Market Research Trumps Opinion

In a large corporation, each individual member is a wheel in a cog, usually with limited influence in the direction of the company.  To continue this analogy, if a wheel is in motion, all the cogs will tend to move together and offer little resistance.  In contrast, a startup demands that each team member needs to feel comfortable in presenting his or her opinion on the direction that the company is taking along with underlying support.  One cannot just rely on conjecture or opinion but base business decisions on hard facts.

During my experience at Polariis, I found that I did not always agree with the go to market strategy of the company.  After my first couple weeks where I was in charge of presenting our company to different clients, I began to realize (based on the feedback and market research) that there was not a strong reason for customers to sign up for Polariis’s services.  Polariis brings together senior business professionals with aspiring young professionals.  Polariis’s market was to target the top 50 MBA programs.  I initially questioned this strategy because leading academic institutions would already have sufficient networking opportunities, and therefore, Polariis served no real need for these groups.
I was willing to suppress my initial skepticism and call leading business programs.  I started making phone calls and had a quick “elevator pitch” to speak with school career centers on the benefits Polariis could offer their students.  Candidly, most schools never bothered to return the phone call and when I spoke with those that did, they politely advised that they were not interested.  It was important that I was willing to support my observations through direct research rather than just speculate.

From this one experience, I have learned three invaluable insights.  First, it was important to substantiate my opinions with research because it provided objective analysis to my subjective opinions.  It was very hard for others to refute my beliefs when I tested the model through feedback.  Second, I learned how to advocate a position to the CEO that he did not necessarily want to hear.  Last, I had a great opportunity, in a low risk environment, to explore real world market research and how to use that research to support business decisions.

Written by L.J. Maloney, BC Class of 2018

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Startup Experience and Venture Capital Advice

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This summer I am working at a startup called Polariis, an online career advisory platform that helps find mentors for young business professionals. One only has to see the acquisition of Linkedin by Microsoft to see the market demand for networking applications. I report directly to the CEO who himself is serving as a mentor for me in the spirit of our company mission. An added benefit to this internship is that it is located at 1871, which is the largest entrepreneurship incubator in America.  This also gives me the opportunity to interact and network with other startup founders.

My work has given me diverse and broad exposure to the interesting and the mundane tasks associated with a startup. I am very hands on with different activities in the company including cold calling potential clients (both mentors and mentees), developing the financial model, and creating extensive spreadsheets to create and organize our database of clients.

My most memorable experience so far has been meeting with venture capitalists (VCs) to secure additional funding. While I played a passive role in these meetings, I learned a lot from them:

 

  • Be Prepared: It is important to be thoroughly prepared for any VC meeting. This includes predicting what types of questions a VC will ask you.  Having a clear and simple description of revenue model, backing up any assumptions behind your projections, and having concise answers to any questions.
  • Be Energized: While Shark Tank makes VC meetings look like easy, entertaining short dialogues, in reality they can last up to two hours. My first VC meeting lasted just under an hour.  This should not be too surprising because we are asking people to invest into an idea they know very little about.
  • Be Passionate: While it is easy for people of a startup to have clear and driven view of their startup, the VC must also feel that passion and excitement.

Written by L.J. Maloney, BC Class of 2018