Incubator update 1: Josh at Knect

By tuning into the specific words that potential users employ to express their challenges, we can tailor our messaging and solutions to resonate more deeply.

The 3rd session of the thoughtbot Startup Incubator is underway and we are back at our post reporting to you with the latest updates. If you aren’t familiar with the Incubator and our recent launch with 2 different sets of founders, you can find all the launch details here.

Today we will take a look at the first two weeks at the Incubator with our startup founder Joshua Herzig-Marx and his product idea, Knect.

Things have been moving fast in this Incubator session, with the whole team getting to interview many potential users and customers already in the first week, so let’s dig into the learnings and challenges!

And don’t forget to check out the Founder’s Journal below for more insights from our startup founder, Josh Herzig-Marx.

Incubator Stage 1: Education, Research and Segmentation

The focus of week 1 is, first of all, to educate the thoughtbot team on everything the founder knows and assumes about this business opportunity. Second, we want to start narrowing in on the target segment as a team.

After the Kickoff and Alignment sessions, everyone on the team had a clear understanding of our goals, the problem we wanted to learn more about, and the assumptions we wanted to test, as quickly as possible.

From there, our next step in the program would have been deciding on a market segment to start our research on. However, this Incubator team has been moving fast, and research was already started!

Our founder Josh had begun talking to potential users and customers even before Kickoff, so we decided to seize momentum and dive into a Discovery sprint, conducting both interviews and market research.

Customer Interviews

Where do our future customers hang out? Do they talk about this problem at all? Which words do they use? What solutions have they tried?

We wanted to get to the answers as soon as possible, so we jumped online and started searching for these conversations, both on social media and by tapping into our networks and communities.

  • Recruiting: How do we find people to talk to? We started recruiting interview participants with a lead-gen form and sourcing from our own networks by asking around. Learning how much our value proposition and messaging resonates with people starts the moment you ask them to jump on a quick call to tell you about their problems, even if they don’t end up making the call!.
  • Developing a script: What are we trying to learn? With each interview, our questions evolve, finding better ways to guide the conversation to the things we want to learn about without “leading the witness”.
  • Documenting and sharing interview highlights: What has each of us learned? How do we maintain alignment across the team? We have worked on our systems to extract and share insights, so that we can all learn as a team. We record and transcribe interviews whenever possible, we take notes, and we come back to our shared channels with the highlights of every conversation.

Competitor Analysis

In which ways have our potential customers tried to solve their pain points? What do they like and dislike about the existing solutions? Which products connect to our problem space enough to be indirect or replacement competitors?

There is a lot to explore out there, so we decided to divide and conquer. Everyone on the team has been researching the products that we come across and that our interviewees tell us about.

  • Product walkthroughs: We have been maintaining alignment with the team by recording product onboardings and usage experiences.
  • Marketing messages: We have also been paying attention to the value propositions of our potential competitors, and learning about their target segments in the market.

Market Experiments

If we advertise our idea as a solution, what kind of people will respond? Which value proposition will resonate with them the most?

As we learn more about the problem space and the ways in which our potential customers talk about their pain points, we will experiment with value propositions and marketing messages.

By now we have started refining the online ads that our founder Josh had set up, and we are testing them out in the market. This is providing us with further learning into the language that resonates, as well as generating leads for more customer interviews.

Founder’s journal

I asked Josh for his perspective on the Incubator experience so far:

Thinking about the first two weeks of the thoughtbot Incubator, the name of our venture, Knect, has been perfect. This phase has been crucial for aligning the venture’s trajectory with the market’s needs through a series of interviews with potential users and customers. These interactions are pivotal, not merely to reaffirm the existence of the problems Knect aims to solve but also to understand the language used when they describe these needs.

Language connects a startup to its future market. It is the medium through which problems are articulated and solutions are understood. By tuning into the specific words that potential users employ to express their challenges, we can tailor our messaging and solutions to resonate more deeply. This linguistic alignment ensures we speak directly to the heart of a potential user’s pain points, making it more likely we can drive initial adoption.

Furthermore, the importance of language extends to the development of customer personas, which are now being refined. The words and descriptions collected from interviews are invaluable in painting detailed portraits of the ideal Knect users. This information shapes the personas that guide the development of targeted marketing strategies and product features, ensuring that the earliest iterations of Knect are acutely focused on serving a well-defined user base.

Working with a diverse, cross-functional, and geographically dispersed team at thoughtbot has been a gift. Differing cultural backgrounds has forced us to be specific, rigorous, and thoughtful with the words we use. And, of course, a team of four means 400% more discovery calls!

By thoughtfully capturing and considering the language of folks we’ve interviewed, we validate the opportunity. This linguistic groundwork lays a foundation for strong market fit and a clear vision of who we are building for and how to communicate value.

Next up

For the next stage, the Knect Incubator team will continue to go through customer interview cycles to quickly surface suspected trends that inform the next iteration of interviews. As we do this, the team narrows in more and more on the best early target market focus.

If you are going through a business validation process, or hope to in the future, this programming can be a resource for you as well. We have recently launched the Customer Discovery section of our playbook, so that you can tap into our customer discovery exercises to help your team find (or regain) customer, product, and strategic focus.

We are also doing weekly livestream broadcasts with the Incubator team to dig even deeper into what’s being uncovered as it happens on LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitch. Follow along!