Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lessons and Takeaways from OEP and Venture Lab's 1st Course

I've been really thrilled with what happened with our experiment in the online Technology Entrepreneurship "course" and in creating this learning community of tens of thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide working on startup projects and learning from one another. So many of you have written to me that you found cofounders through the site and are diving in, building your companies. It really gives me a warm feeling and I know Amin and Farnaz are really excited as well! Of course everything didn't go perfectly, but that gives us a great roadmap of improvements for the next time around.

Stanford University Pres. Hennessy is mentioning the class in an article that he's working on so we pulled together some of the numbers. The total number of students was 82,303. The number of students who chose to do a start-up project was 37,606. The number of countries represented is over 150. We had over 200 mentors (I'm also hoping that many of you will sign up to mentor the new students the next time around).

Our student body was very diverse. The percentage of women in the class was 17% which is above the norm in Silicon valley (8%). We had students who were Stanford alumni or experienced entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley; we had women from Iran leading a team of entrepreneurs; we had a group of students from Nairobi and from Ghana who would travel to an Internet cafe to access class materials.

For the OEP, the biggest lessons were the following:

1.) Once again, a great set of teammates who are engaged and nearby makes all the difference. It's so much easier to stay motivated and make rapid progress when you can see your teammates really pulling their weight and getting a lot done as well. It just makes you want to work harder and makes it more fun. Entrepreneurship is truly a team sport.

2.) Getting out of your head and out into the real world to show and talk about your startup with others makes it much more real and allows you to see what is working and what isn't with your business model. It's easy to say that you will partner with such and such company for distribution, but when you have to get a meeting with them and really discuss what such a partnership would require, you really learn a lot more. Or with marketing, it's easy to say, we will use social media and blogs to get the word out. But when you have to actually start that social media campaign and keep track of how much time you spent and how many people actually came to your site and left their email, you see that it's not so easy.

3.) A prototype in some form really helps a lot. When you can really put a version of your product or service in front of customers and they can see it and use it, then you get much more useful feedback compared with when it was just an idea that you were telling them about.

4.) Negative feedback on some part of your business model is not the end of the world. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs. Negative feedback is just getting you one step closer to figuring out a model that will work. Work experience in the industry helps, but at the end of the day you've just got to take the first step and get out there and start iterating and learning from the market what aspects of the business model need to be modified.

5.) Choosing the right revenue model is not always straightforward. It is difficult to really show with real data that the business will make money. Until you're out there with a website or product and making some sales, it's not easy to guess ahead of time what the costs will really look like for customer acquisition or how much revenue you can expect from subscriptions or advertising. Relatively few teams made it to this stage where they could really compare revenue per user data against costs of acquiring that customer to see if the business model would truly scale.

6.) It is not easy to be concise with the OEP presentation. There is a lot of information to convey about your project and the team and getting just the write amount of key information out there in a short amount of time takes some practice.

7.) Having a mentor is a tremendous help. I noticed that a lot of teams spoke very highly of the feedback and help that they got from their mentors. Many mentors seemed to enjoy the process as well. Some of them ended up mentoring more teams than they initially thought they would!

Lessons from Students:
  • Gabriel Bianconi wrote up a great set of lessons that he took away.
  • I will add other lessons from students here as I come across them.