Accomplish more of the things you want to do with the power of the hustle.
“When I arrived here, I was so painfully clueless; I arrived at San Francisco International Airport asking someone how to get to Silicon Valley.” -Steli Efti
The Cheat Sheet:
- The formula of the hustle: show up, follow up, and go for the close.
- Emotional alchemy: how to turn fear into courage.
- How do you make yourself do things when you don’t feel like doing them?
- How can you get people committed to your mission?
- How becoming good at sales can help grow your bank account — and your personality.
- And so much more…
Anyone who claims that the American Dream is dead has never met Steli Efti. A Greek kid raised in Germany, Steli came to the US less than a decade ago with a one-way ticket, his life savings, and a big startup dream. Five years later, he had lost it all. But the lessons failure has taught him became the foundation of his success — and illustrated the importance of hustle.
Steli is now the co-founder and CEO of one of the fastest growing, profitable SaaS startups in Silicon Valley. He has helped more than 200 venture-backed startups to build and scale their sales processes, and his sales software is helping thousands of salespeople and founders all over the world make more sales and close more deals. We talk to Steli Efti about the ups, the downs, and — of course — the hustle on this bonus episode of The Art of Charm.
More About This Show
Steli Efti dropped out of high school to start his first business, and he’s been what he calls a “serial entrepreneur” ever since. Eight years ago, he had a dream of building a massive, transformative technology company in spite of knowing nothing of technology or anyone who did. He admits that he was mostly attracted to the legend of Silicon Valley and what its spirit represented to him.
“To be honest, I was kind of sick of Germany and Europe and I wanted to go somewhere else,” Steli says, “so putting these two things together made me think, why don’t I just sell everything I have and buy a one-way ticket? Let’s just go to Silicon Valley and see if I can build this company there.”
In fact, upon landing at San Francisco International Airport, he started asking for directions to Silicon Valley — which he didn’t understand at the time as being more of an idea than a tangible municipality marked conveniently on a map! No matter. Steli had come too far to be daunted by whatever smirks must have greeted him during those initial, awkward exchanges. Before long, he’d found his footing and began his first foray into doing a startup the American way.
“My first business basically turned out to be kind of a soul-crushing defeat and failure,” says Steli. “I worked on that business for five years. It was basically a dead company within probably 18 months, and then I was just carrying it around as a zombie startup for way too long, not accepting that it was dead.”
His ideas about success at that time were pretty static, and they wouldn’t allow him to give up on something so easily — no matter how much the evidence in front of him was telling him otherwise. “Being an ’80s baby, I watched all these movies where the hero is typically being beaten up pretty heavily until the last act,” says Steli, “I had this mental mindframe that success is something that’s going to be painful; the more I suffer today, the bigger the success is going to be tomorrow.”
What allowed him to finally let the failed enterprise go so he could start focusing on the successes he would build soon after? There was no place to go anymore. He was out of money and out of people to ask for money. He and the team had a big meeting and decided to take what they called a “vacation” from the business. They weren’t calling it quits so much as hitting the pause button for what was to be three months. At that point, they agreed, they’d meet up again to resume the business with renewed energy and motivation.
Within a week of that meeting, the grim reality had time to sink in: the business was dead and it was time to move on. But initially calling it a three-month “vacation” was a softer, easier way out than just addressing that last meeting as the funeral that it was. And Steli still feels that it was absolutely the right way to go about it.
“Every company and every startup runs on morale,” says Steli. “You have to have internal resourcefulness, energy, inspiration, and motivation. Once you get to a point where the majority of your day you’re not believing anymore in what you do, and you just have moments of belief…it’s probably a good sign that you need to take a “vacation” from what you’re doing. If you never want to come back from that vacation, then you know that you should go on to do something else.”
Rather than being demoralized by the experience, Steli found not being shackled to this dead company he’d been dragging around for years to be liberating. While toying with the idea of getting a “real” job and working for someone else after being an entrepreneur his whole life, correspondence from a friend at the right time coaxed him back toward his true calling. What began as Steli giving his friend helpful feedback on a business idea (utilizing all the lessons he’d learned from his failure) blossomed into a partnership with funding, a team, and a full-fledged company in a matter of months.
Maybe Steli’s just like one of his ’80s movie heroes, after all.
Do the Hustle
How do you know if you’ve got the hustle — that is, the ability to do whatever it takes — to make your endeavors succeed? From his story, it’s obvious that Steli’s hustle is nearly unstoppable, so we’ll trust him as an authority on the topic.
Steli acknowledges that some people have more hustle in their DNA than others, but he also believes that everybody can learn the hustle. “It doesn’t require any amazing amount of intelligence or anything like that,” he says, “it just requires a certain attitude.” For us, he outlines his formula here:
Steli Efti’s Three Simple Hustle Steps
You have to show up. This could mean going somewhere physical to meet up with someone, or picking up the phone to call, or even sending an email. It’s making the first step to allow a connection or interaction to happen — whether it’s with a customer or an investor or someone who might interview you for a podcast. (Hey!)
You have to follow up and go for the close. Once you’ve shown up, the responsibility is on you to champion whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. You should never stop following through with that first interaction until a result is reached. A lot of people falter at this step because, even though they may send a follow up email or phone call — or maybe even a couple — they take silence as rejection and give up.
Rather than assuming silence is rejection and making up stories to confirm whatever stories of self-doubt get conjured up, Steli takes the approach of assuming silence just means the other party is busy.
“It’s not their job to respond to me,” says Steli. “It’s my job to make sure that we move this forward until a result is reached — either a yes or a no or a next step. But I’m not going to let anything stay in the maybe zone. The maybe zone is where companies, careers…any value creation dies. Yes is good. No is also good — it’s a clear result. We can shut the case. We got a no. We got rejected. We can move on with something else; we can learn something from it. Maybe — that’s what’s killing us. That level of uncertainty. There’s nothing to learn here. There’s no clarity with what happened. We can’t really make decisions based on a bunch of first meetings that went well and then we don’t know what’s going on with them right now.”
Steli’s not kidding. He’ll send 40, 50, 60 follow up emails until he gets a response. He might call a few times. He might even show up to your office in person! He will take “no” for an answer, but he won’t take “maybe.”
True story: it once took Steli 48 emails to get a response from a promising big investor who had been out of town on an emergency trip. It sounds like overkill, but if Steli had just assumed the investor was no longer interested in doing business with him and stopped following up, the investor would have forgotten all about him. As it turned out, the investor was grateful for the persistence and agreed to meet in person as soon as he got back to town. In other words, Steli was able to turn an uncertain maybe into a resounding yes.
And if you’re worried about annoying people with this strategy, Steli’s pretty clear on this subject. “In business, my number one priority is to create value. If there are 10 people who are interacting with me and six of them think I’m super annoying and four of them love me and we create value together, I’d rather have six people hate me and four people love me than have 10 people who are equally indifferent about me!”
Listen to this entire episode of The Art of Charm to find out how Steli overcomes the snowballing effects of lowered ambition and self-doubt, why honing your sales skills is as good for your personality as it is for your bank account, how you can turn fear into courage, how to get others committed to your mission, and plenty more.
THANKS, STELI EFTI!
If you enjoyed this session with Steli Efti, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out on Twitter:
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