Steli is the Co-founder and CEO of Close.io. He’s Silicon Valley’s most prominent sales hustler, a Y Combinator alumni, advisor to several startups, and the Author of The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales.
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Worst Entrepreneur Moment
- On a whim, Steli agreed to dance to Nsync’s “bye bye bye” song IF he ever had to fire a specific employee. Well, that day came, & so did the dance. What it’s like to fire half your team in a day. WOW.
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- Who cares? Do it anyways! Once you start that downward spiral, it’s hard to get out. Positive momentum is hard to get going, but once it’s going, then it’s easy to keep rolling. Negative momentum is easy to get going, but hard to stop. Be POSITIVE, Fire Nation, and DO IT ANYWAYS!
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Best Business Book
- The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales by Steli Efti
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- Gift For Fire Nation!
- Steli’s email: [email protected]
- Steli’s twitter
- Close.io: Born in Elastic’s Sales lab after our sales people became frustrated with the inefficiencies of existing CRMs.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, yes Steli is the co-founder and CEO of Close.IO. He’s Silicon Valley’s most prominent sale hustler, a Y Combinator alumni, advisor to several startups and the author of The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales. Steli, take a minute and fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse into your personal life.
Steli Efti: Yes, sure. So first, hi Fire Nation. I always wanted to say that. So, a little bit about my background. I grew up in Germany although I’m originally from Greece. So could say I have the best of what Europe has to offer in terms of cultures, at the two opposite ends. I grew up in a factory worker family. My mother raised three boys on her own because my dad died when I was six. Nobody in my family ever received a high education and I was determined to keep that family tradition alive.
So, when I was 17 or 18 I decided to drop out of school and start my first business. Ever since then I’ve been a serial entrepreneur. Another way of saying that is that I have zero credentials and I’m completely unemployable, right? So when people ask me why have you been an entrepreneur your whole life, Steli? I’m like; lack of options. There’s nothing else I could do.
And the first few businesses I started were all kind of bootstrap businesses, low-tech – nothing to do with technology or the web or software or anything like that – but then eight years ago I had an idea for a technology startup and since I had no idea about technology, I had no people that knew anything about tech in my immediate environment and network. I decided to sell everything I had and I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco and I wanted to come to Silicon Valley and fulfill my dream.
That first business, it took me five years to accept defeat and failure with that. It was so crushing, so crushing a defeat and then out of that defeat I started a second business, which is what evolved into what we’re doing today with Close.IO and that’s a very, very successful business that’s a ton of fun to run.
John Lee Dumas: Well, I’m excited and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun to talk about that story, your story as we get into this interview, but first Steli, you did say something that I found pretty interesting and I would love for you to expound on. You said your Greek roots and German roots were the best of both worlds. What specifically do you mean by that?
Steli Efti: Yes, so I think culturally Greece and Germany are very, very contrasting and different places. I think that things – and this is simplifying it – but a lot of things that are associated with Greek culture have to do with certain warmth and a zest for life. So: good music, good food, good company; family, friends – all of that is very much ingrained into what it means to live a Greek life – philosophy; we love to have arguments and discussions and philosophizing about everything in life.
John Lee Dumas: Aristotle, Plato –
Steli Efti: There you go – yes. So all of these are the beautiful things of Greece and then you take Germany and Germany may not be as warm of a nation or a culture but very efficient, very hard-working, very honest and humble and very focused on quality of work. Everybody is a craftsman. Everybody shows up on time and does their best and really cares about quality and keeping their word and being consistent.
So, I’d love to say that I combine all of these things although I didn’t always. And I still don’t. I still strive every day to do it, but the beautiful thing about Greece and Germany is that literally the things that are bad about Greek culture are the strengths of German culture and vice versa. So I think combining the very contrasting cultures and the way you grow up makes at least for an interesting upbringing and also for an interesting person.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. You can pick and choose what qualities you really want to imbibe from those two cultures. You’ve done the right ones for sure. Steli, what I want to do first before we even get into your real story is that you talked about the fact that you bought a one-way ticket to Silicon Valley and spent five years with so crushing a failure and you moved on. But guess what? I live in California, too. I know it’s not cheap to live here. Life takes money. It takes dollars coming in the door, so show the listeners how you today generate revenue.
Steli Efti: Yes. So today the way I generate revenue is mostly through our software company. We have a software-as-a-service company called Close.IO. It’s a sales communication tool that allows a CRM that at its heart allows people to close more deals and make more sales by allowing them to make better and more calls and send more and better emails. So it’s very much focused around inside sales and we have thousands of customers around the world that are paying us a monthly subscription fee for that software and that business is generating millions of revenue. So that’s core of it. There’s a few things on the side.
