Ted and I grew up in Los Angeles and started tinkering with computers in our early teens, but we didnt meet until attending MIT together in Boston. We were housemates in college where we studied computer science and got to enjoy a curriculum and work/life balance that is often called drinking from a firehose.
After graduating from MIT, Ted built software at Google on the Business Intelligence and Wallet teams, while I was working on an enterprise payments startup. We began collaborating towards the end of 2013.
Inspired by some physician friends, we built a mobile app for healthcare providers, and it was important to identify whether a new user was a physician, nurse, or administrator, and to identify the size of their institution.
We found ourselves spending time looking up each new signup and trying to determine their role & organization.
From our experiences at previous companies, we realized that understanding users was an important problem and something a lot of people needed, so we decided to do something about it.
In order to to validate and understand the market, we spoke to many of our friends in sales at various Bay Area startups—we loved hearing about hacks of how they were manually researching their leads, disqualifying leads that sign up with their personal email addresses, and hiring people from oDesk to research the rest of the leads in Rapportive.
Its great to find people hacking together tools in-house or doing something manually—these are opportunities to build new startups. No one likes organizing their receipts or changing the oil in their car. Similarly, businesses have lots of tasks they would rather delegate.
Saying No, especially early on, to some customers has definitely been a business challenge. Wed love to do everything for all of our customers, but weve had to give up some deals where we felt the product needs of a single customer, even if they were a larger one, werent being echoed by our other users.
For instance, there were some early requests from B2C companies looking to identify influential bloggers among their users who could help with publicity and link building. However, StackLead is geared towards B2B salespeople and we had to politely decline these requests.
We needed to focus our efforts and resources on a specific segment of our potential customer pool.
Our first product focused on delivering sales lead research to your inbox when you get a new signup. The earliest customer feedback quickly prioritized features that let sales reps pull this research data into other tools. At StackLead, we want to help salespeople find and close more of the best prospects, so weve focused on building an engine that plugs into services they already use. Weve already built integrations with Salesforce and spreadsheets.StackLead's direct integration with a team's Salesforce account
We learned what our customers wanted, and we built it for them.
Weve found using our own product really valuable for segmenting our existing customers and new signups. By talking to samples from different groups, weve been able to prioritize features and target our marketing language. For instance, we talk about our webhooks API with a startup growth hacker and our Salesforce integration with a more traditional sales rep. This targeting builds rapport with new leads and helps develop a repeatable sales process.
Paul Graham says launch once your product has a Quantum of Utility and Reid Hoffman suggests you should be embarrassed by your MVP. StackLead came from our personal frustration with researching new signups and we took the time to manually do this task for our YC batchmates.
Our first customers were our batchmates in Y Combinator. They forwarded us their new leads email addresses and we researched each one by hand before automating our system.
As soon as we had a functional prototype, we posted to Hacker News and Growth Hackers to get outside feedback and additional leads for our startup.
Our first users were able to contact 30% more leads every day because they didnt have to spend time researching each one. In essence, sales teams can use StackLead to instantly figure out if email@example.com is a high-value lead whos interested in buying their product.
For our core product, weve been focused on increasing our data quality for more email addresses. If we cant find any research results for an email, we want to be confident that weve pulled together any information that might be online for that particular lead. Some of our upcoming features include a lead dashboard and reports that highlight the key datapoints in our research.
Ultimately, were building a lead processing engine that helps sales teams prioritize the best prospects. We recently connected StackLead with Zapier and Segment.io to help sales teams quickly start using our service.
We made using our service as convenient as possible.
We want to improve every stage of the customer pipelinefrom prospecting to account management. Were starting with automated lead research because we can guide the very beginning of the relationship between a business and a potential customer. By helping businesses identify the best leads and make a great first impression, we become a critical factor in closing more sales.
We have two key takeaways from our experiences with founding StackLead. First, find other passionate founders to serve as your customers.
Startups are hard and founders wont be shy about sharing problems they want fixed ASAP—in fact, we benefited immensely from the other startups in the Y Combinator W14 batch, but early feedback could come from comments on services such as Product Hunt or a trusted mentor.
Second, launch early, but don't optimize early. Our first product was simply copying info we found online about new signups into an email template. Once our first customers validated this problem, we began building a scalable, automated system.