Sales Hustle is now Sales Transformation
Nov. 1, 2021

#184 S2 Episode 53 - From Zero to 10M ARR in Less Than 4 Years with Nadja Komnenic

In this episode of the Sales Transformation Podcast with Collin Mitchell, he's joined with Nadja Komnenic, head of business development in lemlist, LinkedIn thought leader in B2B cold outbound advisor.

Managing a team is challenging enough, but managing a remote team that was able to grow from $0 to $10M ARR in less than 4 years bootstrapped is close to impossible. However, Nadja and her team were able to manage that and this is her story. Learn about how to effectively manage your team, figure out people who is right for the job, and many more on this jam-packed episode!

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01:15 The origin story of Nadja and a little about lemlist

04:21 What works with handling a remote team with all its success 

06:02 How to find and figure out people who can excel in the right work environment

08:41 How to manage people to not burn out and how lemlist handle their team

12:23 What happened to the team when KPI was removed for two months and how it affected their morale and performance

17:29 How lemlist has grown since Nadja came on board

23:15 Nadja's final thoughts and how to connect with her


04:34 "The most important lesson that I've learned and what really helped me create that team bond was actually me as a manager being very vulnerable and transparent with my teammates."

09:30 "We have regular one-on-one's, I think that's the crucial part when you're managing a team remotely. Not to only talk about work, but how they're satisfied with their own role ... how they're feeling if they're feeling overworked, overworked, etc., I think that's the crucial part."

11:20 "Communication is key, right? And holding a space where people are comfortable to not just tell you about their pipeline but what's going on in their personal life as well. And I think that is something that a lot of sales leaders lack today, unfortunately."

16:15 "The reality is if you can't trust your team to do their job by doing something bold like that when your team needs it, then you really need to question your own leadership skills."

22:35 "The way that we really grew was that no matter what we were always focused on the customer. We were never focused on our metrics, on our revenue ... But everything we've done was with a mission of how we can help them succeed because if our customers succeed, they're gonna be helping us succeed as well."

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[00:00:00] In the world of sales, you either sink or swim or breakthrough to the next level. My name's Colin Mitchell, and this is sales transformation, a new kind of sales show designed to bring you through the epic life-changing moments of elite sellers. So you can experience your own sales transformation.

[00:00:24] All right. Welcome to another episode of sales transformation. I'm very excited for today's guest as always. A awesome guest for you today. I have got Nadia coming, which I think hope I didn't mess that up too much. She is head of business development over at limbless. They just scaled to from zero to 10 million in ARR in less than four years.

[00:00:45] So tons of knowledge, tons of experience, tons of things that, uh, everybody can learn from. And we're going to dig into some of those things and the things that, uh, Nadia is most passionate about. Uh, she's worked for this early stage, uh, SAS growth expert and as a LinkedIn thought leader in the area of cold outbound as the first sales hire at limbless welcome to the show, how you do.

[00:01:08] Thank you, Carolyn. It's lovely to be here. Honestly. I've been so excited for this podcast. So excited to chat with you today. Yeah, you guys have clearly been busy over there, so, uh, very excited that you were able to make some time to come on the show. Um, Let's just jump right in. Cause I I'm sure, you know, you've, you've got lots of things to do and, uh, with, you know, the amazing growth that you guys are having over there, but just, let's kind of start from the beginning.

[00:01:34] What were, what were you doing prior to Lim list and, you know, just kind of give us a little bit of background. Of course. So basically before joining loneliness, I was, uh, working for another startup company again, SaaS business. And we were actually using lameness at my previous role as well. That's got kind of a, got to know the company itself and, uh, later on transition to the company to, to lead their business development, uh, prior to, to kind of my experience working alum list, uh, it fell on sales mostly.

[00:02:03] However, my background starts in a far away town, uh, in Belgrade Serbia. Uh, so I come from Eastern Europe. Uh, our, uh, startup scene right now in Serbia is not that huge. So me kind of going out of that, um, box where people are doing very regular jobs, you know, like lawyer, doctor, you, you have a very standardized direction of where you're going to go in career.

[00:02:26] Um, I then took a completely different path to my friends, my family, my colleagues, and I've started in journalism. So I first started in marketing and. It's most of the people who end up in marketing it quickly transition into sales, um, and ended up loving it. Surrey. Now I'm kind of a full, full sales cycle.