I have a book that people buy that makes them money and some other tiny things but nothing – like all these side things are nothing in comparison to the main business, which is Close.IO.
John Lee Dumas: And I do love how you describe Close.IO and your Google definition here is that this was created after our salespeople became frustrated with the inefficiencies of existing CRMs. And Fire Nation, that is so critical for us as entrepreneurs to keep our eyes open, to see what are itches that aren’t being scratched within our own lives and then you can become that person that fills that void. As Gandhi says, you can be that change you wish to see in the world. And here’s Steli talking now about Close.IO and how it’s funding his life.
So Steli, let’s talk now about your worst entrepreneurial moments. Like; I really want you to take us to that moment in time: I want to really be there with you when you experienced that soul-crushing moment, and tell us that story.
Steli Efti: The beautiful thing, John, is I have an almost unlimited list of soul-crushing horrible moments.
John Lee Dumas: At least we can laugh about them, right?
Steli Efti: Yes. Well, with hindsight the beautiful thing is that once it’s gone and the time has passed you have the proper distance to have hindsight and perspective. So, I’ll share one of the worst entrepreneurial moments I’ve ever had, and for people who want to hear even more of that, that don’t get enough from me they can send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll share some more with you guys.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, Fire Nation, if you have a podcast bring him on and tell him to share another soul-crushing story that he didn’t share on E.O. Fire.
Steli Efti: You know, a beautiful thing is that I actually just recently started a podcast with Hiten Shah, the co-founder of Kissmetrics and he’s done a lot of amazing things on the web. It’s called The Startup Chat. If you go to thestartupchat.com you can get an episode where we, too just go back and forth on like the hardest moments we’ve ever had as entrepreneurs.
So, here’s the story: the story actually happened exactly at the transition point from the prior business to this business.
We were running an outsource sales team on demand for B to B venture-backed, Silicon Valley startups – it’s a mouthful – so we were basically selling for other companies and doing this for over 200 different technology companies and that’s how we developed Close.IO as an internal tool. But the worst moment was when we had to transition from that services company to the software because we made the decision, we had to make the decision to let go of over half of our team.
And as an entrepreneur the worst thing that I ever had to do was let go of people and I had to do this a couple of times in the past. It always is a horrible thing, but I’ve never had to let go of a number, like half of my company in one day. So I struggled really deeply, two weeks after I made the decision to come to terms with it so that I would be able to execute on it. During that time I’d had my first-born son so I was like, sleep deprived and stressed out of my mind.
Then I remember clearly the morning when I was driving to work and it was the day that I would have to let go of these people and I remember on the way there just being conflicted and going back and forth in mind and sweating and being nervous and feeling horrible. And then in one moment it dawned on me: oh, shoot, one of the people that I would have to let go that day – a year prior when I hired her – she made me give her a promise. And she said; Steli the only promise I want you to give me is that if you ever let me go, I want you to give me a cake and I want you to play “Bye, Bye, Bye,” from NSync.
And I remember like stopping the car on the side and going; holy, no – I have to go and buy a cake now, right, because I want to be able to keep my word. So I turned around in the parking lot in front of the office and I drove to some store and bought some cake and on the way back I download on my phone “Bye, Bye, Bye,” from NSync just to be prepared to keep my word.
And then what happened is that I had one-on-one meetings with everybody in the company. I would tell people what’s going on and why I made the decision and why would go through this change. We’d hug it out; we’d cry and we would schedule a time for next week for them to come back in with me giving them an hour of my time to help them find a job or start their business or whatever they wanted to do next after they had a week to think about it. I wanted to give them an hour of my time to support them and help them in any way possible to accomplish that.
So I went through all of those things and then the last person I had to let go was this person. And she sits there and we have this talk and we cry and we hug and I go; listen, I don’t think that you feel like it, but just to make sure that I keep my promise remember last year when I hired you, you made me make a promise? She looked and me and she goes; no – you brought a cake? I’m like; yes. It’s in the fridge. She’s like; oh my God. This is amazing. Wait – are you going to dance to “Bye, Bye, Bye?” What do you mean, dance. She’s like; well, you promised me to dance to “Bye, Bye, Bye” from NSync.
