The daily for
New Zealand’s Startups

How to sell your product

Why the sales approach of decades past is exactly that – of the past – and what industry experts think should be done instead.


Mary Hurley

Movac's Sales Jam attendees

Off the back of the successful Disruptive Marketing Jam held in late October 2023 (see Caffeine’s story here), Movac, with Apprento’s assistance, was back again this week. This time, the premise was how to change the Kiwi approach to sales. 

“New Zealand’s got the IP, but we just aren’t good at selling,” explained Movac operating partner Serge van Dam at the event. 

The six presenters were Ricky Sevta, former global chief revenue officer at Simpro, Stickybeak CEO Anna Henwood, Aroa founder and CEO Brian Ward, Tracksuit head of sales Hamish Mathieson, Fallon Savery, the senior vice president revenue of Timely/SalonBiz and former Unleashed CEO Gareth Berry. 

All six broke down their best and worst sales story, their presentations jam-packed with so-called “battle scars.” 

“The event served as an excellent launchpad for the year ahead, particularly given that Movac is in the market with $230m of new funds to deploy,” says Movac general partner Jason Graham. 

Sales have changed; the doggedness of the 80s is long gone, said attendee Ryan Ashton following the event. 

Here’s what the presenters had to say:

Experience isn’t everything – Hamish Mathieson, Tracksuit

His worst: 

In 2019, Mathieson worked for a real estate startup, Knotel. The market was booming, with the London office boasting £5 million to £50 million ARR in the first twelve months.

Leading up to Christmas 2019, Mathieson had one final deal left to close the quarter. 

On December 18, he received an email saying the customer would sign that day. With his side sorted, he hopped on a plane from the United Kingdom back to New Zealand. During his Los Angeles transit, he checked his email, nothing. Back in New Zealand, nothing. The deal never came through. 

Looking back, Mathieson says he should have seen the warning signs. With the excitement of it all, the Knotel team had managed to miss the links between the failed deal and the emergence of Covid. By the time he returned to the UK a few weeks later, the changes were palpable. Suddenly, no one wanted the services Knotel was offering. 

Things for the startup fell apart quickly. Finally, in 2021, Mathieson awoke to the news that Knotel had filed for bankruptcy. He says that though the remaining team left with nothing, they didn’t feel despair, just gratitude for the startup experience. 

His best

After Knotel, Mathieson joined a new Kiwi startup, Tracksuit. Within a few months, he began building his sales team. 

They soon found a great candidate for the role, Charlotte Kight. The trouble was, though she had an impressive background, none of it was in sales. 

This went directly against the advice the Tracksuit team had been given to hire someone with experience. A fledgling business does not have the resources to spend time training people, they’d been told. 

Eventually, Kight’s charisma and persistence won out. And the results speak for themselves, Matheson says: “Tracksuit is not going backwards.” 

He says the decision to hire someone with authenticity has shaped the sales team today, placing empathy and vulnerability at the core of everything they do. Kight is now preparing to head Tracksuit’s new New York office. 

His advice is that sales should not solely be measured on experience. In today’s age, culture, soft skills and a willingness to leave behind any ego are more important. 

Steer clear of vampires – Fallon Savery, Timely/SalonBiz

Her worst: 

Two years after Kiwi tech company Vend was founded, Savery joined the sales team. At this point, the startup was growing rapidly, and wanted to “stretch its European footprint.” 

On paper, Berlin seemed the sensible option, says Savery, listing off the reasons why. Notably, they had a lot of leads coming from the city that had organically converted. 

Vend set up an office in the German capital but it wasn’t until it sent staff there that it realised a fundamental issue: there were regulations around tax in Berlin that meant the people using the Vend software were non-compliant. Ultimately, the team couldn’t scale and had to retrench. 

Savery says the experience taught her sales requires understanding the difference between the product market fit and the problem market fit. When you’re growing at scale, it’s easy to look at everything at a macro level, but you still need to connect one-on-one, she says. 

Her best: 

Following Vend, Savery joined another Kiwi tech company, Auror. The small team was moving into the Australian market and was about to pull off its largest deal by far. 

In the lead up, Auror was deliberate in its approach, coming up with two simple frameworks, she says. 

