3 hypergrowth secrets from a unicorn sales leader
Speaker 1: In terms of being a player- coach, when I was deciding to leave LinkedIn at the end of 2020, my manager at the time actually told me that this would be my downfall. Being a player- coach is doing two jobs in one.
Speaker 2: This is Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence podcast, here to help go- to market leaders do one thing, stop guessing.
Speaker 3: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential, then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Speaker 2: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios. Leading a sales team through hyper growth requires intense focus, and that's why Andy Linder is joining us on the show today. Andy is the Director of Sales at Esusu, try saying that three times fast, a FinTech unicorn that is helping multi- family and single- family owners drive better results. He's also an avid listener of the show, which we love and appreciate. Andy is the model startup sales leader. He's passionate about the mission, relentless about growing his dream team, and willing to be vulnerable in sharing his own growth journey. In this episode, he shares his secrets to sales leadership during hyper growth, and these are lessons that'll be helpful, whether you have a team of five or 5, 000. Andy, I am excited to have you on the show because I know, one, we know each other, but two, you've been a long- time listener, like one of the OG fans of Reveal. So I'm honored to have you on today, my friend.
Speaker 1: Yes. Devin, I've been waiting for this moment. I didn't actually think the moment would ever come but as you said, I've been listening to the podcast since 2019. So it is truly an honor to be here. Thank you for having me.
Speaker 2: Well, I'm excited and I'm excited because today we're going to talk about how to build and scale a team during hypergrowth, which is a unique skill set to have at a niche type of time, if that makes sense. Hypergrowth, not everyone experiences that. So you are the Director of Sales at Esusu. Can you tell us a little bit more about the founding story and the mission of the company?
Speaker 1: So what I think is so special about Esusu is that everything that we do here at the company is rooted in the stories of our founders. Abbey and Samir, they both came to the US as immigrants, where they couldn't get a credit card, they couldn't get a bank account, and they certainly didn't have a credit score, and it made life really difficult for them and their families. Abbey, one of our founders, he always tells the story that when he moved from the slums of Lagos, Nigeria to the US when he was 17 to go to college, he tried to take out a loan to pay for his first semester and the bank turned him down, and he had to get a payday predatory loan of over 400% interest. So that's what we're here to prevent moving forward, and our vision is to bridge the racial wealth gap through the power of data, which I feel so lucky to help evangelize every day. And so what that means is we partner with multi- family, single family, student housing owners and operators. And our goal is to help residents ultimately build financial identity and financial wealth here in the United States, while also driving NOI or what they call ROI in real estate language for the owner and operator partners that we work with.
Speaker 2: So before Esusu, you were an IC at LinkedIn and now you're the first sales leader at a smaller startup. Can you talk a little bit about what that transition's been like for you going from such a huge company to a much smaller one?
Speaker 1: I think what's interesting about this is that I was nervous. Not only was I making the move as you mentioned, to go from a big Fortune 100 company, LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft to, at the time, a seed startup, but I was also becoming a first- time manager and a first- time leader. This was the only company in the world giving me an opportunity to not only manage a team this early in my career, but also to build and lead a department. And so I think based on that, I had been on the LinkedIn learning team at LinkedIn. So I was selling to HR leaders, the eLearning platform that LinkedIn has for professional development skills, and every single call that I had in three- and- a- half years of doing it as an SD, as an SMB AE, mid- market enterprise AE is that the number one set of skills that HR professionals wanted was that IC to manager transition. So I knew I had to be intentional about this. I watched obviously, courses on LinkedIn Learning, had to drink the champagne even after I had left, but I had also hired a leadership coach whom I actually had sold LinkedIn Learning to, which is kind of funny. We've been working biweekly now actually since late 2020 before I even started this role. And then in terms of going from big company to small, I thought about my days as an SDR when I was in San Francisco, 2017, where people hung up on me all the time, and at Esusu, people don't even often know how to pronounce our name as a company, let alone respond to emails. But ultimately, what I learned is that sales is sales and it comes down to people, it comes down to process, and everything can be tied back to that. So that was a little bit of the transition and sort of what I learned.
