Your Responsibility in Startup Sales

San Francisco, home of excellent engineers, visionary product leaders and of course the sales people that ride the wave at exactly the right time and spread the virus of entitlement to everyone they speak to on how easy Start up SaaS Sales really is.

Who wouldn’t want a sales job at the next unicorn waiting to take off? Slap a saddle on that bad boy early enough and you are gaining equity, cashing out in no time either through IPO or acquisition. Have a beer in any bar in SOMA and you are bound to hear a cocky sales person listen to their buddy from Oracle whine about how they’re “just a number” and “what they do doesn’t matter” and ultimately advises them to join a startup and be a part of something special! Have direct access to the CEO, dogs and kegs in the office and a comp plan that has no ceiling.

Who wouldn’t sign up for that?

What people don’t understand is that when you stop becoming a number at a big company, you become responsible for a very important number in startup sales: yournumber. You can’t have the perks of a 9-5 big company and the perks of a close knit, intimate startup and make good money. This is the San Francisco SaaS Sales problem. I’ll save you some time San Francisco…

Don’t work at a startup if you:

  • Don’t want to constantly figure things out on your own
  • Work better in structured environments
  • Prefer a clear and unambiguous company direction
  • Have trouble adapting to changing pitches, angles and directions multiple times
  • Don’t like when you’re asked to do something you don’t normally do
  • Just want to ease into your day, not talk to anyone for a few hours until you “wake up” and are ready to deal with the real world
  • Refer to your day as “the grind” and say things like “thank god it’s Friday!”

It’s okay if the above bullets apply to you and it freaks you out. Most people aren’t good for startup SaaS Sales, save yourself the frustration and don’t do it. There I just saved you 3 long, agonizing years of not hitting your quota, bitching about the product not working and how no one supports sales. There are plenty of positions that are a better fit – thank me later.

Pre Series B companies will offer you kegs, dogs, direct access to the CEO and all the other perks that big companies can’t touch – but it comes at a price: responsibility. That’s right – everyone in the company feels it if you don’t hit your number. There’s no Salesforce Tower that is being built a few blocks away if you hit your number or not, instead there’s the weight of all the people you love hanging out with during company sponsored happy hours that depend on you hitting and surpassing your goals and going above and beyond to help others hit there’s.

You asked for it. Now here’s how to make it work.


At an early-stage startup, the likelihood of someone checking your work thoroughly every day is slim. Which means that the probability of you going off-track from responsibilities and goals the leadership sets for you is higher.

Many SaaS Sales people look at their leaders and say, “They’re busy and I don’t want to bother them, so I’ll just figure it out.” By default, this isn’t a bad attitude, but over time it can lead to wasted time and toxic conflicts. You are in sales and 50% of sales is internal – how you align the people you need on a daily basis to fight for the possibility of winning that you see. Convincing people to give you their time is luxury you can exhaust, so be strategic on what your business needs to win. Skills, insight, exec sponsorship, side bar messages and product deep dives can all be useful at the right time, with the right people and with the right direction from you. Don’t be an ego maniac, you need people to make your business thrive – it’s up to you to project manage it to deliver on time and above expectations.


It can seem exciting and interesting to have a job that changes from day to day but, for some people, it can get old after a while and even lead to burnout.

At an early-stage startup, you’ll have to handle tasks that are complementary to the role you initially applied to. You shouldn’t be doing something completely different every day, but you should expect to take on some tasks that weren’t part of the original job description.

If you aren’t ready to focus your time on more than one task, skip the early-stage startup.


If you want to thrive in a startup sales job, you have to think like a leader and not an individual contributor. Take responsibility for the success of the project and not just the work you put in. Effort is important, but emphasis must also be placed on getting the job done right. Even if you spend three hours on a project and then realize you went down the wrong path, don’t turn it in. Start over and get it right. Don’t believe it’s someone else’s job to finish or polish your work.

That’s how to act like a leader even when you may not actually lead or manage people yet. Of course, there’s a point where efficiency and perfection need to be on prioritized on the same level, but taking care of your responsibilities at the highest level possible is never a bad thing.


There is a saying that all great leaders live by because it helps them practice ownership in life:

The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching. —John Wooden

Pick that napkin up off the floor. Make the next pot of coffee. Fix the broken window if you see it, even if you know others may have seen it before you. You make a choice to take pride in your company and your role when you do the things you should do when no one else is around. Take ownership everywhere and it will pay off with big dividends in your role down the road.  


Most can do the above points for a week. The reality is, acting like an owner every day without being… the owner… is difficult. You have to dress for the job you want. You have to be the change you want to see in the world. You have to be “on” all the time. This is the startup life. This is why it’s hard, demanding, draining, rewarding, memorable and something you can always point back to and say – we did that. After all, the fight is more important than any commission check, equity package or base increase – the memories of building and achieving something great can’t be bought.

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

–       Theodore Roosevelt

Author: Tim Yandel

I'm Tim. I live in Cole Valley, San Francisco with my wife, Julie, and two daughters Addie and Audra. I tend to write a bunch about leading Sales teams, since that's what I've been doing since 2006. I'm particularly drawn to the psychology of selling, whether that be how people buy things or sell things, it's fascinating how decision-making is centered into the core of who you are as a person. I enjoy cultivating a culture centered around mastery of your craft and a genuine passion for winning together. Outside of professional learnings, I enjoy listening to epic sci-fi and fantasy books while I run long distances to decompress and obsessed with watching my two girls grow. For a good ice breaker, ask me about my Golden Retriever and my Bernese Mountain Dog.

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