The first required identifying the four main buyer types: 

  1. The economic buyer – the person who holds the budget. 
  2. The technical buyer – the person with domain expertise. Essential to this for the Auror team was understanding the procurement process. 
  3. The user buyer – the person using the product every day. Auror made them the heroes, ensuring they had everything they needed to be enthusiastic about the product. 
  4. The champion – the person who sold the product internally. Savery says it was critical to understand how they were selling the product and their messaging. 

The team then paired that foundation with their second framework, which assessed the reasons someone may buy a product: 

  1. They’re in trouble right now. 
  2. They see trouble coming. 
  3. They want to be the hero and get ahead. 

Not only did having these two frameworks land that deal, but it set up the foundation for deals into the future. 

It also helped the team overcome the vampire (a person that will suck the life out of a deal by withholding information and controlling everything) versus buyer conundrum. 

Besides a cross and garlic, Savery says the best way to manage vampires is to get away from them quickly. 

Be surprisingly present – Brian Ward, Aroa

His worst

When Brian Ward’s company Aroa Biosurgery, a soft-tissue regeneration company, was looking to partner out their technology, he spent a lot of time on a licensing deal with one of the largest medical device companies in the world, Stryker. 

The deal was done subject to due diligence – a visit to New Zealand to meet the team and see the manufacturing facility. 

When they arrived, he knew halfway through the first day, it wasn’t going to happen. The company had realised Aroa wasn’t as advanced in commercial manufacturing as expected. 

The deal flopped – however, a few years later, the company phone rang. 

The CMO of a Philadelphian company, who had just sold to Stryker, called “looking for something new.” He told Ward that Stryker had recommended an interesting company down in New Zealand. 

The phone call eventually led to a successful licensing deal worth about half of Aroa’s revenue. 

Ward’s advice is to maintain good relationships even if things don’t go as planned. 

His best

Having spent plenty of time walking up to event booths and introducing himself or asking others to introduce him, Ward says the secret to selling is “being surprisingly present.” 

He also says being a Kiwi helped. “I was a curiosity; that Kiwi guy that turned up.” 

There were plenty of meetings he got but never deserved just because he kept showing up. An example of this is the first deal he ever made with a large, conservative company. 

“I just met them at conferences and rang them quite regularly,” he says, citing quite a few no’s early on from the company. 

Having spoken to the head of sales a dozen times, Ward knew a business deal was unlikely, but he chose to “trust the process.” 

This time, a new guy answered, telling Ward the previous head of sales had left. 

“I said I’ve been talking to him about a technology we have that we think would be great for your company,” Ward says. 

“He said, fantastic, I just came from your largest competitor, we’re looking to build out our portfolio. When are you next in the US?” 

Ward told him Monday, hopped on the first plane he could catch and got the deal signed. 

Why regular connection work – Anna Henwood, Stickybeak 

Her worst

Having recently switched from marketing to sales at research startup Stickybeak, Anna Henwood describes herself as “very early in the journey,” saying she wishes she knew five years ago what she knows now. 

Back then, she was working as CMO at Les Mills International. The fitness giant was in the process of licensing it's products worldwide. 

She says there’s a bit of a cult culture at Les Mills, with a tattoo for every workout. Often, these tattoos are present in the workout videos the company distributes. 

The massive failure came when the business tried to expand into Japan, which, due to gang associations, bans tattoos in gyms. All that footage “went nowhere,” she says. 

The experience taught her that market visits are hugely important but to make sure there are other ways of understanding your customer. 

She says you often end up in these “highly curated” environments where you learn nothing. Instead, it is best to find ways of observing and engaging at the ground level. 

From this experience, Henwood says sales and marketing should go hand in hand. 

Her best

Now, Henwood is the sales leader and CEO of Stickybeak. The startup helps organisations and individuals commission public quantitative surveys from their desktops. 

One of Stickybeak’s customers is the World Health Organisation, which it picked up in classic Kiwi fashion through knowing someone who knew someone. 

The startup worked with WHO to provide accurate consumer testing and insights for its Covid communications, and Henwood says “they’ve just hung onto that deal” ever since. 

Her lesson in making that relationship succeed is getting to know others’ businesses better than they know it themselves. That way, she says Stickybeak has been able to stay one step ahead of its client’s needs.

She also says that making the most of the relationship requires regular connection, showing up at every opportunity and being proactive. 

By way of an example, she says she always reaches out to WHO when Stickybeak has upcoming trips to Europe, asking if it has anything planned. When she did this recently, it responded by inviting the startup to speak at a conference about communications in crisis in Poland. 