I’m like; no, no, no. I said that I would play “Bye, Bye, Bye” from NSync. I didn’t say that I was going to dance. She’s like; no, and I’m like there’s no way in hell I’m going to dance “Bye, Bye, Bye” to NSync right now. Needless to say, five minutes later there’s a room full of people – the employees that would stay with the business as well as everybody that we had to let go; all of them eating cake – and me dancing to “Bye, Bye, Bye” from NSync in front of all of them.
And I made them all promise that there’s no video for this. There’s at least six different videos of this; all kinds of people with their shaky phone trying to hide that they’re recording me. That day I felt so bad, so horrible about all of this. Today I can laugh. It’s even on our blog if you go to blog.Close.IO you can find that video of me dancing on that day.
It was both the worst moment I’ve ever had, like showing up at work that morning; I’ve never felt worse in my life. And it was the most surreal day I’ve ever had, dancing in front of these cake-eating employees that I’d just let go. Today it’s one of the most beautiful moments that I’ve had in my entrepreneurial career.
John Lee Dumas: Unbelievable, and Fire Nation, what I really take away from this might be something kind of different than you might expect. It kind of comes out of left field. It’s not a specific business takeaway, but it’s a life takeaway. The question I just want to ask out loud to you, Fire Nation and to you, Steli is why we do we take certain things in life so seriously? There are definitely things, Fire Nation in life that we should be taking seriously. I don’t think I need to get into details about what they are, but there are certain things that are definitely serious in life. But why do we take other things so seriously in life, things that we truly look at as life-and-death and they’re not.
They’re just another step in our journey, another chapter in our book and there Steli was thinking it was the worst day of his life having to dance to that song and let that person go and all these different things. Yes, it didn't feel great but man; looking back on it he said it was one of the most beautiful moments of my entrepreneurial journey. So Fire Nation, why not live with that mindset now? Know that you need to take your business seriously and take your life seriously on a lot of levels, but it’s just not the end of the world when certain things happen.
Like when you wake up and your web site has crashed or your Instagram account has gotten hacked – these are all bad things, but it’s not the end of the world – so stop taking these things so gosh-darn seriously because you will get over it. You will go back and say; I learned something from that. So Steli, that’s what I just wanted to share with our listeners, with Fire Nation, but what do you want – just give us one sentence – what do you want to make sure our listeners get?
Steli Efti: I love it – contrasting with what you just said because I agree with it – but adding something to it, it’s not about you. It’s not about you and I think when we stop asking ourselves how am I going to look good, feel good in this situation and come away fine; when we stop asking ourselves that question and we just ask ourselves what can I do for them? How can I put them in front of me? How can I empower others? How can I give value to others? How can I give them something that makes them successful? How can I make their day better?
How can I empower them to turn this around and make this the greatest day they’ve ever had and not the worst? Things become much easier, so it’s not about you. It’s about them.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, and I actually even wouldn’t say the word contrast was the best word for that. I would just say that that added to it. It kind of re-shapes and re-frames the mindset and Fire Nation; this is how we build our arsenal up.
Side note by the way: we talked about this a little bit in the pre-chat, Steli, but man – Fire Nation, I am standing here at my desk looking out across the bay in San Diego and we are in the middle of a torrential downpour. I mean, it is pouring here. I can’t even see 10 feet out over the bay, which this happens two times a year in San Diego. So I just needed to take a second and look up and be like; man, it is an absolute thunderstorm out there. It’s pretty cool.
Steli Efti: I love that setting, that dramatic setting for our interview and this podcast. It’s just exactly the image that I need.
John Lee Dumas: I hope we get some thunder rolls coming at us. That would be cool. I might even open up the bay window if I start hearing something so we can bring it in.
Steli Efti: That would be epic.
John Lee Dumas: But Steli, tell us another story. This one is going to be more concise and I really want you to tell us just a moment in time when you had an Ah Ha moment. You’ve had a lot of those, but you know my listeners. What’s the story of an Ah Ha moment that you think will really benefit Fire Nation?
Steli Efti: Yes. The biggest Ah Ha I’ve ever had is a moment that started off with something that I now call emotional alchemy. And what that was is that – what I’ve struggled most with in my life was not having brilliant moments and taking risks, but being consistent – really, high highs and low lows in my productivity and the way that I attack things. And one day I heard this quote and I’d heard it many, many times before but it was just at that moment where it clicked, that the difference between the hero and the coward is not that the hero feels no fear but the coward is afraid. They’re both afraid. The difference between the two is that the hero takes action despite his fear or her fear versus the coward that’s held back by it.