[00:02:48] I'm managing a team remotely. I'm basically pushing growth right now from 10 to 100 million in error, hopefully in the next years. So, yeah, that's kind of a quick background on me and what I've been doing. Um, again, always being called outbound and that's special. Wow. Okay. And so, uh, I'm curious, you know, what, what motivated you to take a very different, uh, career path than what, you know, many people were doing, where, where you're from?

[00:03:19] So, um, I think to, at one point in my life, I realized that whatever was given to me on as an options was not really fulfilling my dreams and wasn't really using my skills to the highest potential. I was always thinking kind of outside of the box and always trying to be different than anybody around me.

[00:03:38] Um, so I was kind of exploring different opportunities, different options that I have that I haven't been offered. Um, and I was fortunate enough to kind of run into the first startup where I started working and then I just fell in love in the startup world and in sales in particular. Um, but I think it was really more my kind of a mindset to not get settled with what I was given and really think uh on-site of that.

[00:04:02] Okay. And, and where, where are you located? So right now I'm in Belgrade, Serbia and my hometown. Uh, I'm uh, moving from. Bella reach to Paris. My team is based very now in Paris or I'm a half managing team remotely have there is. So we have a lot of the buildings, so it's kind of a digital longer life, uh, to be quite wow.

[00:04:24] So, I mean, it's challenging enough to scale from zero to 10. But to do it fully remote. Um, that's something that I know a lot of sales leaders are still really struggling and trying to figure out. So, um, how have you, you know, what have you found to work to, you know, Lead to the success that you guys have had in managing a remote team.

[00:04:48] So that's a great question for me, the most important lesson that I've learned and what really helped me create that team bond, uh, was actually me as manager being very vulnerable and transparent with my teammates. Uh, so instead of being, you know, this, uh, dictate the dictatorship type of a leader who is just kind of giving orders and to making sure that they're on track.

[00:05:10] Uh, really being open about my flaws, about my mistakes, about what I expect and how I communicate in javelin with them was very essential. I think rhino, if they're going through anything at all in their personal life as well, they're very, um, uh, capable and they're very open to gonna come to me and talk about it openly without being scared.

[00:05:31] Uh, so that, that kind of a culture of trust was essential. Uh, on top of that really, uh, giving them full ownership of their projects and not micromanaging them, um, was, uh, was essential for me to make sure that I'm not kind of getting into the loop all the time, fixing their work and making sure that everything that they're doing is just kind of, uh, done properly.

[00:05:53] Um, and really having a very, very clear communication and expectations from them at all point was, was essentially, yeah. I mean, these are all great things, right. But part of that, Part of the first thing is like hiring the right people. Right. And cause not, you know, working, you know, from home or, you know, not in a team environment, especially in sales is not for everyone.

[00:06:19] So how you. How do you figure out and find the right people that can Excel in that sort of environment? Um, with the proper support of an awesome leader like yourself that you know, is open and transparent and not micromanaging them. Um, that's a great point. And for us, basically the, the, the most important thing, and these are the mistakes that we have made, I'm going to be fully transparent, obviously is the hiring part.

[00:06:45] Um, The cultural fit in the first place is the most essential one. So whenever I'm kind of interviewing you as the artist, it's not so much about their skillset, they can do proper cold emailing and cold calling, et cetera. It's more about the mindset that they have going into the position. Um, the way that I think about all my SDRs is a.

[00:07:06] I really think if they're able to have that entrepreneurial mindset and think like a CEO while performing, and as they are a job, that's where they differentiate. If they're open to kind of go the extra mile and, uh, uh, really make an impact to the organization. And it's something that you also see during the interview process.

[00:07:23] So if you see that somebody is making an extra effort and going above what you've given them as a task, you can easily support it. If they're making sure to follow up officer you're on every call that you have with them. Well you an extra mile in the interview itself. Um, it's a, it's a great way to kind of.

[00:07:40] Spotted the grid candidates and a spot. The not so good. Yeah. Yeah. So, so you're basically looking for people that are going above and beyond and standing out throughout the interview process. Yeah. Um, I'm always so surprised how more people don't do that, you know, it's, it doesn't take a lot to stand out and do a little bit extra.

[00:08:03] Um, and so many people can just be. Just be okay with just doing, you know, kind of the bare minimum of what's required and you, and you, you really nailed it. You can spot that in the interview process really well for people who are going to be, you know, more, uh, easily self-managed and not need somebody to micromanage them, which nobody wants to do is no fun and is totally unhealthy for, uh, for your team, for culture, for everything for success.

