Meet the Woman Predicting Sales for Dell, IBM, and Dropbox

Get her seven tips on going from talking to term sheets.

By Lisa Calhoun

With clients such as Dell, Dropbox, IBM, and Qlik, it seems like Amanda Kahlow’s predictive analytics startup 6sense must be the product of another Stanford geeked-out quant founder. Forrester placed the San Francisco company, which has raised $40 million, in the top right corner of its Predictive Modelers quadrant.

Instead of the über-geek you might be expecting, non-technical founder and CEO Amanda Kahlow wears a big smile, cool braids, and pink lipstick. She loves meditation. She says the process of becoming a hot startup in the technical predictive analytics space has its roots in developing her own sense of self. Today, her investors include Salesforce Ventures, Battery Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, and Venrock. While it looks easier to predict her success now, it didn’t start that way, she shares.

Another “overnight” success

Amanda started a sales and marketing services firm called CI Insights and ran it for 14 years. She was caught by the kinds of insights her team was producing for their biggest client, Cisco—a tech giant co-founded by a woman, Sandy Lerner.

“I realized I had something, but it would have to packaged into a system instead of a service. I decided to do it. I went out and sought venture funding.” Until that moment, she says, creating a product company had never crossed her mind.

Amanda approached over 60 venture capitalists. She was invited to 20 all-partner meetings for final negotiations. Each time, her hopes were busted. “Have you ever heard of a startup going to 20 all-partner meetings and not crossing the line?” she remembers.

“Finally, a woman VC gave me my first term sheet. We didn’t end up going with her, but she was the first to recognize 6sense. That first term sheet was the beginning—it kicked off the others.”

Self-doubt steals from you

Amanda says, “I look back and think I didn’t cross the line because I had self-doubt. It wasn’t until later in the journey that I realized, I got this. When I started practicing confidence, breathing that, and meditating on that, I got a new ease about my own path. That got reflected immediately in my fundraising.”

From talk to term sheet

Now, Amanda believes every obstacle teaches you what’s next. She has some concrete tips on how to get from talking to doing the term sheet:

  1. Body position. Amanda says, get your shoulders back. Put energy out there that’s powerful.
  2. Slow down. Chances are you’re talking too fast. The VCs can’t keep up. Slow down what you’re saying, both in rate of production and in the leaps you’re making from idea to idea. It will seem very tedious to you, but it pays off.
  3. Once more, with feeling. Amanda is certain that, “How you say it is more important than what you say.” She points out VCs are people too—they get your confidence more than your content.
  4. Deck the deck worship. “Having the deck right is less important than believing in yourself and owning it.”
  5. Own your insight. VCs will ask a question like, “Haven’t you ever looked at the mid market?” In the past, Amanda used to think a challenge like that was an invitation for her to reposition herself. Maybe they were leading her where they wanted her to go. Far from it. Now she says, what you want to do is hold to what you know your business is and be firm. “VCs are looking for that confidence, as opposed to you caving in to what they say. Don’t cave.”
  6. Treat them like your board from the beginning. Most VCs spend a lot of time in board meetings, or board-like meetings, with their founders. So treat them like that from the beginning and see if it fits. “I’m learning in my board meetings to say, ‘I hear you, I’m listening, thank you for your input—but I know my business better than anyone else does.’” Today, Amanda is less susceptible to being reactive to feedback, and she’s confident that gains her more respect.
  7. Dress as yourself. “There was a point in my life when I cut my hair short, put my hair up, and didn’t wear makeup. Now, I am wearing braids. I let go of the outcome and stop trying to control it. Where I feel the most tension is where I need to let go the most. When I feel the need to control, that’s where I need perspective.”

Related in Inc.: 10 Tips for Raising over $100 Million Outside of Silicon Valley.

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