When I heard that at that moment, that one day, something clicked in me and made me realize that when I feel bad or when I feel fearful or when I feel hesitant or when I feel depressed I don’t have to fight these feelings anymore. I don’t have to be shameful of them. I don’t have to find some kind of self-help trick to change my mind and positive-think it out of the world. All I have to do is I have to accept and embrace it and just go ahead and take action no matter if I feel like that or not.
So I’ve started a personal mantra that has changed and transformed my life. It’s been literally the biggest Ah Ha moment I’ve ever had where today when I have a bad moment and I don’t feel like doing something I just tell myself; who cares? Do it anyway. I have this inner dialog sometimes. In the past I would have this negative inner dialog and it would tell me; aw Steli, you don’t really feel like jumping on this call right now. Yeah, you’re probably going to do a horrible job so maybe just reschedule. Who cares, right? It’s not that tragic of a thing. Just send them an email telling them you need to reschedule.
I would do that. I would take action based on that negative voice and then I would feel horrible that I just rescheduled something or cancelled something and didn’t keep my promise with them. And then that compounded negative state would make me cancel my next call and then my next meeting. One little negative moment in my day would turn into a horrible day and then into a horrible week.
Today what happens is when I feel like that, when I have a moment where I’m like; God, I really don’t feel like doing this, I have a voice inside my head, this personal mantra that tells me; who cares? Do it anyway. And then my voice goes; but Steli, you’re going to do a horrible job at this and then my voice goes – who cares? Do it anyway. Just do a horrible job. Oh, but it’s going to really suck. Well, who cares? Do it anyway.
I just go ahead and do it and at the moment I do it, obviously now I start feeling great because I’m like; wow, I really didn’t feel like taking that call and I really wanted to cancel but I still kept my word. That feels great. And then I want to take another action and then that negative moment actually turns into an amazing day and then into an amazing week. So today and for the past three years since I had this Ah Ha moment I’ve been consistent every single day of my entrepreneurial career.
That’s why I’m running the biggest and most successful business I’ve ever run in my life. It’s because I’ve been able to start taking negative emotions and turning them around without fighting them but just embracing them and accepting them. Then they never grow into a big thing that turns my week into a super-unproductive and depressed state but I’ll allow that negative moment to turn around and turn into a beautiful day.
John Lee Dumas: Who cares? Do it anyway. Steli, I love that and Fire Nation I really want you to absorb that. Just say; hey, who cares? Do it anyway. Do it anyway, because once you start that downward spiral it is so hard to get out, Fire Nation, of that downward spiral. It’s that snowball effect.
There’s one thing that I really want to talk about: momentum. Number one, positive momentum – it’s really hard to get going, but once you do just tip it over that edge and you get that momentum going it’s easy to keep it rolling – but negative momentum, man that is easy to get going and then it is really hard to stop, really hard to stop. So just realize that and always be pushing that positive momentum down that hill and just say; who cares? Do it anyway. I love that.
Steli, you rightfully so have a lot of things you’re fired up about, but what’s the one thing that you are most excited about today?
Steli Efti: The thing I’m most excited about today, right now is something new I’ve just started. Which is, every morning I’m recording a one-minute motivational video that’s very focused on sales and hustling and entrepreneurship, where I share a favorite quote or a quote and an action item to kick off and kick start people’s days with. You can find it and the audience can find it on salesmotivation.Close.IO.
What I’m most fired up about is starting my day with that level of motivation but then even more so, the replies I get to these emails, the comments, the tweets; people telling me the difference that it makes in their day, it’s one of the most beautiful, most fired-up, most motivated things that’s going on in my life right now.
John Lee Dumas: Man, I love that. It’s going back to the momentum, Fire Nation, get that momentum going. We’re about to get some crazy momentum, Steli in the lightning round but before we get there, Fire Nation, let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors. Steli, are you prepared for the lightning round?
Steli Efti: Yes.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Steli Eft: What was holding me back honestly was that I didn’t know that this was an option that a; existed and then that it was available and accessible to me. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of entrepreneurs in my life and in my environment so entrepreneurship was to me like being an astronaut, like kind of cool but something that is unattainable to me. Once I got started reading books and once I started discovering some of those stories out there from people – and this is why I love this podcast so much and the work you do in empowering and sharing these stories – I started finding some of them that I could relate to.
That’s where the magic happened and I started realizing, even at the age of 17 or 18, wow I think I could do this too. That made all the difference and all the change.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Steli Efti: Being charismatic might open the door for you, but character is what’s going to keep you in the room.
John Lee Dumas: Character is what’s going to keep you in the room. I love that.
