Sometimes I ask, did I close all those deals because my solution was viable and truly benefited customers or did they just sympathize with me because I was a student and they related the passion they saw in me with theirs few years back? Now that I think about it, it was certainly a mix of both. It wasn’t until later that I realized the competitive advantage students have. Here is why.
The Power Of .edu
Cold emailing is a turn off. How many of those do you receive each day? Ever since I bought a domain a few days ago, I must have received 50 emails from web and design agencies. It’s frustrating and time wasting. Potential buyers especially those with an upper management or executive positions get hundreds of those emails each day. There are thousands of articles that provide valuable guides as to how you can make your email stand out and attract readers’ attention but nothing, I learned, is more powerful than your .edu email.
Before I get to my experience, here is what Alok Tayi, founder at TetraScience, did to get more than 85% email response rate.
TetraScience is an Internet of Things company connecting research labs to the cloud. The startup targets Chief Scientific Officers and Vice Presidents of Research & Development. Alok drafted a list of targets from the member directory of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) and used .edu email addresses to reach out instead of TetraScience email accounts. All their emails included a maximum of 5 sentences and ended with a call to action for a 15 min phone call to solicit feedback. The response rate was unbelievable. Alok notes, I’ll never have an open rate that high again in my career, let alone when sending a cold email.
I only found out about the influence of .edu emails on response rates few months into the life of my first startup. It was after realizing the sudden change in potential customers and partners’ attitude once I tell them I am a college student that I thought to myself, from now on, everything about my solution should relate to school. Response rates may not have been as high as Alok’s but there certainly was a major difference. Many contacts that ended with a sale were initiated by a quick .edu email. The response rate was even hire when I associate the solution with a class project, which it was for a semester.
I find three main reasons behind this.
Sympathy and Connection
“help” was a frequently used word. I’m glad I could help, let me know how else I can help, Yes, I can help you with that, etc. I find that people sympathize and connect with you especially if they went through the things you live at that time. Furthermore, working with a student, I learned, brings them back memories. They often spent few minutes discussing their college experience and all the things that made a major difference in their lives. Few meetings later, I started doing a little more research beforehand about each person I plan to contact since college experience seemed to be a great icebreaking topic.
Uniqueness In The Pitch
People are turned off by sales pitches but how many pitches do people get from students? I never have so far. Students have a competitive advantage: their reputation hasn’t been affected by previous generations of cold emailers. It’s like the great moments the first cold emailers lived when they came up with this genius idea. People especially busy ones don’t have time for sales but are likely to consider at least reading a student email. Student entrepreneurs should use this to their advantage.
Being Part Of The Future
I often interact with college alumni especially athletes. I learned two main business reasons behind their interest in working with students: create a competitive advantage and being part of the next big thing. In B2B, promising unknown startups can create a competitive edge for the adopted companies. Partnering or simply leveraging startups’ team and model can help companies successfully capture outsourced innovation. Additionally, for leaders outside of the startup community, it is one way to have a shot at being part of the next big thing even if there is a small chance it will turn out big.
How Can Graduates Leverage The Power Of College Affiliation
By working with students.
Student interns, part timers or contractors can not only fill your startup with energy but also enable you to leverage their college affiliation for all the advantages I discuss above and more. Many universities limit the capacity of outsiders’ advertisement on campus, students can be your startup ambassadors. Students have access to resources that can benefit startups such as labs, libraries, mentors and student body organizational connections. Students can be your link to those resources. The best students may become team members, therefore, an internship or part-time work while in college can serve as an evaluation period. Finally, personal and professional relationships with good students will expose you to other equally qualified and valuable talent.
Student founders have a comparative advantage. Their school affiliation provides them with a common link to potential buyers, partners and team members. This is mainly due to three reasons:
- People, in general, sympathize and connect with those who went through similar situations. The effect is stronger with college students as it helps graduates bring back memories.
- Because it is uncommon for people to receive sales pitches from university email IDs, response rate is usually higher.
- Many potential customers, especially in B2B, look for a competitive edge and a chance to be part of the next big thing. Student entrepreneurs, among others, can help them accomplish these goals.
- Finally, no longer at school is not the end of the world. Startup founders can leverage the energy, connections and resources of college students through internships, part-time work, and on a contract basis. Students can turn into a referral hub for great talent.
How else can you leverage a college affiliation to your benefit?