Category Archives: advisors

Jami Kelly
How to Work With an Advisor: What Every Startup Needs to Know

Think finding an advisor or funder is the end of a long and arduous journey? Think again. Just because you’ve figured out how to pitch your company in three sentences or less, have burned up enough miles along Sand Hill Road trying to find an investor, and have finally clicked with someone who “gets” your product or SaaS service, doesn’t mean your work is done. In fact, it’s only beginning.

What should every startup know about working with an advisor?

As part of our new eBook, “59 Tips for Scaling Startup Sales,” we talked with some of Silicon Valley’s leading advisors, investors and sales gurus to find out the one thing they wish every young company they work with knew about managing and maintaining this essential relationship. Even if you’re still figuring out how to get to that magical moment when someone says, “I’m interested” to your pitch, you’d be well advised to know what you’re in for when that day you’ve been dreaming about finally comes. Take it from these guys, they should know. Together, they’ve generated millions of dollars in revenue for their respective companies, been part of the teams that were acquired by enterprise giants like Oracle and Google, and then turned their own profits towards developing companies they believed in.

Arjun Dev Arora, Chairman & Founder of ReTargeter, offers this caution for new mentees: “I think there is a spectrum of mistakes companies make when they first secure an advisor, that tend toward one extreme or the other. Either they think an advisor is there to save their business and they and they can stop doing certain functions. Or, they’re happy to have the advisor’s name on their presentation, and willing to leave it at that.

An advisor is waiting for you to take the lead with specific asks.

“The truth,” he continues, is that, “an advisor is waiting for you to take the lead with specific asks. Yes, we’re busy doing our own things, but it’s your responsibility to check in with us, be proactive and get what you need out of the relationship. The ethos of Silicon Valley was built on giving back, there’s a real commitment to caring and pushing things forward here.”

Include us more. 

Andrew Riesenfeld, VP of Field Sales at GuideSpark, agrees. “Include us more,” he says. “It’s great to be called upon when help is needed, but it’s also great to be included more often in the week-to-week updates on what’s happening. Very often, young founders think we’re only there to help them through the most challenging time periods and solve the big problems; then they’ll go away for a while, but if we gave advice, we’ll want to know: Did you follow it? Did it work?  Over correspondence is welcomed.” Another benefit of over communication, he says, is, “if we’re in the loop all along, we won’t have as much of a need to catch up on back data when there is a serious problem to be addressed.”

Consider what you really need us for and where you can trust your own gut.

But to Arjun’s first point, Navid Zolfaghari, former Team Leader at Wildfire Interactive, now Co-Founder of Pinpoint Mobile, chimes in. A common mistake he believes young companies make when developing an advisory relationship is “overreliance on an advisor. We’re here to listen to ideas and give advice. But that doesn’t mean you have to run everything by us. Consider what you really need us for and where you can trust your own gut.” Additionally, he encourages the companies he advises to pay it forward. “I always ask the companies I advise to advise others. We’ve all been there, we’ve all needed the help and it’s important to help others as you go forward.”

People in Silicon Valley are very open and transparent.

David Baga, former Sr. Sales Director at Oracle turned SVP of Revenue at Rocket Lawyer, agrees. “Silicon Valley is special,” he says. “People here are very open and transparent sharing their lessons learned so the next wave doesn’t have to repeat their mistakes.” Until you find an official advisor, and even after, he offers this advice: “Be dedicated to lifelong learning. There is an unprecedented amount of high quality content that is available today. Read blogs, tap into the wisdom of Quora, and the mentorship value of Twitter. There’s plenty of advice to be found out there, you just have to know where to look and be open to receiving it in different ways.”

It’s very fulfilling to be a part of this community.

Mark Roberge, the CRO of HubSpot, responsible for developing its phenomenal sales engine, takes it a step further, offering this sentiment: “It’s a little self-serving for us as well, to advise other growing companies. It’s very fulfilling to be a part of this community, see what people are currently doing, and admire the innovations that are happening. It makes you want to find a way to help and learn from them, because by being on the mentor end of advising relationships, you learn a lot yourself.”

You ultimately have to make your own decisions.

When it comes to giving advice about working with an advisor, perhaps there’s no one I talked to that has more to say on subject than David Skok, an investor at Matrix Partners and Founder of the ForEntrepreneurs blog. In short, David believes, you shouldn’t leave everything up to the advisor. “Most investors will give you advice, especially for first time enterprises, but you have to use your own brain as to whether or not that advice makes sense,” he cautions. “Investors aren’t that close to your business and they can’t see everything,” he says. “Especially if it’s an investor who hasn’t run their own business before.

