Editor’s Note: The author of this post, Moaad, is currently working on Trakex, a tech startup in the trucking industry. His company was recently accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator Fellowship program. Read more about Moaad’s success in becoming an expert on his customer’s pain points and launching his first successful startup – all why finishing his industrial engineering degree here at NC State.
This past year has completely changed what I personally think it takes to build a successful startup. The NC State Engineering Entrepreneurship Program pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me realize how critical communication as an aspiring entrepreneur.
There are two different roles that I’ve learned to switch back and forth from as an entrepreneur. Those two roles are the therapist and the preacher.
Part One: The Therapist
My entire first semester as a senior at NC State was dedicated to customer development. If I wasn’t working on my schoolwork, I was talking to customers (trucking companies) or researching the logistics industry. I had one goal that semester: I needed to convince the decision makers at some of the nation’s largest trucking companies to set aside time to discuss their problems with a college student. I had to convince trucking company executives that they needed therapy and that I was a suitable therapist.
Every other cold call to a customer resulted in a cold rejection, but I eventually found myself sitting across from my first patient. However, I made a rookie mistake during that meeting (and a few more subsequent meetings). I treated those first few meetings as a sales pitch, trying to persuade customers that they had a problem and that my product was the solution. I was a phony therapist with the ulterior motive of trying to sell customers products that they didn’t need.
Don’t be a phony therapist.
When you’re performing customer development, you should practice active listening. As you ask your customers about the tasks that they perform and the challenges they encounter, make an effort to identify their pain points and investigate those pain points by letting the customer delve into them.
Think of this entire process as letting the customers shape their product for you while you act a facilitator. Therapists let you talk through your problems because most of the time, you’re capable of resolving your problems on your own. A lot of your customers are also capable of solving their problems and every now and then a customer will inspire pivotal product features. However, you are the entrepreneur and it is up to you build a business around those problems.
This requires playing an additional role: the preacher. If you’re not planning on making a living off of working as a therapist, you as an entrepreneur have a second part time gig: preaching your vision.
Part Two: The Preacher
After spending a few months talking to trucking industry employees and experts, I finally identified a clear-cut problem and solution. At that point, it was time for me to find a pulpit and start spreading the word that “trucking companies will pay for my product”.
Well you’re probably thinking that very few people are willing to take a college student with no startup track record seriously. I definitely did not have any successful startup stories to my name. Anyone will tell you that investors do not invest in ideas, they invest in the people behind the idea. So I had to give investors a reason to believe in me.I had to practice what I was preaching.
My reason was all of the work I put in to learn about the trucking industry (through work experience and research) and the time I dedicated to customer development. Most of the investors I spoke to were not too concerned with the technology behind our product. They all wanted to hear about the customer, how much the customer will pay and how much it costs to acquire customers. So I made it my priority to collect all of the information investors were looking for with regards to my customers. I had the backing from executives and other decision-makers from trucking companies who were ready to purchase my product as soon as it hit the market. However, even that was not enough.
I am almost certain that the reason why busy investors and serial entrepreneurs take time out of their hectic days to help me grow as a young entrepreneur is because they feel my passion for my startup. That passion is not something that you can fake nor is it something that a blog post can provide you with. It is your personal reason why you’re willing to obsess over your startup and endure all of the failures that you’ll inevitably experience while never showing a sign of giving up on your vision.
If you can find that personal reason that keeps you focused and driven as an entrepreneur, everyone you preach to will pick up on that energy and will genuinely believe in your startup.
About the Author:
Moaad Benkaraache is an EI marketing assistant and NC State industrial engineering student. He enjoys prototyping, eating protein-packed meals and prototyping while eating protein-packed meals.