YC-Startup School has an amazing asset that can jump start a new company, but it’s never clearly explained how to fully utilize it. Yet when correctly leveraged, this tool could be as useful as networking on Y-Combinator’s internal platform, BookFace.
For readers that are new to YC Startup School, the program can be described as a pre-accelerator that teaches the basics of how to build a startup. It gives great learning resources with video and written content, features expert speakers, has discounts to services like Stripe Atlas, and is a step closer to being part of Y-Combinator.
But there is an underutilized tool that Startup School has, and thats is its growth community. In this post I am going to explain why and how to tap into the growth community, leveraging it for your company. I am going to use my startup, BingeWave, as an example.
I’d also recommend reading these two articles to set the mind frame for this post:
A Community Of Early Adopters
As a startup, you need your first users/customers to use your product and give you feedback. By the time you’ve launched, you have:
- A basic MVP (minimal viable product) developed
- A basic sales/marketing pitch
- Lots of energy
- Little or no money
Your problem is you don’t have a brand, track record or reputation behind your company for the outside world to believe in you, especially when cold emailing. The result is 98% of the market will reject you and the customers that say yes are going to be innovators, which is only 2% of prospects. This means a lot of no’s and wasted time when you pitch.
Taking a look at Startup School’s demographics, you will suddenly realize that you are surrounded by innovators, the 2% of the market that is open to doing business with you is right there and accessible!!! Not only are they early adopters, but they are in the same situation as you are: no money, basic mvp, need customers. Unlike established organizations that can easily say no, both you and other startup school participants have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Now it’s time to start prospecting and getting your first users/customers.
How To Prospect on Startup School
The first step into prospecting new users/customers is having your own goals in mind. Common goals for early stage startups include but are not limited to:
- Forming growth partnerships
- Running pilot programs
- Gaining some revenue
- Getting feedback from relevant users/customers
Once you have decided on what your goals are, head over to the Directory section of Startup School. Play with the filtering tools for industry and terms to find relevant companies. In BingeWave’s case, I wanted to find growth partnerships in new markets, especially in the continent of Africa in which I’ve identified trending growth opportunities.
Now here is where you have to find good prospects as to maximize your time when you do the cold outreach. There are two main areas to focus on, and potential 3rd area if you are team building.
First we want to research if the company is active at all. You can check if the link is active to their website, but also check other digital assets like the app store or their social media. If it looks like they are not active, then we want to look up the background of the founder(s).
2) Potential Sales
If the company is not active, there still is potential value. People will often start companies in areas they have relevant expertise in, hence they are solving a problem they normally see on the job. Looking up the founder profiles on LinkedIn or Angellist could lead to business development. If the company they currently work for can potentially use your product, it’s worth reaching out and maybe getting a paying customer.
The last area of using startup school is to find a co-founder. If their idea sounds great or they have relevant experience but are unable to launch their own company, reach out and see what happened. There could be many reasons from too much work, realizing the market was too small, or not having the correct team. If they get your idea and are looking to join something you might be talking with a future co-founder.
Developing Your Reach-out Message
The last step before reaching out is to develop your messaging, which is talked about extensively in this article. A common mistake I see is when people reach out cold is they have long messages without a clear ask. Your message should be comprised of these characteristics:
- Personal greeting toward founder(s)
- A demonstration that you have some understanding of them or their business
- A very quick 1 or 2 lines about what you do and why its relevant
- A call to action
If you are writing over 6 sentences or more than 3 short paragraphs to get this point across, you need to revisit your messaging. People do not like to read, especially cold emails. An example of my cold outreach with BingeWave that landed me a 64% response rate for doing business with African focused companies:
Hi [person_name], my name is Devin from Startup School and I am reaching out because I saw your company [company_name] and since we both are thinking about Africa, I was wondering if there might be a synergy.
My startup BingeWave is an alternative theatrical release platform targeting diverse audiences. For example, in the US how many African films do you see in theaters? (almost never). We created a system that will allow African films to get cinematic distribution here in the U.S.
Is there a time next week to connect and learn more about [company] and see if there is an area of collaboration?.
The above resulted in several conversations ranging from business development partnerships, a co-founder meeting, and even learning about challenges that caused one company to pivot. **CRITICAL** Come with the mindset to LEARN, not to SELL.
Performing The Outreach
At this point you should have the following down:
- What are your goals and objectives
- People/businesses that you want to connect with that align with your objectives
- 1 or more outreach messages to test that covers the objectives
The last step is performing the outreach itself. You can figure out which ways of outreach yield the highest responses for you and your audience, but mine rank as the following:
- Direct email (some startup school profiles have them)
- YC Startup School messaging tool
- A contact form on their website
Often I prefer direct email or Startup School Messaging Tool, and I connect with them on LinkedIn if I can find their profile more-so to let them know I’m not spam and a real person.
Now that you have started to do outreach and are starting to get responses, here are a few recommendations I have in the process:
- Use a tool for managing the process. This can be excel sheets to basic apps like Pipedrive
- Reach out 3 to 5 times if you do not get a response. No response can simply mean people are busy, not they are ignoring you
- Try reaching out on other social channels like Twitter, Instagram or other non-intrusive ways to get their attention. For example , African companies communicate best through WhatsApp.
And with that, YC Startup School can become an excellent growth tool to get you started in building your company. I would encourage practicing these tactics to close faster for B2B sales. Land those first few users and/or customers, get feedback, and continue to grow!