The business school path to investing is different than having come up within the ranks, and there are merits to each. You may get good advice, just keep in mind where it’s coming from. They may not know or understand the full situation. “You ultimately have to make your own decision and use your common sense and judgment to figure out what to do.” Good advice, huh? I think so, too. It’s the kind of advice we distill to the companies participating in our growth stage sales accelerator program every day.

For more tips from David Skok on getting and keeping an investor, see my blog post, 7 Things Every Founder Should Know About Getting Investors.”

And for more tips on scaling your startup business, download our eBook, “59 Tips for Startup Sales Success,” featuring more tips and advice from all of the Advisors quoted here.

Advice to New Founders (Including Derek Jeter) on Your Next Phase

Navid Zolfaghari offers more startup wisdom in our first Upshift eBook, “59 Secrets for Startup Sales Success.” Download your free copy now!

It’s official – Derek Jeter is now an entrepreneur. In launching his new venture, The Players’ Tribune, where he will be “working with other athletes, with editors and with producers to create a platform that gives us a chance to say what’s on our mind (and)…shape the site into an online community filled with first-person stories and behind-the-scenes content,” he will have to learn the importance of “team” in a whole new way. Well he’s off to a good start with his first hire, Danica Patrick.

Someone who knows a lot about the importance of teams to a burgeoning enterprise is Navid Zolfaghari.

Navid is an entrepreneur obsessed with disruptive technology and innovation. His current company, Pinpoint Mobile, was founded on the belief that mobile is as much of an appendage as your arms or legs and that every company needs to be part of the mobile obsession. Prior to Pinpoint, Navid was an early member at Wildfire Interactive where he helped create and execute social media campaigns for brands and agencies such as GM, AT&T, BBDO, and Target. Wildfire was acquired by Google in August 2012 for over $400M. Before that, Navid founded TriFame, an online talent discovery website that helped record labels and magazines find aspiring artists.

In all the years since he’s been building startups, Navid’s most important lesson has been finding the right people to work with. Here’s his advice to America’s Favorite Shortstop – and any other founder looking to avoid some of the common mistakes associated with team building.

“There’s always someone who knows more than you.”

Identify the right kinds of people you need, including those who complement your weaknesses. In addition to their level of enterprise or startup experience, find out:

  • What are their personality types?
  • Are they coachable? (Jeter should be good at this one)
  • Are they curious?
  • Do they have a good work ethic?
  • Is there a good cultural fit?

“There’s no one size fits all solution. Different people require different management.”

Being a team leader means being a mentor and enabler. You’ll want to shield your team from internal politics, make it easy for them to focus on the job and be more successful. Learn how to manage everyone differently, know what motivates them and push their individual buttons to make them better performers overall. Some people belong on first base, others in right field. Still, you want to get your whole team excited and do whatever you can to support them.

“Don’t focus on scaling bodies, scale with people.”

If you hire too many people at once, it’s harder to make them effective. (This goes for “athletes, editors and producers,” as well as sales folks.) The biggest problem I’ve seen is companies that try to scale too fast. If you focus on hiring a bunch of people, then you’re not really focusing on making them more effective. Even if you have a lot of money (Jeter!), you shouldn’t necessarily go out and hire everyone immediately. Take the team you have and work on making it the best it can be before you go out and find new players.

“Know your playbook.”

Okay, maybe that’s a football term, but you still need to get everyone on the same page in terms of tactics. Standardize the language you are all using so the team can better understand each other. You may have different terminology to define each stage but essentially you should look to initiate, educate, validate, justify and close, according to Navid. This way, if you hear a deal is in stage 2, you can start to ask questions as to what was uncovered during the discovery process. It could take a while to get everyone on the same page, but stay patient.

“Your team is everything.”

And not just in baseball. Hire the right kinds of people in terms of personality types and cultural fit. For Navid, that means coachability, adaptability, curiosity and a strong work ethic. But it also depends on what type of company you are and what stage the company is in. If you’re ready to recruit on an enterprise level, you should hire someone who has navigated complicated deals before and understands the process of what is needed to work with a big company.  But if you’re company is a startup, your first few hire can be from anywhere – as long as they get what you’re trying to do and have passion for it.

