Case study: Discovering the right problem to solve

Rooted in packaged goods, Vince Tseng and Matt Suggs recognized the market opportunity to help facilitate product commercialization by building and streamlining the relationship between brands and manufacturing partners. 

Also, like many start-ups, PartnerSlate was a lean team and needed support to make its business model scalable. 

Securing Series Seed funding meant time was of the essence. So PartnerSlate turned to Sightglass Partners’ Jessi O’Neill to provide expertise on user experience and product development. 

For O’Neill, this meant filling in all the gaps quickly. This involved working with the CTO to pare down PartnerSlate’s Proof of Concept and focus on what needed to be learned to determine early product-market fit. The team needed to be aligned on an end-to-end flow that gave PartnerSlate’s internal matching specialists the intel needed while integrating with their current tools and processes. O’Neill also worked with the development and business teams to turn the Proof of Concept into workable software that PartnerSlate could release. All of this took place while O’Neill onboarded a new Product lead. 

In addition to running the roadmap, O’Neill began researching with current and potential users (in this case, co-manufacturers or ‘co-mans’) to understand why the business model wasn’t scaling as anticipated. 

O’Neill interviewed brands and co-manufacturers to prioritize their pain points and identify areas where PartnerSlate was uniquely positioned to help. 

Since Tseng and Suggs came from the CPG industry, PartnerSlate was focused on building a better, more tailored project management tool for co-manufacturers and brands. But Jessi’s research into further market opportunities showed that creating a marketplace that matched brands with co-manufacturers was a lightweight and scalable business that would engage the industry. 

From the co-mans’ perspective, 90% or more of inquiries weren’t a good fit for their capabilities or capacity, meaning a lot of time was spent on qualifying leads.

Solving that problem was something PartnerSlate could effectively do. Its database of nearly 6,000 co-mans across North America is the first to offer detailed data about the capabilities and capacity of each manufacturer. This allows co-mans to access quality leads whenever needed — because all the vetting is already done. Once connected, PartnerSlate’s engagement platform helps both parties streamline the discovery and technical review process. 

“Because we were subject matter experts, we felt we had a clear understanding of our product market fit, and we had VCs wanting to invest,” explains Tseng. “The research Sightglass conducted gave us confidence in the decision to flip the script and make a pivot we suspected would be better for the business and allow us to bring the product online in a much faster, scalable way. Our original project management tools are still relevant and give PartnerSlate its stickiness factor, but it’s no longer the driver.” 

“So many manufacturers were already using some sort of project management tool,” adds Tseng. “And even though that tool may be subpar, it required too much effort to switch. By recognizing if we solved this match-making problem over here, which we could easily do, now THAT was something people will come back for and be excited to use.”

O’Neill and the PartnerSlate team quickly validated this new value proposition by producing a proof of concept. By ensuring the right questions were asked of the right people at the right time, PartnerSlate and Sightglass transformed that proof of concept into a Beta within a month. During that time, Sightglass helped onboard a permanent product lead to take them through the next phase of growth. 

“Even though PartnerSlate had a solid culture where they were constantly challenging assumptions, they still were a bit stuck in their heads,” observed O’Neill. “With a start-up, there’s so much work to be done and so many hats to be worn, sometimes the hardest thing to do is step back and question what seems obvious — what you think you know. Questions like: Are we targeting this group of people? What is the value proposition to these people? Why would they be willing to pay this? 

O’Neill gives props to Tseng and Suggs for allowing Sightglass to step in, challenge the assumptions being made, do the research, and change the perspective on the problem to solve — and ultimately — the value proposition that would solve that problem. 

“But I think he saw what many of our clients see,” says O’Neill. ”That all of us are very much in love with what we do, and we’re invested in providing actual answers.” 

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