What are the most important things that a startup needs in its early days? Fresh perspective, raw intuition, and a healthy dose of unfiltered truth. What does a startup lack most of all? Money and resources.
Rather than paying thousands of dollars to a research consultancy to tell you what you want to hear, consider going to a place where passion lives in abundance, perspective is full of energy, and intuitive impulses are like oxygen in the air—your alma mater or another University in the town.
The story of Uptok will always have a chapter about how the Honors Students of Marketing at DePaul University inspired the founding team with their fresh insights and ideas. Earlier this summer, I reached out to my favorite teacher Zafar Iqbal and shared my desire to work with his students for some market research. Zafar was gracious enough to orchestrate a collaboration of Uptok with his Honors marketing students. We were invited to brief the students at the start of the quarter. 10 week later, after listening to the presentations, we walked away more excited about our opportunity than ever.
As a founder, here are some thoughts on why I believe engaging undergraduate students to co-create with us was one of the best ideas we had, and why you should do it too.
Imagine going back to the classroom you once sat in when you were young and naive. It reminds you of the days when your wisdom did not have the weight of your experience. You will see a reflection of yourself in the students presenting to you. It will juice you up with a new drive.
If you hope to be the unicorn success story years from now, you are listening to a generation who will one day be running your company. They will be the customers your idea will thrive upon. Why not listen to them now?
Blood, sweat and tears is what brought you this far. It is this same quality of effort that can be seen in a group of students passionately working on a project for the sake of learning. There is a beautiful, messy and nervous energy that makes everything come together at the last minute. As raw as it is, the product probably has more creativity in it than an overly-packaged report by a research firm. I am not discounting the professional value of a good consultancy, but you’ll be surprised at how much thought student-led research can incite.
You are hoping to understand the subconscious behaviour of consumers in a world that you have not disrupted yet. Good luck with that. Chances are you are already following your heart more than any numbers. Instead of having a paid consultant go outside the box for you, why not go to the greener pastures where everyone is already outside the box. More than anything else, I think this is what we loved about the work done by the students at DePaul. It was all inherently intuitive.
There is a rebellious spirit in undergraduate students and it's exactly what you need to pressure test your idea. Their mind is already questioning everything they are hearing. Remember your group projects in college back in the day? The late nighters when everyone is trying to finish their slides and a couple of students get in a heated debate about a nuance? It brings everyone closer to the truth. We saw it. We heard. It was priceless.
In short, I highly recommend you to take your idea to your favorite teacher and the students of your alma mater and have them pressure test it. You will be thankful.