Speaker 2: Well, you know what? Especially in sales, a lot of times, the top performer, if you're top of the leader board, you get moved into to the leadership position and it's not a knock, but at most orgs, there's not really a great process to take a great performer and make them a great leader, and really learn how to scale themselves. So I definitely applaud that. I know that's in my opinion the most challenging is that leap into leadership is usually more challenging than the... as you go up that ladder. And I've also hired, thankfully through Gong, we've partnered with inaudible for this, but had a leadership coach and it made a huge, huge difference. So for anyone listening, maybe thinking of that for themselves or for their team, if you have leaders reporting to you, highly recommend it, was an absolute game- changer for me, it sounds like for you too, Randy. So given that leap that we're talking about, from IC to first- time leader, what are some of the advice that maybe you would've given your younger self or maybe for the other kind of aspiring folks, aspiring leaders who might be listening now?
Speaker 1: Management is what I like to describe, it's like being on a plane and putting your oxygen mask on first. This is something that I didn't necessarily know, but funny enough, Ryan Longfield, who's the CRO of Gong, he was actually the one that over a coffee chat when we were both still at LinkedIn, he taught me this during our LinkedIn days, where being intentional about how you bring yourself to work every day as a manager, a leader is really important, and you have to be intentional about that because that's going to cascade to your team. And as you mentioned, people get moved into the management role as a top IC, but the set of skills, again, is very different. And you may, at some point even question the decision that you yourself have made going into a leadership or management role. One of the best Reveal episodes that I remember is Peter Kim's episode. He's the Chief Sales Officer at Relativity, and he talked about this on his episode, where at one point after he moved into a management role, ultimately he stepped away for a little bit. And now obviously, he's a Chief Sales Officer at one of the large legal tech companies in the country. But I think ultimately, I've gone through this myself. I've gone through days where I wake up and my heart is beating a million miles a minute being like," What did I do?" I had a great cushy gig at LinkedIn where I was doing well. I had worked out of San Francisco and then New York and then Chicago, and had over a thousand connections on LinkedIn that worked at LinkedIn, but I think ultimately I made this decision because it's an opportunity to grow and ultimately still selling to people. Sales is sales and whether it's internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, and I'm sure for those going through this transition or want to go through this transition, you're not taking that decision lightly, and there are reasons you're there. So write those down and recognize that everything is going to be okay even if you find out that you're more of an IC ultimately, and you can still be a mentor, ultimately, no matter what your role is or title.
Speaker 2: That's a great point, and we're kind of small world or connecting all of this mentorship is Peter mentored Ryan Longfield. And also, Ryan had told me something similar. I think it might have been in a group setting a while back, but he was mentioning the same concept of being mindful and bringing the best version of yourself when you're coaching and mentoring your team, specifically in one- on- ones, which was really interesting, which is like, what energy are you bringing? How are you conveying yourself in the business, in those kind of intimate settings? And it really resonated with me, which was like, I think sometimes in the hustle of life and work, you can kind of just show up to a one- on- one and kind of just like let it unfold versus being intentional and not necessarily controlling it, but being mindful of what you are inviting into and not inviting into your one- on- ones. So what's your take on being a player- coach? Because I have to imagine you're doing a little bit of both, right? When you're in a small startup, you kind of do a little bit of everything. You're probably also a little bit of marketing, maybe a little bit of product, but that's something else. So how was your experience and how did it impact your kind of current role today?
Speaker 1: Absolutely, doing a little bit of everything. It's funny. I was a journalism major in college and so Abbey and Samir are founders. They actually told me on my first day," Andy, you're going to be writing our first case study for Esusu. So get that done by the end of the week." I was like," All right, here we go." But in terms of being a player- coach, when I was deciding to leave LinkedIn at the end of 2020, my manager at the time actually told me that this would be my downfall. Being a player- coach is doing two jobs in one. There's not enough time in the day. When I'm trying to sell, I'm going to have to manage my team. When I'm trying to manage my team, I'm going to have a quota over my head and that's going to be more important, arguably. And luckily though, I was the first salesperson hired for Esusu. And so I had some time to test all things, cold calling, managing the inbound channel. Our two co- founders, they were actually the ones that previous to me starting had been getting every inbound lead to the company, which is hard to imagine now, but buying sales tools, whatever it may be. But I think looking back, this ended up being the best role for me. Being a player- coach, there were a few learnings that I had. One was I got to help build the go- to market strategy. Second, I got to work closely with my team on each other's deals. They were helping me with my deals. I was helping them with their deals. And ultimately, I think that's what helped me build trust with my team. They're like," Oh shoot, Andy, you can actually bring in over a million dollars to Esusu in your first year at the business while building the plane as we fly it, recruiting, growing the team, building out all the playbooks, things like that." So for anyone who might be questioning that, I do highly recommend that player- coach role because it taught me a lot. Do I want to do it again? Maybe not. I'm now in a full- time coach role, but it was still something looking back that I absolutely think was the best decision for me at the time.
