Learning entrepreneurship at MIT
What is it like to be in Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp
When you’re staring at the word “entrepreneurship”, I know what you’re thinking about ： if you are not an entrepreneur, it must be someone around you who is doing a startup. You might have already get bored with this word entrepreneurship.
In China, we separate young generations into different groups of people， for example, post-80s and post-90s. The twenty-somethings now are post-95s, they are born in an entrepreneur era. They don’t get that excited for this concept. Whenever they heard their buddy is doing a start up, away they walk with frowned eyebrows. Deeply in their mind, they understand that in the foreseeable future of our country, entrepreneurship is going to be exhausting and desperate with no money for most of them.
“Isn’t it Chinese government providing lots of entrepreneurship benefit? Everybody knows that it is perfect to launch a startup now.”
They would say:“well, you idiot, nobody’s going to tell you the best time to launch a business.”
Because I’m now struggling to maintain a decent death pose in my own startup try, I can’t say anything to the ideas above. The dangers and obstacles, however, it is not a reason for me to say no to the best opportunities in the world to learn advanced entrepreneurship ideas.
Even if you hate entrepreneurship in every cell of your body, I don’t recommend you to skip this article. I don’t like the fancy idea of starting a business just like you, but one day you might have your own company and product, the methodologies and thoughts born in the cradle of great engineers will definitely help you on that, you know guys from MIT are serious doers and makers.
The engineering guys are never crazy about anything, I am not an exception, until…
Until now, I’m still holding a pessimistic heart with my eyes widely open, to face whatever there is upon the tide of entrepreneurship.(no drama sorry)
What is entrepreneurship class about?
Is entrepreneurship something that can be taught?
Technically speaking: no.
In no way you can just copy all the steps from a successful start-up and become something great. First, variables along the way have changed to something that is totally different. Second, the market only takes the early birds.
“Then what are you doing at MIT?”
“Well, I’m not learning how to be successful.”
The things taught in entrepreneurship classes are tools for crafting a successful product and managing a company. Quite like what is happening in the management school classroom. The big difference is entrepreneurship class is made for a new company form called start up and requirements of the market that matched to this form.
Entrepreneurship class is not a brand-new concept, let me give you some examples:
These classes are some great examples of teaching entrepreneurship.
It is because entrepreneurship 101 from MIT X that I have the chance to learn these great theories face to face at MIT.
Entrepreneurship 101 is based on the book written by Bill Aullett : Disciplined entrepreneurship 24 steps to successful starter.
The online class, which was a hit, came from the off-line class in the sloan school of management. The off-line class first, and Online class followed it on edX.
The class online requires you to follow through the assignments, videos, and give a pitch for your own start up. Anyone finished the class have the chance to compete for the opportunity to learn at MIT.
Step by step I finished this class, participated the competition, and Finally got involved in the program. You can see our pitch here.
I arrived at MIT in the August of 2015 like everybody else, whenever I recall the adventure I had in that week,goose pimples get all over my body and laugh goes on my face.
So what is happening there?
A quick look at what is happening in Bootcamp class 1
We got lectures in the morning, speeches in the afternoon and the short night (never seemed long enough) belongs to project time.
In order to help us to use our knowledge in practice, boot camp has divided us into several groups, we have a whole week to turn a very conceptual idea into a decent pitch that can be shown to some investors from Silicon Valley.
If you have been to startup weekend, you will get the idea instantly. Build a team, make something in 48 hours and pitch it on the demo day. At Boot Camp, besides lectures and speeches, you have to come up with a mature pitch presentation, that’s what we’re doing at the project time.
Sounds easy and a little bit stupid right?
Me too, but just at the beginning.
When you’re discussing something with groups of very senior workers, you will notice that things aren’t that easy.
The interesting stories about collaboration will be written in the following parts of the article, team dynamic it’s the word you are looking for if you want to be spoiled.
I am the keynote guy in this six members team, and I was partly involved in the user experience part and product design part.
