When you start a company with no brand name and not much of track record, it can be difficult to find a client willing to give you a chance, much less pay you full price for your product. Few will take a risk on a new company that may not even be around next year.
Many startups overcome this hurdle by giving away their product for free in exchange for the experience and the cachet of having the client’s name on their roster.
This isn’t a direction I wanted to go in because I staunchly believe our products provide a real and measurable value. As a result, when my co-founder Andrew Waage and I first started Retention Science more than two years ago, we were on a mission to find a believer, somebody who is willing to take a chance with us.
Landing the first big deal is perhaps the most critical and challenging task for any young company. You have to identify that unique prospect who is willing to take a gamble, give you candid feedback along the way and maintain a genuine interest in helping you grow your company. Does such people exist? Yes, they are just a rare breed.
It took me at least three months to network my way to David Yeom, vice president of marketing for The Honest Company. The firm, which makes nontoxic and ecofriendly family products, was co-founded by actress Jessica Alba and Brian Lee (who also founded LegalZoom.com and Shoedazzle.com).
From the beginning, my strategy was honesty (it’s not lost on me that being honest with The Honest Company is the ultimate cliché). I never hid or downplayed the fact that I had a brand-new company without many successful case studies under its belt.
My tactic was to take the time to help David understand who I am as an entrepreneur and just how determined I was to help him achieve success. I pledged that if he gave me a chance to earn his trust and business, I would do everything within my control to ensure that we would be successful together.
Nothing can replace the power of being genuine and developing a trusted partnership with your first customer. Not only can he or she become your biggest advocate, but that person can be invaluable in helping you fine-tune your product along the way -- something at times more important than the revenue itself.
I’ll admit that I was lucky that David Yeom was a very experienced marketer who had previously worked for startups like HauteLook, as well as for more mature companies like eBay. Having had positive experiences engaging with smaller technology partners throughout his career, he said, "They will work way harder to prove themselves and move faster to achieve the necessary results to gain my business long-term.”
And that’s precisely what we did. He gave us an opportunity and signed with Retention Science for six months. We worked around the clock to ensure that we delivered on our promises and proved that the firm could be a trusted partner. He and his marketing team provided us with stellar feedback, and in the end we both benefited and learned from the experience.
Fast-forward a year, and we now have a great working partnership and have entered into a long-term contract.
Closing your first big deal is anything but easy, especially when you are asking a client to pay to bet on you. It doesn’t make good business sense for most businesspeople; however, if you look hard enough, you too can find one of those believers. It just takes a few of them to get a fledgling business off the ground. I hope you don’t give up on finding your “David.”
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