741 - From Layoff to Sales Leader Sales Success, with Feras Alhlou

All right, welcome to another episode of Sales Transformation. I'm your

host, Colin Mitchell, and the show's brought to you by Ledium.

Today, I've got Feras Alhlou on. He is the co-founder over

at Startup with Feras, has scaled multiple businesses, exits,

I'm doing great. Thank you so much, Colin. I appreciate being here. Great content

Oh, appreciate it. And we were just chatting a little bit before and we're

Yeah, down South here. I've been here in the Bay Area for over

25 years now. Seen all the bubbles and all the bubbles burst

Yeah. It's been an interesting couple of years for

some new things going on in the startup world, but especially

with the rise of AI and lots of things changing very rapidly.

But take us back to where your entrepreneur journey started.

And you mentioned something before we hit record here that you were forced into

Yeah, so we'd moved from Florida in 1998, got into

the startup scene here in Silicon Valley. And then

that one dreaded day when the CEO walked

into my office and said, Feras, we have a layoff tomorrow, okay?

And then you're impacted. So that was a really hard moment.

That was a hard phase in my life. Maybe

we can dedicate a whole episode on what happens after a layoff. It

was a dry market, not very dissimilar from what we're seeing today. So

couldn't find a job, had a young family, a friend of mine wanted

to start a business. So we joined hands, we joined resources and

we kicked off our very first business. It was cutting

edge at the time, web design and search engine optimization. So

that's, in a way, I was always thinking of starting

a business, but that major life event really

Yeah. And what made you go

down that path of that business? Why web

Sorry, there was a pause. I don't know if there's a

Yeah. So what made you go down the path of web design and

Yeah, so go back to 2003, and maybe some

of your younger listeners, they don't remember, but it

was the dawn of the internet. We had Yahoo

and a bunch of other browsers, and then Google and Yahoo introduced this concept

of pay-per-click, search engine marketing. And

this was business owners had no idea.

Like when we go and walked with a business owner and say, here's, we can build

a website for you. Why do I need a website? Big companies need

it, not me. And then when we told them about pay-per-click and

we can get you to rank on Google, they wouldn't even buy. So

we figured it's a new industry. There's a wave here and

we got to ride this wave. And then I remember, this is maybe a tip for

your listeners in sales. we used to go and show the competitors.

When we show a competitor, this is a local restaurant owner, a local

dentist, a local attorney, your competition is

ranking number one and you're nowhere to be found. That was a

very good tactic to help them get business, but

Yeah. I mean, people were still trying to just wrap their head around the

Exactly. Yeah. It was not easy to sell at the time.

Yeah. And did you have any sales experience or

No sales experience. So I was in corporate for maybe about 10 years prior

to that, but I was not in sales, never sold, never asked

anyone for money, maybe except my dad. So that was

a pretty steep learning curve, Colin. And for the founders

out there who started a business or thinking to start and they don't

have a sales background, I'm gonna tell you, it's not going to be an easy

route, but if I did it, I think you

can too. There was a lot of learning. I think

there was a lot of CDs at the time. There wasn't a whole lot of YouTube videos on sale.

So this is a short funny story. My partner

had a set of CDs from this gentleman by the name of

Tom Hopkins, The Art of Mastering Real

Estate Selling. And we don't

want to pay money, another hundred bucks to buy another set of CDs. So I

actually ended up listening to those CDs on selling real estate and taking notes

and replaying the CD to capture how you handle certain objections.

So that's how I learned sales. And then I attended a few courses, in-person courses,

two or three-day courses. And you go out to the field. and

you still get rejections, and you still know what to

answer. But that's part of learning. And later,

we were selling six-digit contracts. So it's

just part of the program is you got to roll up your sleeves and learn

Yeah. There

No, no. I don't think we were cheap. We

were bootstrapping. We didn't have a lot of money. There's a good set of CDs. Why buy

Yeah. And I think the

interesting thing is there is you were willing to lean into

learning sales. Because I think sometimes founders struggle with

that where it's like, I'm a marketing person, I'm an operations

person, I'm a technical person, and I'm not a salesperson. And

they don't want to invest the time with its courses, CDs, podcasts,

you know, getting some help to master that

skill. How important do you think it was for you to

really learn and lean into learning sales to be able to

We couldn't have done it without it, Colin. I mean, I

had a young family, my partner, the same. We had to sell. And

I remember, and I've said this before, on our very first day

when we decided to go out and sell, It was really hard.

It was really hard. And where do we go? Well, let's

go to places where people know us. So, we went to five restaurants. We

ended up having to have five meals that one day. And guess what? We

had five rejections. I kid you not. I

can still name the restaurants. One of them, Athena Grill, right here down the street in

Santa Clara. So, It

took us three days to recover. But then, okay, what

were the questions that they asked us we did not have an answer for?

So that was our way to produce my own list of FAQs on

what to answer if someone says, I don't need a website at the time. So I

think that would be, today, if I go to a networking event and people ask me questions, I

just typically between networking, I go and jot down what they asked

me so I can go back home and come up with a better answer next

time. But there's no escape, I always tell founders, You got

to be out there. You can do a lot of things online these days. You can research, you can go

on YouTube, you can listen to these amazing podcasts, but there's no

substitute of going out there and meeting people

and practicing your pitch. The more you do it, the

better you're going to become at it. It'll be just a second nature over

Yeah. Yeah. And it's, and it's, it's, uh, it's

even harder to do it in person, right? Really test your skills.

Then over Zoom, on a phone call, over

email, all the ways that people like to sell today. In person

is the real test if

you can handle those questions. But I think that the important learning lesson

there is that You got

a bunch of rejection, but you took

those opportunities to see what you could learn from them

to improve. What questions did we not have answers to? How could we

answer those questions better before you put yourself back out there again?

Absolutely. And the learning never stops. And

I think it was Peter Drucker who said the number one

advantage you have in business is learning and application

of this learning ahead of your competition, faster

than your competition. So when we moved

from selling to small mid-sized businesses to selling to corporate, so

we niched down on analytics, became a Google certified

partner in analytics, one of maybe 200 globally,

we started to get these large leads from Fortune 500. So

what worked for small businesses did not work for

Fortune 500. The pace and the

level of professionalism and the level of everything

had to be really polished. So we had to

learn, I had to read a couple of books on how to sell B2B

long sales cycle and even adjust our sales

projections and revenue projections based on these lower sales cycles. So

learning in my mind never stops, never stops. And today

you have to also learn about AI and how AI is impacting your

Thanks for tuning in. Please don't forget to like and share so we can help more

741 - From Layoff to Sales Leader Sales Success, with Feras Alhlou
Broadcast by