That puts Stickybeak in front of Unicef, UN Women and all these other people, opening up further opportunities, she says. 

Unbundling what you have to offer – Gareth Berry, Unleashed Software 

His worst

When Unleashed decided to scale into the United States, it failed, despite best efforts. 

“We didn’t make it; we retreated with our tail between our legs, a million dollars and a whole lot of scars to prove it,” says Berry.

Looking back, Berry says the tech company had mistakenly assumed it had product market fit. When you’re a high-velocity company like Unleashed, you need tens of thousands of customers to scale in America, he says. At the time, it had just 300 customers.

It simply didn’t know the market well enough, he says. 

Nursing wounds, the startup took its failure as a learning experience when it decided to scale into the United Kingdom. 

“We took a step back and asked ourselves what we can do to prove that the UK is a scalable market?” 

Unleashed did an online experiment setting up people in the local office to focus on the UK market directly. “We told ourselves if we achieve this target, we’ll set up an office over there”, Berry recalls. 

After nine months, the startup saw incremental improvements. Berry and his COO, Lisa Miles-Heal, realised it was time for them to get on the ground. Miles-Heal, and her family, relocated. 

Today, the UK is worth 50 percent of Unleashed’s total market, which Berry attributes to “concentrating on doing it properly.” 

His best

When Unleashed started in 2009, it sold its software at $35 a month. Early on, Berry and his team were advised that making money that way would take a lot of work. 

Berry says he was told the best thing a software company could do was increase its price in small increments and frequently. That way, the customers would get accustomed to it and wouldn’t leave. 

Unleashed followed the advice, and by the time Berry left in November 2023, the annual cost for the software had risen from $420 to $10,000. 

The startup also decided to unbundle its services when it realised the support it offered with the software product was a point of difference to its competitors. Sixty percent of their existing customers signed up to pay for the software and the service – essentially paying double. 

His final pointer is that pricing for different markets is critical. While in New Zealand, there’s a number eight wire mentality that leaves people unwilling to pay much for a product, Americans, on the other hand, are willing to “pay a heck of a lot more.” 

Don’t get mesmerised – Ricky Sevta, Simpro Software

His worst

Following an inbound lead from a major client, Sevta and his team turned up to a meeting to seal the deal. 

Expecting significant returns – $100,000 MRI – Simpro had invested thousands of dollars into making the meeting happen. I was told, ‘Don’t turn up like a gangster, wear proper clothes,’ Sevta recalls. 

He says when the team turned up, it was “the whole shebang,” fancy building, handshakes, and so on. 

Starstruck by the potential deal, the sales team went so far as to do a presentation for the client, something Sevta says it never did. 

Fortunately, the client loved it. Unfortunately, the team hadn’t done its due diligence, and while it made a sale that day, it was only for one licence. Having spent thousands of dollars on that meeting, the team walked out with $129. 

Sevta says the lesson is that even at scale, you can get mesmerised. Don’t overlook your processes. 

His best 

While in New York, Sevta received a message saying the NYPD wanted to meet for dinner and drinks. 

Thinking it was the New York Police Department, Sevta took a cab to the location he was told – though he was confused why the department would want to meet, especially given the Simpro platform is directed towards tradies.

“[But] as long as you put on the drinks, I’m there,” he says. 

When he arrived, he noticed that there was no NYPD signage anywhere. Thinking it was a bit shady, he found himself ushered into a restaurant-cum-interview style space. 

“It was a weird setup.”

He was then introduced to the president of the NYPD which is when the penny dropped. It turned out that NYPD stood for New York Plumbing and Drainage, and before he knew it, he had been introduced to the LAPD, the Boston PD and “on and on.” 

He says while he barely spoke about Simpro for the rest of the night, that meeting led to a deal worth US$120,000 in monthly recurring revenue. It is one of the largest deals Simpro has had to date. 

He later discovered that the NYPD had contacted numerous people, but Sevta was the only “idiot to turn up.”

The lesson, Sevta says, is don’t overcomplicate it. Go with it, talk to people, and make some memories. 

As a caveat, he says his data point for this is one, so maybe he shouldn’t be trusted. 


Mary Hurley

Mary Hurley brings three years experience in the online media industry to the Caffeine team. Having previously specialised in environmental and science communications, she looks forward to connecting with founders and exploring the startup scene in Aotearoa New Zealand.

6 hours ago

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
6 hours ago

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.