The successful SELR8R sales accelerator model for start-ups devised by SOSventures’ Sean O’Sullivan and Bill Liao is to be made available for venture capitalists and angel investors in other European countries, starting with the UK.
The programme, created by investment firm SOSventures and outsourcing specialist Intercall, held its very first graduation day in Dublin in March for eight participating start-ups.
In recent weeks Sensipass, a digital security start-up that vows to make passwords history, was awarded the SELR8R Rocket Trophy and a €50,000 investment based on its performance during the programme.
Unlike most accelerators that tend to focus on the pivot and the pitch, the mentor-driven accelerator programme developed in Cork enables start-ups to do the one thing that is every bit as vital as raising investment and building a product – the actual selling of the product.
Liao explained to Siliconrepublic.com that SOSventures has been involved in accelerator programmes that have successfully gone pan-European in the recent past, including Techstars and Start-up Bootcamp.
The investment firm is involved in other accelerators around the world, notably China Accelerator and the hardware-oriented accelerator for start-ups HAXLR8R.
Who dares, sells
Liao said the urgency and importance of getting start-ups skilled in salesmanship, not to mention the international scale of the challenge, led to the logical conclusion that SELR8R needs to expand beyond Ireland’s borders.
“Given the huge number of applicants we get and how much this programme has impacted a wide range of businesses in Ireland already – we can only invest in a small fraction of businesses because we specialise in specific sectors – we thought it best to open up limited partnerships to selected angels and other venture capitalists in other jurisdictions.”
Liao said the selling issue is not one confined to Ireland or Europe but might actually be a global issue.
“While we don’t often encounter it as an issue in the US – where there may be actually be some over-promotion of companies – the lack of selling skills across technology start-up teams is very telling in Europe.
“One of the primary things that start-ups seem to get wrong is they hire specific sales people but need to focus on getting the whole team to learn how to sell.
“In technology, sometimes the head of engineering is often the right person to make a sale, but never has sales training. The key is to turn the whole team into the best ambassadors for a company’s product.
“The biggest part of selling is the conversation and if you haven’t perfected articulation or developed a facility with the give and take of a conversation that results in a deal, then it’s going to be an uphill struggle, no matter how good your product is.
“In Europe, and Ireland particularly, people think selling is cheesy, but it’s something the best organisations do every day.”
Liao said the SELR8R programme, which takes on eight companies at a time, focuses on fine-tuning their products and their pitches and then “battle-tests” their salesmanship by making use of InterCall’s call centre in Cork to make 24 x 7 outbound sales to get a product to the point where it is revenue positive.
“We don’t do theoretical exercises, we keep changing it until it works.
“I see a lot of companies emerging from other accelerators with a great pitch and a product but no traction. The sale is the Holy Grail.”
Liao said the plan is to make licensing agreements with other investment communities. “We own the ‘R8R’ brand so it is vital that if people take this on that they can match what we do in terms of quality. We will focus on Europe and Asia before looking at the US.
“The first step will be to get one going outside Ireland with the right partner. SELR8R is unusual among other accelerators in that it is a short, 50-day course with a high impact,” Liao said.
Disclosure: SOSventures is an investor in Siliconrepublic.com