The hilarious story of how a startup landed Salesforce as an investor (Hint: it involves underwear)

6sense Amanda Kahlow6sense6sense founder, CEO Amanda Kahlow

Imagine finalising a business deal, complete with on-the-spot pitch, while standing in your underwear.

And the person you are pitching to is also wearing underwear.

Sounds like something out of an anxiety dream, or one of those Freudian tricks: “just imagine the audience in their underwear.”

But for Amanda Kahlow, founder and CEO of two-year old startup 6sense, it actually happened earlier this week in one of the funniest, weirdest funding stories we’ve ever heard.

The tale starts a couple of years ago

6sense was founded in 2013 and is Kahlow’s third startup (her first, BusinessOnline she founded right out of college with her dad and is now run by her brother, the second consulting company CI Insights, which led to 6Sense).

6sense offers what’s known as “predictive analysis” that helps sales people find hot prospects. It analyses what Kahlow calls the “B2B internet” to find people who are researching products and exhibiting buying behaviour (doing things like visiting trade publications, posting questions on technical forums and downloading white papers). It seeks out people that a company doesn’t already have in its sales contact database.

6sense team6sense6sense team

It’s shockingly accurate, according to Kahlow.

When 6sense predicts that a person or company is likely to buy, “86% of the time we are correct,” she says.

She says 6sense creates a 2X to 20X — or 200% to 20,000% improvement in turning leads into actual sales.

In the 18 months since 6sense started shipping its product, it’s done particularly well nabbing tech companies as customers including Cisco, NetApp, VMware, NetSuite, Lenovo, ADP, Blue Jeans Network.

The startup has grown to 43 employees (six hired this week), and processes “90 billion rows of behaviour data happening across the B2B web a month,” Kahlow says.

Salesforce is impressed

Some months ago, Salesforce began shopping for a predictive sales lead tool. It did extensive research, eventually conducting a shoot-out between its top candidates. There are lots of companies in this field (others include Infer and InsideSales).

6sense won the shootout. The team was so impressed they wanted Salesforce to become an investor. Kahlow won’t reveal how much money Salesforce invested except to tell us it was “substantial and it makes a difference,” she says.

Amanda Kahlow 6sense conference6sense6sense CEO Amanda Kahlow speaks at the company’s first user conference, July, 2015

(Prior to Salesforce’s backing, 6sense raised $US32 million in two rounds from backers like Bain, Battery Ventures, Venrock.)

After weeks of negotiating, the deal was stuck, waiting on one final approval from a top Salesforce exec.

Kahlow was on a tight deadline.

She was hosting the company’s first-ever user conference on Wednesday to a packed house of customers and she wanted to be able to talk about Salesforce to them. (She had expected about 100 attendees to sign up and she got 400.)

But the morning before the show, that top executive still hadn’t signed off.

A weird conversation at the gym

Kahlow is a high-energy, cheerful, friendly person that exudes personality.

She’s also a workaholic, Yoga-loving, mediation-lover, who wakes up at 4 a.m. daily to walk her dog, mediate, and get to the gym by 6 a.m.

“There are maybe three people in the gym on any given day at that time, including maybe two women, always the same two women. For two years, I’ve been doing this, seeing these two women. We never converse. We just get ready next to each other,” Kahlow describes.

While at the gym this day, one of the woman breaks silence to ask Kahlow if the TV is working on her treadmill. Kahlow answers in her typically friendly way and goes back to her workout.

Amanda Kahlow yoga handstandAmanda Kahlow6sense CEO Amanda Kahlow is fitness fanatic and yoga instructor who teaches classes at her company, encouraging employees to try hard poses like this handstand.

Later in the locker room, the woman makes an offhand comment to Kahlow, “Your lotion smells good.”

“It’s grapefruit,” Kahlow replies.

“Oh? Did you know grapefruit is supposed to take 10 years off your life?” the woman jokes.

“That’s great,” Kahlow jokes back. “I’m dating a guy 10 years younger and I need all the help I can get.”

And the two start swapping dating and relationships stories and talking about travelling for work.

“What do you do?” Kahlow asks.

“I work in marketing in Salesforce,” the woman replies.

“Really? We’re about to announce an investment from Salesforce this week.”

The woman looked at her and asked “What’s your name?”

“6Sense. What’s yours?”

“Lynn.”

Kahlow had been talking to Lynn Vojvodich, CMO of Salesforce

The woman was shocked.

She told her, “Amanda, I’ve been getting 100 emails from our investment arm that I need to approve this deal because it needs an executive sponsor. But I didn’t want to approve it until I actually met you.”

Kahlow said it reminded her of the old days where men would meet in men-only clubs and strike up business deals in the locker room.

Vojvodich told Kahlow to go ahead and give her the 6Sense pitch right then and there.

Salesforce CMO Lynn VojvodichSalesforceSalesforce CMO Lynn Vojvodich

“So she felt educated on what she was signing off on. I gave her the pitch, two women in our underwear, and hours later, she signed off on the deal,” Kahlow laughs.

Hours before the show, Salesforce officially became both a customer and an investor.

“The synchronicity of the moment, where the one day we talk is the day I need her to sign off on the agreement was pretty amazing,” Kahlow marvels.

Kahlow celebrated by sending Vojvodich a bunch of grapefruit-scented lotions.

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