Why Startup CEOs Need to Embrace Their Inner Salesperson

More than half of all startups fail in their first four years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To beat the odds as a startup CEO, you need to achieve sustained growth by winning over multiple audiences — essentially, you have to embrace your inner salesperson.

When I started my own company — an AI transcription service called Verbit — I quickly realized our success hinged on the inner salesperson concept. Today, we’ve raised millions in venture capitalist funding, hired more than 80 talented employees, and won over more than 100 customers.

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But to get there, I needed to gain a clearer understanding of my specific audiences and learn how to connect with them using selling abilities I already possessed.

Who you need to sell to as a startup CEO

Your ability to win over potential customers will obviously contribute to the success or failure of your startup. But customers are just one of several audiences you may need to influence as you lay the groundwork for long-term success.

Venture capitalists

In the grand scheme of things, very few startups pursue and accept VC funding — less than 1 percent, in fact. But the VC route can put your startup on a fast track to explosive growth. At Verbit, we chose this funding path and set out to sell our idea to VCs. Along the way, we discovered when you’re in front of VCs, it’s crucial to tell the right version of the story.

Telling the right story to VCs is also dependent on the individual VC’s background. Some are focused mainly on B2C over B2B startups or hardware products instead of AI solutions. Just because your startup may not fit into their core demographic doesn’t mean you won’t obtain their funding, but it’s important to understand what they want to hear. 

When it comes down to it, VCs meet with you for the sole purpose of making money for their fund. So, when you meet with investors, it’s crucial to convince them of that.


Although every business wants the best talent, it’s critical to bring first-rate people onboard during your company’s beginning stages as it shapes your startup’s identity. If you’re seeking co-founders, think hard about who to invite into the startup and how you sell them on the company vision.

While money and growth metrics are a VCs’ love language, potential co-founders and co-workers need to see your passion and hear the personal story behind the startup.

What do you value in the company culture? What will this company stand for? How will working for this company offer the opportunity to make the world a better place? The top-tier talent you hire needs answers to these questions.


Customers are, of course, crucial for company success, but I want to emphasize the importance of selling and building trusting relationships with customers before you even have a physical product. You’re more likely to succeed in doing so if you can convey to that customer how working with your solution will make their job easier.

It’s risky to build the product unless you know you have customers waiting in the wings. Verbit was just a working concept when we sold to our first customer, a well-known online learning platform, and received their commitment to purchase. That sale provided the accountability required to make an actual product. Knowing how to sell the idea of a product gives your startup a strong start right out of the gate.

How startup CEOs can tap into their inner salesperson

Savvy entrepreneurs learn how to rise to the occasion and sell to the necessary audiences. If you lack sales experience and feel intimidated by the idea of tying your startup’s future to your selling skills, here are a few tips to help you get started:  

Draw from your past experience

Everyone sells themselves to some degree to get by in life. Consider my experience as an attorney. Working in law, I honed my selling skills by presenting cases to third parties to achieve desired outcomes for clients. So, whenever I needed to sell an idea for Verbit, I put on my attorney hat. 

Slipping into a role I felt confident playing changed my perspective about the act of selling and made me feel more in control as I navigated uncharted territory. You can do the same thing — whether it’s channeling your experience selling Girl Scout cookies or selling yourself in a job interview.

Perform a passion check

Before starting Verbit, I worked for a cybersecurity company, but my heart wasn’t in it. My time as a lawyer made me aware of problems related to court transcription. A lack of timely access to accurate court transcription documents is a huge burden for the legal world, and I was determined to find a solution.

Whatever problem your startup sets out to solve, make sure you’re invested in the cause. Just because you see a need that no company currently fills doesn’t mean you have to develop the solution. Running a startup involves many ups and downs, so your company’s cause should matter deeply to you.

Prioritize your people

As a CEO, you have to sell to many different audiences, but you need to always put your own people first. Internal talent determines the DNA and culture of the company, which drives the delivery of its product and customer experience. Changing up a dysfunctional team requires an inordinate amount of time and resources, so it’s best to invest in your team from day one and nurture the people that will make or break your startup.

Startup CEOs need to be resilient. Inevitably, this means acting as a salesperson to multiple audiences as you grow your business. Although this may not come naturally to you, the willingness to tap into your inner salesperson lays a strong foundation for growth and long-term success. 

Tom Livne, Co-Founder & CEO at Verbit

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  • Originally published March 26, 2019, updated April 26, 2023