Steli has been an entrepreneur since the age of 17. At the age of 23, he bought a one-way ticket to Silicon Valley. He made it into YCombinator and is now the co-founder of Close.io, a SaaS solution that helps people to close more deals.
Today, Steli is also one of the most in-demand sales hustlers in Silicon Valley. We interviewed Steli to find out more about his interesting and compelling story.
Can you tell us a little bit about your entrepreneurial background and story?
I’m currently running a highly profitable and fast-growing 7-figure SaaS startup together with my co-founders and team. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, I’ve never had a job, and I’m completely unemployable – no sane company would ever want to hire me.
I had some small entrepreneurial successes early on, but I had bigger things on my mind. At one point, I sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco to do a startup in Silicon Valley.
Why did you decide to move to Silicon Valley?
I was located in southern Germany at the time, and the environment there just wasn’t very conducive to being an entrepreneur. I read about what was happening in Silicon Valley, and it seemed like the right place to turn my idea into reality.
In retrospect, I can say I was pretty blue-eyed about this – I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into – but it worked out fine in the end!
Any advice for European entrepreneurs that want to move to Silicon Valley?
My advice is not to do what I did; don’t just buy a one-way ticket and make a big leap across the ocean. Instead, start building your network in Silicon Valley before you actually move there.
I shared the story of my first couple of days in the US, which I think is really helpful for everyone who ever wants to make new friends in a foreign place, you can find this in my blog post The Power of Showing Up.
What was your first startup in Silicon Valley?
It was an open learning and teaching platform called Supercool School. I wanted to revolutionise how education and recruiting works on a global scale – it was meant to change the world. I fell flat on my nose for five years straight. At some point, I was completely bankrupt – emotionally, mentally and financially.
How did you come up with the idea to start Close.io?
We were creating something we wanted to exist. At the time we were running an outsourced sales team for startups, and we did sales for more than 200 venture-backed startups. To manage all these prospects for various companies, we needed some kind of pipeline management software.
We looked around, but nothing matched our needs. It was all cumbersome to use, difficult to maintain, bogged down by complexity. We wanted something that would help our sales reps to communicate more with prospects and customers – and in turn, close more deals and make more sales. Something that would allow you to call with just one click and always see all information related to any lead whenever that person called you or sent you an email. Something that would eliminate manual data entry and help salespeople focus on what matters most: communicating with prospects.
What are your experiences with YC and do you have any tips for startup applying?
Close.io was part of Y Combinator in 2011. YC was an incredible experience, and being part of it contributed a lot to our entrepreneurial successes. Apart from all the networking, the access to experienced advisors and the incredibly smart and ambitious other alumni, they also make you a part of Y Combinator.
Once you’re in, they fully trust you. If you want to become a part of the YC family, you can read how we hacked our Y Combinator interview and got accepted.
What are your plans with Close.io? What’s next?
We want to push the product further, make it even better and more useful to sales people, and to help more people succeed in sales through our software and our content. It’s about building the ultimate sales stack for inside sales teams, the go-to solution that really empowers them to achieve the best results possible.
What is the best advice you can give young entrepreneurs starting their own business?
Don’t sacrifice your health or happiness for your entrepreneurial goals. Building a company is incredibly hard and challenging, and at times you’ll feel like it’s the end of the world. Remember that it’s just a ride full of ups and downs.
It’s a weird paradox: on the one hand, you need to be incredibly ambitious and care deeply, on the other hand, you can’t let it consume you. Finding and keeping that balance is probably one of the most difficult things about being an entrepreneur.
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Editor’s note: Close is still going and no capital has been raised publicly since 2013, it appears to be sustainable player/contender in the CRM space. (1 April 2017)