Speaker 2: I like that a lot, and I know maybe it's a bit of an opinion, but I think it's a pretty easy one to agree with, which is in my sales career, the leaders who had done the job themselves, ideally at that company, even if it was like you said, a kind of a temporary or semi temporary like player- coach thing, but the people who have actually completed multiple sales processes at that company, have sold to that buyer before are usually much more effective coaches because it's a little less theoretical of how you can operate in this sales cycle, but more of like," No, I've actually been in this trench with you." And I have to imagine, especially for you now, that's really important as you're building out that founding team, right? And making sure that all that tribal knowledge is shared with you and your team members. I kind of have mixed feeling on the team lead role or the player- coach role, and I think you've opened up my eyes a little bit, which I was kind of against it because of the things the manager said, which is you're kind of asking him to do two jobs. You're at a new company. You might not have a lot of the contextual knowledge needed to be successful. So it can be tough, but to your point, if it's temporary and it's like, okay, I'm going to do this for, I don't know, three, six, nine months, whatever makes sense for that person in situation, then I think it can be like fast- tracking that learning process. I think when someone's asked to do it for two years, that can be kind of overwhelming and taxing. So I've mentioned your founding team. How many folks are on the sales squad with you today?
Speaker 1: So far today, we have six fearless members of the sales squad. We have four AEs and two SDRs. And what I think it's also important to know is that our two founders are very sales driven as well. One was a consultant prior to founding a Esusu, and one was in a sales program at LinkedIn. So he is also a seller by nature. We're growing. We have a couple open roles as well.
Speaker 2: You mentioned in our prep call, some of the diversity that you look for, and I know diversity oftentimes is gender and background, but you kind of had an interesting diversity in terms of the experience, right, in the way that you put this team together?
Speaker 1: Yes. I think what was really important for me to recognize with my team is that I wanted to hire people that had skill sets, had experiences that I did not have, where for my first hire, he had actually never sold a SaaS product in his career. He had never been in sales. He was in affordable housing, real estate development, but what I said was that," I can teach you sales if you can teach all of us about this industry." And I knew nothing about real estate at the time, and what I recognized is it is so relationships driven, and so that was really helpful. And then from there, I've hired an AE that actually came from one of our partners. So a Esusu integrates with property management software platforms. And there are a couple companies, those online portals where you pay your rent that dominate that market. So one of them actually cold called our co- founder Abbey and said," Abbey, I talk about Esusu on my own calls, but what you're doing is a lot cooler than what I'm doing and I want to join the team." And then finally, I have hired an AE who kicked my ass on the dashboard at LinkedIn in every role that I had had, and he is an outbound sales wizard. So to help us build that outbound engine, I think that was really important. So continuing to think of those different skill sets and experiences that help us become more well rounded. Our two SDRs, one was a wrestler on the Olympic circuit for Columbia before joining Esusu, and then one had been in property management. She knows this industry as well and had actually been an SDR for a previous company as well, and was really excited about helping build that out for a Esusu.
Speaker 2: What are you looking for as you scale? Are you looking for other distinct backgrounds or experiences, or maybe someone else who had you beat on the LinkedIn leader board?