After tons of obstacles and sudden brakes, we made it to the final of the competition and won the third place. I felt so unfair when everybody went to the cruise while I was called back to have my military training.
Here is a brief about what happened in the Boot Camp, if you’re interested in it just jump into the entrepreneurship 101 on edX.About the participants
The graph above shows what everybody had been working before boot camp. Because boot campers are literally from all over the world, this thing can give you a big picture of what global entrepreneurs are thinking, and what area they are living in.
Me myself is working on an education society product. The boot camp program didn’t pull me out from it, I am running my startup now with excitement every day and a little bit of profit and less trouble than what it was before the boot camp.
Thank you boot camp , not only because the lectures, but also those brilliant people who were creating awesomeness day and night.
What is it like to work in a team in bootcamp?
How to build your team in a day?
First of all, made some team formation game make everybody feel comfortable. The first one is Marshmallow Challenge
The second one is Scavenger Hunt.
After that, we started our team formation process.
You must know that everybody in the Boot Camp has their own brilliant idea, so how to put these talented leaders engineers and designers together to work for something that would not be their own original idea?
Play a little game: speed dating.
My score :(Speed date is a game where you test your own idea and evaluate others ideas. You have one minute to pitch your idea to someone near you and one minute to listen to others idea, both of you will have one minute to negotiate how to divide 7points with each other. If time is up and there is no result in dividing these 7 points, then both of you get a zero.The one who get the highest score is the winner.
This is a perfect Game for all the participants show their personalities and the potentials of their projects. Naturally, some of us stood out and got the chance to hire other people for their ideas. With a mediocre score of my own idea, I followed the crowd to find my place in other teams.
Finally, I joined the team of the buddy from Melbourne. We are the team that tried to make a product to pre-diagnose depression. Let me introduce everybody in my group.
I learned from the class that the people in the startup can be identified into three kinds: Hipster Hustler Hacker.
These 3 figures are in charge of different things and have different personalities which can make the team function like one.
All of our team members maintained their role in the team all the time, leave work to the one best suit to it. This kind of team formation can be extremely helpful when everybody is on the same page. If not, it is going to be a disaster, because these three kinds of people are totally different and can easily tear the team apart.
Welcome to guess which character each of us belongs to:)
Changing directions and fightings in our group
There’s a balance between collaborations and fighting, no team can always stay peaceful, let alone the team that just formed for a couple of hours and is facing a huge problem with a very limited time. I believe that in a real startup, things can’t be worse than this.
I will show you how we changed three directions in six days and survived.
Direction number one
Application solution, pre-diagnose of depression using the technology of personal data collecting
At the beginning of the story, we went to Simon’s team with various purposes. Personally speaking, I was attracted by Lou because of his experience in share economy(which is extremely useful to my own start up).
I can tell that no one except Simon is truly aware of what we are doing. But in order to present ourselves as professional collaborators, we had to be nice and polite.
So our conversations sounded like this:
“We want to make Smart pre-diagnostic solution using big data, it would save a lot of people from their nightmare and change the world.”
“Depression, wow, impressive, I get it. Big Data, I understand, cool. We’re definitely going to make something.”
Underneath this nice talk is a bunch of questions that keeps the rest of the team nervous, for instance how to make this possible, the diagnosed can be a very sensitive area because of medical ethics, how to make money?How to scale our business?
While the rest of us were thinking, Simon and Lou were talking like they were on fire,: how this product can integrate into everybody’s life, and make a better world by telling people they have the risk of depression.
To show competence to everyone else, we Forced ourselves to make comments that means nothing, something sounds like this: “sure sure, I think this is a very promising area, and we should definitely talk about it later”
We were like this comedy . Never act like this in your team.
Simon and Lou get more and happier when they got this positive feedback. Running faster and faster on a direction and leaving the rest of the team behind.
Few hours later, the boot camp invited some alumni in MIT who are doing startups or investments. They were here to help us sort out our ideas.
