Grapevine, a new app for sales professionals, is the digital equivalent of swapping business cards

You can share contacts, make fewer cold calls
Posted at 7:00 AM, Nov 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-17 07:00:02-05

Timothy Warren, the CEO and founder of Grapevine, memorably says this service for sales professionals "is like Tinder on LinkedIn."

How is it like the dating app that some use to arrange one-night stands?

Because, as Warren says, everyone is on it for one reason, and it's not for building a relationship.

In the case of Grapevine, the reason is to make sales.

How does it work?

Grapevine enables sales professionals to upload all their LinkedIn contacts and then look through other sales professionals' contacts as well. If someone has a contact to whom they'd like to sell something, they can arrange for an introduction.

"It takes about four seconds to get set up," Warren said. "Then you start shopping for CEOs (to make sales to)."

It's just a digital version of the time-honored process of meeting people at get-togethers and swapping business cards, he said.

Why is this so desirable for salespeople?

Because 75 percent of salespeople say that prospecting for business via cold calling is the worst part of their job, he said, and Grapevine makes prospecting much easier.

Cold calling is probably the most painful thing a salesperson can do, said Al Karl, a Procter & Gamble executive who mentors startups, including Grapevine, for Cintrifuse, a local startup advocate.

"It's a big time-waster, and it's incredibly inefficient," he said.

But studies have shown that a prospect is five times more likely to respond to a referral, he said, like one you might get through Grapevine. "That connection is extremely valuable," he said.

Where'd Warren get the idea for Grapevine?

After he left med school in 2008 to go into business, the only jobs Warren could find were in sales. He went from selling cable TV door-to-door to making $1,000 each day and leading his own sales team.

He learned that half of sales work depended on building a network of people who liked and trusted you. The other half was cold calls.

He made his best sales, he said, when someone he knew could introduce him directly to a decision-maker and bypass the gatekeepers.

"It's simply a flow of trust," he said.

How'd Grapevine get started?

Using credit cards and a little faith, in 2013, he and his wife started a search engine optimization training company called SEO Exposed. After they changed the focus to SEO Consulting, the company grew to 15 employees and $2.5 million in annual revenue.

They sold it in March of this year, and in September used about $50,000 from the sale to start Grapevine. They opened a beta site with 50 users Nov. 2.

How does Grapevine make money?

By charging users a monthly subscription to use the service.

"The market is there," Warren said. "People are willing to pay for it. We just have to make sure it works well enough so that people get an effective introduction."

Does it have employees?

Yes -- Warren works full time on Grapevine, and there are two part-timers.

What's next?

After making tweaks to the website based on the beta experience, Warren said, he hopes to launch a live product Dec. 1. He plans to raise an initial round of $250,000 from investors early next year.

He's also in talks with companies that train and recruit salespeople, he said, because they might want to pitch Grapevine to their trainees and recruits.

What has he learned from being an entrepreneur?

From Grapevine, he learned that "starting a tech company is much harder than starting a service company. With a service company, you start selling first, but with a tech company you have to build a product first."

From SEO Exposed, he learned that the clients who pay the most complain the least and expect realistic things. The smallest clients complain the most, he said, so it's better to price your service high to attract larger clients.