What do (bootstrapped) startups offer to new sales hires? Commission only? What are some good examples to keep people motivated and still survive?


Generally bootstrapped startups should avoid salespeople, for a few reasons:
a. they typically can't afford the base and overall comp required to attract sales people who can actually sell / or afford to support them with marketing, management, etc
b. it will be very difficult to find the rare person with the right mix of sales and startup DNA along with the critical domain knowledge, consequently the startup is likely to settle
c. the founders need to be very involved in the selling and customers will demand it

That said, if the plan is still to hire a salesperson, find someone who has demonstrated sales success in startups and is excited by the early stage in company building. Create a comp plan heavily leveraged on sales results (unless you are in an industry where 100% commission is a common practice, would recommend against $0 base as this creates the false impression that your hire isn't passing time with one company while looking for another job with a richer comp plan - you want your rep focussed). Sell the vision and opportunity to be part of a growth story.

I have written a several blog posts on hiring sales people into start-ups. You might find these useful:

Good luck!

Answered 10 years ago

The founders need to be out selling. If you can't sell, find a co-founder who can. Unfortunately, that's the only way. It's the same as trying to build a business without a technical co-founder. It's a very bad idea. The best bootstapped startups usually have 2 founders. A technical one and a soft skills one. You are either building something or selling something, there's just nothing else worth doing at that stage.

Answered 10 years ago

It is great when early stage startups put an emphasis on business development right out of the gate! I’ve managed dozens of commission-based employees over my career, and I can tell you that finding the right candidate with the right attitude for that position can be even more challenging than the actual sale of the product/service itself. Sales in general, but especially commission-heavy sales positions, require a certain temperament and conviction from people to be successful (for themselves and for your company.)

Deciding how to fairly compensate a new sales associate depends on a few factors (whether you are a digital startup or a brick and mortar small business.)

- Is the product/service being sold primarily B2C or B2B? B2C sales usually mean that associates can subsist on their month to month commission disbursement as the close cycles are tighter and payments come in faster. Inversely, B2B sales typically mean longer close cycles and payments coming in over a longer timeline (which could make it difficult for an associate to live month-to-month.)

- How are leads being sourced to the sales associate and what is the overall quality of those leads? If they are being asked to go out and cold-build their own book of business from scratch, it usually necessitates some other consideration other than commission to be included.

- Has anyone gone out and proven sales already for your company/product/service? If you can show success with someone else selling your wares (even yourself as the founder) then the argument for a larger commission-based compensation package could be made.

- Does your sales process require specific industry knowledge, level of education or length of experience out of the candidate? Typically the more sophisticated your requirements are for experience/pedigree, the harder it is to argue just a commission-based package.

The bottom line is that sales people, in general, typically embrace the commission side of their job with open arms; this is because they believe they can own/grow their earning potential themselves with effort and energy. So, if the primary metric for a position is the amount of revenue they can bring in, I would look for those people who are confident and get excited about the opportunity to own their earning potential, versus shying away from it right out of the gate.

If you want to discuss structuring your sales team or other compensation/motivation ideas, feel free to reach out.

Answered 10 years ago

Make them equal partners and get them involved in a common strategic goals. Let everyone feel it's something you all are building together. And they are doing it for free. Because everyone in a team likes ownership. When you go bootstrapping no one is a leader, but let everyone be an operative

Answered 10 years ago

Start to clearify the higher purpose with your business. Then you can adress your purpose and values to other people that has the same values that you and your business have. The inner force can then start to work for you 24/7/365 when you execute on this 5 step-process:

1. Communicate that purpose to people with human-to-human-communications-skills.

2. Secure that does people have high authenticity and love to create quantifiable values to other people. Customers love to speak with honest and authentic people who can deliver on trust, as part of the foundation for a good relationship.

3. Neglecting coin-operated people. Does guys are leaving next time that they get better payd somewhere else, and is often more "me-focused" than customer-value-focused.

4. Create a incentives based on stock options for a fixed price over time, linked to KPIs that drive increased value-sales. Higher NPS (NetPromoterScore) and improving quality and sustainability in all customer dialogues.

