High School Dropout Turned Silicon Valley Superstar: Steli Efti

Most fights with our brothers when we’re young end with a minor injury, bruised egos, and maybe punishment from mom and dad. In the case of Steli Efti, it lead to a life of successful entrepreneurship and pursuit of both personal and professional growth. His startup story is the stuff of Hollywood scripts, but his accomplishments are very real.


Efti’s latest venture is Close.io (part of the Elastic, Inc. fold), software designed to help teams close deals and make sales. Now business owners can take advantage of the same sales savvy that’s proven so effective for Efti. Hear more about this remarkable journey below, and don’t miss out on a great opportunity at Close.io – a free, 30 Day Startup Sales Success Email Course that teaches how to “…create a predictable & repeatable sales model for your company in 30 days.”




Why did you become an entrepreneur?

Nobody in my family ever received a higher education, and I myself HATED school. (I didn’t read a book until I was 16.)


One day I had a big fight with my older brother about success in life. He was arguing that in order to be successful in life you have to either be academically successful and become a doctor or a lawyer or do criminal things to get rich quick. (He had recently watched Scarface.)


I didn’t like either of these options, so I pushed back saying that there must be other paths to success. We argued back and forth until he looked at me and said: “OK smart ass – what is YOUR plan for success? What are you going to do with your life?”


That was it. Silence. I had no idea. That moment changed my life forever. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror or sleep at night. It was that argument that made me realize how ignorant and clueless I was.


From watching “Wall Street,” I knew that business and stock markets were a way to make money. But I really didn’t know anything about it.


So I bought the cheapest book I could find on the matter, hid it under my jacket when I came home, and read it in secret so my brothers wouldn’t make fun of me.


But this led to buying a second and a third book and starting to read more and more about business and entrepreneurship. Before I knew it, I dropped out of high school and started my first business.


At first, it was all about money. But after I began earning more in a month than my mom did in a year, I realized that I really didn’t care about money and that it never made me happy. I discovered that what genuinely made me happy was growth.


What inspired your current startup?

We were running a outsourced sales company in the heart of Silicon Valley, and after scaling sales for over 100 venture backed startups, we realized that there was a huge opportunity to change the way sales is being done by empowering sales people to communicate more effectively.


The first version of close.io was an internal “secret sauce” that helped our team outperform other sales teams.


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Eventually the demand for our software outgrew the demand for our team, and we decided to empower companies around the world to close more deals and make more sales using close.io


What makes your startup so killer? How is it different from the competition?

We have unique sales knowledge because no other company in this market has our perspective from running sales campaigns for so many different technology companies.


That has enabled us to build a product that within 8 months gets adopted by thousands of companies, including companies like Foursquare and General Assembly, helping them scale sales.


How do you motivate yourself and your team?

Our customers are our main motivation. Seeing them succeed with Close.io and seeing their sales revenue grow is what drives us and inspires us to keep pushing the envelope.



If the Internet didn’t exist, what would you be doing?

Probably working on a synthetic biology startup.


What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their businesses off the ground?

Ask yourself if the reason why you’re struggling is:

a) it’s the wrong time to work on the current task

b) you’re the wrong person to perform the task

c) you’re using the wrong approach trying to accomplish your goal


Besides that, I would advise entrepreneurs to not take themselves too seriously. Too many of us forget to have perspective and enjoy the ride!


How do you handle frustration or disappointment?

Perspective is the best medicine against frustration, disappointment, and stress for entrepreneurs.


Taking time every day to sit back and look at the big picture, reminding myself of everything we’ve accomplished so far – and being grateful for all the amazing opportunities in front of us – is a great way to not get too absorbed by the daily challenges that can lead to frustrations and disappointments.



What are the top 3 online tools/websites/devices that you couldn’t live without? (And why?)

  1. Close.io – because I use it for 8h/day to close deals
  2. Evernote – because it’s where all my thoughts/notes live
  3. Dropbox – I don’t have any local folders. it’s all on dropbox


If you had $1 million and one year off, what would you do? (Other than work on your current startup)

Travel the world with my wife and baby and try to find great ways to put the money to use to improve the world.


How do you maintain work/life balance?

I meditate in the morning. I take multiple walks during the day. I spent time playing with my 15-month-old son in the evening. These things keep me balanced daily and give me energy, perspective and clarity for my business.


Who would play you in the movie of your life, and what would be the theme song?

That’s easy: Sylvester Stallone & “Eye of the Tiger.”


How has being an entrepreneur changed you for the better? How has it enriched your life?

Being an entrepreneur has challenged me to keep expanding beyond my comfort zone, where I encountered failure, adventure & growth.


Entrepreneurship has been, and continues to be, my main education in life.


What is the tech scene like where you live?

I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto. It couldn’t be any better!


Where can our readers find you?


How can the KillerStartups community help YOU?

Help us spread the word about Close.io. Let us know what sales challenges you’re having in your business so we can build solutions for you.


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