When you hear about a sales job, what do you picture? Do you see a door-to-door salesman, a call center worker, or a highly-paid white-collar professional?
Murali Kumar, the founder of Midgear, believes sales positions today are increasingly the latter. As a former call-center-worker-turned-salesman, he believes many in his home country of India underestimate the benefits of a career in sales – and companies are suffering because of it.
After losing his job during the pandemic, Murali taught his unemployed friends the basics of tech sales. Once he had a network of 40 sales contacts, he pitched previous Bootstrappers business, Kommunicate, with an idea for a new type of sales team.
Murali’s business, Midgear, would train Kommunicate’s sales team while they worked – saving thousands of dollars and hours of interviews and training sessions.
Devashish, the founder of Kommunicate, liked Midgear’s business model so much that he referred it to other startups in India. The business grew so fast from there that Murali had to turn dozens of potential clients away.
Just a few years later, Midgear brings in a healthy $300,000 in ARR to this sole founder and his small team. Now that he’s secured cash flow, Murali wants to take his business into the education field and start training call center workers in the art of tech sales.
Here’s his blueprint for building a successful sales business without spending a cent.
Learning English and Sales in the Call Center
Murali had worked in sales and business development for over a decade when he lost his job during COVID. He’d begun to burn out as a salesman, but sales were his life. “I’d never done anything apart from sales since age 16,” he says.
Murali’s first sales job had been a turning point in his life. He took a position as a telesales rep at AOL after poor English skills forced him out of college. “I couldn’t speak English at the time and I didn’t really study it,” he says. “Suddenly, my college changed to English curricula and I couldn’t cope. I dropped out and joined a call center to get better at it. Once there, I only had one quick lesson on how to speak to customers and then I was thrown right into taking calls with Americans. I learned fast.”
After working at AOL, Murali went on to a career spanning every aspect of sales at over six different tech startups in India. In these positions, he grew and trained sales teams sometimes in the hundreds. By the time he finally was let go for the first time in 2020, he was regularly working as Chief Revenue Officer at local tech startups like Vizmo (tourist management systems) and Signbees (digital advertising).
After that fateful layoff, Murali tried one last sales job in 2020 but soon quit because he didn’t like the culture. He then decided to devote his time to helping his friends find sales jobs. “About thirty to forty people from my previous team had also lost their jobs,” he says. “I started teaching these people sales tactics like best practices for following up with customers and cold calls.”
Soon, Murali had a growing contact list of people with sales experience. A valuable asset in India’s burgeoning startup scene where he’d noticed startups had difficulty finding competent salespeople.
Companies don’t understand the damage they do by hiring people who aren’t trained.
“There is a lot of time invested when hiring salespeople,” he says. “Usually, we end up hiring the wrong ones because we want to do it fast. We never have sales trainers in-house because most businesses think this is an unnecessary expense. They usually want a salesperson who already has experience and they don’t care if their experience is unrelated. Companies don’t understand the damage they do by hiring people who aren’t trained.”
Murali says investing in salespeople is a huge financial risk for businesses. “If my sales team is around twenty people and four people suddenly quit, sometimes the whole sales team can follow them out the door. Then you have to hire and train an entirely new team. There are so many challenges just like that.”
Equally, Murali saw a severe lack of salespeople in India for these high-paying positions. Most joined the industry by accident.
“There has never been much of a sales industry here because there’s a stigma that sales jobs are loser jobs,” he says. “Most think of sales as door-to-door salesmen with stagnant careers. Most educated people get into sales when they can’t get into medicine or engineering but feel peer pressure to get a job.”
But, according to Murali, this is not how things have to be. “Everyone needs a salesperson. With businesses clamoring to hire experienced salespeople and no one willingly joining sales or getting trained there is incredible demand.”
With his backlog of trained salespeople in hand, Murali created a new type of service to bring value to both parties. He would help train salespeople for a small fee until they were good enough for his clients to hire full-time. He soon found his first client in chatbot startup, Kommunicate.
“I talked with Devashish Mamgain over at Kommunicate and other businesses about this proposition,” he says. “They agreed to try it out and were very impressed by the results in the end.”
After six months, Kommunicate received its first batch of salespeople from Midgear and referred Murali to another client. That client referred the business again and pretty soon Midgear was up to eight clients. Murali found no shortage of potential salespeople either. Today 4,500 people and counting have gone through Midgear into full-time roles.