They came to our team and ask politely with a smile: so, tell me about your ideas briefly.
Lou answered the question: “we’re trying to build a system that goes into possible depression patients’ lives to give pre-diagnose using the data from personal data collection which will benefit the whole society psychology health condition”(using the most complicated sentence structure you can imagine)
Those seasoned entrepreneurs understand bullshit talk instantly and suggested that we explain it in an easier way.
Imo stood up and answered cautiously but confidently: “We are thinking about using application solutions to help everybody to identify depression and…”
before he ended his explanation, Simon cut in: “Wow, wow, wow hold on we’re not talking about such a big group of people, and we are doing pre-diagnose not diagnose or identification”
Now, if not 6 people in the team were confused, 5 of us were.(You can tell it from our faces). What is the difference between normal people who have the potential to develop depression and possible depression patients? what is the difference between diagnosing and pre-diagnose?
We kept our mouth shut in order to leave an impression that at least we are supporting each other, only Lou and Simon were answering the questions.
The chaos maintained for 15 minutes, tutors left quickly after giving us suggestions like: “Medical diagnosis requires a serious background in law and medicine, if you want to do a business like this, there should be a psychologist in your team” leaving us stood there numbly with questions tearing us inside out.
We spent hours later doing some basic research on the regulations about diagnosis in the United States. But still, the team is not on the right track.
At 10 o’clock that night, one of us couldn’t stand the feeling anymore.He broke the discussion about diagnosis and ask everybody to put their opinion on the table. He wanted to check if everybody is on the same page.
After an hour of discussion without showing off or hiding something, finally, we got everybody on Direction number two. At this time, everybody knows what we are doing.
What have I learned:
I think whenever you are collaborating with a group of strangers, you must encounter a period that no one is giving useful comment. Everybody is giving a nice talk and trying to be a nice guy. Let us call this period the Icebreaking period. We all know that we can avoid this stupid process, but we can jump over it as quick as possible by putting everybody’s thought on a page or a white board. Discussing or criticizing is open for everyone in the group. The sooner we make everybody on the same page, the faster we can start to do something productive, and generate some really wonderful ideas.
Direction number two
Personal depress feeling meter
Based on some research we did on depression, we decided to avoid the diagnosis area, and just make something that can show one’s depress feeling level.
We want to find out whether the people is happy or not and matching one’s mood to some content provider in order to profit.
For example, we collect your internet footprint, your behavior in real-world, and other things to analyze your feeling and tell you whether you have depressed day or not. Finally, we’re going to provide you with some product to lower your depresion feeling level. That product can be video, music, story or even some goods.
Our ultimate goal is to provide the market with an index of consumers’ emotion status. Using this index, companies can deploy accurate marketing actions thus benefit both the customers and the company.
Back to the team, we’re now settled on this direction, and we are separated to do some customer interview, feasibility research, and business model plan.
At this point, we all agree that Simon is going to be our team leader. While he was imagining the future of our product and Company by doing the business plan. We got frustrated in our customers interview and feasibility research.
We found out that apart from the realization of this idea, users privacy is our bigger challenge at the Morrow level, how can we ask them to give us more personal data.During our customer interview, we found out that five in five students were not interested in whether they are depressed or not.
Here’s how they describe it: if I already have a shit day, I don’t need a reminder tell me how bad I was.
If I have a Normal day without anything different and was told that I have a very high-level of depression, I might become unhappy for real.
The more we talk with the customers, the more we found that this is a product that no one is going to use.
At that time, two business guys were still high about this direction, the rest of us were not so confident. That being said, we didn’t give our leader Simon, who gave us wonderful pep talk once in a while, some proper feedback. We still couldn’t stand out and express that this is not a good idea. When we saw Simon have made some very attractive business plans, we were more unwilling to speak our true feelings.
The drama happened tomorrow, every single group was asked to do five minutes brief about their idea, the team that scored the highest will be awarded.
So how did they perform?