[00:08:31] So, all right. So how do you, uh, You know, so we talked a little bit about like some, you know, tricks and finding the right people that can sell in this type of, you know, digital nomad environment of a sales team. Um, and then we talked a little bit, um, I'm, I'm curious, how do you manage a team that's working from home, you know, totally crushing it over there at limbless going from zero to 10 million in ARR in less than four months.

[00:08:57] How do people, how do you manage for people to not burn it? Oh, that's a difficult question that I will not be able to give a correct answer to simply because I don't have that answer. This is something that I believe that all of the. Not sales leaders is every leader out there right now are going through simpler.

[00:09:18] Obviously officer COVID, we have this great resignation phenomenon happening where people are quitting, their jobs, rethinking their lifestyle. And it's something that, uh, is kind of inevitable, um, from, um, for myself, the way that I'm managing it is again, it comes down to being open to the team and really talking about.

[00:09:37] Uh, both personal, uh, life and giving them room to kind of a, or if they're feeling stressed out, if they're feeling burned out and you call it, they can manage it in the first place. Um, we have regular one-on-ones. I think that's the crucial part when you're managing a team remotely, not to only talk about work, but to talk about how they're satisfied with their own role, uh, within lameness, um, you call it they're feeling.

[00:10:03] If they're feeling overwhelmed. Uh, or work, et cetera. I think that's the crucial part. Uh, and again, motivating the team comes down to being the really focusing on the mission that we have as a company and lameness in this guest is a very unique opportunity for anybody. It's like a once in a lifetime opportunity.

[00:10:20] So I think that's the drive that we all get, uh, from working in alumna's. And this year actually, I've, uh, I've had a moment where my team was really burned out. At one point, we were really, um, spread out thin. So we were working a lot, um, me included. And at one point I told basically through our CEO and we decided to pause our KPIs and targets, remove them completely for two months and kind of go back to the roots and really just start to kind of keep on doing the work without that extra pressure of targets.

[00:10:53] Uh, and I've literally forbidding them to be in slack after 7:00 PM to not read their slack notifications, their LinkedIn notifications, et cetera. So I think that's a balanced kind of going back to the. Uh, to your personal life outside of the work is a, is the important one as well. Yeah. I mean, it's, it's definitely a challenge for a lot of teams, especially that are experienced, you know, massive growth like you guys are.

[00:11:19] And especially when it's like a, you know, an opportunity, like you mentioned, and everybody in, you know, you got good company culture and, uh, people are behind the mission, you know, they want. Poor all of themselves into it, but finding that balance can be really tricky. Um, and I think you really nailed it.

[00:11:37] Like communication is key, right? And holding a space where people are comfortable to not just tell you about, you know, what's going on in their pipeline, but what's going on in their personal life as well. And I think that that is something, a lot of sales leaders lack today. Unfortunately. Agree, agree, honestly, to be to, I have to be honest with you right now in the.

[00:11:58] Uh, during summer, I actually came to forward to my CEO when I've presented my own problems that I was facing in my own, the potential burnout. And I was just sharing how I'm feeling at the moment. And the fact that I was supported on the end really took 50% out of my plate. My anxiety that was caused.

[00:12:18] Theory, what is going to help me with my job now that I can not perform to the fullest simply because I'm feeling tired. And I think when you kind of present that to the, to your company and your, uh, teammates, and they're aware that this is what you're going through and you feel supported. It's going to have a refreshes, you, and then you kind of started from scratch and you kind of just keep on pushing itself.

[00:12:39] Yeah. I'm curious to know what happened when you remove the KPIs for two months. Cause that's a bold, that's a bold thing to do. Um, but you clearly felt that it was necessary based on, you know, the feedback and the communication with the team. So, you know, I think there's maybe other sales leaders that might be listening to thinking like, Hey, my team is kind of experiencing burnout.

[00:13:02] I don't really know what to do. Why, how did you guys come to that decision and what happened, uh, when you did that? Uh, we came to this decision simply because we talk to our team and we realized that what was causing them stress war, where are the targets that they weren't able to reach at that moment.

[00:13:21] And for us in that specific moment in time, Uh, targets were not our primary focus as a company. So like sales targets itself was not something that was so essential for the company to keep on running. Uh, and we just realized, okay, what if, what if we just paused the targets? You still continue to work that you would do in general.

