Many students, like me, come to the MIT Executive MBA to explore entrepreneurship. When I started the program, I was running my own consulting firm, CloudFountain Inc. I came to MIT to learn how to transition from services-based entrepreneurship to product-driven entrepreneurship.
In my second year of school, I co-founded a new company, EverydayLife, with co-founder Jake Tamarkin, an insurance industry veteran. This startup is an online platform advising families on their financial health and how to buy innovative and unique isurance products online. While most insurance plans remain static throughout their terms, our product offers something completely new: coverage changes over time as client’s needs evolve.
As I build this company, I’m applying several key frameworks from MIT to successfully transition from consulting to tech entrepreneurship.
When you launch a new venture, you can’t possibly reach out to every potential customer. There is simply not enough time or money. Instead, focus on the “beachhead market,” which is a subset of your consumer market. This is where paying customers are found. Once you saturate that subset, you can move on to the next subset.
I used this concept to build our brand. We are offering a unique and innovative insurance product that has never been offered before. We knew consumers might be skeptical of trusting a new company. After all, creating a consumer brand can take years. We needed to find a subset market that would trust us – and then help us build trust with other subsets.
We also needed to find a market subset that would understand our platform, which is driven by complex math and behind-the-scenes algorithms.
In light of these factors, we decided that our beachhead market was financial nerds and financial advisors. We knew these groups would understand our offerings and become brand ambassadors for additional markets. This meant becoming a b2b2c offering. We are leveraging consumers’ trust in the financial institutions they already work with to learn about our product.
Minimum viable product
Start small to go fast. This means building a minimum viable product (MVP), which is a version of your product that enables your team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. Look at a problem from the point of view of a consumer, get feedback, and incorporate learnings into the solution. Then, repeat this cycle.
Applying this concept to my startup, we started small by using our platform to collect feedback from consumers. Rather than creating an insurance product out of the gate, we sought feedback to build an MVP. When we did launch a bare bones version of our platform, we continuously watched user sessions and collected feedback via reviews and surveys. The most important thing was to incorporate all of that learning into our platform with new features.
As we went through this iterative learning process, we realized that we needed to partner with another company to provide the insurance policies we recommended. When we found a partner and launched the first product, we continued collecting feedback from customers about the process. We are currently launching version 2.0 of our platform based on our learnings.
It’s important to apply three types of lenses to your business to avoid tunnel vision. These lenses are cultural, political, and strategic. I applied these lenses in various aspects of the company. The cultural lens focuses on how you are building your team and motivating employees. The political lens focuses on the expectations of investors and partners. The strategic lens means thinking about your vision and the different business models and product features available to ensure you are using the right ones. Finally, I make sure all of these lenses align so that everyone is pulling in the same direction at the startup.
Since founding the company a year ago, we’ve launched a revenue-generating version of the platform. We added five new team members, including a chief distribution officer and a board advisor, and we closed our pre-seed round of funding. We are currently busy scaling our platform by distributing it via channel partnerships with financial institutions, and direct-to-consumer offerings to build consumer brands that will help us design the next generation insurance products.
Dipali Trivedi, EMBA '19, is a serial entrepreneur, currently working as CTO and Cofounder of Everyday Life in Boston, MA.