Hello Inside Sales subscribers,
As part of a regular feature for Inside Sales, we'll be conducting interviews with industry sales leaders to gain insight, advice and motivation. Our latest installment is a Q&A with Pete Evenson, Co-Founder of Swoop. The LA-based company allows people and companies to book group transportation for company events, special occasion and private outings with an Airbnb-like business model.
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Q: What does Swoop do?
Swoop is a platform that makes it easy for people and companies to book group transportation. It’s a marketplace model, meaning we don’t own any vehicles and instead take over the entire operations process of fleet managers, rather than just being the broker. Our platform gives customers access to a variety of black cars, Sprinter vans, party buses, shuttles, coaches and limousines. Our customers are a mix of businesses, event planners, and groups of people. They plan weddings, team off-sites, or go to events such as concerts, wine tasting, and sporting events. Our motto is: if you're going with a group, think Swoop.
Q: What role in your background best prepared you to become the co-founder of a startup?
Before starting Swoop, I was a strategy consultant, a project manager, a marketing coordinator…even an analyst for the Department of Defense at the Institute for Creative Technologies. However, becoming a founder really stemmed from my parents -- both were entrepreneurs and ran small businesses in Los Angeles. As a kid, I was aware of their work ethic and drive, and also their ability to balance work and parenting. It was inspiring. They always encouraged me to start my own company; however, my path took a little longer than initially expected.
My first taste of sales came from my role with Microsoft, where I was working with the Head of Sales for Microsoft Stores and supporting their go-to-market strategy for their $1B retail division. This role included managing 100+ field sellers, establishing quotas, and developing inbound and outbound programs that would help sellers and their respective stores drive more sales. At the end of four years with Microsoft, Swoop was in the beginning stages: I was working part-time with a small group of friends, including Amir, my founding partner who at the time was consulting at Deloitte.
Q: Do you consider yourself a salesperson? Why/why not?
When I think about sales, I think of Don Draper from Mad Men. Incredibly articulate, charming, with a knack for killer closing lines that could get a deal done in one meeting. While it's nice for any salesperson to embody these qualities, I feel differently. To me, sales is a science on how to get people to see your product, purchase it, use it, and provide feedback on whether they would use it again. My unfair advantage may be my passion for the product, and building that product with a team of industry experts who are solving current problems within the group transportation industry. So, am I a salesperson? It depends on who you ask. But I tend to steer towards "sales-scientist."
Q: Swoop seems like a great service for startups to go out for a night on the town (read: drinking will be involved). Does your sales team go after that market, and has it been successful?
We build partnerships with the destinations to which people are traveling. However, this wasn’t the original plan. Early on, when we first started Swoop, it was an on-demand party bus company. Initially, that meant that people would book 10-15-passenger party buses equipped with bright lights, wrap-around seating, and big sound systems. Over the first six months, we got a ton of bookings, but quickly learned a few things that changed our customer acquisition model: 1) groups wanted choice and variety outside of just party buses 2) they wanted the ability to book in advance and not only on-demand and 3) groups were always going to a destination: wineries, concert venues, corporate offsite locations, etc.
That's when we shifted our sales approach, so that today, Swoop partners directly with businesses, destinations, and event organizers to become their exclusive transportation provider. The partner makes the referral to the customer who purchases directly from Swoop for their event. These partners generate demand and feed our retention.
While drinking on the Swoop is a bonus, we like to say that our automated booking platform, hundreds of unique vehicles, 24/7 concierge service, and logistical expertise have been some of the primary reasons that channel partners work directly with Swoop.
Q: A lot of startups are started by long-time friends, what has this experience been like at Swoop?
If long-time friends start startups, then our story at Swoop fits the mold. [Co-founder] Amir came from a transportation background – both of his parents ran transportation companies in Los Angeles. I met Ruben, our third co-founder only two years after meeting Amir, and we remained close until he joined Swoop from Facebook and Google last year.
When people tell us that it's not a good thing to start businesses with friends, I have to respectfully disagree. I'd be lying if I said it was easy, but what makes us unique is that all three co-founders are equally strong, and we have different strengths that complement one another.
Q: Have you purposely set culture standards at Swoop, or has it risen organically?
We've always had a mentality of moving fast, and that done is better than perfect, especially in a startup environment. We're lucky to have Ruben, who comes from a culture-first background with his experience at Facebook and Google. Ruben makes it a priority to set our culture standards at Swoop, so as we grow, our culture remains consistent. We've seen with other companies that sometimes it's too late to try and incorporate a culture that employees will get behind. It's pretty simple here at Swoop – our culture is based on authenticity, transparency, kindness, working fast, and getting things done. As Swoop evolves, the dynamics may change, but I'm confident that our philosophies and culture remain consistent.
Q: Do you adhere to any particular sales philosophies or methodologies?
I like to keep things simple. I stick to five core sales methodologies: 1) The discovery process is most important to understanding if there's a customer who will find value in our product 2) Consistency and preparation are crucial 3) Listen and have empathy 4) Use knowledge as your secret sauce (meaning to know the industry and product better than anyone) 5) Eat, sleep, and breathe the sales process.
There is no one-size-fits-all in sales, so I tend to take bits and pieces from sources/books to build my own method.
William Wallace is a sales veteran and journalist with years of experience in such diverse realms as High-Performance Computing, Big Data, education software and SaaS products. When not hunting for the next sales/business opportunity, he is a self-professed foodie and published writer with an abiding passion for all forms of expression.
Editor: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside).