Here's What I Learned From Being (Nearly) Crushed By Google

I took my first sales job in 2010. I started as employee #15, the fifth sales rep on staff, at a display advertising company called AdRoll. At the time, they were doing about $500k annually which, with a 15-person team, was barely enough revenue to keep the lights on.

I hadn’t worked there for more than a few weeks when we got some bad news: Google was releasing the exact same product. 

Having just arrived in San Francisco, I knew practically nothing about startups. I did know, however, that this was bad news. It was the one thing you didn’t want to happen. I mean, when Google releases a version of your product, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up on the working end of a steamroller. That’s exactly what I thought was about to happen. 

I went home and told my now-wife that I didn’t think I was going to be able to make rent. The startup game, it turned out, was no joke. She made a suggestion that I’ll always be grateful for: give it six months and see what you can learn.

Luckily, I took her advice. At the time, I thought that the only thing I’d learn was what it felt like to get flattened like a pancake. It turned out, however, that I’d end up learning a lot some much more valuable lessons.

 

Competing with Godzilla

Three or four weeks after Google’s release, we started to discover that we had a core advantage over them. We found our edge. There was one feature we could provide customers that Google couldn’t: the ability to run on multiple ad networks, including their same exchange. 

Because Google is as high-profile as it gets, they were now educating people about the services we offered. As more people started to learn about display advertising and retargeting (the type of ads we used), they started to have questions about the potential of such a product. They’d come to us wanting more information, and we’d sell them on the fact that we could provide them with cross-network advertising.

Obviously, this isn’t to say that we took down Google. We might as well have been throwing rocks at a brick wall. But we did go from selling a $25/week program to a $2k/week program.

We understood that by selling our unique feature and using our one advantage, we could grow. 

Sure enough AdRoll would eventually become the enterprise we wanted it to be. My team grew from a group of three people to a thirty-two person sales machine in a matter of eight months. Within two years, we were bringing in $58M annually. By the time I left, five years after I started, the company was selling $750k every day. 

 

Sales Isn’t Luck

The old saying goes something like, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. While I don’t want to say that Google coming after your customers is an opportunity, it kind of worked out that way. It only worked out that way, though, because my team was prepared. I didn’t realize how prepared they were when I went home and told my wife I wasn’t cutout for the startup world, but the people I worked with knew the product inside and out. They knew what we had to offer and where Google fell short. 

This is the kind of preparation you can only get through self-awareness. The best founders, salespeople and companies never stop assessing their own self-awareness. How much do you actually know about your customer’s needs? What can you offer them that the competition can’t? What do they want from your product now and what are they going to want from you in the future?

Asking yourself questions like these will help you grow your business today and prepare for the challenges you’ll face tomorrow.

It may not be a giant like Google, but someone or something is headed your way and now is the time to get ready for it. 

Ryan Williams