Navid was part of a team at Wildfire that scaled from 10 to 130 sales people. How’d they do it?

In the early days of Wildfire, he says, culture was everything. “The spirit we built there was one of collaboration. People came to work early and left late because they felt a sense of purpose and enjoyed the people they worked with. These were people you could learn from, laugh with and share meaningful experiences.” The founders are key to setting this culture, as well as your first few hires. The genuine care that people have for each other goes a long way toward achieving results. Like Jeter says, you should feel “blessed to play with the best” and “not want to compete without any of them.”

I asked Navid if he had any thoughts for Derek Jeter and The Players’ Tribune.

“I wouldn’t profess to have any advice to a big leaguer like Derek Jeter,” Navid said. “Unless of course he’d like to take his business mobile. Then we should talk.”

Read more of my “Advice From the Field” posts featuring the hard-won knowledge of some of Silicon Valley’s most accomplished sales leaders.

For more tips from Navid and other Upshift advisors on how to scale your startup, download our new eBook, “59 Tips for Startup Sales Success.”

Derek Jeter Photo: WireImage


Creating a Values-driven Startup: Advice from ReTargeter’s Arjun Dev Arora

How Important Are Company Values With Retargeter’s Founder, Arjun Dev Arora


Arjun Dev Arora offers more startup wisdom in our first Upshift eBook, “59 Secrets for Startup Sales Success.” Download your free copy now! As part of my continuing series of posts offering “Advice From the Field,” here are the highlights from my conversation with Arjun Dev Arora, Chairman of the Board and Founder of ReTargeter, a company he bootstrapped to be in the top 100 of Inc’s Fastest Growing Companies of 2013. Now, if you don’t know what ReTargeter does, you should. Have you ever wondered how your computer knows to serve you ads for things you have searched for, encouraging you to go back and buy it? It’s not a coincidence; it’s a brilliant advancement in the area of online advertising that you may one day be using to drive leads to your own company. But for now, let’s focus on Arjun led his company to skyrocketing growth levels, and what you can learn from him as you build your own startup.

“The way to be nimble and flexible in a company is to have a clear set of values.”

When it comes to building a sales team, Arjun firmly believes you need “a clear set of values; rules that you stand by.” This will funnel down in everything from who you choose to bring on board, to how you position your product in the marketplace, to decision making, and yes, to sales. It reduces the vast majority of stress in an organization, he says. “If we all know what’s acceptable vs. unacceptable, then we won’t need a rulebook for everything.” How do you develop that clarity of vision? I wondered. It starts with the founders’ commitment, Arjun told me. “Whoever is leading your sales organization better know what the company stands for, what’s important to you as an entity.” Before you go to market, before you bring on a team, he suggest you plan a 3-4 hour discussion with key stakeholders and brainstorm the following:

  1. What would it take for us to scale gracefully?
  2. How can we hold ourselves to a higher standard?
  3. How can we set the standard for self-reflection and growth for ourselves and our employees?
  4. What are the frameworks for decision-making that we strive to adhere to?
  5. What would serve as an anchor from which we blaze forward?
  6. What would a values-driven workplace that is inspiring and magnetic look like?
  7. What matters to us?
  8. What can we expect from one another?

It’s not the answers to the questions that are as important as the conversation you have in trying to answer each one. Capture the words that keep coming up in your answers; these are likely the things that define your operations, which translate into your company’s core values.

It can be a precarious thing to do but when you do it right, the benefits are 100-fold.”

So what are ReTargeter’s values? I was really on the edge of my seat now. Arjun told me ReTargeter runs on:

  • Respect – be kind; do what you say you will do; treat people well; take feedback well
  • Intelligence – take pride in learning, consume and process information quickly
  • Humility – acknowledge your strengths but welcome constant learning and improvement
  • Bold & Direct interactions – be crystal clear in your choices and communications
  • Long-term relationships – build solid relationships based on trust and integrity
  • Adaptability – be aware of what is happening around you and in the technology space
  • Hustle – work hard and go beyond to push ourselves and move the company forward
  • Fun – connect with and enjoy people!

So if you’re anything like me, by now you’re wondering: Doesn’t every company want to abide by these values? Isn’t it just paying lip service to say this is what you stand for?

It’s worse to have a vision that’s not enforced than to not have a vision at all.”

