How do you bootstrap a culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in your college?
- Start an Innovation and Entrepreneurship development activity. Find a few mentors from the industry. Involve your nearest TiE/NASSCOM/NEN/CII chapters. Have each mentor adopt a few projects. They can teach students how to generate ideas, build demonstrable prototypes, find initial users and validate ideas. Pick simple ideas that benefit people or industry. Encourage projects with an element of social innovation.
- Adopt The Lean Startup method. The concept of a lean startup is to build early prototypes and validate product/service ideas. There is a great free course on Udacity on building The Lean Startup.
- Create a set of student startups (have a goal of doing 10-20 startups in every batch). Associate a faculty member and an industry expert with each group. Create a plan for brainstorming ideas, building prototypes to test the feasibility.
- Develop student skills on user centric design, communicating with potential customers, validating ideas. They can start in the Second Year of college.
- Give course credit to innovation and entrepreneurship activity. Kerala government is doing this, and it is a great idea to adopt it in your institution.
- Focus on finding at least 5-10 customers/users for each startup, in the first year of entrepreneurship. Every following year, try to raise that number by a factor of 10.
- Allow for failures. Don’t discourage them. Make students blog about their experiments, what worked and what did not. This will be useful for students. Have open sessions to discuss these experiments.
By creating a practical program for student entrepreneurship and getting faculty involved, you will change the culture of your institution. You are sending a message that practice is as important as theory.
This is part of an article I wrote for ICT Academy of Tamil Nadu.
Here are a few entries from my readlog.
1. In Here’s How I Built and Launched a SaaS Company For Less Than $40k, Ryan Shank tells us how he built a SaaS product company in 6 months. Ryan describes:
- How he found a designer through Dribble (a community of designers)
- Created product requirements
- Designed deliverables
- Found a senior developer in India through Upwork
- Built and Marketed the Product
Enjoyed reading Ryan’s detailed account how a single person can build and market a SaaS product and start building a company.
2. Matt talks about a common dilemma technical founders face. In Should a CTO keep on coding? He discusses how to balance your desire to remain tech (by coding) with the need to do all the other things a founder CTO needs to do.
When you start as a technical founder, you are really a developer, quickly becoming a team lead. The team lead does leadership things but still codes and does very little management tasks. Then depending on how the company grows, usually you become a manager and now you have very little time to code.
Matt has some good advice and it was a pleasure reading the post.
3. More than one order matters was a refreshingly different article from the ones I usually read.
Order matters. In real life when you’re in a library or a city or in your kitchen. And in software development. Order, the right order, helps understanding. Where there is order orientation is easier.
Order is important but hard to create and maintain.
Order is helpful, even important. But often order is hard to create and/or to maintain. Why’s that? What’s order anyway?
“What kind of order does software need?” is a great read, if you are building software.
It is always nice to see when some one leaves a big pay check, a prestigious job with one of world’s biggest companies and ventures out into the unknown. It takes a lot of conviction, grit and perseverance to make it. Nest Co-Founder Matt Rogers explains why careers can be made on taking on the challenges and projects unloved by others.
A few notes from one of the most inspiring startup stories.
- Growing up with technology at a young age changes your mindset and how you interact with the world.
- Doing end to end in technology is really complicated.
- The best teams are the ones with a culture that gets going when things go wrong.
- For startups, PR is the best means of early marketing.
- Growth metrics are very different for physical items. For apps it may be downloads in millions. For physical items, a few sales from each store is good.
- The early stages of a startup are fun but may be very glamorous – lots of market research, cold calling, talking to people to hire, white boarding, sketching, prototyping, brainstorming, trying out different things and building.
- To be a good startup, you need to have an intentional processes, deep technological integration and great design.
- You need to build things that are really easy to use.
I enjoy listening to ETL (Entrepreneur Thought Leaders) podcasts. They normally get good speakers and the audience ask great questions. I hope you enjoy this podcast as much as I did.
Liz Wiseman talks about The Power of Not Knowing . She talks about multipliers and how they work.
Multipliers are different. Some of the common attributes you can find in multipliers are that:
- They are supportive
- They trust people
- They listen a lot
- They make you feel important
- They seek help
- They give appreciation
- They get out of the way
- They are demanding and have high expectations of you
- They challenge you and let you suffer a bit
- They operate from a place of inquiry
- They push you out of your comfort zone into spaces unknown
- They ask questions that focus the energy and intelligence of the group
Diminishers hire great talent, but do not allow them to operate at their full potential. Here is how to identify them.
