Cutco Knives and startups

When I worked for Cutco Knives one summer in college selling the world’s finest cutlery, my dream was to sell the Homemaker +8 at every meeting.  It was the Rolls Royce of knife sets and in every sales call I had, I always tried to flog the deluxe set.  Of course, more often than not, I left with selling a spatula spreader or much smaller set.  Many a memory was brought back yesterday as my wife and I went through a sales pitch for Cutco knives from an enterprising college student.  His pitch was great…and entertaining…and the same from 20+ years ago – cut the penny with the scissors, cut some rope, lay out the catalog, and even the close.  Would you like the Homemaker +8 or the Homemaker +4?  

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How about the Essentials +5 or the Essentials.  As I sat in on the sales call, what I remember most about selling knives was that it was a tough and lonely job and my friends teased me the whole summer about being little more than a “door-to-door” salesman flogging kitchen utensils.  Looking back on that experience, I recognize that I learned so many valuable skills about selling and more importantly about myself in terms of constantly being rejected but still having the optimism and fight to move on to the next opportunity.  I am sure by now you are thinking, what does selling knives have to do with startups?I strongly believe that every entrepreneur should take a sales job at one point in their life, even for a summer.  Whether you are a tech guy or product guy or executive, you have to remember that you are always selling – not just to the external world like customers and VCs and partners but also internally as well, drumming up support, getting the team to buy into your ideas, and much more.  I believe there is sometimes a stigma for being a sales person but in reality no business can ever succeed without someone selling your product or service.  

Selling Cutco Knives was great because I went through sales training which at the time seemed incredibly cheesy, became enamored with trying to win salesperson of the week and month, and learned how to use referral based lead generation to create sales appointments.  I learned about creating a great script to use on the initial sales call (great understanding for understanding the life of an inside sales rep), how to use a presumptive close (can we meet this Wednesday at 3 or 5), how to properly make a sales call, how to read my potential customer, and ultimately how to manage my own personal sales pipeline and funnel.  From that experience I went on to start my own window washing business and develop a deep appreciation for sales reps and how hard their job really is.  And I find myself selling every single day in my life as a venture capitalist – selling to potential investors, selling my value add to startups, selling to portfolio company CEOs on why they might try another way to accomplish a certain goal, and selling my own partner on why we should or shouldn’t do a certain deal.  If you are wondering what happened at the end of our sales call, my wife and I ended up buying the lovely Homemaker +8 and gave our rep a boatload of referrals.

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This post was written by who has written 358 posts on BeyondVC.

14 Responses to “Cutco Knives and startups”

  1. Ari Weinberg Oct 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    And that cutting pennies thing ended up being quite useful in down rounds…

  2. RBC Oct 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Hey Ed, thanks for the post. You are right about those early sales jobs, they provide lessons for life! It would be great to get Disqus and gawk.it on here to help out with the commenting and search. Hope to see you posting more often!

  3. Chad Iverson Oct 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Great article Ed. I also sold door to door during college (pest control) and it has helped me tremendously in my career working for VC-backed startups.

  4. Jeremy Andrews Nov 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    As a serial entrepreneur, I do remember selling Cutco. That did help me with the optimistic post rejection.

    Great points.

  5. Mike Bank Dec 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Great story Ed….as well as reflective lessons in life.

    I heard from a close associate that you operated a sucessfull window washing company when you were young….would live to hear about the realized benefits from that experience.

    • Ed Sim Dec 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

      That is true. I started a window washing business in college with two close friends. We had no idea what we were doing but had a tremendous amount of pressure to earn money so we could have cash for college. I think the most successful thing we learned was how to be customer facing – how to build a brand, cold call and get referrals, market with flyers, and obviously do the work. It was an amazing experience that helped build a foundation for where I am today. I can’t advocate enough for a young teen to go out to build their own business. I could only imagine how successful we would be if we had the Internet at our disposal for lead generation and markeitng.

    • Ed Sim Dec 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

      That is true. I started a window washing business in college with two close friends. We had no idea what we were doing but had a tremendous amount of pressure to earn money so we could have cash for college. I think the most successful thing we learned was how to be customer facing – how to build a brand, cold call and get referrals, market with flyers, and obviously do the work. It was an amazing experience that helped build a foundation for where I am today. I can’t advocate enough for a young teen to go out to build their own business. I could only imagine how successful we would be if we had the Internet at our disposal for lead generation and marketing

  6. Noah Goldenberg Dec 29, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    Thanks Ed, great post! I too sold Cutco knives in college, where I gained a ton from the experience and can’t imaging what kind of professional I’d be today without it. From learning to be self-motivated, build instant rapport, push yourself to achieve stretch goals, face rejection, compete for recognition, handle objections, etc, etc, I really developed from a young college student with little business understanding to an entrepreneurial professional. It actually still differentiates me years later against others in my field. I also look forward to the day I get that call from a friend/relative’s son or daughter in college asking to “just do a quick, fun presentation, and you don’t even have to buy anything!” and get to experience it from the other side (and critique their closing!).

    • Hercules Fernandes Mar 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Well Noah, look no further. :) I would love to be the one to help with that experience. I’ve worked with Cutco for over a year now. It’s been an incredible experience for me. I’ve met and created some great relationships through working with Vector and Cutco, and would like to help you. “Plus, you don’t have to get anything! It would help me out just to get your opinion.” :)

  7. Marcus Robbins Mar 16, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    Right on the money! I started w Cutco in 00′ as an 18 year old college freshman, I never imagined that I would have built a career out of it. I ran an office for 10 years an had the opportunity to recruit and train thousands of new reps. It’s amazing to hear the success stories from many of them, I swear everytime I am at dinner w my family I have someone come up to me ranting about their new found success due to the experience they gained while working for Cutco. I feel EVERY student should spend at least one summer in direct sales (parents don’t let your kids quit). I have since moved on to build my own business from the ground up (raised all capital w my Cutco skills)

  8. Jose Ramirez Mar 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    I currently am showing/saleing cutco but i have found myself with no leads/ Recomendations.

  9. Chris Mar 17, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    One of my best friends, who is about to do an angel round for his start up, and I constantly say, “Everything is Cutco”. As we have moved through phases in our professional careers, there is always a element of “selling knives” that comes into our decisions.

  10. Sarah Mar 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Jose Ramirez, If you find yourself with no recs go back through your initial list that you created in training. I’m sure there are some people on there you haven’t seen yet. Or get friend’s parent’s numbers. I hope that helps! There are always more people out there to see, you just
    got to find them. :)

    In case you’re wondering I’ve been with Cutco now 2 years in July, and I still have people that I could of shown back when I was a new rep. I wish you the best in our business!

  11. Alex Jul 10, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    Thanks so much for posting this. I have had a hell of a time explaining my relatives and friends why I am supporting my son’s endeavor to sell cutco knives. I feel for the way even my friends treat him, but I know that he will learn something important from the experience. You said it beautifully.

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