[00:13:42] Um, and let's see what happens. So like, if you don't have that KPI in mind, what will. The fact is that, uh, um, nothing has changed when it comes to the, like the productivity itself, uh, actually increased simply because people were not feeling that pressure. So they were just focusing on the work itself, uh, and it kind of, uh, taken out of that pressure a bit, which eventually kind of led to a better productivity and our results didn't suffer.

[00:14:10] So literally nothing has changed, but again, I need to highlight our culture is very different where people already have. Same vibe and we're all going through the same mission. So it's a, the KPIs and targets itself is not what motivates us and push us in the first place. Yeah. And so, as a sales leader, you of got to rethink is like the key is the KPIs, the only thing driving the team forward, or are they all bought into the bigger mission and goal of what the company is trying to accomplish?

[00:14:38] And if it's the latter, then you can easily. Run an experiment like you guys did where removing the KPIs actually did not hurt predictivity. I mean, did you guys experience growth in that two months? I would imagine. We did with it. Uh, first of all, at that point we had very, um, a huge media coverage and we had some huge promotions happening.

[00:15:01] So again, our inbound started increasing a lot. So again, sales didn't have to do so much work on their end to kind of keep up with growth. Um, so we were kind of lucky in that sense that we had a good opportunity to do that. Uh, but on top of that, uh, Simply we, uh, just continue doing the things that we've done in the past, just with all the pressure of the targets in our minds.

[00:15:23] Yeah. So after the two months, did the KPIs come back into play or. Yes, we actually had, uh, during those two months, uh, or actually one interesting thing that happened is that during those two months, people started getting much more creative simply because they were thinking some, uh, outside of the, their set scenarios and what they need to do every single day.

[00:15:43] So we came, um, my, uh, team member came with, uh, an amazing idea of what we can do in the, in the Q2 Q3 and Q4. Uh, and there's something that he has basically taken on. So this project is going to be a bit unique on the sales scene is going to come out next week. So I'm going to tell you about it. Um, so basically we came up with new ideas and, uh, the new KPIs were structured around those projects.

[00:16:08] Uh, but the previous ones obviously remained the same. And, uh, we just go to kind of get up to some, going up. Wow. Yeah. I mean, I think it's a bold step and I think it would, it would probably drive some sales. Uh, I don't even like to call them sales leaders. My good friend, Andy Paul likes to call them sales bosses.

[00:16:26] Um, I think it would drive some sales, sales bosses, nuts to remove the KPIs. And the reality is, is if you can't trust your team to do their job by, by doing something bold like that, When your team needs it, um, then you really need to question your own leadership skills. True that true. That I'll be the one to say it.

[00:16:52] So like, I need to emphasize that like where, uh, it's a different when you're like a huge organization that has X amount of as the RS and you are really data-driven when it comes to the KPIs, your entire work depends on it. It's a much bigger move than what it was for me. So I was kind of able to experiment with that.

[00:17:13] Not sure if it's for everyone. But again, if you cannot trust your team to do the work without the KPIs, then again, it's. Yeah. I mean maybe in a bigger organization, it's, it's a little bit harder to pull it off. I could see that, but, but maybe not. I mean, the principles are still the same regardless of the size of the team.

[00:17:33] Um, but I think that. There's a lot more people that need to approve something. They care organization. It's harder to get something like that approved. Yeah. All right. So, uh, I want to talk a little bit about, um, Limb list and just kind of like, you know, the grow since you've came on board, uh, where was limbless at?

[00:17:57] Let's talk about, you know, where it is today and just walk me through like some key things that got you guys there. Of course. So I came at landless when we were at $1 million error art. Um, I was a 10th keyer at Lendlease. I was the first sales hire though. Um, before I joined our fonder was the one that.

[00:18:17] The sales and growth. So it was basically following their lead sales for the first 1 million that we were, uh, growing. Uh, then I came into the picture with a mission to basically set up the sales protests, optimize everything that style to avant channels, uh, do full sales cycle in the beginning while I was alone and kind of figure out what is working, what is not, uh, and then eventually scale.

[00:18:41] Scale the team called to the team. Uh, and, uh, today basically from like 1 million, we went to 10 million, uh, in the last 18 months, it was a hell of a journey. Uh, and we experimented with a lot of things. And right now I'm in a position where, uh, so, so far it was kind of, uh, uh, setting up the processes in scaling right now.