- They micro manage people
- They adopt a subtle attitude of “my way or high way”
- They typically operate in “tell” mode
- They constantly emphasize their superiority
- They remind you that you don’t know enough
- They constantly interrupt
- They operate from a place of knowledge (their knowledge)
- They create stress in the teams that work for them
Listening to this talk, made me think, how we have a mixture of the qualities of both multipliers and diminishers. I have noticed that good multipliers are comfortable in their own skin and make great mentors and coaches.
After listening to Liz, I am putting her books on my reading list. I highly recommend listening to this podcast.
Can universities teach students about startups? Yes and no. They can teach students about startups, but as I explained before, this is not what you need to know. What you need to learn about are the needs of your own users, and you can’t do that until you actually start the company. So starting a startup is intrinsically something you can only really learn by doing it. And it’s impossible to do that in college. Startups take over your life. You can’t start a startup for real as a student, because if you start a startup for real you’re not a student anymore. You may be nominally a student for a bit, but you won’t even be that for long.
In yet another amazing essay, Paul Graham talks about the counter intuitive nature of startups. A highly recommended reading.
And the first key, critical moment, of Pre-Success, that no one will appreciate but you — is when you get 10 Unaffiliated, Paying Customers. I don’t mean friends of your investors, or your old co-workers or boss. I don’t even mean folks you hustled at some conference or meeting (well done, there, though. But that’s prospecting, which is something else.).
No, I mean 10 customers that Just Came in Through the Ether. A raw, unaffiliated, lead, that somehow found you on their own, kicked the tires, and now — is actually paying you. Every month.
Because here’s the thing. 10 customers may not seem like much. We called these guys “Beer Money” in the early days at EchoSign. 10 customers was $200 a month. Didn’t really pay the bills on 4 engineers and 3 other guys.
It took us more than a few months to get them. They were not just 10 but 300. We got them because we gave the product away for unlimited use and watched them use it. Once we were convinced that they were using it regularly and heavily, we started asking them to pay. And they did.
Getting unaffiliated customers (without prospecting) is not easy. But it is one of the best validations that your product can do something useful for someone.
Read this great post for more information on the importance of these 10.
Some great tips for startups on How To Survive Your First Year: Picking The Right Advisor
Prepare for your meetings preferably with a list of questions
First, find successful, independent advisors who have achieved what you want to. Whether they have bootstrapped a small business to profitability, scaled a business to serve customers around the world or have been acquired by a conglomerate, they are worth talking to. Instead of asking to ‘pick their brain’, prepare for your meetings like you would prepare for a presentation to potential investors. You will be surprised at the results – advisors are very helpful when you value their time, ask targeted questions and follow up with them.
You may not like what you hear (as advise). Don’t be defensive, listen to the point of view and try to understand the context in which the advice is given.
The ‘right’ advice will make you feel uncomfortable, move you to action and potentially, change the course of your life.
A great advisor helps you focus on understanding what matters most, even when in retrospect, it seems like very simple advice.
Think about the advice before you start acting on it. Understand that:
Not every piece of advice is a pearl of wisdom.
CB Insights recently parsed 101 post-mortem essays by startup founders to pinpoint the reasons they believe their company failed. On Thursday the company crunched the numbers to reveal that the number-one reason for failure, cited by 42% of polled startups, is the lack of a market need for their product.
The post Why startups fail is worth a read.
I was at a recent event where several budding startups pitched to a guest panel. They were mostly looking for feedback. After listening to about 8 pitches, I talked to the presenters and made some suggestions. I started thinking about the event and felt that I should write down a few things about pitching. Please note that these are very subjective. I am writing them to generate a conversation and most of these are just my opinions. Take them with a pinch of salt.
Ten Suggestions for Pitching.
- Know why you are pitching
- Know your audience
- What is your one minute pitch?
- Focus on your business (not just the product or service).
- Know your market and show it
- Talk about your (potential) customers and their problems
- Start with a story. Make sure that the story is relevant to your business.
- Tell more stories about your research, your assumptions, your conversations with prospects and your discoveries
- Show you understand your business – market, revenues, customer segments and what takes to get the business going
- Ask your questions and elicit feedback and help.
I will expand on these points in future posts. But your pitch may be very different depends on whom you are pitching to and why you are pitching.
Nine entrepreneurs describe their approach to finding the initial users and validating their business ideas. Here is one from Rob Walling:
Rob Walling, founder of the Numa Group and creator of Drip, an email-marketing tool. “I wanted to find 10 people who would be willing to pay a specific amount for the product once it was complete. This forced me to not think about features, but to distill the idea down into its core value[: a] single reason someone would be willing to pay me for the product. I took that, and emailed 17 people I know, or had at least heard of, who may have shared the same pain. This way, I not only had my initial customers who could provide me feedback on the details of how Drip should work, I had the start of an early base of revenue I could use to start growing the product.”
You can read the other 8 stories here.