Career in NYC
Alex Abelin is a startup founder, ex-Googler, and instructor in Startup Institute New York's sales training course. Alex founded his company, LiquidTalent, to empower people to work in a way that is most meaningful for them. He noticed three key themes emerging that are likely to shape the future of work: mobility—the ability to work anywhere, at anytime, independence—ownership and autonomy in your role, and lifestyle—increasingly fluid personal and professional lives. LiquidTalent is Alex's answer to these demands. They're building web and mobile apps to facilitate this "future of work" experience, offering to connect great web development and design talent with well-paying and fulfilling contract opportunities.[bctt tweet="Mobility, independence, and lifestyle are shaping the future of work - @LiquidTalent @alexabelin"]
Moving from sales at Google to building a company and customer-base from the ground-up, Alex brings a unique and rounded perspective to his sales courses with our NYC students, focusing on sales as an integrated engine to the business:
You can have some really great ideas and a beautiful product, but if you can't package that into a pitch and a sale, than your really not going to "blast."
I dialed up a Google Hangout to talk to Alex about his experience transitioning from the behemoth that is Google to sales for an early-stage start-up, and for advice on how to build a sales career in New York's innovation sector. Here's Alex's insights on building a sales career, playing the long-game and developing a meaningful professional community:
As co-founder and CEO, how involved are you in the sales process at LiquidTalent?
I am heavily involved in sales. Especially early-on in sales, I think it is really important for startup founders to get their hands dirty and go to sales meetings. As a CEO and a founder, you're always selling to different customers and stakeholders, and we've been able to hire a great team since doing fundraising. The way that we sell to the companies and the talent is very different, but my core day-to-day is really as Chief Sales Officer.
You worked in sales at Google before founding LiquidTalent. Any key lessons from that experience that you can share with us?
My entry point into Google was sales. I spent 7.5 years at Google, and I split my time between sales and policy. I think that it is critical as a young professional to have sales experience. At Google we were lucky because our product was basically flying off the shelf. Keywords and search were a very "wild wild west frontier." So, my role was more about creating that customer experience and retention. The best customer is a repeat customer, and sales skills are necessary in inspiring that repeat behavior.[bctt tweet="The best customer is a repeat customer. #Sales skills create that behavior, says @alexabelin"]
Google provided a great training program and mentorship to help young sales professionals build those skills. And it was interesting— it didn't matter what your major was. History, English, etc. You don't have to be an MBA or an entrepreneur to be a good salesperson. You can take the qualities you have and learn on the job. It's about being aware, having emotional intelligence, being a good communicator. Everything else can be acquired. You need to have that motivation—you need to be able to light a fire under your own butt. It's that internal motivation and that internal hunger that will make you successful in sales.
Those qualities that were sharpened in the fire at Google have only benefited me here. I think there's a restlessness of millennials to start a company (54% say they want to). But I think playing the long-game to starting a company is critical to success. I think LiquidTalent is set up for success because of the foundation I built earlier in my career.
Get the experience, go to bootcamps, soak in that professional structure, and learn from great mentors and managers. Approach life as a lifelong learning process. And, in addition to skills, remember that the relationships that you build transcend one role. It's a long career out there.[bctt tweet="Relationships transcend one role. It's a long career out there, says @alexabelin"]
How did you know the right time to leave Google and found LiquidTalent?
Decision making comes from your gut, your heart, and head. It took time for those things to be in alignment. I also had to prepare myself financially and emotionally for what I knew was going to be a tumultuous journey.
I took time off between Google and LiquidTalent to be sure about what I wanted to spend my time doing. I'd go to sleep thinking about it, I'd bring it up in conversation. I kept seeing the data points come up, peppered over the six months of time between the two companies, and that's how I knew it was the right move. Then, I was speaking with a mentor who saw my eyes light up about the idea—he ended up writing the first angel check that got the company off the ground. He believed in me and the promise behind the idea.[bctt tweet="I'd go to sleep thinking about @LiquidTalent, so I knew it was the right move - @alexabelin"]
Really great mentors can turn into really great angel investors, and really great angel investors set you apart as an early entrepreneur.
LiquidTalent is a small startup, and Google is obviously very established. Do you think there's more value in joining one versus the other?
It depends on where you're at. I think the amount of learning that happens everyday in a young company can absolutely prepare you just as well as a more established company with an infrastructure for professional development—as long as you're a person who works hard and can be coached, the learning can happen. And there's a certain amount of energy that comes from working in an innovative space where people don't do things one way because that's the way that they've always been done.[bctt tweet="If you work hard + can be coached, learning can happen - @alexabelin "]
I can't prescribe one way or the other. I look back on my experience and am grateful for where its taken me and where I am going. But, there's something about a startup, where you're creating the structure and drawing the lines, and there's a magic in that. The big company doesn't need you, but at a startup every person matters.[bctt tweet="Creating structure for a #startup + drawing the lines—there's magic in that - @alexabelin"]
What are the most effective strategies for salespeople looking for job opportunities in the NYC startup scene?
100% the LiquidTalent app- it's a great opportunity platform, and we have hundreds of opportunities coming in everyday. Of course, employee referrals. Think about ways that you can be referred in—pound for pound, this is the best way to get in the door at any company.[bctt tweet="Pound for pound, your network is the best way to find opportunities. - @alexabelin"]
Get out there, go to events and fairs. Especially in those moments of transition, it's a lot easier to order Seamless and turn on Netflix.
As you go to these events and build your professional network, be sure you're building VALUE-based relationships and not transactional relationships. It isn't a this-for-that world. So approach your career knowing that.[bctt tweet="Build value-based relations, says @alexabelin. NOT transaction-based."]
And, be clear about what you're looking for. Be open and honest with people in your circles. Over-communicate. I do believe in the law of attraction. So, know what you want, put out there what you want. And, hopefully—with some hustle—it's going to come to you.
What advice do you have for someone going into an interview for a sales role with a startup?
Bring solutions, don't identify problems. Come prepared to offer a strategy.
I love when people bring me strategic ideas and new ways to approach things, without having to be asked to do it.[bctt tweet="I love when candidates bring me new strategic ideas - @alexabelin"]
Hiring in startups is really a big deal. You have to get your hiring right, or else it will really jeopardize the company. Over-prepare, bring strategic ideas, and show a real passion for the company. If you're not that passionate, you probably shouldn't' be there.
And, remember that you're interviewing them, too. It's a very symbiotic relationship. Be aware that you're valuable and in-demand. Be confident. Confidence is key to everything.
On that subject, you recently hired one of our graduates. What stood out to you Kanwal Jehan during the hiring process for her community management role?
Our community is so key to this company. We're building a technology and a platform that is really cool and impressive, but without our community using it it's all for not. So, we treat all parts of our company with equal care and love. We need to serve these people well and exceed expectations. We create a family feel both internally and externally.
As Head of Community, Kanwal works sales, and manages communications and social media. She touched on a variety of skill sets that made us excited because when you work in a startup everyone needs to contribute to more than just their role.
Her enthusiasm was a huge part of it. We're trying to put a dent in the world and make it better, and she believed that we were doing that and that she could help us achieve that. We also loved that she was a part of Startup Institute. She knew which relationships to build, and how to build them authentically, and those relationships helped her to ultimately join our team.[bctt tweet="Enthusiasm, passion + building authentic relationships set @jehankanwal apart, says @alexabelin"]