You have a new great idea for a product or service that touches upon a business area you aren’t totally familiar with. We’ve all been there at one point or another. Without a deep background in that particular business domain you can’t tell how good your idea really is. You may have an intuition that you’re on to something, but it’s prudent to validate those intuitions and assumptions before investing lots of time and resources into exploring it deeper. I recently found myself in this position, and I hated it. The only thing I hate more is social networking. I don’t Tweet, rarely am I on Facebook, and I don’t play Words With Friends. And yet I recently found myself at the crossroads of social networking and a need to understand a business domain in order to validate a software proposal. Nuts.
In the software world one of the first design & analysis exercises developers will perform is use case design. This exercise essentially forces the developer to write out the flow of how a user interacts with a software system that he or she is trying to develop. Use case design requires a deep understanding of the end users, the process and the business. If you think you’ve got a great idea for a new software application that you think solves a need in a particular business area that you are not incredibly familiar with then quite quickly a stopping point has been reached; without an understanding of the domain there are no use cases, and without use cases you have no software. Double nuts.
Enter LinkedIn. Ok, I do occasionally use LinkedIn to maintain my network of professional contacts. While LinkedIn is great at allowing you to search for people and send messages to people in your network you can’t send messages to people outside your network (besides requests to be added as a contact). All of my connections are friends, people I work(ed) with, or know tangentially through others, which means that my network is pretty restricted to my own areas of expertise. Although LinkedIn has a great search engine for finding people it seemed at first that it wouldn’t be any help in reaching out to them. Just as I was ready to write off LinkedIn as a potential source for information I discovered LinkedIn’s neat feature called InMail.
InMail is a service offered by LinkedIn which basically allows you to send an unsolicited message to anyone on LinkedIn for a small fee. For $19.95 you receive three email credits, and LinkedIn guarantees a response in 7 days. If you don’t get a response within those 7 days then you are credited for that email. If a response comes in on day 8 then you get to keep your credit. This money back guarantee makes reaching out to strangers very low risk, financially.
I’m not one to rant and rave about a service, particularly if it’s related to Social Networking and costs money. But in this case I have to hand it to LinkedIn. A LinkedIn search for people with expertise in a very specific field and who were based in the Boston area resulted in over a dozen hits. We read the LinkedIn profiles of each person in the search result and decided to contact some of them using InMail.
Afters purchasing some InMail credits we crafted a 4 paragraph note which explained our purpose for contacting the recipient. Our note concluded with a request to join us on a 30 minute call to answer some questions we had to help us better understand the domain. Think that would be tough to get a positive response? Me too. In fact we received a 66% positive response rate. Most who responded to our emails were actually very enthusiastic to help us out, and seemed almost eager to teach us their understanding of the business domain. Setting up conference calls was a non-issue. I was shocked.
Searching LinkedIn we found a very specific group of professionals with experience in a very specific domain. And using InMail we crafted a very targeted message to local professionals and were able to tap into a pool of local knowledge and generosity at very little cost- much less than comportable sites such as Zintro and Guro. And, these people are now part of our network. So maybe I was wrong about Social Networking all these years…maybe I should reconsider Words With Friends.
Matt is a BCS founder; he can be contacted at . BCS was formed in 2010 in order to meet the increasingly complicated IT needs of the health care community. We offer experience in IT ranging from enterprise application development (J2EE, .NET) to Professional Services Consulting, Support and Project Management. The founders at BCS have over 20 years experience in health care and Financial Services technologies.