[00:19:02] It's more about, um, optimizing what we have built and, uh, scaling it to higher levels. So opening up new channels and new revenue streams. And when through testing the outbound channels, um, Talk me through some of the experiments you ran. Definitely. So first of all, what I would like to highlight is that when you think about the startup scene in the world and having mind that we are bootstrapped, so meaning that we didn't raise any funding, we actually refused $30 million investment back in April this year.

[00:19:36] Um, and we decided to remain bootstrapped. Uh, we were kind of taking a look at the stats and we realized that. 0.01% of all startups reach to that first 1 million and then going to 10 million is zero and then seven zeros. And then 1% of that actually got go there with funding. So we immediately realized, okay, we're going to remain a small team.

[00:19:59] We don't want to have a. 200 plus employees in our company. Um, so we definitely need to do things differently if we want to succeed and stand out in this crowded space that we're in. Um, so what we started doing is I, aside from experimenting with our bond channels, and, uh, you asked me the question, so like kind of quickly answered that.

[00:20:23] Uh, so basically I've experimented with both, uh, when it comes to the cold emailing, I've experimented with all of the approaches that. So like using videos in my emails, uh, using personalized images in my emails, combining relevance, personalization, experimenting with different, uh, followup techniques. Uh, and then, uh, obviously going multichannel.

[00:20:43] So combining LinkedIn into my tree to LinkedIn voicemail. I mean anything that you can come up with when it comes to the sales tactics, I've probably tried it out, um, to the moment that we realized, okay, I'll bomb is one thing, and we are really excelling right now with our bond, for us as the primary, uh, revenue that the sales team is bringing.

[00:21:03] Uh, however, that's not enough. If we want to remain a small team, a small sales team that is going officer, uh, are multimillion dollar invested in competitors. We need to do something differently. So, uh, I've started my own YouTube channel. Uh, when my BDR we're documenting our entire journey, expanding into the us market.

[00:21:25] Uh, my entire sales team has their LinkedIn profiles built. So LinkedIn is a part of their KPIs. Uh, so they're posting at least three times a week with very actionable content. We're doing a lot of webinars, a lot of podcasts. So we're really building network. All over the place to create an inbound engine for every single sales rep to emphasize basically their, um, outputs.

[00:21:51] And, and, and, uh, how, and so before, when you came on board, uh, mostly it was mostly all outbound. Right before I came on board. It was actually the growth game, mostly from our marketing departments, I would say. So we built a community community, uh, community, uh, of 17,000 members right now. Uh, that was, uh, basically old focused on sales and marketing and album techniques.

[00:22:20] Uh, our CEO started in early days of lung lists and it was basically placed for us to share our strategies, communicates with others, like a very open community, not only meant for relentless. Uh, so that was the, the place where it kind of word of mouth started happening. We got a lot of referrals through that community, obviously.

[00:22:39] Uh, and then, uh, we were constantly posting very actionable content, our CEO, particularly. So he was the one always providing value, value, value, value all over again. And the way that we really, in my kind of opinion, the way that we really grew, uh, was that, uh, no matter what, we were always focused on the customer, we were never focused even on our metrics and our revenue, even though that was the kind of a thing that we were focusing on when it comes to like, kind of looking at this.

[00:23:06] Um, but, uh, everything that we've done was with a mission of how we can help them succeed, because if our customers succeed, uh, they're going to be, uh, helping us succeed as well. So they're going to be creating this word of mouth. They're going to be recommending us to others. And if they are successful, we've become successful.

[00:23:26] Yeah. Yeah. Wow. What a journey. Um, awesome. It's been fantastic. Having you on any final thoughts here. What are we going to include in the show notes for people listening that want to connect with you, learn more or whatever you have prepared for them? Um, what I would love to emphasize for all of the, is that there is no matter the company that you're joining or the team that you're joining.

[00:23:51] Try not to get stuck on the templates and on the processes that your managers give you, uh, and always use your brain, because that is the one thing that separates you from all of the AIS that are right now taking over sales jobs. Uh, so make sure to leverage your creativity, your curiosity, and your research skills, uh, to make additional impact to your company and start building your brand today.

[00:24:17] Awesome. Thank you so much. Uh, if you enjoyed today's episode, please write us a review. Share the show with your friends, uh, really does help us out. And then we're always listening for your feedback. You can always go to sales, and drop us a voice DM there, and we will get back to you.

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