Cutco Knives and startups

When I worked for Cutco Knives one summer in college selling the world’s finest cutlery, my dream was to sell the Homemaker +8 at every meeting.  It was the Rolls Royce of knife sets and in every sales call I had, I always tried to flog the deluxe set.  Of course, more often than not, I left with selling a spatula spreader or much smaller set.  Many a memory was brought back yesterday as my wife and I went through a sales pitch for Cutco knives from an enterprising college student.  His pitch was great…and entertaining…and the same from 20+ years ago – cut the penny with the scissors, cut some rope, lay out the catalog, and even the close.  Would you like the Homemaker +8 or the Homemaker +4?  

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How about the Essentials +5 or the Essentials.  As I sat in on the sales call, what I remember most about selling knives was that it was a tough and lonely job and my friends teased me the whole summer about being little more than a “door-to-door” salesman flogging kitchen utensils.  Looking back on that experience, I recognize that I learned so many valuable skills about selling and more importantly about myself in terms of constantly being rejected but still having the optimism and fight to move on to the next opportunity.  I am sure by now you are thinking, what does selling knives have to do with startups?I strongly believe that every entrepreneur should take a sales job at one point in their life, even for a summer.  Whether you are a tech guy or product guy or executive, you have to remember that you are always selling – not just to the external world like customers and VCs and partners but also internally as well, drumming up support, getting the team to buy into your ideas, and much more.  I believe there is sometimes a stigma for being a sales person but in reality no business can ever succeed without someone selling your product or service.  

Selling Cutco Knives was great because I went through sales training which at the time seemed incredibly cheesy, became enamored with trying to win salesperson of the week and month, and learned how to use referral based lead generation to create sales appointments.  I learned about creating a great script to use on the initial sales call (great understanding for understanding the life of an inside sales rep), how to use a presumptive close (can we meet this Wednesday at 3 or 5), how to properly make a sales call, how to read my potential customer, and ultimately how to manage my own personal sales pipeline and funnel.  From that experience I went on to start my own window washing business and develop a deep appreciation for sales reps and how hard their job really is.  And I find myself selling every single day in my life as a venture capitalist – selling to potential investors, selling my value to startups, selling to portfolio company CEOs on why they might try another way to accomplish a certain goal, and selling my own partner on why we should or shouldn’t do a certain deal.  If you are wondering what happened at the end of our sales call, my wife and I ended up buying the lovely Homemaker +8 and gave our rep a boatload of referrals.