Do you want to know the real deal about the life of an entrepreneur? Lance Tyson has an intense discussion with Sam Caucci, the President and CEO of 1Huddle. Based in Newark, New Jersey, Sam gets brutally blunt as the two discuss the raw and gritty reality of life as an entrepreneur, making the transition from top sales producer to venturing out on your own and the importance of non-negotiable, core standards. Buckle up! This interview will hit you between the eyes.
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Against the Sales Odds Discuss the Life Of An Entrepreneur With Sam Caucci
Welcome to the show. I have a friend and business partner, Sam Caucci. He is with 1Huddle. We have developed a relationship over the years and we have been strategizing together. We have an opinion on how to train salespeople and align on many cases. Sam, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Thanks, Lance. I’m excited to be here. I’m Sam Caucci. I founded a company called 1Huddle. 1Huddle is a workforce platform. We’re a tech startup. We turn employee communication, training and everything employees need to know. We have a platform where you can turn it into quick-burst mobile games. That’s the platform. If I go back, I spent my early days running sales for a sports performance company out of South Florida in the performance-athletes side of the sports industry.
I got lucky enough like a true sales guy to walk in and be in the right place at the right time and realize that, “This is something I need to do when I walk into a weight room in Miami one day.” I don’t know if you know this story, Lance. I walked into the weight room and in the weight room were Eli Manning, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch and Anquan Boldin. The head trainer from IMG had left and moved to Miami to start his own sports performance company. They just so happen to be in build-out for their facility and they were using my high school.
I went to Chaminade-Madonna High School in Hollywood, Florida. They were using our high school weight room to get the business off the ground. I had signed this long snap at Alabama. I was in the weight room training and met the founders and head strength coaches. The next thing you know, they said, “We’ve got a bunch of strength coaches but no sales guys.” I decided not to go to Alabama and stay. That was my first job as a sales guy at eighteen and I have used that experience selling to come up with the concept for 1Huddle.
You started selling at eighteen. You worked there. Where did you go from there? I have heard the fitness piece. You have integrated that before. From there, you sold that. What else did you sell?
I did that for 5 to 6 years. I was the only seller, decided to start managing a salesforce. I started hiring up young sports management students right out of college and bringing them in to be our first sellers. I screwed up a lot of salespeople. If I can go back, I will start learning. At a certain point, I started to realize I thought I knew everything. I was looking for another challenge. The company was doing well but wasn’t taking off as it should. I got an opportunity to move to New Jersey to open the first Life Time Fitness health club.
I have had a membership and been sold a membership to. Not that one but in Columbus, Ohio, so I got you.
This was in 2008 and at that time, the market didn’t crash yet so life was a lot of luck. I had moved to Jersey and I saw it as an opportunity. Life Time had 80 clubs, was publicly held and was a $400 million box. They put me in charge of membership sales. I saw it as an opportunity to work inside of more corporate infrastructure and see if I could pack it here. I did that for two years. We blew it out of the water as every Life Time club does.
Don’t try to hire someone you’re not. The management you hire and the leadership around you has to be like you.
I learned a lot and made one final jump before I started 1Huddle. I joined a company called the Parisi Speed School. They’re a sports performance franchise model like Velocity. They had 60 units at the time and needed somebody to oversee franchise sales. I didn’t know anything about selling franchises but I thought it was pretty cool. Here’s a $100,000 transaction and I had the opportunity to put me in charge of their NFL Combine prep program and franchise sales. They needed help building out their sales and customer service training modules.
That was my first real experience at building out training content. I did that for two years and we grew to 100 clubs. I traveled the world going into businesses and helping them with their salesforce. It was there where I had an a-ha moment as not a tech guy but I had an idea. I thought that technology could solve the problem but the company spent so much money on eLearning platforms outside eLearning software that nobody wants to use anymore.
The reality is being over and coming out of college, the last thing you want to do when you get a job is to take a test. That was what I would say when I was raising money. When I had the idea, I put all my savings into the concept that I had been growing a little bit over time and started reaching out to people I knew in technology. The next thing you know, I got invited to join an accelerator program in San Francisco called 500 Startups. I had gotten married. What did I do four months after I got married? I packed my bags and went to San Francisco.
That was appreciated. There are a couple of things I know about you. I knew we met real quick on something and there was something that attracted me to you as a salesperson. I know a couple of things about you. Every time I talk to you and any time we talk business, you always know your markers like, “I got this deal. I’m going to speed this up and reduce this.”
That’s one thing I know about you and you’re goal-oriented. Every time I talk to you, you’re the kind of entrepreneur that likes to tell your goals. It’s one of the things that publicly hold you accountable because you put it out there and it keeps you on target. When you were in sales at eighteen years old, what kind of salesperson were you? Were you a fast-moving dealmaker or creative? What do you look like? Were you a pain in the ass to manage?
