SVAcademy creates a pipeline for a new salesforce

Startup gets $2M in financing to tee up diversified, pre-qualified remote sales teams

Financial trends and news by Bambi Francisco Roizen
August 22, 2017
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When my son was 12 years old, he said to me, "I'm the man I've become thanks to YouTube." As waggish as it sounds, there's some truth to that for the next generation, who's comfortable learning from strangers online, meeting strangers they may eventually marry, and conducting business transactions without ever shaking hands.  

Most of Vator’s sales outreach is conveniently done from various home offices in the Bay Area, an arrangement I thought worked well due to our small team. But virtual sales teams are growing in force across major corporations, opening a window of opportunity for creative ways to staff this new pipeline of workers.

“Enterprise selling is moving from a field-sales model to an online, remote model,” said Rahim Fazal, Founder and CEO, of SVAcademy, pointing to several studies including one that showed the number of inside sales jobs increasing and outpacing the growth in field sales positions.             

Whereas trust could only be established with in-person interactions years ago, today, “signals to establish trust” coupled with millions of commerce transactions happening online daily means trust doesn’t require an in-person meeting, Fazal explained.

It’s a trend that’s been underway for at least five years and one which Fazal and his co-founder Joel Scott, a graduate of Stanford Law School who has hired and trained 400+ SaaS, are riding with their new company SVAcademy, which recently raised $2 million from Bloomberg LP and Precursor Ventures.

Why focus on sales?

”We felt like we needed to solve problems for enterprises and so we began by thinking there needed to be a better model for corporate training,” said Fazal, who walked me through the evolution of his startup.

His team particularly liked Ted Talks as a way to engage people to learn. And they looked at Udemy and Kosera as new and effective models to train today’s workforce. But for Fazal, the engagement and completion rates seemed low on those services. He decided that in order to train a new workforce, there needed to be a more hands-on process, albeit virtual hands. After researching and speaking to organizations, the team also realized that selling training programs wasn’t easy unless the programs trained mission-critical employees - like sales people.

“We were thinking, ‘Who has the pain point and who has the biggest problem?’ We figured sales does. They have a lot of influence as they’re the growth engine,” said Fazal. Adding more complexity or opportunity to the equation, Fazal also realized that corporations wanted pre-trained and pre-qualified talent. Hence the journey was slowly being mapped out.

"We thought about what types of population could give us the best chance of providing a highly-vetted pipeline and we found it’s non-traditional candidates who don’t have work experience; who don’t have connections and if we could find our former selves, we could help solve this problem.”

Fazal admits that he didn’t exactly have the qualifications he felt Silicon Valley companies typically look. His stint at McDonald’s, for instance, is something he’s proud of today, but wasn’t something he thought would land him a job at a fast-growing tech giant.

That led to the company’s mission to find those who fall under the radar, or who have skills that aren't exactly showcased in today's resume.

A focus on diversity

Often we find ourselves falling backwards into a mission. Such was the case for SVAcademy’s founders, whose quest to find their former selves led them to search for those trying to break into Silicon Valley, who lack the Ivy League credentials, and who fall into groups that don’t have representation inside companies.

Diversity has become a hot-button topic across the country. There’s a deficiency of women, blacks, hispanics and other minorities represented at most companies. To that end, SVAcademy’s approach focused on two solutions: 1) creating a good pipeline of pre-qualified in-house sales teams 2) creating a diversified workforce.  

“We are focused on providing a bridge (or hyperloop!) for all groups that are under represented in the new economy, including especially those socio-economically under-resourced,” said Fazal.

What’s the program?

Today, SVAcademy is a 15-month program, with three initial months of virtual classes, before students are hired at SVAcademy’s dozen or so customer clients. Students have typically received a full-time job paying $70k-$90k, after the three months.

For the remaining year, SVAcademy checks in with the student and provides mentorship for skill development.

Corporations pay $10,000 for each student to go through the virtual program. The company added 10 students in February 2017 to kick off its program. It’s since continued to add several cohorts throughout the year. 

In the future, SVAcademy hopes to build out its software to identify signals that represent a good hire. Signals that are hard to pick up as they're masked behind labels. "Working at Triple A doesn't sound like a glamorous job," said Fazal, suggesting an employer might just glaze over that experience. But by digging into the actual job and pulling out the competencies acquired, a person may be viewed in a better light.  

Teaching software to find qualified candidates by sifting and sorting data is certainly a big trend in Silicon Valley. It's also a worthy goal to build software that overlooks the typical measurements of success, such as where a person went to school and worked.  

How will SVAcademy identify "assertiveness" and "resiliency" and "determination" beyond medals and degrees? With $2 million in new financing, they've got a shot at figuring it out. 

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Description: Co-founded by Rahim Fazal, a college dropout who sold his last company to Oracle, and Joel Scott, a former VP at Hewlett-Packard and COO-...