I began working on Designed Good while physically on my college campus, and our target market is largely made of recent graduates. At Designed Good, we curate and sell high design products to a millennial audience, and so it has been easy for my co-founders and I to think of ways to relate our startup to our alma mater – not least because we all graduated from the same place and launched with seed money we won through the first Williams College Business Plan Competition.
But our greatest resource in launching our startup so far has not been the check we received from the competition or even the office space we were able to find relatively quickly in our college town. Rather, the people we have connected with have been our greatest strength.
Here are the 5 reasons why any startup should take their alumni networks seriously.
1. They expand your feedback loop – quickly.
When we moved into our new office this summer, we had two main objectives. First, we wanted to keep testing our hypotheses in true lean startup fashion, making sure that we were staying in touch with our key market and continually asking questions about the products we were offering and the platform we were building. Second, we wanted to learn more about how to actually implement the ideas generated by that testing.
We needed to get in touch with people who weren’t our best friends and classmates, but who still had a reason to care that we were reaching out. In this first crucial phase of launching, alumni that we had never met before were the people who showed interest and who were unbiased enough to give us real data.
2. They ask you questions back.
When I was sick with a summer flu this July, my co-founders moved operations to the apartment for the day so I could stay in the loop. I heard Imran on the phone in the next room for a call I knew he had scheduled with an alum. It was supposed to be a sales call – the alum had an awesome company with good-for-the-world products – but all I could hear was Imran justifying various parts of our business model, acknowledging pitfalls we were having, and scrambling to come up with what could only be answers to some relentless questioner on the other end of the phone line.
The alumni we have been in touch with have not only answered our questions and provided great connections, but have also intentionally grilled us every step of the way. Whenever we knew we were putting a Band-Aid fix on a problem that we really needed to analyze further, an alum was often the person who burst our bubble and motivated us to make changes.
3. You’re more likely to meet them in person.
In all our outreach for Designed Good, we’ve had the pleasure of sending LinkedIn, Twitter, email, and Skype messages to alumni that we’ve asked for advice and partnered with in various ways. Virtual outreach is great – but talking to people in person still offers a whole other level of interaction.
Connecting with alumni means you have a much greater chance of seeing them subsequently in person at a college (or high school!) reunion or regional alumni gathering.
4. They’ll remind you why you got into business in the first place.
Some phone calls are great because you get right down to business and in 10 minutes, you’ve accomplished more than you could in a 6-hour library session back in school. But then there are some calls and some meetings that actually make you look forward to more calls and more meetings because they allow you to make business friends, to have conversations that let you discuss not just what you’re building, but why you’re building it.
These are the types of interactions where we’ve learned the most. It’s because we’re more likely to feel comfortable enough to outline our entire situation and ask for both big picture and detail-oriented help. And if you’re not learning every day in a startup, what are you doing?
5. They’ll stay in touch with you.
Alumni will follow up with you even if you don’t ask them to – they are not only more invested, but also form an audience that someone else is helping you reach. College and high school newsletters, social media accounts, alumni magazines, and LinkedIn groups are all places where alumni might see your class note, special feature, or advertisement.
Any time you can streamline your outreach process, you’re winning just a little bit more. Following up with contacts is absolutely crucial, so when some of them are willing to catch up with you – even when you’re the one who originally reached out – you’re suddenly able to accomplish a lot more. You’ll also feel pleasantly surprised.
Katy Gathright is the co-founder of Designed Good, a social enterprise that curates and sells well-designed products with a socially-conscious edge at www.designedgood.com. She graduated from Williams College in 2012.Subscribe to the Podcast