I was stubborn and I would isolate myself. I found that I was a hunter so I would go out and try to figure things out. That was good in that environment.
Were you like a lone wolf?
Yes. It worked in that environment because nobody else in the organization was a seller. I looked at a strength coach who’s sitting here training 40 players to the NFL Draft and said, “We could take this product, go to every high school and sign the next 15 to 16-year-old kid into our program.” That worked because nobody else was in the business. As we grew, the challenge became teamwork with the lone wolf in charge. That was something I struggled with and had to learn a lot from.
You know as well as I do. As you build sales teams, I find so many sales teams have a lone wolf who’s successful and it’s okay. Sometimes they’re even a catalyst for everybody else. I get into some sales teams and they want everybody to play ball the same way. I’m like, “Do you want a football team or a swim team?” Sometimes you want a swim team or a wrestling team and that’s okay. I acted like that as a salesperson too. Would you say you were hard to manage?
If I had to say yes or no, I would say yes. I would say that only because I was so goal-oriented that anything that I felt was not helping me to hit the goal, which in my mind at the time was about the company, I would not listen to and focus on. It worked in a startup environment like that because I was writing the business, the CEO and other people looked the other way. As we grew, I realized I had to evolve if it was going to succeed.
If you’re bringing stuff to the table, especially in companies that aren’t doing it, you’re going to be managed by exception, not always the role. The other thing when I first mentioned that I love is there are certain people I meet and I go, “What can I take from that person and add to myself?” When I first met you, this one we owned a call center, this is when you’re telling me you were part of that group in San Francisco.
I was like, “This guy has balls with the way he asked for money and sought those investors.” I don’t think a lot of people understand this. As an entrepreneur, you have to be so enthusiastic about your product or service. I watched you as you were coming out of the second phase or second round of asking for money or seeking investors. I remember how enthusiastic you would always be about the product. I was saying to myself, “He used the sell that way to get people to invest money.” How did your sales skills get people to invest?
Being a tech startup, I realized that the sales skills you have once you have to fundraise are superadditive. I looked around the world out in Silicon Valley and I was looking at all these other founders who were technology guys first. They would get up in front of the room and talk about the product. I said, “That’s not what you do in a pitch.” I will go do a pitch, get up there and say, “Crappy salespeople cost you a lot of money. I got the thing that’s going to fix it.”
That helped me get a jumpstart. The biggest challenge that I got to work through and made me better on the back end was selling your product and selling your business are close but different. When I was selling the product to a company, it was different in the way that you were still trying to solve a problem. When I was selling the business model, I had to think big. That stretched me and made me a better seller when I was talking about the product. I had to sit in front of an investor and he would say to you, “I get it. This is a huge business. It’s going to be worth $10 million, $20 million or $30 million.”
I had to sit there and figure out how is this going to be a billion-dollar business. That was tough. I remember years ago and some salespeople can relate to this someone would say, “Sam, your products are underpriced. You should be charging $100,000 a year for it.” I was like, “You’re crazy. That’s way too much.” I had never wrapped my head around that. That limited me. That exercise out there taught me to think bigger and wider. I wish I had done it earlier.
It’s part of the evolution too. It’s how you move your career up in sales or make the jump because you made a quantum leap. You go, “I’m a seller. I’m going to go become a seller in a system that was set up a little bit.” That’s what Life Time is. They have a system that works. I’m sure you have added a lot of creativity to it because it’s who you are.
You then had to go draw it all out. You invent something from nothing when you started 1Huddle and convince other people that this something could be something. You had to sell that and sell your business and the product. You’ve also had to sell. How has selling helped you recruit people? You probably had a lot of early employees where you had to sell them a dream. I know your guy has been with you for a while.
There’s no doubt about it. You’re the chief recruiting officer 1,000%. Think about the time we’re in now with the Coronavirus going on as an example. The first thing I did was think about how I could keep my team excited, engaged and connected. I have to do that more on a daily basis than I did before. As the company evolved, I went from selling the product. Once that started to happen, I could hand it off. Raising money, I’m always going to do that and have to go find great talent.
What are you best at? Are you best at recruiting, selling somebody on the product or selling for money?
I still think I’m the best at selling the product. I don’t think that’s going to change.
I don’t think that ever shuts off for you. I’m not criticizing it. It’s one of the things I love about you. I always say to anybody that has started their own company that they’re always going to be able to solve a different level because of the enthusiasm level for that. You sold yourself because you have committed to the whole thing. I’m the same with my business so I appreciate it.
