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Founder-led sales

Accelerating the sales of a disruptive product 

Bogdan Iordache 27 Jun 2024 | 11 min. read

Author: Bojan Stojkovski and Bogdan Iordache

As a teenager, Dominik Mate Kovacs believed that society’s trajectory would be primarily shaped by three vectors of change: space, renewables, and AI. This led him to pursue engineering, starting with studying renewable energy in Denmark before transitioning to mathematics and computer science, where he found his passion for generative AI.

This drove him to found Defudger, a cybersecurity startup that aimed to tackle misinformation through AI-based algorithms. Unfortunately, Defudger failed, but the experience helped Dominik become a better founder.

In 2020 he founded Colossyan, an AI-based video generation startup, just as the genAI revolution was starting. At Colossyan, where Dominik was initially the CPO, he discovered he could do a great job selling his product. So, the coming period saw him selling a hot product in a new market with a lot of dedication and commitment, propelling the young startup to achieve a remarkable 600% growth in 2023 alone.

Colossyan secured a $1m pre-seed round in 2021, a $5m seed round in 2023, and then $22 million in Series A funding in 2024, attracting clients such as Novartis, Vodafone, or Paramount.

Sales, Recruitment, and Fundraising are the same

“Understanding your product inside out gives you a unique edge.”

Dominik believes sales is a skill you have to learn, and in the early days, it must be handled internally, without exception. As he explains from his own experience, selling should come naturally for most founders, since they are already involved in activities such as fundraising or hiring.

“It’s quite natural because you do fundraising anyways, you do recruitment, and those two things are sales as well. So, by knowing the product and applying the sales process knowledge and your skills, you can simply do sales. It’s not like rocket science, to be honest.” Dominik says. 

In turn, Dominik’s idea for Colossyan was straightforward: he wanted to make a product that could be tested and bought with less friction. This means allowing potential users to directly experience the product themselves, sign up for it, and utilize its features firsthand. 

“I always wanted to ensure that we can lead with the product in the go-to-market motion, meaning that you can try the product – sign up for the product yourself, experience the product, especially if you’re just focused on video content creation, and learn content creation from text,” he points out.

In order to build the right product, Dominik also became the main salesperson of Collision. Having an intimate understanding of the product, its capabilities, and the vision you’re striving for, gives you a unique advantage, he says.

“Given that you know the product and the potential features you’re developing, and even the bugs or other limitations, you just have a lot of information that you can use when you sell. You also have this superpower that you are the founder and it just helps a lot to sell not only the existing product but also the vision – and all of these things eventually connect with each other,” Dominik explains. 

Because he was initially conducting the demos himself, Dominik later trained the sales team to run them independently.

He also recalls the first sale – it was made to a mid-size business from the UK. 

“They signed up for the product, scheduled a call with me, and requested a plan with extensive usage. After a minimal discussion, they accepted the price, we signed the contract, and they paid. I was incredibly happy to see someone invest so much in our enterprise plan. Then, we signed the second customer shortly after, and the momentum continued. It was a very interesting experience,” he says, highlighting that selling a hot product into a new market does help a lot.

First Steps in the Sales Process 

“Having the founder’s superpower significantly boosts sales efforts.”

“How did you make your first million?”. For Dominik, the answer to this question is simple – he sold most of the Colossyan’s subscription until hitting $1m ARR.

“Essentially this was how I got into sales, closed the first million ARR, and that’s how it all started,” he says.

During these first months, he also brought in an account executive to help him with the sales. As Dominik reflects on that decision, not hiring two account executives as recommended was a mistake and a lesson learned.

“Choosing to hire just one didn’t work out, leading to parting ways with that person – a common thing in business. However, this setback cost us valuable time. So in hindsight, starting with two AEs would have been smarter. It’s a lesson learned – by hiring two simultaneously, you can hedge your bets more effectively,” he says. 

Another lesson learned was recognizing the importance of the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Initially, Dominik lacked an understanding of its significance. However, over time, the company was gaining insights and refined its approach. 

The initial Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) was quite vague at first, it was unclear what were the use cases and customers who could benefit from using their genAI video technology.  

“This clarity on our ICP became pivotal in refining our service, marketing strategies, and product offerings. Since its early days, the product has evolved from a simple video creator to a fully interactive experience. This means providing analytics and interactive features like avatar responses to inquiries and clickable buttons within the videos. These features have significantly advanced the product, and we aim to continue this progression. We’ve been developing it for two years now,” Dominik adds.

The company also stays connected to its customers and uses feedback to evolve its product roadmap and further maximize the value of its product. “Customer feedback plays an important role in the evolution of the product, of course. We are close to our customers – we live and die by their feedback,” he points out. 

Navigating Sales Leadership and Growth

“Once you have a few account executives hitting the quota, it’s time to hire the sales leader.”

Do startups need a sales leader from the very beginning? In the case of Colossyan, Dominik acted as head of sales and considered hiring a sales leader once the account executives started consistently hitting their quota.

Before hiring a sales leader, startups could potentially benefit from hiring a Sales Development Representative (SDR) or a DDR (Demand Development Representative) to qualify leads instead of a full-time seller. Deal generation and qualification can help the founder run the sales process more efficiently, without replacing him too early.

The team is tracked based on sales performance metrics. At Colossyan, these include the Average Contract Value (ACV) of the new accounts, the closing win rate, time to close, and time to win. 

“Additionally, we track pipeline generation and self-generated pipeline targets on a weekly basis. These metrics are all crucial for evaluating performance. I firmly believe in using KPIs to assess performance, and that’s our guiding principle,” he explains.

This process allows the gradual growth of the sales team. “Once you have a few account executives hitting the quota, it’s time to hire the sales leader. I think that’s a good way to grow a sales team,” Dominik briefly points out. 

“So that’s where we are right now in terms of our sales org, but I anticipate we’ll continue to develop when we focus on new geographies and market segments, which is a natural progression,” he adds.

Building the Sales Machine

“I often analyze the clients we lose as they provide valuable insights for improvement.”

Today, Colossyan’s sales team includes a Vice President of Sales overseeing a team of five AEs, along with one Sales Development Representative (SDR). These account executives are strategically split between New York and London.

Dominik describes the customer journey:

“Customers discover our website and sign up for the product. They test it out, and share sample videos with their stakeholders, all without the need for credit card information.  Periodically, they reach out to our sales team to inquire about upgrading to a more robust enterprise package. This approach has been instrumental in our growth and sales thus far,” he explains.

Dominik is still very much involved in the sales process, primarily operating behind the scenes, offering guidance, and analyzing the insights gained from lost opportunities.

“We learned along the way what process works best for us, it definitely wasn’t in place when we started. I’m quite involved and I’m always trying to convince the customers to choose us. Mostly I’m in the background giving advice, analyzing the clients we lose, since these are important for our sales process,” he adds, noting that the refinement of the sales pitch is a never-ending process.

Lead generation is also being diversified, after inbound and PPC were the main initial lead gen channels.

“We don’t really have cold leads, and this is something we started to work on recently – to add a cold, outbound lead gen strategy as well. We’ve been growing primarily through PPC, so paid marketing, and that’s been our main focus. However, we are still considering our options, and we are also moving more towards content marketing these days,” Dominik concludes.

Raising a $22m Series A based on a 600% year-on-year growth with inbound and PPC leads? Great product, hot market.

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