Accelerator Diaries – Weeks 16 to 20: First Contact

By June 29, 2017Uncategorized

Steve Blank once famously said “no plan survives first contact with customers.”

This statement highlights that as an early stage business you just don’t know what you don’t know. In these conditions of extreme uncertainty, there can be a temptation to spend countless hours planning and analysing different causes of action in an attempt to create some sense of certainty, this is a place we have certainly found ourselves before.

This addiction to planning is what my co-founder Leo refers to as “analysis paralysis”, where you become so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of decisions that you think need to be made that you defer making any.

The problem with trying to answer too many of these big questions too early is that you don’t have any evidence to support your beliefs, only educated guesses. The best evidence you can find is the direct feedback you get from putting your product into the hands of your customers and seeing them use it. This is what customer development is all about.

The essential ingredient of this type of customer development is some form of the product. Until a month ago, we didn’t have a product or a group of users to test with. Thankfully, over the last month at the Upstart Academy we’ve build the first key element of our product and better yet we have a group of students using it.

What we’ve learned

The lean method for content creation

I’ve spent most of the last four weeks created a range of digital marketing courses for our students. The courses act are the first step of the student user journey, where they learn the core concepts for each area of digital marketing.

At the end of each section, the students complete a short assessment to reinforce the learning and to demonstrate that they’ve understood the core concepts. We’ve built this material by curating a range of high-quality resources that are freely available online and adding instructions to the most important sections.


(a screenshot of our Search Engine Marketing course)

How to hack user acquisition

Leo’s been busy working on creating a system for bringing students to our platform. To do this we’ve been helping a range of companies that are looking to hire students by running their recruitment process for them using our content as a way of filtering the pool of applicants. We’ve been offering all the unsuccessful candidates a free trial on our platform, which has proved a very effective and affordable way to acquire users.

Employment outcomes is a strong motivating factor

This is a theory that we were very confident would hold true, but just how much of a motivating factor was even surprising to us. The fact that students knew that their course results would be part of hiring decision for the employers lead to some extremely high completion rates. In fact of all the users that started our courses in the last month more than 70% have now completed.

There is no substitute for speaking with your end users

The feedback that we’ve received from our these users over the last month has been truly invaluable. We’ve had the goal of speaking with at least 20 users each week to understand their thoughts on the material. The overwhelming majority of this feedback has been extremely positive, whilst all the suggestions for improvement have allowed us to make quick, real-time adjustments to our service.

(the forums features on Teachable has been a great way to interact with our users to gain some valuable feedback.)

What’s changed for us

Finding the right message is important

When speaking with employers about using our platform we have encountered a number of difficulties with the way that we’re explaining how our service works. The main issue has been around the use of the word internship, which comes with a range of preconceptions about the work that the students will be doing.

Describing our service as a way to find students for internships lead to a lot of confusion with employers believing that they’ll be able to bring students directly into their businesses and structure their workflow.

It’s essential for our service that we’re able to maintain the structure of our program by setting the tasks that the students perform for the employers. What this means is that we need to find another phrase to describe what we do, that isn’t internships.


The plan for the next month

We’re now entering the final stretch of the EduGrowth program and everyone’s aiming to put their best foot forward for demo day on the 26th and 27th of July. Our last month is focused on two key goals (here are is the link to register for the Sydney and Melbourne demo day’s if you’re interested):

Convert users into members

At the moment we have more than 800 active users on our platform. All of these users have joined under a free trial arrange where they’ve received access to 1 of our 5 courses. The plan for the next 4 weeks is to try and convert these users into paid members. We’re planning on offering a membership package of around $50 a month with the hope of registering at least 60 paid members by the end of the program.

Register at least 40 organisations

On the other side of the market, we need to start registering more employers. At the moment we have 12 employers registered on our platform, however many of these have come through our own personal connections. To really prove this model has value for employers we want to register another 40 organisations that we had no pre-existing relationship with before the end of the program.

As always, please feel free to peruse our best snaps for the last month below.

Martin from the Upstart Academy practicing our demo day pitch


(Leading up to demo day, we’re putting plenty of work into refining and practicing our pitch. Here is a snap from a session with Val Peechy from Charles Sturt University)

EduGrowth weekly meetings

(for the last 2 months the Edugrowth cohort has been meeting every Friday to analyse the results of each week.)

A picture of the EduGorwth cohort visiting Google to understand how they set goals and review performance.

(The EduGorwth cohort visiting Google to understand how they set goals and review performance.)