5,000 Hours Later: 8 lessons from starting a company at Kellogg (Part 3 of 4)

My central focus while at Kellogg has been starting a company. What follows is the third part of an article I wrote for The Merger, Kellogg's school newspaper. It recaps, in brief, my experience at Kellogg.

5,000 Hours Later: 8 lessons from starting a company at Kellogg

Lesson 5: Customers often have the answers

Using the $25,000 of funding, I had hired two undergraduate software engineers over the summer to continue building the product. With these two teenagers, I drove around Chicagoland through the summer, demoing the product to whoever would meet us. Our demo with the R&D Director at the medical device company was met with a luke-warm response, similar to other meetings we’d had. Yet, rather than turn us away, as others had, he told us about another service that his company once used, which he yearned for again.

Inspired by the R&D Director’s fond memories, we built a service like that which he spoke of. We called it 'PreScouter'. When we returned six weeks later to present PreScouter to him, he was enthralled. However, when we asked for $7,000 a year to deliver the service, his eagerness quickly dissipated. I reached the end of the summer frustrated that I had not accomplished my personal goal of generating revenue. I was not even sure that this third idea – PreScouter – was better than the previous two.

Lesson 6: Kellogg buys from Kellogg

When I started the second year in Fall 2010, I enrolled a team for Goldsmith’s Marketing Research class. Instead of running a Qualtrics survey, as is typical for projects from this class, we decided to conduct thirty phone interviews with PreScouter’s target customers. We provided them with a sample report, which was a sample digest of academic research, and sought their feedback on it. At the end of each interview, we threw in the question, "Would you be interested in trialing this service, at cost?"

I expected the project to be as disastrous as my attempts over the summer, when I called on alumni of Northwestern’s engineering and science programs. However, this time we turned to Kellogg alumni. The initial emails we sent out produced a tidal wave of responses. At the end of the very first of the thirty interviews we conducted, when we asked the question of trialing the service, the answer came back, "Absolutely, I’ll try this service". After the experience of the summer, I was blown away: could this thing actually work?

Ten of the thirty interviewees ultimately agreed to trial the service. Because of operational constraints, we proceeded to operate the trial with the three Fortune 500 companies that were most eager and interested.