Author, adventure enthusiast, and TechStars Managing Director Amos Schwartzfarb led a discussion in Austin in November highlighting how early-stage sales are merely product development.

Austin, the author of “Sell More Fast: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Start-Ups,” used his book and professional experiences to drive his talk.

Key parts of his discussion focused on customer development and what he calls the W3 method: Who’s your customer, what are they buying from you, and why do they buy it? 

Don’t Start Selling Too Soon

When I set out to write “Sell More Faster,” my goal was to find an easy way to take repeatability and get to scale on a knowledge base I had developed over 20 years. Early-stage sales are nothing more than product development.

The question I get asked a lot: What is the No. 1 mistake early-stage companies make?

The mistake is they start selling too soon. They should not start selling. They should focus on customer development. It’s a weird hybrid where you are technically a salesperson, but you are not out there selling. Instead, you are collecting data to learn and iterate on the product you are talking about and to learn about the value that you will eventually trade with your potential customers.

When you get close enough that you can nail it, you start to convert those people into early customers. 

Navigating Through the Customer Development Phase

You start with an idea to build a product around. You’re sitting in a coffee shop, you’re sitting with your friends thinking of something cool. However, what do you do next?

A lot of people jump right to building or sales. However, there are many steps before and you have to collect a bunch of data.

You should run tests before developing a product. You need to first determine how you have conversations to see what resonates and what doesn’t click with people.

This is what an early-stage salesperson or customer-development individual should be doing and they should take that information to the product person.

Along the way, you should start getting enough data to be able to predict the conversation direction and how to answer questions. When you get to this point, that’s when I think you’re at repeatability. You haven’t nailed repeatability, but it’s getting close.

This is a great time to start building.

Whether you’re building your sales organization or your product, at this point you know the things that you actually should create. Once you have proven out that repeatability, that’s when you get to scaling. That’s when you start to grow the business. That’s when you can build a business as big as Indeed and selling doesn’t start until you hit the scale phase.

All of this has to happen before you get to sales until then you’re doing customer development. Once at the sale phase, you can hire people for sales who enjoy knowing exactly who their customer is, what they’re selling, and why the customer is buying.

About the speaker
Amos Schwartzfarb Techstars, Managing Director Member

While attending college at the University of Massachusetts in 1992 Amos fell in love with rock climbing which brought him to Northern California in 1993 and eventually a job packing boxes for Shoreline Mountain Project. While there Amos helped turn an old school mail-order company into one of the first e-commerce companies which launched his career into the startup world. After Shoreline, Amos went on to 6 other startups including,,, mySpoonful, Blacklocus and Joust. At each of these startups, his responsibility was always directly related to figuring out product market fit, early sales and building sales organizations. Then, in 2015, he moved over to the investor side as Managing Director of Techstars in Austin. Now after over 70 seed stage investments Amos has become one of the more active early stage investors, via Techstars Austin in all of Texas.