It’s all in the implementation, according to Arjun. “Your clarity of vision goes to how your company acts in the world,” he believes. If you pay lip service to that, then it’s likely your values are “uncaring” and “phony.” I went back to my trusted Upshift library to see what other experts were saying about the importance of core values and how to not only figure out what you stand for, but how to make sure those values are transmitted so that everyone in your organization embraces them. How to Implement Your Company’s Core Values In Verne C. Harnish’s book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, I found this checklist that offers some tips on how to bring your core values alive in your company:

  1. Create Legends — Link a company story with each core value to make it memorable. Story-telling is the best way to teach.
  2. Recruitment and Selection — Use the core values in your hiring ads and selection process. Have them serve as the section themes/headings for your structured interview process.
  3. Orientation & Handbook — Have your core values serve as the major themes for your orientation process.
  4. Appraisal Process — Have your core values serve as the section headings for your appraisal process. With a little creativity, any performance measure can be made to link with a core value.
  5. Recognition and Reward — At the quarterly or annual company gathering, if you’re looking for recognition and reward categories, look no further than your core values. And this serves to generate new stories to bring them alive.
  6. Internal Newsletter — Highlight a core value each issue with an example of someone exemplifying the value.
  7. Quarterly Themes — Whether as a theme for a particular round of good news stories or as a company-wide quarterly theme, use the core values to bring focus to improvement efforts.
  8. Everyday Management — Relate decisions, reprimands, praisings, customer issues, and employee concerns back to the core values. These daily actions will do more than any of the other strategies to strengthen the culture within the firm.

Thanks to Arjun Dev Arora for living his company’s values every day and sharing them with us here. What are your company’s core values and how are they reflected in your day-to-day operations? Share them below. See more of my “Advice From the Field” posts for emerging startups. For more insights from some of Silicon Valley’s most exemplary sales leaders, download our free eBook, “59 Tips for Startup Sales.”

What do Zynga, HubSpot, and HootSuite All Have in Common? (Besides Really Cool Company Names?)

If you guessed they all scaled from cool idea to multi-million dollar behemoths that changed their respective industries within a matter of years, you’d only be partially right. The thing that all these companies have in common is that their founders (or sales gurus) are represented among Upshift’s Board of Advisors, along with three other Silicon Valley dynamos who not only talk the talk when it comes to business growth, they’ve all walked the walk.

Upshift is proud to announce our stellar team of advisors whose combined startup experience totals billions in sales volume and acquisition dollars (including two sold to Google and one to Oracle) and millions of users or customers.

Marcus Segal, COO of Game Studio Operations; former COO of Business Operations and the Casino Division at Zynga (world’s leading provider of social game services with more than 240 million monthly active users playing its games)

Andrew Riesenfeld, VP of Sales @GuideSpark; former VP of Sales Development + Pipeline @Responsys (helped lead the company to an acquisition by Oracle for $1.6 billion)

Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer of the HubSpot Sales Division. (HubSpot ranked #33 on  the INC 500 list of Fastest Growing Companies for 2011and Mark was ranked #19 in Forbes’ Top 30 Social Sellers in the World)

Navid Zolfaghari, founder of Pinpoint Mobile; former founder of TriFame online talent discovery site; early member at Wildfire Interactive  in charge of social media campaigns for GM, AT&T, BBDO, and Target. (Wildfire was acquired by Google in August 2012 for over $400M.)

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, global leader in social media with nearly 4 million business users, including 79 of the Fortune 100 companies; former founder of Invoke Media, the company that developed HootSuite in 2009.

Aaron Ross, #1 best-selling author of Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into A Sales Machine With The $100 Million Best Practices Of (called by many people the “Sales Bible of Silicon Valley.”)  Founder, Predictable Revenue Inc. consultancy; former sales guru at, where he helped increase’s revenues by $100 million.

How do we work with these advisors at Upshift?

We’ve assembled this seasoned team with hands-on operational and advisory experience to ensure that our portfolio companies have the best and the brightest behind them.

We enlist their knowledge as part of the Upshift curriculum in the following areas:

  • building massive sales teams
  • growing revenue
  • knowing what the most important KPI’s are for growing sales
  • startup sales strategy
  • recruiting and hiring
  • demand generation
  • fundraising

They’ve helped us to build a world class program that can be honed and repeated with many startups. We find that this approach of codifying knowledge for the 80% of things that all successful startups do well in terms of sales, works much better than them doing one off analyses.

To learn more about the Upshift program or our stellar team of advisors, visit