Roger is our number one sales guy. He’s a rockstar for us. Still to this day, when I and him do a joint demo together, it’s a war act. He calls over and I’m on like, “You should have done this. You did this well. He’s doing this.” I take it personally.
I want you to think of two scenarios. The premise of this whole thing is every time I talk to a leader like you, most successful salespeople end up being sales leaders or catapult their way up into senior leadership. I’m not sure the skillsets line up. I know they haven’t for me and there are a lot of things I would do. I still have a sales guy on me. Sometimes it’s a sucky leader. That makes me a sucky leader. When you managed Life Time Fitness, what pissed you off about salespeople? When you flip it over and look at your sales team now, what is one thing that frustrates or grinds you? I think that’s where your values start.
The thing that I learned at Life Time that would piss me off is I don’t think it was something about the salesperson. It was more about the culture. The culture allowed salespeople to slack off until the end-of-month. We had an end-of-month closeout. It created an environment where my lazy sellers weren’t bad sellers. I had one guy. He would do 5 memberships over 27 days into 50 in the last 72 hours. You know those guys. I would see him in the cafe all month hanging.
Success means being able to spend your time doing what you want to do.
That bothered me but it bothered me more because of the environment. As I have taken it into my business now, I have learned that I spend a lot of time with the sales team thinking about motivation. I believe very truly, even in the startup world. A lot of founders give their salespeople a lot of equity. I don’t believe that except for maybe your first few employees. Salespeople want to make money.
If you try to motivate them with things that are important to me but not to them, you create a bad culture and a bad environment. I have worked hard to think about how we set up alignment between the goals I have to be responsible for to our board. I report every quarter. Quarterly numbers matter most. The monthly numbers, we got to keep people on pace for. I have worked hard to make sure there’s that synergy.
The problem with a startup is we’re expected to grow. I’m supposed to triple even given what’s going on. There are no exceptions. You’re moving so fast that sometimes the roles run away from the person that’s in them. I got some salespeople who are great, but the fear is as we grow, the role is going to expect more. If they don’t keep up, I’m going to have to reposition them. I don’t want to lose them.
What you’re looking for there is you’re always concerned about capacity. If they’re going to have that skillset to be creative or negotiate without parameters or something like that, they may not have that here. That makes sense. That’s why sometimes I talk to sales leaders and I’m like, “They’re so nitty-gritty.” Sometimes, grit doesn’t get you as far as being savvy. I want the gritty person but sometimes they don’t have the skillset to pull it off but a duck’s a duck at the end of the day.
Too many sales managers I’ve seen try to hire something that they’re not. They think they’re doing that from the position of being democratic or getting balanced. It has a lot to do with putting somebody in a role that you hope is going to have a magic bullet that you don’t. I have learned that the management I hire and the leadership around me has to be like me. In sales, you got to be like me and on the same, “I’m a hunter.” I want that mindset next to me.
You can add the other stuff with other roles like, “Every salesperson sucks at CRM. I don’t care what anybody says.” It doesn’t matter what CRM you have whether opting for Excel, Dynamics or Salesforce. We hired a sales director and I said, “I don’t need to hire a sales director that’s good at CRM. I’ll hire a sales ops person or CRM person to do that part of the job.” I need someone that’s going to coach first and hunt.
Flip over that into thinking you’re leading an organization and you hired a sales director. What are your above and beyond leadership and management qualities throughout your organization as it relates to sales leadership? What’s your core philosophy? You said hunting is part of this. What else?
We have a set of core standards we call at 1Huddle for our sales team. There are five. Smart, tough, competitive, sharp and selfless. You can’t even get hired on our team if you’re not those five. They’re what I call non-negotiables. Every salesperson and professional should have non-negotiables. It’s something that under any circumstance you’re not willing to break. If you’re a fitness guru, you don’t eat at McDonald’s. It’s non-negotiable under any circumstance.
As an example, for me, you got to be smart and tough. We’re going to go through a lot of hard times. You have to want to compete. Sharp means that when you submit a proposal or a deck, it’s right every time. Anything that leaves your email, if we put that thing in The Wall Street Journal, it’s perfect. The final part is selfless because the selfless part is the most important thing I’ll expand on.
Speaking as a tech startup that’s growing quickly, if I go into a bar, I need to know people have my back. If we’re going to war, people can’t retreat. Those are the five things. What I have learned to do is revolve around every coaching session, coaching opportunity, training and learning back to one of those five. We punch those home and don’t go off and steal quotes from Gary Vee, Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar. Those are our five. They got to fall into those five lanes.