Steli Efti: I grew up with a lot of charisma as some might call it but maybe not as much character so I had to start working a lot more on that character to stay in the building and not just open the doors and walk through the room.
John Lee Dumas: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Steli Efti: Waking up early and starting my day with asking myself some very basic questions, things like: what am I grateful for? What am I happy about? What is one thing I want to do today before the day ends? What’s one thing I could do if I could only do one thing that would make a big difference and make the world a better place?
John Lee Dumas: What’s early for you?
Steli Efti: 5:00 a.m.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. That’s early. Do you have an internet resource like EverNotes that you could share with our listeners?
Steli Efti: Focusatwill.com – it’s kind of a beautiful place to go and listen to different types of music that’s going to allow you to be focusing your brain waves to be at the right place. And then the second one because I like to deliver it is followup.cc. It’s a beautiful, simple tutorial that you do in keeping that follow-up, keeping that positive momentum going and make sure that nothing and no deal, no communication falls through the cracks.
John Lee Dumas: I love it. I have focusatwill.com pinned on my Chrome browser 24 hours a day literally. I love it so much I interviewed the founder, Will. His name is actually Will, so it’s focusatwill.com and it’s a really cool app and he’s a really cool guy and Fire Nation plays that great music in the background that doesn’t distract you. It just keeps your mind focused. Now, if you’d recommend just one book for our listeners, Steli, what would it be and why?
Steli Efti: The Hard Thing About Hard Things from Ben Horowitz – the reason why is because it’s one of the most honest and harsh stories; a number of stories of somebody sharing them from the perspective of an entrepreneur and then later a CEO going through really tough moments from the start of a company to its IPO and all the soul-crushing, depressing moments he had to go through and how he overcame these. It’s a very, very honest book from somebody that’s today a billionaire and a big investor but had to go through some really hard times to get there.
John Lee Dumas: And of course we can’t forget, Fire Nation, The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales by our very own Steli Efti. And Fire Nation I know you love audio so I teamed up with Audible and if you haven’t already you can get an amazing audio book for free at EOFireBook.com. Steli, this is the last question of the lightning round but it’s a doozy: imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to Earth, but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter is taken care of but all you have is a laptop and $500. What would you do in the next seven days?
Steli Efti: That is a doozy. I would do two things. Number one, since food and shelter is taken care of I would try to find a cause to donate and invest my $500 into. I would try to explore this new world and find ways that this money could make a difference. I would spend the next seven days just writing about my experiences, what it is to be an alien in this new world and what I’m learning and how to start life from scratch.
John Lee Dumas: Well Steli, let’s end on fire, brother. So, share a piece of parting guidance, the best way we can connect to you, and then we’ll say bye-bye.
Steli Efti: Right on. So first of all, a gift to the Fire Nation: if you go to resources.Close.IO/fire I’ve put together a seven-part email course on how to put your hustle on fire. I’m going to teach you everything you need to know to really crush it on hustling and sales and in life. So I’ve done that and at the end of the book The Ultimate Guide to Startup Sales is going to be available for free for Hustle Nation because I love you guys. I’ve been part of the Hustle Nation for a listener for a long time.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, Fire Nation –
Steli Efti: Fire Nation – sorry about that – a Freudian slip right there. So, getting in touch with me is very simple. Just send me an email. It’s [email protected] or tweet at me at Steli, S-T-E-L-I. The parting words are: just do it anyway. Just go ahead and do it anyway. Whatever you want to do; if there’s one thing you’ve been thinking about for a while no matter how small or how big it is, after this podcast with John and me, just go ahead and do it. Just get started. It’s all that matters in life at the end of the day.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you’ve been hanging out with S.E. and J.L.D. today, so keep up the heat. Head over to EOFire.com. Just type Steli, S-T-E-L-I in the search bar. His show notes page will pop right up with everything that we’ve been talking about today: resources, books – all the awesomeness. And of course, get your gift. Correct me if I’m wrong, Steli, but its resources.Close.IO/fire. Is that right?
Steli Efti: Beautiful – absolutely right.
John Lee Dumas: That will be linked up on the show notes page, Fire Nation, but you can go directly there: resources.Close.IO/fire. You’re going to be getting as a gift his book for free, The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales right there. Email Steli directly: [email protected] and of course Twitter @Steli, S-T-E-L-I. All of this and more is going to be on the show notes page, Fire Nation. Steli, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today – for that we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Steli Efti: Yes!
John Lee Dumas: Yes!
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