Tag Archives: startups


Why Startup CEOs Still Have to Make Sales Calls

by Howard Tullman


It’s not your strength, or maybe not even what you enjoy doing. But being there to close the deal isn’t something you can simply hand off to the sales team.

At what point can a CEO turn sales over to professional salespeople?  Before that can happen, the company has to achieve two foundational milestones:

  • You need to know exactly what you’re selling—by doing it over and over again (and not as a one-off).
  • You need to know for certain that others can sell it consistently.

That only comes with the maturity of your product/service.  Until it reaches that point, stay in the field and keep selling.  Your product is still being developed on the fly and continually redesigned/reconfigured to better suit the real requirements and demands of customers.  The fact is, ultimately only you can make the critical design and development decisions and you’ll do a much better job of that if you are hearing it directly from the end users and not from a bunch of whiny salespeople.

I’m seeing more and more startup CEOs who discover way too soon that they don’t like the wear and tear, the travel, and the rejection that are all crucial parts of selling a new product or service.  So they retreat, thinking they can run their businesses while they’re sitting on their butts behind a desk back in the office. That’s not how this game works; that behavior is a formula for failure. You may not be an extrovert.  You may not even know the technology that underlies your business as well as half the other people in the company.  You are, however, the boss and today that fact alone means a lot, at least to the people who make the final purchasing decisions.

Remember—buyers are typically older than you, they grew up in strictly hierarchical systems where titles count, and they need to be made to feel important and respected if they’re gonna sign off on your deal. No offense to any of the members of your team, but customers don’t want to deal with the monkey—they need to see the organ grinder. That’s you. And they want you for all the obvious reasons:

  • People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show up. It’s important.
  • Startup staffs are notoriously scattered and hurried—lacking focus and attention to detail. Customers want to know that you personally are connected, paying attention and directly engaged with their business, their concerns, and their problems.
  • Clients want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Not second hand. They want commitments and assurances from you. Everybody knows that the sales guys will say anything and promise them the world.  They need assurance that you will stand behind your product or service and make good on your promises. The buck always stops with you.

Product Maturity

Once your product/service reaches those critical milestones, it’s time to kick yourself upstairs and focus on other things. I encourage CEOs who find they spend too much effort selling to optimize their time.  I suggest that they find competent sales managers and others who can tee up just the right meetings for them—not opening meetings which are a dime a dozen, but closing meetings where the deals get done.

Finding sales meat-eaters to fill managerial roles isn’t easy; they are the hardest hires for any startup, but it’s absolutely critical to have them onboard if you’re going to build a viable business.

When your startup is hiring talent, you need to avoid certain categories of salespeople. For example, stay away from what I call empire builders.  There’s a whole generation or two of sales management types whose experience comes only from large organizations.  I have found fairly consistently that they are the wrongest guys possible for a startup because they grew up in a system where they measured their value and their success by the sheer number of people they managed rather than the results that those folks delivered. Nothing kills a young business faster than bloat and bureaucracy and having too many sales people sitting on their hands and not selling is the worst kind of poison. So be careful what you wish for and who you hire for this critical job.

There’s no more challenging job than being the CEO. You are responsible for the health of each part of the organization and the trajectory of the entire venture.  Stay in the sales loop until your product/service matures.  Then focus on closing deals.  Customers need you to be there—to say what you’ll do, and do what you say.


 Howard Tullman is the CEO of Chicago-based 1871, where 500 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V and Chicago High Tech Investors, both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council and Governor Bruce Rauner’s Innovate Illinois Advisory Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.


This article is an excerpt of one that appeared recently in Inc.

Image Credits – Getty Images, MS Office, Howard Tullman

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2018 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


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Chicago’s Launch Competition

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by Jeff Segal

Why does a B2B digital marketing agency that works with some of the biggest and best-known companies in America send a team to a startup competition?

Because marketing and startups actually have a lot in common.

