Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lessons and Takeaways Thus Far

I wanted to recap some of the lessons from the first assignment and preview some of the lessons from the 2nd assignment.

First, while I don't have as much time to do it as I would like, I really enjoy reading the lessons you all are taking away that you've written up. So I want to start highlighting some of these whenever I write up this kind of post. I really think you all will learn much more and retain a lot more through learning from one another and from experience than in hearing it from me in a lecture.

So below I've linked to some lessons that Spike Morelli took the time to write up and I think they're excellent.

So a lot of people found themselves alone to complete the first assignment. There was some screaming and bashing on the forum, but fundamentally that’s exactly what the assignment was designed for: separating active from passive students. The next challenge is starting today and new teams will be formed based on previous activity so everybody should get a better team.
But not all was bad. I for one was lucky enough to get 3 other active members and together we tried to bring the whole team to life which made for an interesting experience and some good lessons.
The first assignment served several purposes. But let's start with the learning objectives:

1) Brainstorming startup ideas
I wanted to give you all an experience in brainstorming before we have the videos on good brainstorming processes and tips. Through this you also learn that coming up with startup ideas, even 5-10 is fairly easy, though it does require putting in some thought and effort. Nonetheless, it can quickly become hard to decide which one is best to pursue! Hopefully you also learned to use your own experience and to focus on problems that you are passionate about solving.

2) Thinking about business models
I purposefully had you fill in these startup ideas in a format where you would have to begin thinking about all the various aspects of the business model. We will reuse this idea throughout so I wanted to introduce it early as it is key.

3) Recruiting and motivating startup teams
This is meant to be a highly compressed experience of doing a startup. My theory is that you learn more from experiential education than from being told something by a professor. In startups, the quality of the team and the ability to recruit and motivate a team to join you is critical and often problematic. Entrepreneurship is a team sport, not an individual activity. From the number of you that expressed dissatisfaction in who you were matched to, I think many of you learned this loud and clear so no need to belabor the point.

4) Thinking about the differences between good and bad ideas
This is one where I also saw a lot of really good comments. The differences between a good idea and a terrible idea are often quite subtle and a bad idea can often quickly be turned into a good idea if you change one or two components of it slightly. Even ideas that you think are brilliant, often turn out to look like really bad ideas once you've talked to a few customers. So then how do you iterate and move forward once you've found out that your "good" idea isn't so good afterall.

5) Turning bad ideas into good ones
The difference between a good and bad idea often isn't so much about the characteristics of the idea itself. Often it's more about what you do with it and how you change and morph the idea in response to feedback about the aspects of it that aren't so good. It's hard to recognize the bad parts about an idea that you yourself have generated. This is due to certain cognitive biases we all have. It's often much easier to both recognize the flaws in an idea that someone else generated and also to see how to fix those flaws and change aspects of the idea to improve on it. This is what you will largely due in the first part of the main class project (the OAP) and what you are practicing doing in the 2nd assignment with someone else's idea to start with. From the 2nd assignment, I'm hoping that you will see that there are no "bad" ideas, that by applying a bit of thought and creativity, even the "worst" ideas can be improved, tweaked and aspects of the business model changed to where it actually becomes a potentially promising idea! Sometimes it takes reframing the problem, or maybe applying the same solution to a different problem, or the same problem but a different solution or market for it. Many of you by your twitter comments are already noticing this!

6) Entrepreneurship is often about taking the initiative, solving problems and making the best of the situation.
It's easy to give up when the going gets tough with a team, with a project or with an idea. Entrepreneurship requires both determination and patience as well as flexibility to find a way to make it work, even given imperfect circumstances.

Now lets turn to the other more practical purposes.
These are fairly self-explanatory, but let me at least say that it's hard to really get to know other people in an online learning environment, usually it's an individual activity and it's not experiential. By the way, the reason we learn more from experience than from lectures is that experience is both more painful and more fun. It's a more intense experience overall.
Importantly, it's even harder to really get to know what it would be like to work with someone until you've actually had to work together. It's much easier to choose teammates once you have a better sense for what it is that you're looking for and once people have had a chance to show their work, their activity level and even possibly to be rated by previous teammates. It's painful when people don't show up for a 1 week assignment. Yet, it's significantly more painful when they don't show up for your main startup project. It's way, way more painful when you're doing a real startup and it fails not because the idea wasn't good, but because they don't work well together.

1) Determining who will be active/passive in teams

2) Allowing people to meet one another and teams to adjust

3) Allowing people who are too busy to realize they don't have time and to withdraw

4) Allowing time to develop a profile and reputation

Of course, that's not at all to say that all of this was perfectly planned and executed. Not at all. I'm sure with experience and more thought we could have designed much better mechanisms for accomplishing all of this. I'm not sure that people would have learned as much if all went perfectly smoothly and we held your hands through each step either though. With almost all entrepreneurial projects, you often don't get it quite right in the beginning, but you are flexible, learn quickly, design small experiments, and adjust to something that does actually work.