One of the best pieces of startup advice I’ve ever received is, "More people want to help you than you probably think." This sentiment was particularly important for our startup, Exchange. Exchange is a marketplace where professional software engineers and data scientists train technology job seekers in an effort to get more interviews, and improve their overall performance on them.
From May 30th - June 14th, 2019, we participated in the Summer Startup Sprint, which focused on customer discovery and problem validation. Two teams, also participating in the Stern Venture Fellow program, Grounded Upcycling and The Great Fantastic participated as well. We were required to survey a minimum of 5 people per day. 5 people a day? That's so easy, right? That's what we thought too, until we fleshed out our target demographic. To validate the intensity of the need for Exchange's services, we targeted students going for Masters degrees in Computer Science. Ideally, they'd be actively looking for full-time opportunities and were at least 6 months away from graduation. We determined that it wasn't realistic to get results by using random selection.This required us to do a lot of cold emailing and cold calling students, based off of resumes and other contact information that they left on their LinkedIn.
Over 70 percent of our target demographic were interning at the time and had hectic schedules. We were also worried about who would be willing to take 15-20 minutes to answer a barrage of questions from a stranger. Questions and fears like these initially prevented us from doing mass outreach. We wanted to respect people's time, but also worried about rejection, lack of response, or lack of enthusiasm. But after speaking to an advisor on the issue, we realized that this fear was unfounded, because people want to talk about their issues. People want to divulge their biggest pain points, and what sometimes keeps them up at night. And, if they know you're creating a solution it makes them want to talk longer and be more engaged, not the opposite. The bigger the pain point, the more time people are willing to invest time into solving it.
That same logic applied when doing cold outreach to customers. We promised every call to be under 15 minutes, and made sure that they were structured. After doing 80 calls, not one of them lasted 15 minutes or less. The average call duration was 29 minutes, and as the call went on, their answers became lengthier and more detailed. 55 to 60 percent of surveyees actually thanked us for calling them, as the questions we addressed and our proposed solution of personalized training resonated with them.