  • Marketing is about problem solving, and startups are founded to solve problems.
  • Marketing is about storytelling, and every startup has a story.
  • Finally, a great marketing campaign and a successful startup both make people say, Wow, I wish I’d thought of that!

Continue reading


Filed under angel, angel investor, app, Business, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, High Tech, Low Tech, mobile, mobile internet, Relationships, Startup Companies, Startups, vc, venture capital


1989400_orig2 TSeth Temko

A new company is always short on cash and long on tasks. Right from the start an excited pot of people gather together and someone puts a stake in the ground “We’re doing this”.  From that point forward a business entity is formed and shares are issued.  From this, founders are born.

I’ve come across a number of startups with 3, 4, 5 and even 7 founders involved in various startups over the past year. It’s always debatable about the right number of founders but there definitely can be too many.  Too many founders significantly affects the success of the company, the happiness of the founders and the financial results the founders may achieve personally.

​How so? Read on! Continue reading

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You Don't Want to Compete with this Kidby John Jonelis

You don’t want to compete with this kid. Believe me. Just watch his intensity as he pitches his business to some of the private equity luminaries in the city. I’m a judge at this event and try not to show my feelings of awe as he answers all the tough questions in a pressure-cooker environment without so much as a flinch. There’s an intimidating team behind him too. They’re all in middle school. Middle school! Continue reading

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DSC01291e2TAdapted from the Journal of the Heartland Angels

By: Douglas Yau, PhD

When asked for funding, one of the most frustrating things investors do to a startup company is give them the “Slow No.” What I mean by this is dragging on the process of evaluating, requesting more information, and setting up teleconferences for weeks or months without a clear process for making the decision to invest. Continue reading

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PB&J T-JAJAdapted from the Journal of the Heartland Angels

Part 1 – by John Jonelis

Is an Angel a fool?

In the world of private equity investing, the order of funding is supposed to go like this:

  • Seed Round—that’s friends, family, and fools.
  • Angel Round—that’s funding the big initial spurt of growth.
  • Venture Round—that’s big funding for massive scaling.

Compare that stack-of-three (above) to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Notice that Angels make up the good stuff in the middle.  And yes—according to studies by the Kauffman Foundation—Angels make the best money. Continue reading

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Techweek Part 4 –

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by storied business consultant, Joe Perogi,

as told to John Jonelis –

Been hearin’ complaints ‘n’ controversy about Techweek this year. People gripe so you figure there’s gotta be a good reason, right? Yeah, I hear you. Yer sayin’, where there’s smoke there’s fire. But all them critics completely miss THE HIDDEN ROOM that you and me stumple upon—the hidden room that makes this thing truly amazing. Now the dust is settled, lemme take you on a tour o’ what I seen. Continue reading

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clockwork TMichael Pollack of Rocket Fuel Labs

Verbatim, Part 3 – John Jonelis

I’m continuing a conversation with Michael Pollack, CEO of Rocket Fuel Labs at the huge 1871 space here in Chicago. We’ve covered a lot of ground and I think it’s time to get down to the business itself. Continue reading

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rocket-fuel-labs-launches 2Michael Pollack of Rocket Fuel Labs

Verbatim – John Jonelis

I always enjoy the scenic water taxi ride to the Chicago Merchandise Mart where the huge high-tech incubator known as 1871 lives and breathes like a sleeping dragon in a cave full of gold. Continue reading

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IMSA Kids at MIT Enterprise Forum

John Jonelis

From a special correspondent – Mark T. Wayne:

Mark T Wayne Frankly sir, I am flabbergasted! This is something beyond my experience! Think of it. High school students turned serious entrepreneurs. These are children in suit and tie—teams of them politely waiting to speak in turn without interrupting the others. Not so much as a spit wad—do you hear me? Not one! That in itself is cause for more than casual interest. And no fluff here, sir! These kids seek equity funding without so much as a blush. And they do it with such aplomb. Continue reading

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