Speaker 1: Well, people will tell me that if I ever decide to get a tattoo one day, it would probably be the LinkedIn logo. So I will always likely have LinkedIn at the back of my brain and always open to talking more LinkedIn folks. But no, I think experiences, it's really important. I'm currently at a conference, a real estate conference for student housing, and there are some brokers who are here and it occurred to me, maybe these brokers are actually selling to our same buyer. Maybe it would be really helpful to bring in somebody who has more of those relationships from a broker perspective, maybe figuring out the future of Esusu. We don't think of ourselves as a real estate tech company or a prop tech company. We think of ourselves as a fintech company. So bringing in folks that have come from that world as well, to help us scale. We're in phase one of Esusu's master plan, as we call it, and that's Esusu identity and helping people build and establish credit here in the US, but ultimately we want to help people build financial wealth, and perhaps somebody who has experience in both B2B and B2C, that's our future could be helpful. But ultimately what we're looking for are people who align super closely with our mission and our vision. That's of utmost importance is that if we're waking up every day to evangelize what we're doing to bridge the racial wealth gap, that's ultimately what we're looking for.
Speaker 2: Attracting and retaining talent is something that's top of mind for many revenue leaders, but here's a stat worth noting. According to our recent reality of sales talent report, 45% of sales professionals have reported that in the past six months, they've actively sought out another job opportunity. That means that roughly half your team is potentially ready to walk. We dug into this stat and discovered that this talent issue is actually a challenge of motivation. Nearly 20% of sellers said they struggled with motivation in the past six months. So how can we improve this? We identified the five Ms of motivation; money, mental health, mission, manager, and mobility. For more on these plus actionable advice to apply to your hiring and retention efforts, check out the report in the show notes and keep listening, because Andy is about to dive deeper into one of those Ms right now. Here's Andy on the importance of mission. So aside from the person that cold called the co- founder, I'm sure that person's mission was clear because that's where they reached out, how are you ensuring that the people that you hire and bring on are really excited about that same mission?
Speaker 1: Ultimately in the interview process, we don't want to draw it out. As everyone listening knows, this market is hot for sales people right now, and it's very hard, very jealous of Gong who seem to get the best talent out there all the time. But I think ultimately in the interview process, what we look for is that attention to detail, that attention to telling stories, what we try to do. I'm not a big believer in doing mock interviews. I think they're awkward and sometimes don't put people in the best sort of head space when they're trying to sell to people that could hire them. But instead, we have an assessment that we do as part of our interview process that allows the candidate to really envision what they would be doing in the role as an AE or an SDR at Esusu and I think that's really important, is not only is that helpful for us to see how they prioritize, how they're thinking about reaching out to companies in different segments, student housing, for example, this conference that I'm at this week is still an untapped market for us. So maybe somebody is bringing that story to the table, but I think ultimately, it's helping them decide if this is a place for them, and it's not a short sales assessment. So even though the interview is only 30 or 45 minutes, the prep work involved is a lot longer than that, and that's a really good help for us to understand if they're ultimately going to be a fit for the role.
Speaker 2: I have to imagine one of the positive selling points when you're interviewing folks, right, when you're going from filter mode to sell mode is that you've seen 500% year- over- year ARR growth. Something's working over there. What elements do you attribute to that success?
Speaker 1: It's been quite the journey. I'm still finding time to sleep sometimes but I think ultimately for our growth, leading with stories has been everything. I've known Abbey and Samir for six years now, and they've lit up the room with their personal stories as long as I've known them. Again, everything is personal to them. Between the two of them, Samir being in New York, Abbey being in LA, there are very few hours, every 24, where one of them is not awake and working. And obviously, that's not an expectation of everyone at this company. Naturally, that would be unsustainable but I think that's been really important to bring not only a new product to market, but a new concept, only 9% of renters currently get credit and build their credit score simply by paying their rent, which people don't know. And so finding mission- driven clients who will do anything for you, whether that's advertising product, to their friends in the industry advising on the future of Esusu, making introductions, being the references that will drop everything to help you close a deal, we have a term for it at Esusu. We call them our Esusu rainmakers. We could not do this without them and I think measuring and understanding which channels, figuring out what is most helpful. At LinkedIn, I never went to a conference. Sometimes we brought L and D HR leaders to our offices, but I had never gone to a different city for a conference before, but that is a huge driver. I think there's... every conference we go to, we walk away with 50 business cards among us or more. And so I think running events in various cities, we now want to do that for Esusu as well. We want to build our brand recognition. We want to take advantage of a collaboration with Freddie Mac. People know what a FICO credit score is now because FICO got a relationship with Freddie Mac and the federal government. That's what now we are doing, but beyond that, our partnership with Goldman Sachs, Serena Williams helping lead our Series A round of funding, that obviously helps. And I think what we always say as well is that we want to think bigger than our traditional decision- maker. How can we think of the future of the business if we are currently selling to owners and operators of real estate? For us, how do we think bigger? How do we think about working with the federal government to make Esusu a standard in the industry? That is what we were doing and I know for a fact that our relationships with the government and all of the other partnerships that we're creating now were a big reason for all that revenue success.
