EP 13: The Most Important Class You Didn’t Take
Tom "TK" Kuegler | CIO at Alumni Ventures Group
This experienced venture capitalist says you must be good at sales to succeed in any type of business. Here’s TK’s advice on how to become an effective salesperson and why that skill relates to VC. (Listen)
Episode Summary: While many of his 15-year-old peers worked at fast food restaurants and mowed lawns to make a little money, Tom “TK” Kuegler started a landscaping company that he sold for a quarter of a million dollars during his senior year in high school. Though TK has since started and exited many successful businesses, he says the experience taught him that he was “always going to be a good salesperson.”
In this episode of Founders and Funders, TK shares his opinions on why being a salesperson is important at any position in a company, why sales should not be viewed negatively, and how to become a more effective salesperson. He also gives the backstory on why he believes that “all ideas suck.” For those and other no-holds-barred opinions, have a listen.
Introducing Tom “TK” Kuegler
TK is a Member of the Board of Directors and Chief Investment Officer at Alumni Ventures Group (AVG), where he helps launch new venture capital funds, recruit deal teams, and oversee portfolio management. He is also the Co-founder and General Partner of Wasabi Ventures, a venture capital incubator and consulting firm that builds and advises early stage tech companies. Wasabi Ventures has launched, financed, and advised more than 200 startups. In his 25 years of startup activity, TK has been a part of more than 1,500 rounds of financing as an investor, founder, or adviser. He is the author of Web Advertising and Marketing and dozens of articles about startups and software, and he is also a frequent lecturer.
TK earned a BS in Economics from Loyola and is a former member of the Board of Sponsors of Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business.
As CIO of AVG, TK is an integral part of each fund’s investment committee. In this capacity, he sits in on nearly every investment call and coaches the investment teams on how to look at potential deals. Leveraging his vast experience as a founder and as a highly successful venture capitalist, TK guides the teams into building VC fund portfolios that match what AVG’s customers have been promised.
Three Takeaways from This Podcast
Not good at sales? Think you can’t sell? Tom “TK” Kuegler says it’s time to get over that thinking. This lifelong entrepreneur believes that whether you’re a first-time founder, experienced CEO, or the new hire in human resources, every job and every aspect of running a business revolves around sales.
“Sales has many forms,” he says. “Everything from putting the right marketing message together and making sure that’s portrayed in a way that does something, all the way to you getting in front of someone and telling a story to convince them to come along with you.”
As you listen to TK’s story, from his early experience as a first-time founder on up to his meeting with Mike Collins that eventually led to TK joining the team at AVG, it’s easy to see why he’s such an effective salesperson and why this often overlooked skill is so critical to success. In addition to tips on sales, this podcast touches on a number of other things that founders and funders need to know, including this:
1. Learn empathy
According to TK, the key to being a good salesperson is being able to empathize with your prospects so that you can understand what their pain points really are and how you can help them. In this podcast, TK gives examples of how he uses empathy to hire the right people to work for AVG, to ensure the deal teams invest in the right businesses and that potential investors are comfortable getting involved with the company. Though TK is most definitely selling in every example, it doesn’t feel like he’s pitching you. It sounds more like an opportunity is being presented and a partnership is being formed — which is precisely what TK wants.
2. Don’t fall in love with your idea
More than once, TK has been quoted as saying, “All ideas suck.” In this podcast, he gives the backstory on that statement, which is basically that businesses have to evolve from their genesis to what the market will actually sustain. Original ideas, TK says, are always wrong. You have to be willing to “move and listen and understand from the beginning that your original idea is not 100% correct.” Executing on your first idea, however, is what will get you to the next one. So don’t fall in love with the wrong idea or sit comfortably with it for too long or the business will never get where it needs to go.
3. Keep your promises
One thing TK takes very seriously is delivering on the promises made during the sales process.
At AVG, for example, one of his jobs as CIO is to ensure that the investment teams build portfolios that match what the managing partners have promised investors.
“What we are promising a customer, our individual investors in a fund,” he says, “is that if you invest in this fund, you will get a diverse portfolio that matches the best that we can find in venture capital for that given year across those three vectors.” Those three vectors are geography, investment stage, and sector or industry. To accomplish that, sometimes TK has to steer a team away from a deal that would make the fund too heavy in one vector. Or he might partner with a great lead investor who has depth in a particular industry to add that diversity to portfolios.
That’s just one of the many promises made by AVG that TK works to fulfill. There are many others, as explained in this podcast.
TK also shares a surprisingly personal detail on what motivates him to work so hard each day. He’s driven by something that many people probably feel but few are willing to admit: Fear of not delivering. Fame and fortune have nothing to do with it.
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