Getting to know your customer and truly understanding their needs and pain points is the first step in the development of any product. In the discovery process, businesses need to focus on creating a clear and succinct value proposition that responds to the customers’ demands. And who would be more familiar with this process than startups?
For this investigation, we decided to focus on a specific subset of startups: namely, the ventures participating in the world’s leading corporate startup incubators. In the last few years, large companies have fully embraced the idea that growth is driven by newcomers, innovators, and those with a passion to make the world a better place. This is why corporate incubators are commonplace now - companies are enthusiastically welcoming self-starters and giving them patronage in exchange for their groundbreaking ideas and passion.
One thing that interested us, however, was whether being a part of a corporate incubator had any effect on the startups’ approach to discovery and crafting their value proposition. We have spoken to representatives from several leading ventures and analyzed their main issues in sourcing contacts for discovery, and how they overcome them.
- Lead sourcing
One of the main issues that have come up in our analysis is generating the leads, i.e. finding the right people to interview and reaching out to them. The representatives noted LinkedIn as their main tool in generating long-lists of potential interview contacts, due to its far reach and the ability to reach out directly on the platform.
We have found, however, that this process can be less than straightforward for startups that do not yet have established networks that they can leverage for leads:
“If you have someone on your team whose network is extensive enough, finding the right leads through their second degree connections won't be as difficult, but it’s definitely been an issue since we’re a team of just three.”
Another way of sourcing potential interview candidates is through the parent company’s internal connections: the startups are able to leverage the company alumni networks to reach candidates that would otherwise be difficult to contact. Established company connections and the ability to use both internal and external contacts is definitely one of the main benefits of being a part of a corporate incubator:
“As a corporate incubator venture, you definitely have a great platform to try and sell your product [...] There's a bit of an easier go-to-market compared to your standard startup out there…”
And yet, these benefits come with their drawbacks: there often are restrictions on who you can reach out to and in what manner, creating a lot of red tape around the discovery process. When reaching out, startups represent not only themselves, but their parent company too, meaning that they need to be extra careful to put on the bets face and maintain a spotless brand image:
“Being a part of a large company like this… there are a lot of guidelines for where you can and can't go. And obviously like with a normal startup you wouldn't have those.”
“It can be a very clunky process because of, you know, the politics, the bureaucracy of the organization…”
- Lead verification
“Finding leads is one thing, but qualifying them is a whole other thing.”
Even with full access to extensive networks of potential experts to interview, startups often find it hard to pinpoint exactly who they need to talk to, who fits their desired persona the best. Oftentimes, especially in newer, digital-native industries, we can see that people with the same title do vastly different jobs in different companies:
“It's quite hard at the very beginning to nail your ideal profile and to qualify your leads. It's quite complicated because on the surface you could be a head of marketing in an organization, but have very different responsibilities from a head of marketing and another organization. So when looking for a relevant lead some profiles may look great, but then when you actually drill down into the roles or responsibilities, these profiles may not be as relevant as we thought.”
Larger corporations are especially difficult in this regard, as there often is a large number of decision-makers at every step of the process, meaning that it may be incredibly difficult to pinpoint the exact person who has the right level of oversight and would be able to provide you the insights you need.
This is why it is important for startup leaders to consider the person’s entire professional background, as well as the way the organization is structured - and this process can be very time-consuming and tedious, forcing you to make strategic trade offs between quality and quantity of your leads.
- Getting the first meeting scheduled
The last of the main hurdles that startups often have to overcome in discovery is getting the potential expert interview leads to hop on the call with them. This process can be troublesome - getting a reply from a potential contact is hard in itself, especially when dealing with cold leads.
Some startups choose to offer the potential interview leads financial incentives for speaking to them and referring them to other experts with useful knowledge:
“One constant issue has been generating more senior interviews in a cost‑effective manner. Usually to reach out to these people, you either have to do it through a company or you have to somehow climb the funnel to figure out the best way to contact them, and it’s super extensive and time consuming. This is why we started offering incentives for interviews”
Incentives, however, turned out to be somewhat of a controversial method - some of the startup representatives that we spoke to believe that they add a level of bias to the conversation:
“There’s a lot of companies out there providing incentives, [...] but we're trying to get to an interview without providing incentives, just because we want the conversation where there's no bias involved. Instead of that, we try to really make the reach out messages personalized so that the people respond more. But the problem with that is that it’s very time consuming…”
Balancing tailored messaging, lack of incentives, and reaching out to a large number of candidates is a challenge faced by most startups. The tradeoff between quality and quantity of your leads is definitely a leading issue in customer discovery across the board - but what if we could alleviate it?
At Aura, we allow startups and established businesses to pursue both quantity and quality using their limited resources. Aura’s “Lead Finder” module allows users to search by specific criteria including detailed industry segmentation, total work experience and number of positions they have occupied at the company, allowing you to locate potential leads that fit your persona perfectly.
Additionally, Aura doesn’t just look at the job titles - it searches within description too, allowing you to make sure your leads have the right experience, regardless of title.
Click the button at the top of the page to get a free search on our early access tool!