Speaker 2: Yes. As the marketer, I love a big point of view. I love, in kind of marketing, it's like acting bigger than you are, and that's not in a bad way. It's not a flex. It's like, how can we just be more advanced and change the game and shape it in a way that kind of fits our narrative? So I like it a lot. So you had mentioned you're on phase one of the master plan. As much as you can share, obviously, without giving away the total blueprint, maybe we can zone in a little bit, what's phase two for you as head of sales?
Speaker 1: What we're thinking about in terms of the business, and then I can go to as head of sales, but I think for the business itself, we think of the Esusu master plan in three phases. Phase one is Esusu identity. Again, helping people build an established credit here in the United States. Phase two is Esusu stability, and this is how we help keep people in their homes. And then finally, phase three is Esusu wealth, and that's creating affordable financial products for people who have been previously screwed by the financial system, in this country and beyond. Again, both of our founders are immigrants. We're thinking bigger than just the United States. We want to crush that market and do really well for now, but I think in terms of our growth, we are actually getting set to welcome my new manager, my boss, who's going to be taking over as VP of Revenue and Business Development, and she actually comes from the industry. So she hasn't built a SaaS business necessarily that unicorn and beyond, but she has relationships across this entire industry. And again, that is our goal to really help people understand the value of reporting rent to the credit bureaus. We have rent relief fund so that something's got to give, Devin, in this economy. It's very unfortunate that with rising inflation, with rent prices through the roof, there could be ramifications and we need to be ready for that. We need Esusu to be prepared. So I think that's sort of what we are thinking about, is how do we keep people in their homes if something does happen with our economy? And I think that for me is making 2022 a big year where everyone knows what Esusu is, so we can be there to help in case the market does continue to turn.
Speaker 2: I'm bought into the vision and I'm rooting for you, Andy, and for the company as a whole because I like what you're all up to. I want to wrap here for the question that you know I ask all folks as we wrap up this interview. So I imagine you already have this answer, but I have to ask it anyway. Andy, how would you describe sales in one word?
Speaker 1: Sales is life, Devin. This is an answer that I've thought about on all my walks when I was home listening on Monday nights to the Reveal podcast, but truly, I can attribute sales to so much of my growth as a human personally, professionally. Choosing this career path, it took me a while to understand that sales management, it's all about working with stakeholders and it's all about understanding what's important to someone when you're in a conversation with a significant other, understanding what they need. Who's involved? What's the ultimate goal? And people make fun of me that I think of everything in terms of a sales cycle, but it's true, and make sure every person in your life, Devin, feels like an individual deal, and that they're the only deal in your pipeline. So sales is life and to use a Hebrew word because Gong was obviously founded by an Israeli, a meat bend office that foreign language, as we say is to life and it's celebratory. And that's why I feel so blessed every day to be in sales.
Speaker 2: If you want more resources on how to thrive as a sales leader in every stage of growth, head over to gong. ao. And if you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever it is you're listening.
When you enter a phase hypergrowth, certain things get harder to scale. Like hiring the best sales talent, and ensuring they find meaning in their work. Luckily Andy is revealing exactly how he’s growing a team that loves working for him and at unicorn status startup – Esusu.
As Director of Sales, he’s used these principles to increase ARR over 500%. These are lessons that every sales leader–whether you’re in hypergrowth or not–needs to keep their teams motivated, mission-driven, and always improving.
Get the The Reality of Sales Talent Report here.