How an Investor in Startups is Now Also an Entrepreneur in the Making – Meet Steve Dana, the Sales Guru of Singapore
Some people have this amazing energy that is reflected in the way they communicate, share ideas and engage with others. These people are usually focused, dedicated, love getting things done and have an impressive ability to fit everything into an organized schedule. It’s all of these qualities that got us to interview Steve Dana – a company owner, a trainer, a coach, a consultant and a mentor for startups, with over two decades of experience in the world of sales.
Steve first came to Singapore four years ago to conduct a set of sales workshops where he met and fell in love with one of the students at the workshops. The couple got married and Steve settled in Singapore, turned his side-hustle into a full-fledged consultation company and now spends time teaching sales, conducting workshops and being highly involved in the startup ecosystem of Asia. Steve has been on both sides of the spectrum as an investor and an entrepreneur. He shares with us insights both as an investor and an entrepreneur which we are glad to have our network read, and be inspired from!
1. Please tell us about yourself. Who is Steve Dana and what does he have to offer to a network of entrepreneurs?
I graduated university in the USA with Education degrees. I discovered sales and have been a leader & teacher of sales for the past 25+ years. I have always dabbled in the start-up ecosystem and invested in a few as well. I realized the struggles entrepreneurs have today is not so much the quality of their product/service or the accuracy of their target customer profiles but rather their ability to articulate their message to the potential investors or clients. Additionally, I coach and train full-time with my own start-up company, Comet Sales Consulting.
2. How did it feel starting out on your own as an entrepreneur? Did you have any doubts or significant challenges that could have made you second-guess your ambition to create your own business?
I started originally back in 2007 but, using the current phraseology, it was a side-hustle. Yes, I was doing engagements, but I was not promoting my business. It was simply a means for billing. I was working at my normal full-time job while moonlighting with Comet Sales Consulting. Then, in 2014, things changed. I started taking more engagements and my clientele started to increase. In February of 2018, I registered in Singapore finally and moved my side-hustle to my main-hustle as they say. I would say that is the moment I became a true entrepreneur.
I have been an investor several times myself. As an investor, I coached the founders and led them down the path to success. It was still their vision, however, I was on the sidelines encouraging and guiding them. I have seen many things that work but also many things that do not work. Starting on my own as an entrepreneur is scary. When you have the safety net of a full-time job, it is mentally easier. As a full-time entrepreneur, my mindset changed for the better. I have a vision of what I want and how I am going to get there. I fearlessly pursue my goals and am more particular on my time management. My focus is narrow.
3. You started side-hustling back in 2007, when community networks or the Internet wasn’t as powerful or global. How did you manage to secure clients or funding for your business?
Early on, finding clients was more happenstance. I kept my ear open and my network strong. As time wore on, I began to get a nice following of former ‘students’. This following brought me in front of more & more future clients. Again, in the early stages, I was running a simple side-hustle and funding wasn’t an issue until I turned the side-hustle into a full-time company. For that purpose, I used my own monetary foundation that I had built over the years and so I did not run into the initial financial constraints of setting up shop.
4. What is it about the work you do that makes you satisfied and proud?
While a good percentage of my business is multi-national companies, I do a lot of work in the start-up ecosystem. I coach soft skills like communication & presentation skills as well as sales skills. All entrepreneurs need to be salespeople. My happiest and most fulfilling moments come when I get a breakthrough with a student. Suddenly, she lights up with a spark of enthusiasm, ‘Oh, I get it now!’ Yes! [fist pump] It is priceless for me! This is why I do this.
5. There has been a significant rise in female entrepreneurship in the APAC region. What’s your view on the matter and how do you think these women can be empowered to do more?
Yes, it is being noticed that the shackles have been thrown off and females are starting to take a step into the spotlight. I think it is great. I believe I heard a statistic the other day that 20% of founders are female. We need many more. We need to get this percentage to 50%. I coach the female entrepreneurs to step out of the subconscious, subservient roles traditionally expected of females. They need to confidently shine in their knowledge and experience. The only thing holding them back is their own mindset.
6. You have joined a network of entrepreneurs with Woomentum. What do you expect out of it and where do you see yourself contributing the most?
First, I would beg the network to speak up and engage each other. Please! The only way to learn is to engage. Yes, our lives are very busy; all of us. Schedule the time to interact. Our lives can be easier if we work together to learn from each other’s experiences, triumphs and mistakes. I will continue to learn as much as I can about the Woomentum world and will be ‘vocal’ in my thoughts on sales, communication, business storytelling and entrepreneurship.
7. Most entrepreneurs today want to start their own business but the major bottleneck has always been funding. What advice do you have in this regard?
Yes, yes, this is the million-dollar question…literally. Look, the funding struggle or dance will always exist. However, I do coach a few things to ensure you have a better than average fighting chance.
One, have your 4 quadrants handled: Who we serve (customer profiles), What we serve (our products/service), Who we are (branding), and How we serve (customer experience). I handle this in a workshop format. Typically, founders are good at handling the first two but fail miserably in the last two…or, it could be the reverse.
Two, know how to articulate your company and its vision. You can be great if you take the time to learn to communicate your vision and why you do it. You should have several versions depending on time and your audience. Practice & rehearse them over and over. Also, know your potential market backed by logic and verifiable numbers. Investors will always want to know the numbers.
Finally, know your ask. An investor is buying into YOU as much (or more) than the company. If they feel you lack the competence & character to lead this company into success, the productor service means very little to them. Also, if you need $500K funding to give you 18-months of runway, then ask for it. Don’t be shy. Don’t ask for $500K if $1 million is what you need. If this happens, you look ill-equipped to run the venture.
Great advice indeed! Steve’s experience as both an investor and now an entrepreneur is highly valuable especially since it gives us an understanding into both sides of the coin. For entrepreneurs, the ability to articulate the right message and understanding what an investor looks into is the key to success.