Miles Varghese is currently apart of the sales team at Octopi. Previously, he was the VP of Business Development at Live Ninja. A miami native shares his thoughts and tips on sales and how he got into it. He initially came from a Finance background, but got deep involved into startups and sales.
1. Hey Miles, thanks for doing the Q&A. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re working on now?
Love you, Wilson. Of course.
I’m a 30-year old sales professional still fairly new to the startup sales world. Prior to becoming a sales guy, I was in finance down here in Miami in operations and ultimately a fledgling financial advisor. I was trained by some of the best in South Florida but quickly learned that pounding the phones, cubicles, and microwave meals in the break room weren’t for me.
The startup world called me and I had the opportunity to work for a well-respected, local #miamitech startup where I cut my teeth on all types of sales culminating in enterprise, SaaS sales.
2. How did you initially get into sales?
I feel as though sales found me. It wasn’t a profession I saw myself in, but I had always had a passion for people and a talent for building real relationships.
I was hanging out at The Lab Miami (#miamitech’s OG co-working space that anchored modern entrepreneurship down here) with my friend Jose Pimienta who was introducing me around as I was trying to figure out what I was going to do in between finance jobs. He introduced me to a CEO who happened to be passing, we exchanged contact info and stayed in touch on LinkedIn.
That guy ended up being Will Weinraub, CEO of LiveNinja. He was the first to give me a shot when there were very few, if any, non-technical roles in the #miamitech ecosystem. This was back in 2013/2014.
3. What do you think about the Miami tech scene now?
Since then, the #miamitech ecosystem, in my opinion, has hit a sort of critical mass. There are new faces, more startups, more talented developers, and non-technical roles than ever before. There are slack channels, calendars, forums, tons of meetups.
And established tech companies (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) setting up shop in Miami, groups like Refresh Miami, non-profits like the Knight Foundation fueling growth through knowledge, connections, and programming.
(That and according to the Kauffman Foundation we’re officially #1 for Startup Activity. Just need to figure out the growth and scale part now, which I believe is happening as we speak.)
4. What’s in your sales stack now and what’s your most favorite sales tools?
At Octopi, I’m proud to say that we’re bootstrapped. We’re closing in on product-market fit, but still doing tons of customer and product development. Thus, we need a strong set of tools to collect as much data as possible within our sales stack — and with a limited budget of ZERO dollars.
- Hubspot CRM (free)
- MailChimp (basic)
- The Google Suite
- Sheets (for sales/marketing performance data)
- Docs (for Internal SLA’s, pitch frameworks, etc.)
- Slack (free, but integrated with our demo form)
We’ll add more depth to the stack when it stops working / we need to. Still seed.
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5. What’s a typical day in life for you?
A “typical day in the life” isn’t really a typical day for me personally. Perhaps this is something I need to work on, but when you’re accelerating towards product market fit and validating your sales and marketing offerings and processes, you have to be able to move quickly.
One of our core values is “Curiousity” at Octopi and that is our internal mandate and culture to always be learning. I read industry trends and major news in the mornings, aggregate material for our monthly newsletter, and comb through linkedin to see what my peers and prospects are following and interested in.
I also check my Asana, to see if there are any blockers preventing my team from doing their work. But mainly to remind me of the 100s of things prioritized for that day.
This priority list is going to vary depending on the day, but being the only sole, pure sales professional on the team it can be almost anything.
Qualifying demos, Full demos, Conferences, Traveling, Calls to connect, Checking in on prospective and current accounts to make sure they’re happy, responding to RFPs, creating internal documentation for future sales hires, setting up local meetings, and screening calls to see who my co-founders may need to be brought into.
It runs the full gambit of sales development, business development, sales, customer success, etc. — just like any other startup sales guy trying to make it happen.
6. What’s one mistake that entrepreneurs and sales people make when they first get started?
They aren’t asking enough, or are afraid, to ask questions. The sooner you can squash those thoughts in your head, the better.
I’m sure I still commit mistakes when taking on a new role, but one of the questions that have helped me in my career, and especially in maritime shipping and logistics with Octopi, is “what books should I read before I start?”
There needs to be a basic understanding of entire industry they’re in and then this knowledge needs to be dialed down into the specific niche your startup is fulfilling.
For Octopi and for me, I need to know seaport terminal operations, the current market, and where Octopi stands and how to present us in a way where the prospect truly understand what we’re doing. This is especially important when you’re trying to change an established way of thinking or operating in the sector.
7. If you could recommend one sales book to the readers, what would it be?
Predictable Revenue is the Bible for modern sales and has been the most critical in my opinion.
8. How do you deal with sales burn out?
Burnout occurs at different stages for different people. Self-awareness is huge in sales and over time you begin to get an idea of when you might be “burning out”. At that point, it’s time to “unplug”.
A lot of this also is dependent upon the culture of the startup. I’m fortunate and grateful to work at Octopi with two tenured co-founders who are engineers. They know burn out and understand that our best and most productive work can be done within 40 hours a week.
They don’t expect me to work on weekends or past 5 pm — but they do expect me to get my shit done. And if I feel as though it’s too much I can let them know and they understand. We have a minimum days off policy of 15 days per year.
Hard and fast tips: Take a trip. Don’t look at your computer of phone. Go to the beach. Grab a coffee or some drinks with friends. Read a fiction book. Netflix, and chill when afforded the opportunity.
9. What’s the single best advice that you ever received?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have many “mini-mentors” who have helped carry me through my career and continue to push me forward.
From a startup perspective, and specifically within sales, it’s hard to nail down just one piece of advice.
I think I’ve been able to aggregate and distill a lot of the advice I’ve acquired through mentors, blog posts, podcasts, peers, etc. into one very important thing regarding product market fit and our roles as startup sales professionals.
That is that sales is a two way street. You need a buyer and a seller.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve spun my wheels and worked my ass off to drive revenue — and burned out. It’s a very terrible place to be and takes a toll on you personally too as well as professionally. You end up in poor scenarios, receive undue pressure, and then second guess yourself and your ability. Even when it’s not your fault.
When the market needs your product, and you’re solving a pain point at least 10x better than your nearest competitor, then you should be able to reasonably move deals forward, generate inbounds, build a viable startup, and get compensated appropriately as a startup sales pro.
10. How can people reach you and reach out for help?
First, I’ve got some resources in my Google Drive, open to everyone to read and share on Startup Sales 101.
Second, I strive to be omnichannel and approachable on all messaging platforms and mediums.
email — firstname.lastname@example.org
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/mvarghese/
FB Messenger — search for me I guess?
Skype — “miles.varghese”
Twitter — @M1LESV
Slack — SalesStack
iMessage/WhatsApp — on my cell, after we’ve initially connected somewhere.
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