Fishers resident Jim Brown raised $1 million for a home-services tech startup called Haven in October 2014. Less than a year later, he found himself shuttering the business.
It was a humbling experience for Brown, who had been a rock star salesman at a few local tech firms, including Slingshot SEO and Compendium. As a fallback while searching for new opportunities, he did sales consulting for tech companies. It wasn't the plan originally, but that work eventually became his new opportunity.
Today, the 35-year-old runs a sales-training company called SalesTuners. It's not a tech company, but through it Brown thinks he can help the tech sector build up one if its most precious resources—quality salespeople.
The six-month-old operation has 10 clients and is on track to do $400,000 in revenue in its first year, far greater than the $100,000 Haven generated in 18 months in business. He's the only full-time employee for now, but he's working to build out a roster of experienced coaches.
"The initial plan was," Brown said, recalling conversations with tech firms last year, "we'll get together a couple times a month, you'll ask me questions, I'll help you work through some deals and we'll go from there.
"And it just started to grow. As they started to see some success, they asked, 'Do you have anything more formal? Can you structure it a little bit?'"
The stopgap gig got some structure and became SalesTuners, a name he adopted from a sales-oriented podcast Brown started last summer as a hobby. The podcast, which has more than 31,000 downloads since inception, helped Brown build brand recognition and even has generated a few leads.
SalesTuners has three offerings for software makers or tech-services clients, an example of which is the Indianapolis product-development agency Innovatemap. The first offering is group training for salespeople, the second is one-on-one coaching, and the third is strategy advising for executives.
There's has been an explosion of tech companies in Indianapolis over the past several years, Brown said, but not an equal explosion in sales talent. A superb product can only get a tech company so far.
"What I'm doing is using the now-15 years of professional sales experience and teaching them the core fundamentals, or what I call the 'essentials' of how to actually sell," Brown said. "I couldn't care less about the product or what it does—I solve customer pain points."
The Indiana University graduate made a name for himself in sales at Slingshot SEO, a power hitter on a team that in 2011 grew revenue to $11 million from $2 million a couple of years earlier. He also built out a sales team at Compendium, which Oracle acquired in 2013.
He and a few business partners started Haven in February 2014. It was a consumer-focused app that helped homeowners manage tasks—such as when to change HVAC filters—and find home service providers. It made money on a percentage of closed sales by service providers listed on the platform.
The startup didn't get far in the home-services industry, which for years has proved to be a challenging marketplace for even larger corporations, including Angie's List.
Haven ceased operations in August 2015. Having invested a five-figure amount in it and forgoing a salary for two years, Brown said he started sales consulting as a way to generate income while looking for his next move. But as he gained traction, he discovered a new challenge to tackle as an entrepreneur—and he had a recent failure to guide his approach.
"Rather than try to selfishly create a solution to a problem that wasn't well-defined," he said, comparing Haven to SalesTuners, "I actually listened to prospective customers and their needs and built something to fulfill their demand."