“Sales guys were fascinated by the idea,” says Murali. “And when we propose our model to businesses we have a 95 percent success rate. I have had to refuse thirty to forty clients.”
With great referral pipelines on both sides of the market and great background knowledge in marketing and design, Murali claims he has yet to spend a single cent on Midgear. “I can write content and websites and I know how to design. I also have a coder friend who did my website for free. I basically built everything overnight. Now, month over month we have more than enough money to pay our thirty people on staff.”
How Midgear Helps Businesses Increase Sales Without the Risk
The main value proposition of Midgear is that, for a smaller fee, startups can train their salespeople without committing to an uncertain prospect. Murali claims Midgear saves startups up to 60 percent on overheads and resources for hiring and training salespeople.
“We tell them, ‘You don’t know who you want to hire and don’t want to waste time and money,’” says Murali. “‘We’ll give you who you want within forty days, they’ll work for six months, and then you’ll hire these employees full-time and pay me for that hire. We charge about $10,000 for those six months for a standard sales team of ten to twenty people. Companies can extend this training period after the six months if they feel it’s needed.”
Training with Midgear offers salespeople an opportunity to learn sales skills across industries – a rare opportunity for most. “Usually the first company you join and the prospects you network with on the job become your world,” says Murali. “You don’t know about things outside of that and it becomes difficult to switch industries. You have to experiment first. We give people training resources and someone to monitor, coach, and place them.”
According to Murali, Midgear does two types of hiring. “We have pipelines for both experienced salespeople and new salespeople,” he says. “For new salespeople, it’s purely volume-based hiring: We get thirty to forty fresh graduates and train them for about a month on particular product market personas. Then we deploy them and continue to coach them for the next six months.”
When finding jobs for already experienced salespeople, Murali is more hands-off. “These people would also be eligible for training every two weeks based on what our customers say about them,” he says. “If they’re reporting to the founder, the founder can observe what is working and isn’t working. Based on that feedback, we can fill in the gaps.”
Today, Midgear has 28 full-time employees in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh all working remotely. As of this interview, they have 35 business engagements with 35 different companies.
Creating Pipelines to Future Salespeople in Indian Universities
Since his business is training India’s next era of salespeople, Murali wants to turn the hiring arm of Midgear into an edtech. To this end, he is working with colleges to educate their students in their last semester, targeting students in majors with fewer job prospects.
“We started approaching colleges and pitching the benefits of sales careers for their students,” he says. “There are certain courses people pick up in India that don’t get jobs very easily – things like fashion and commerce. Students also have trouble if they aren’t very good at English (like I was). These colleges are very interested in our program, especially if they are tier three or tier two in India because they don’t have a lot of companies looking at their students.”
Besides college education, Murali also wants to offer online courses that students can pay for later when they get a job. “Through this kind of platform I want to reduce hiring time for clients to four days and, eventually, 24 hours,” he says.
Finally, Murali also dreams of turning the millions of low-paid call-center workers in India and abroad into skilled sales reps. “I want call-center people to migrate to sales,” he says. “I did the call centers for six years myself. You’re constantly on the phone for eight hours a day and don’t get pay increases. These people are always looking for options and I think they do well in sales.”
Murali thinks his next market is the Philippines. “That place has many call centers,” he says. “There’s no training provided for them over there. We can build new careers and can get rid of all the supply and demand issues in our industry this way.”
An Industry With No Competition
Besides beefing up Midgear’s education side, Murali envisions using its broad, multi-industry customer base to compile giant contact lists for sales departments. “We can save companies tons of money on finding contact lists by making our own and selling them. They can then exchange these lists with each other.”
I actually want some competition just to keep me on my toes.
The ways Murali sees his business growing are limitless. He says he currently has no competitors. “I’m willing to talk about this idea because the world needs this. I actually want some competition just to keep me on my toes.”
Murali’s advice to other marketplace startup founders is to make sure demand never outweighs supply. “You will always find a supply and demand gap,” he says. “Always build up a supply before you start the company. If you don’t have supply figured out beforehand you won’t be able to figure it out later.”
He also advises salespeople that “there’s a huge gap between professional and soft skills in this industry. You have to either be good with people or good at communication or both to do well.”
Murali’s story highlights the increasing discrepancy between skills taught in school and those expected in today’s job market. Talent marketplaces that train up their network may just become the bridge between education and full-time employment.
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