5. Eat -> Sleep -> Rave -> Repeat (Rave = Your purpose)

Answered 10 years ago

I have been involved in many startups, early stage and mature companies as a founder, owner, director, investor and advisor. I have observed that sometimes the best sales people will will work for just commission only but it must be a big commission and an easy sale. Usually the best sales people want a draw and expenses and other emoluments, and they can command them. If you would like to discuss this further please feel free to get in touch.

Answered 9 years ago

I have never hired sales people at startup but have had to convince other top quality people (including a senior Trip Advisor developer) to join. Here's my advice:
1) It is best if the founders get out and do the initial selling
2) If you do have to hire a sales person at the startup stage, DO NOT settle until you find a skilled one who is also genuinely passionate about your business....this is hard but worth it.
3) Offer them serious upside via big commissions and/or equity.

Answered 4 years ago


Money motivates. Sex motivates. Awards and titles and ego and power -- they all motivate. But NOTHING motivates like passion.

Sales isn't business. It's a god damn reason to burn down villages and conquer new lands. It's primal and bloody. If another dude is going to lay his life on the line for you you reward him accordingly -- you give him part of the booty. Right?

Answered 10 years ago

Not everyone is independently wealthy or can work without pay. As an executive in a startup you need to make certain sacrifices to keep the momentum going and hopefully you've prepared for that and have some cash flow to pay your bills. However, you can't expect everyone you hire to live by stock alone. There has to be some compensation as the best people out there should be making money at their current position. You have to find the happy medium of stock and cash flow. If your top candidate is the right candidate they should be willing to sacrifice a bit of cash flow to get in at the ground floor and help the organizations grow.

Answered 10 years ago

Proper incentives really depend on the person. Most really talented sales pros that I know are motivated by more than money. They might want upside (in the form of options or profit distributions). They might want the freedom to work weird hours or to not come to company meetings. They might want a base salary, plus commissions, plus milestone-based bonuses. Or they might want commission only with a fancy title and leadership responsibilities. Or they might want a certain percentage of topline profits plus performance-based bonuses. You've got to ask point blank, "What kind of offer can we make you that would be too sweet to pass up?" Then it's your job as the founder/executive to cobble together that offer in one way or another. Cliches still apply: you get what you pay for. A crappy base salary will get you a crappy sales rep. I love strategizing around this stuff, so if you want to discuss in more detail, let me know. Cheers, Austin

Answered 9 years ago

Enter your answer partnership, make them a part of the company

Answered 9 years ago

The book to read is "Exponential organisations". Here is a bad summary

The chapter to read is "Transformative purpose". If your purpose is worthwhile, people will work for you.

Answered 9 years ago

Hire part time sales people from low cost countries like India

Answered 7 years ago

You didn't say what kind of company you have. My experience is with tech companies where the sale is very complex. So, I will give you my thoughts from that perspective.

Pay them a base of what you'd pay a mid-level person at your company. Then give them HUGE upside potential. I've seen software startups pay $50k base and $500k OTE. If your person makes half a million bucks and is the highest paid person in the company you will be wildly successful.

A great book to read is "Selling the Wheel" which is a parable about a tech startup (the guy who invented the wheel) and all the various ways to make sales.

Answered 6 years ago

I believe, they should be part of the Company. To understand the Company culture, to sweat for Company targets, to suffer the Company failures.
Performance, based on financial targets only is short time strategy.
all the best

Answered 6 years ago

I believe it all depends on the performance of the company. Bootstrapping your start-up means growing your business with little or no venture capital or outside investment. Even if you and your co-founder have different skill sets, it is unlikely that both of you will know everything about how to run a company. Advisors can help your start-up grow, but there is a downside, too. Most advisors will want a stake in your company in exchange for their help and advice. Many start-up founders appreciate the connections their advisors have for introducing them to good talent or professional services, like lawyers, but your advisor is not just a Rolodex.
You can read more here:
When it comes to getting results, it takes motivation and ability. Motivation makes things happen. One of the best ways to improve your personal effectiveness is to master your motivation and find your drive. If you can master motivation, you can deal with life’s setbacks, as well as inspire yourself to always find a way forward, and create new experiences for yourself, and follow your growth. You simply start doing an activity and then your motivation kicks in. Find a way to link things to good feelings. For example, play your favourite song when you are doing something you do not like to do. It must be a song that makes you feel so great that it overshadows the pain of the task.
You can read more here:

Besides if you do have any questions give me a call:

Answered 3 years ago

If you have to bootstrap a company (and I've created 9 companies this way) the thing that is important to understand is that YOU have to be willing do ALL the jobs in the company!

