Dear SaaStr: What Does a Typical Day Look like for an Account Executive at a SaaS Startup With Under $1m ARR?

This is a tough and very specific job.  Most sales folks can’t do it.

Usually, being the first start-up salesperson is a rewarding, but very tough job:

  • Your boss has probably never managed a salesperson before. She or he likely won’t know what you are supposed to do 40+ hours a week. Even if they’ve closed the first 10. 20. 100 customers themselves.
  • Your boss may have strong views on what you should be doing. And their views may be wrong. Whichever founder was doing sales, likely thinks that may be the way to do sales going forward. Which it may well not be.  As the first AE, you have to be smart, agile, and flexible.  But you can’t do founder-led sales yourself.  You need a different playbook.
  • Your boss may think you are very expensive. If the founders are making almost nothing, coming in with a high OTE (“on target earnings”) may make you, on paper, at least, the most expensive employee in the company. This can create a lot of pressure to deliver, quickly.
  • Your boss may have unrealistic ramp expectations. Great salespeople should ramp quickly. But they can’t ramp in a day. This can create tensions, in some situations at least.
  • You may well not have enough leads to hit quota. It’s too early. Most start-ups below $1m in ARR don’t have enough inbound, organic leads (say ~50+ qualified leads) a month to keep the first salesperson busy. You’ll have to find a way to get more leads on your own.
  • Your boss may expect you to do it all. Be an SDR, a demand generation person, a cold caller, a product marketer, an opener, and a closer. Everything.

So this is a tough job. 🙂 With not a truly typical day. And because of this, it’s usually not a great job for someone without a least a few years of SaaS selling experience plus the ability to be pretty self-directed plus the ability to have a thick skin.

But for the right person, that’s smart and tough, and somewhat creative … it can also be one of the most rewarding positions. The sales “hacker”. Oftentimes, the First Salesperson goes on to just amazing things in successful start-ups. And they have a special relationship with the founders and early employees that Reps 10, 20, and 200 will never have.

If this sounds exciting to you, consider it.

If it sounds like it lacks enough structure … don’t go in as the first salesperson.

A related post here:

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)

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