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How a Thirst for Knowledge Led to This Founder's Zeal for Business

How Pure Incubation's Melissa Chang followed her bliss into business.
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Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that looks at the top 10 traits exemplified by Inc. 500 entrepreneurs. 

Gallup says knowledge seekers acquire in-depth information about every aspect of their businesses, use knowledge as a competitive advantage, and anticipate knowledge needs.

In college, Melissa Chang thought she might want to be a journalist. So she took an internship in a local newspaper. One of her first assignments was to interview a pedophile's mother whose newly released son had just moved in with her. "I had to ask her all these awful questions, and I couldn't do it," says Chang, founder and CEO of Pure Incubation, a lead-generation company based in Topsfield, Massachusetts. "Maybe this is a way to pursue that investigative tendency without it being personally traumatic."

Chang is talking about the exhaustive research she conducts before making important decisions for the company. When weighing the launch of a new product, for example, she will study all competitors and near-competitors, down to their investor documents and the specific words they use in their copy. For one recent product decision, she not only asked her sales team to talk to customers, but she also traveled to California to personally interview six on her own. "It's important that I talk to the top customers, because I feel like I'm willing to ask questions others might not be willing to ask," says Chang. "It's easy to ask, 'Would you buy this product?' They'll say yes. It's harder to ask, 'At what price point does this no longer work for you? What do the conversion metrics have to be?' There are a lot of details.

"I spend a lot of time doing the legwork," says Chang, who may conduct more than 100 conversations with people inside and outside the company--as well as peruse every relevant article or document--for any given issue. "I don't want to have any gotcha moments when you think, If I had only talked to this person or that person, I would have known this one piece of information that would have changed things."

Chang has been operating this way since Pure Incubation's earliest days. The company started as a technology platform for publishers wanting to get into the lead-generation business. But even as she was meeting with potential publishing clients and rolling out that product to several customers, Chang was also gathering information on an alternative business model. Working with intermediaries, she researched the possibility of Pure Incubation creating its own media sites to go directly to clients with lead-generation services. "After about six months to a year of working this way, all the knowledge we were able to gather showed us that we should abandon business model No. 1 and pursue business model No. 2, full on," says Chang. "With that decision, we dodged a bullet and found a great opportunity."

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Aug 20, 2014

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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