Emphasis on WILLING. You don't actually have to do every job, but you simply must be willing to do every job that needs to be done. Hence creating a business with partners splits the workload.

The benefit of this is that you know EVERY aspect of your company inside out. And you REALLY learn how to create a business from the base up - a very valuable skill to have for when later on you have access to startup capital.

So if you have not gone out and done sales or have a resistance to doing this - maybe it's time to put your boots on and burn some leather!

In a startup - when you talk with clients you LEARN about the VALUE of your product in ways you could not imagine. You often discover hidden value because you often have to think on your feet and SELL the VALUE to someone else.

This hidden value could take your company in a completely different direction or allow you to increase revenue exponentially.

If you had not done the sales yourself you probably would not have discovered this hidden value.

When I bootstrapped a new SEO company about 15 years ago, there were just two of us in the company - me and my tele-sales partner. She made the appointments and I did the face-to-face calls.

I did all the face-to-face sales for the first year giving us solid sales data, a sales track record, and a sales process.

This made it easier to attract a TOP-FLIGHT sales manager on 100% commission. Our finances were still too weak to pay them a fixed salary plus commission, but when they saw the sales systems and data, they agreed to do the job for a month's trial on 60% net commission.

The deal was expensive for us but because we had the data we knew we could make it work. And the most important part was that it meant I could shift my focus to higher-value work - business development.

That sales manager stayed with us and drove our sales 100-fold over the next three years.

It was one of the best early development decisions we made. Our company grew from 2 to 30 team members in that same time period all from cashflow!

Answered 9 months ago

Bootstrapped startups often face financial constraints, which can make offering competitive salaries or significant base pay challenging, especially for sales hires. In such cases, commission-only or commission-heavy compensation structures are common. However, to attract and retain top talent while ensuring survival, startups can implement various strategies:

Competitive Commission Rates: While base pay might be limited, offering competitive commission rates can motivate sales hires to perform well. Ensure that the commission structure is transparent and rewards high performance.

Equity or Stock Options: Offer equity or stock options in the company to sales hires. This gives them a stake in the company's success and aligns their interests with the company's long-term growth.

Performance-Based Bonuses: In addition to commissions, provide performance-based bonuses for meeting or exceeding sales targets. This can provide extra motivation and reward exceptional performance.

Non-Financial Incentives: Offer non-financial incentives such as recognition, career advancement opportunities, flexible work arrangements, or professional development support. These can be valuable motivators, especially for salespeople who are driven by factors beyond monetary compensation.

Sales Training and Support: Invest in sales training programs, tools, and resources to help sales hires succeed. Providing comprehensive support can increase their confidence and effectiveness in their role.

Transparent Communication: Keep sales hires informed about the company's progress, challenges, and goals. Transparency fosters trust and engagement, motivating employees to contribute to the company's success.

Clear Career Pathways: Outline clear career pathways and advancement opportunities within the company. This gives sales hires a sense of direction and purpose, motivating them to perform well and grow with the organization.

Positive Work Culture: Cultivate a positive work culture that values collaboration, innovation, and employee well-being. A supportive and enjoyable work environment can increase employee satisfaction and motivation.

Examples of startups that have successfully implemented these strategies include:

HubSpot: HubSpot offers competitive commission rates, stock options, and extensive sales training and support to its sales team. The company also emphasizes a positive work culture and provides opportunities for career advancement.

Salesforce: Salesforce provides its sales team with competitive commission rates, stock options, and performance-based bonuses. The company invests heavily in sales training and support and offers opportunities for professional development and career advancement.

Zoom: Zoom offers competitive commission rates and stock options to its sales team. The company also provides extensive sales training and support and fosters a positive work culture focused on collaboration and innovation.

These examples demonstrate how startups can effectively motivate and retain sales hires while navigating financial constraints and ensuring long-term survival and success.

Answered 3 months ago

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