Building a successful startup is never a one-man show. Here we open up one of the key ingredients that helps our startups validate their ideas, gain valuable market insights, and save precious time and resources.
At Embria, we have a long history of working with experts. Throughout the last 15 years, we've worked with hundreds of brilliant minds that helped our startups fine-tune their marketing strategies, get valuable insights into the markets they want to tap into, and provide practical advice on the products they develop.
Why do we do it? Because outside experts can bring valuable insights and information that we couldn't learn any other way. They can fill the critical gaps, help us validate or confound our assumptions and hypotheses, and introduce us to the right people in the industry. They can also help us get the first customers and share their opinion on what our next move should or shouldn't be. We consult with professionals from a wide range of industries and areas of expertise, from founders and CEOs of other startups to scientists and researchers from top world universities.
Experts are an invaluable source of information. In our experience, there have already been a few cases where an expert’s opinion was crucial to the success of a startup. They helped us realize when a pivot was necessary or when the project should be closed altogether. A good and on-time expert can save a startup a fortune.
Irina Goncharova, Chief People Officer at Embria
On the other hand, experts benefit from this cooperation, too; working with startups gives them a chance to earn additional income. For some, working with startups is also an opportunity to become an advisor and get an equity comp.
For others, it’s a great way to broaden their areas of knowledge and learn essential information about the products or services they help with. Many first-time experts who have never worked with startups before told us that this experience broadened their views and gave them a fresh perspective on the market and their careers.
Types of experts we work with
Experts and consultants that we attract usually fall into these two categories:
Industry experts are professionals with in-depth, hands-on experience in a particular industry in the target markets for Embria's startups. These experts can provide us with specific industry insights that we can later use to make data-driven decisions about our products. They can tell us more about the audience that we want to target, expand our network, or even examine our content or marketing strategy, among other things.
For instance, at Embria, we worked closely with functional medicine doctors, psychologists, sleep experts, nutritionists, fitness coaches, university professors, and other health tech and wellness industry experts.
Business experts are professionals with relevant business backgrounds who are familiar with the market and product niche we are working in. We look for them as benchmarks — someone who has already achieved a milestone that we only plan to accomplish or has faced the same challenges — to compare our product metrics and overall performance to theirs.
This kind of information is difficult to find in open sources, and if you are lucky enough to find it, it is usually very basic or inaccurate. That's why such experts can be valuable in understanding how other companies operating in a related industry are doing. These may be CEOs, CMOs, or CPOs; content leads; designers; or anybody else in the company whose knowledge we believe will benefit our projects.
The type of expert we are looking for strongly depends on the request from the project team and their development stage. For instance, startups in the R&D stage frequently seek out contacts from pertinent projects in their sector to learn how their product metrics stack up against competitors. Fundraising-stage projects necessitate specialized knowledge, such as legal or financial expertise. We hire most of the experts in these three disciplines: product development, marketing, and technology.
How and where do we find the right experts?
Finding the right expert is a job in itself. You need to find a person who fits a specific set of criteria that are different for every project, such as professional background, work experience, industry specialization, geography, and many others. To help our startups with this task, we have a dedicated networking team whose main job is to source and hire the perfect-match candidates for the projects in need.
We always start our process with a specific request from the project team. Startups must first formulate their questions and identify the kinds of gaps they want to fill. We can then brainstorm and clarify what type of expert would best fit their request, then start our search.
All the team members should clearly understand why we need to speak to this expert and what the result of the interaction looks like. Otherwise, we will lose our time and their time.
Anna Shorina, Networking Manager at Embria
Where do we find our experts? There's no big secret here. We start with our network to see if someone can recommend the right candidate. If we cannot find anyone within our network, we go on LinkedIn and other social networks and look through dozens, sometimes hundreds, of profiles to find the right person. Sometimes, if we need to find a very particular, hard-to-reach person, we turn to professional networking services such as Guidepoint, Clarity, or Kolabtree that help us build the connection.
We send our introductions to relevant people and schedule the first introductory calls with the team and the experts to start the conversation. Once we agree to work together, the startup team is the one who then continues the discussion and keeps in touch with the expert.
“Finding the right expert and building relationships with them is a special skill,” says Anna Shorina. "Every expert needs an individual approach. You need to find the right tone, the right way to explain what it is that you're looking for. It's very similar to business development and requires certain skills that we, as Embria, had to develop to grow and help our projects."
Types of collaboration
When it comes to collaboration with experts, there are several types that we've built out over the years:
Type #1: one-time consultations, charged on an hourly basis. In such cases, an expert is typically hired for a 1-2 hour consultation or particular task (for example, a product audit) from one of the projects and gets a paycheck once it's complete. For mutual benefit, we are open to sharing our concepts, perceptions, and product metrics as well, and we believe there is always a place for cooperation, even in highly competitive markets.
Type #2: long-term consulting contracts with one or several of Embria's projects for an extended time. It means that whenever someone from one of our startups wants to talk to an expert, they can schedule a call with them. Each month, the expert will get a check based on the number of consultations they have had.
Type #3: membership in the startup advisory board. Experts that work with a project on an ongoing basis can become advisors and have a long-lasting impact on the startup's development throughout its lifecycle. It's not just a prestigious title but an opportunity to get equity compensation and become Embria's business partner.
Type #4: an opportunity to become a startup co-founder. Some experts that have profound experience in the area of our projects or have founded similar businesses before and are very passionate about the product can join the startup team as one of the co-founders and become direct contributors to the project that they've consulted on.
And there you have it. Working with experts is a process we've built and developed over the years. We consider it most suitable for where we are now, but we're sure it will keep changing and evolving. We enjoy working with experts and see many benefits from our collaboration. That is why our doors are always open to skilled and experienced professionals looking to share their knowledge.
If you'd like to become an expert on one of Embria's projects, feel free to contact us here. We'd be happy to talk and see how we can collaborate.