The way you’re saying it sounds important to you. They’re your values. You hear all of these things about the culture. I was telling you that earlier. I worry about some of these companies that are going through COVID and had to furlough all these salespeople. There are these culture companies and they’re going to end up bringing these folks back. They’re like the last kids picked on the kickball team. They’re going to be pissed off like, “In your culture, you didn’t take care of me.” The leader has to. It’s not somebody else’s culture. It’s your culture that comes from leadership.
When you think of your sales, what you hold people accountable for are your values. What’s the biggest thing in a tech startup? What activity? What’s that momentum you’re looking for all the time? You were talking about one deal out of pharmaceutical like, “What if we sold it smaller? We were able to turn this faster.” What’s the look there? What’s the one thing most important to you? I know there are several.
Our business is contingent like any other business model. The most basic metric we look at is how many discovery calls we conduct every day. The discovery is the first stage. The lead has got to be generated first and the appointment has got to be set first before that. The thing that I will look at every day first to get an idea of our pipeline is, “How many discovery calls did we do as a unit?”
That gives me my first number that everybody can be aligned with. We bonus our whole team based on that number. Everybody in the organization is tied to that number. I’m also a big believer in not having too many metrics. There’s no doubt I could look at the time to close, which we know is 91 days and our average contract value, upfront fees and the number of second demos that we do, which we cause these people to be leaning in.
Look at Apple or Dell. Do you remember Dell and Compaq? Do you remember when you used to fly, that would be on the back page. It would be like, “Build your computer. There are 7,000 ways to do it.” There’s Apple that built the biggest company in the world by telling you, “You don’t get to pick any of it. Here’s the product.” Focus is critical. The biggest thing I took from my time in the Bay Area was to have a complete focus on one metric. That metric may change quarterly but I don’t change it often.
For example, we’re not focused on discovery calls. We launched a free product, which is a trial. People are not spending quickly at this moment. We said, “We have to change how we operate.” We want to get people on the product. Maybe they’re not going to give us discovery calls. For the next 60 days, we’re going to focus all of our attention on marketing. All they care about is setting up trials. For customer success, make sure the trials are playing. For sales, get people signed up on trial. Everybody is focused on the trial.
Let’s switch gears. I ask this question to everybody. You have a 7- or 8-year-old niece or nephew and you’re sitting on a bench with them and they go, “Uncle Sam, what does success mean?”
Success means being able to spend your time doing what you want to do. It’s if everybody could spend their time whether that’s with family or business. There are serial entrepreneurs out there. I joke, “This is going to be my only startup. I burned the ships. This is it.” For me, I’m aligned to work my ass off to get this to where it needs to go to win. That’s what it would be. Put yourself in a position to do what you want to do.
When you were selling, what was your sales song if you had to pick one?
You’ve talked about this before.
It’s always a tough question for people, “I didn’t even have one, Lance.”
I didn’t have a sale song but if I had to pick a sales song, yours has got to be Eminem.
It’s Onyx’s Slam.
It’s Public Enemy’s He Got Game.
There you go. I was just listening to a little PE. I watched this Jordan thing too. It was very old-school rap so I’m digging it. Here’s the last question. If you had a book to gift besides your own book and Sam does have a book, what would you gift to somebody if you had to give a gift as a book?
I’m a big fan of history. I don’t read a lot of business books anymore. I find that I like to hear stories about people. My favorite is Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Put yourself in that dude’s shoes for a little bit small and come out of it a leader. You try leading a country from behind prison. That dude was doing some stuff.
Sam, it has been real. This has been great. I learned a bunch of stuff about you I didn’t even know, especially the story about the Life Time Fitness salespeople push off. I love that. I appreciate you being on and I’m looking to connect. Good luck through this whole stuff. I’ll talk to you soon.
- Life Time Fitness
- Parisi Speed School
- NFL Combine
- 500 Startups
- Long Walk to Freedom
About Sam Caucci
I’m the Founder & CEO of 1Huddle. I have a firm belief everybody deserves access to a job that prepares them and skills them up for work.
Our platform is helping companies across the globe develop a more powerful workforce.
1Huddle is a workforce training platform getting people ready to work using quick-burst games. Leading the charge to help organizations, across the globe, better prepare their people for the future of work. Global clients include professional sports teams, politics/government, hospitality, retail, finance, healthcare, college/universities, and more.
Featured on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, SKY News, Yahoo!Finance, The Huffington Post, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal.
Clients include: U.S. Air Force, UEFA, vineyard vines, Loews Hotels, ESPN, Audible (an Amazon Company), Novartis, Madison Square Garden, the City of Newark, and more.
We are proud to be supported by some of the world’s best VC’s and investors, including 500 Startups and Tribeca Venture Partners.
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If you’re a CxO looking to onboard employees faster and up-skill better, shoot me a message.