The Key to Leveraging Founders’ Deep Domain Expertise

Aug 18, 2023
The Key to Leveraging Founders’ Deep Domain Expertise
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There is a great line about exceptional founders that resonates with who we invest in at Work-Bench: “This person has thought about this problem more than anyone else.”

To bring this line to life, we’ll share some examples. We recently met two founders who spent 15+ years of their career deep in a sector and who experienced a pain point so acutely that they found themselves asking, “why are we doing things this way?!” Despite never embarking as founders before and the market hurdles ahead, it was clear how much fun they were having rethinking a new approach to an old problem. This is a pattern we’ve seen time and time again, including with Work-Bench founders: 

  • Adam Chekroud, whose PhD research focused on predictive models to help clinicians make more effective treatment decisions in mental health before building Spring Health.
  • Edward Chiu, who built customer success tools in-house as a Customer Success leader at DigitalOcean before building Catalyst.
  • Raymond Lau, who in his BizOps role at Zynga would have to manually pull financial data from ERPs before building Leapfin.
  • Adam Wenchel, who deployed ML systems at Capital One before building Arthur.
  • Robert Ross, who spent his nights and weekends building an SRE tool at Namely before building FireHydrant.
  • Paul Valente, who spent hours upon hours sorting through vendor risk management documents as the CISO of ASAPP and LendingClub before building VISO Trust

While founders can certainly explain this narrative during Seed investment pitches, there is a more impactful way to demonstrate this domain expertise to Seed investors: share your customer discovery.

The last few founders we've backed had each spoken to over 50 prospective customers/users and shared those notes with us during the investment process. These conversations prove as a strong proxy for how founders will be able to crack through to prospective customers during “real sales.” While the reality is that not every conversation will be a “sign me up,” in fact many will be far from it, the idea is to demonstrate two things: 

  1. An understanding of the prospective customers’ challenges. In the early days of customer research, being a champion who can empathize with the challenges of your end user is perhaps even more important than a full on sale.
  2. Critical early patterns necessary to refine your ICP, giving you a head start on a go-to-marketing game plan. For example, maybe you found a Director at a large enterprise thinks of your product as a “nice to have,” but it's a VP at a mid-market company for whom this is a burning problem.
  3. Lastly, that there is a real market need for the product and some anticipatory traction.  

At Work-Bench, we always do our own diligence - especially through our own customer network - but when a founder brings their own notes to the table, it demonstrates a level of preparedness and thoroughness that separates them from others.

If you’re someone who has been thinking about a very real problem for a long time in enterprise/SaaS - whether AI and Machine Learning, Cybersecurity, Infrastructure and Developer Tooling, Application and Vertical SaaS - please reach out as we’d love to chat.

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