#4 Talking to Mentors, Customers & Partners. Decentralised Enterprise Networks (DENs)

Today we discuss communication. Talking to mentors, customers and partners in the best possible way. The idea for today's email is going to be a bit out there but an interesting concept.

Hey guys! (As I mentioned double post this week - also, I’m experimenting with a shorter form email, let me know what you think - I would love feedback!)

This week was filled with discussions. Specifically - I talk to 3 sets of stakeholders:

  • Mentors

  • Customers

  • Potential Partners

Here is how I approached it and some of the learnings along the way.

We met and talked to dozens of mentors

As part of the Startmate program, I talked to many mentors this week. The feedback I’ve received has been mixed, and it’s been difficult to choose the right advice.  Startmate teaches founders the concept of mentor whiplash - You have to pick and choose which advice right for you, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. For me, the most valuable piece of advice was around our target customer focus, and really focusing on students rather than talking to companies, universities, and other stakeholders. When you have multiple customer groups you’re focusing on and designing for it’s hard to prioritise requirements. So after that discussion, I decided to have a much firmer focus on the student demographic.

We continued talking to customers 

Talking to customers is something you just do during customer discovery. It’s something you need to keep doing as you grow a company. Talking to 10 customers this week, the difficulty in getting entry-level positions was very clear. I also learned that existing virtual internship experiences lacked community and support. This is something I wanted to address with EntryLevel. To keep an ongoing discussion line with my target demographic - I launched an office hours initiative that allowed students to book me in groups of 6 to get advice and share their problems. This was great because it was valuable for students but also allowed me to gather amazing data points. When doing your customer discussions, think about ways to hang out with them weekly - the more time you spend with them the better - at least very early in your company’s lifecycle.

We began talking to partners in the preparation for our launch

To execute a great launch, you need 3 main things: distribution, brand, and product. We have a product that we think will do well (EntryLevel), the brand is facilitated through the mentors’ work experience and credibility. Distribution was the thing we were missing, so we found and reached out to organisations that had large distributions to students. These were:

  • Universities/Schools

  • Companies that sell products to students

  • Large organisational bodies that have large student bases (such as clubs, societies, festivals)

We found about 5 partners with a total distribution of 1.2 million, and are trying to find out the right incentive structure for each partner. To do this, it’s important to understand where they are coming from and what they would like to achieve. With partners which need some cashflow, we worked on pay per signed-up student. Universities & schools are happy to promote EntryLevel because they want ways to give their students access to more experience. Partnerships are easier if you’re always asking “what’s in it for them.”

Decentralized Enterprise Networks (DENs)

Alright, this one is going to get a bit sci-fi-blockchain-anarchist. But bear with me, it will be interesting at the least. 

Before we get into what the idea is, I want to explain what a Decentralized Autonomous Society or Organisation (DAS, DAO) is. Put simply, it is an open system (run by code) that governs and makes decisions autonomously (according to predefined variables and code). It allows people to interact (buy, sell, trade, communicate, etc.) with each other without the need for trust or hierarchies (governments, third parties such as banks, customs, etc.). It’s a type of governance run by code. Here is a great article that goes a bit further in-depth - (What is a DAO?)

While a DAS/DAO system wouldn’t work well for traditional government services, there are business operating structures that it is a great fit for. Consider a Cooperative (or Co-op),  an organisation owned and controlled by its members who also use the services and products of the cooperative.  

The idea, which I’ve named a “Decentralized Enterprise Network,” allows businesses to operate more effectively as large scale cooperatives. Instead of having a franchise model where you have corporate headquarters and many franchisees. You could replace the corporate headquarters with a DAO, where all the franchise members collectively make decisions and vote on specific action items. 

A franchise is one of the best models to disrupt with this type of decentralised governance, as they have the singular goal of increasing collective profits. In my spare time in 2020, I wrote a whitepaper about how a DAO could be created and launched from a structural perspective. I may have left out a few details but hopefully, the main concept was clear enough! 

If anyone is super interested in launching this or has any questions let me know - I might be inclined to share my work thus far.

Till Next Time,

Ajay