Meet Rob Napoli, Sales Coach at Starta Ventures.
He has 10+ years experience in sales and marketing working in the recruitment and B2B space and has sold to Fortune 500’s as well as startups. He also has a Masters Degree in Multi-Channel Marketing from MIP in Milano.
Rob shares his answers to the questions when scaling the business in the US:
- How to project confidence and sell yourself when English is not your first language?
- How to find your product market fit through discovery?
- How to get a deliver value and connect with clients?
- How to hire and scale your US sales team?
- Why New York is better than Silicon Valley?
- Why did you choose to work with foreign startups in the US market?
I myself went through an American accelerator as a representative of a foreign company, and I know how it feels. After college, I spent 5 years working at K-Force, helping to scale up IT development teams for Fortune 500 companies. Then I went back to school to get a Master's degree at MIP Politecnico di Milano. It was there that I discovered the world of technology startups. When I finished that program, I got an internship at a DTC global commerce tech startup. I took over building the brand on Instagram. It went from a global firm in just a few countries to over 26 countries. Scaling that out, we decided to go to an accelerator in NY. And we learned a lot. That’s when I realized how exciting and fulfilling the startup world can be and I absolutely fell in love with it. After 14 months in Italy and 6 months in NY, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to participate in the startup ecosystem.
- Could you talk a bit more about the accelerator that you joined in NY?
Our startup went through Brian Frumberg’s Venture Out. It was a 6 month program which, looking back, was a little long. It was a joint project with the NY EDCand the Milan EDC. It started with 15 companies, but only four kept at it for all 6 months.
- How did you learn about Starta Ventures?
It was actually during my time in Venture Out that I learned about Starta. I was mentoring for Venture Out at the time and wanted to find out more about other accelerators in the city. I had someone in my network who coached at Starta, and she directed me to you. We talked and later decided to join up.
- Could you tell us about your impressions of working with Starta portfolio companies?
My first impression was that they were smart, young, and ambitious. They seemed to exude confidence. One memorable moment was when one presenter sat down and apologized for his English skills. I stopped him and told him never to apologize. I know that you are from Russia and English isn’t your native language. Don’t apologize. It is what it is. Don’t set a bad tone with apologizing. Exude confidence when you walk in the room. Another piece of advice for them, and for other startups as well, would be to not consent to every single bit of advice they are given. If you really want to scale and build your business here, you have to say “no” to people wasting your time and focus on what you want for your business.
- Have you yourself learned anything from them in this process?
How to conquer fear of failure. As I was watching them, I noticed that, despite their fear of failure, they would always assert that they will figure it out one way or the other. It was hard to coach that and not do it myself.
- What was the process like of you working together?
We would meet every Friday, and for the first 15 minutes they would talk about what they had been working on with their coaches. Then they would then proceed to talk about any business development and overall sales growth that had occurred. I would then either give them a task, or we would review the task from the week before. They would come back and tell me how it worked for them. I wanted them to learn how to do it in a cadence that worked for them and create processes for the business across sales and marketing.
- Do you note a difference between Eastern Europeans and Americans during these meetings?
Europeans in general don’t understand the concept of discovery. In the US, you need to find the customer’s pain point and sell that back to them. In European business culture, the approach is: we have a product, here is the stated benefit, do you want it or not?
That isn’t how you do business in the US. It is a saturated market. So many companies are doing the same thing as you at the same time. You have to identify the customer’s pain point, create value around it, and then build a relationship.
- Based on your experiences in different startup ecosystems, how does the European market differ from the American one?
The size and scale of the US market is the main difference. In Europe you have the EU, but each country is its own cultural entity and has its own market. In the US, (1) everything goes at a faster pace, (2) many businesses start and end here, and (3) the GDP is bigger than the whole EU. Trying to build things along a European model doesn’t work, because everything works so much faster in the US.
- What is the best way of building a sales team in the US?
Your business must be present on LinkedIn with a comprehensive company page and job postings. Getting that up shows you are committed to being here in the market. You might not hire outside the job description, but having the posting sends a message to other salespeople that you will be establishing an office. You should also have an AngelList page and a company page on Crunchbase. You also have to create content. Companies that have no content and posts are like ghosts. If you don’t have something, people aren’t going to connect. If you do have content, then people can follow you. That is step one. Step two is to utilize interns by connecting to different schools. You can utilize companies that will do qualification discovery calls and pass on to you all of the qualified leads. There are companies that have sales teams for hire. There are opportunities and ways to do this.
- Can you talk more about what makes NYC special?
NY is where everything is happening. Most major banks and financial institutions are headquartered here. Many SaaS-based and direct-to-consumer businesses, and their customers, thrive here. There are more opportunities for success on the East Coast, because if you go to a bar or an event you are going to be forced to talk to people, and you never know who other people might know. New York is interesting because everyone is trying to help other startups. There is something about the NY ecosystem, about starting from nowhere and trying to go somewhere. People are helping others on their journey.
- What kind of practical advice would you give to startups so that they may avoid common mistakes?
One of the teams that I had supervised had 28 slides on their deck. That is way too much. You have to be able to explain the company in 15 slides or less. You have to sell it and get people to understand it in 10 minutes or less.
Finally, the American networking environment is warm and inviting and it relies heavily on who you know. Being abrasive in your approach will not score you a lot of points. However, you still have to ask the right questions in order to get the information you are looking for. You do have to be straightforward and direct at times. If you are direct with questioning, you will get the answer, and it takes some time to understand that.