We found XXX problem, and we saw the desire of solving this problem from our customers. Through our research we found a possible way to nail it, the diverse background of our team member can provide enough support to make this happen, we are very happy that we’re moving on the right Direction. This product, we call it X, well be able to fix the problem XXX to XX level. Besides this, that solution have a huge potential in its adjacent area. We are happy to have discussions with all you guys.
The response from the tutor:
That’s brilliant, we saw the energy in the team, let’s talk about it more afterwards.
Our product is game changing. The innovative algorithm created by our team is leading the next big trend in consumer area. Do you know what we have done? You would never imagine how much this Technology can change the world. We use advanced mental detection to enhance your recognition of yourself letting the world know you better. We are happy to have discussions with all you guys.(Still, this is not Direct quote, you have to use your imagination to read this sentence as it has the most complicated sentence you ever seen.)
The response from the tutor:
with a very very frustrated face.
When he tried to say something, he was interrupted by another tutor:
Let me interrupt, first of all this is not personal .
To be honest, what the fuck are you talking about.
Can your team speak human language or not?
And after that there were more criticize came straight to us.
Everyone of the team buried their face into their hands, the extremely nervous atmosphere was ignited to flame.
Simon, as the leader of the team, showed his experience in teamwork, he gave us some positive feedback on the five minutes brief, and suggested us to forget about that criticize from the tutor.
This is a very critical moment of the team, Simon’s behavior saved the team from breaking apart.
We asked our team members what happened to the brief.
Why was the brief messed up? Because the one briefing didn’t understand what the team is doing.
Why didn’t he understand what the team is doing? Because the communication and feedback is blocked insider team.
Why was the feedback blocked? Because no one wanted to say the tough words and be the bad guy.
Later in that day,our tutor gave us one-on-one consultant. He said this:
What does a team member do ?
Say the rough words .
What does a team leader do?
Make the tough decisions .
The things we learn from direction number two:
When you are collaborating in the team, no matter you are with or against some idea, speak out your opinion in time is more important than anything.
Trying to be nice and hiding the truth in order to be friends with everybody is harmful to a start up. You’d rather be strict and harsh to each other then letting the project fail in some “Nice guy’s hand”.
Save the rough words and make the tough decisions, fail fast learner fast grow fast. That’s what startup is about.
Direction number three
operating system for the Internet of things: controlling smart devices using personal data.
After fierce fighting and hearing suggestions from our tutor, we decided to keep the idea of collecting personal data and use it in a new way, Smart device operating system.
We want to collect users’ behavior, analyze it, and using the results to control the smart devices in your home.
For example, we found out that you had a very stressed out based on your internet footprint and your movement in reality. Then we would create the environment by controlling the smart devices to help you deal with your stress. When you open your door when you come home, you will find that the house has already prepared a cozy environment.
With dim light, comfortable temperature and your favorite peaceful music.
If our analysis based on your behavior is that you will have a guest in your House, we will prepare the environment to make a wonderful party.
Make your home your friend, a truly smart and helpful companion that adjust itself to your need and desire.
Sounds great right? We liked it too. We were even celebrating this idea when it came out.
Smart home operating system, what a huge topic. There are millions of opportunities here, and billions of obstacles waiting for us at the same time.
After few rounds of research, we found that before the integration of smart device OS, introducing the smart device into people’s house is not an easy task in the first place.
Putting smart devices into someone’s house as a trigger has always been those company’s endeavor.Google Chrome cast, Apple TV, Nest, Amazon Echo, Philips hue, you name it. In order to push forward their smart operating system into peoples’ family, companies keep selling those smart devices which are too smart to function. You have to admit that if you want to be a part of the smart house market, everything can stop you before you put a piece of your product into people’s houses.
We spent two days to reach this conclusion, no one knew what is the perfect angle to cut into this market. Should it be the lighting system? The audio system? The temperature system? Or even the bath system? Because we don’t have any hardware engineering the team, we were not able to cope with the implementation of the idea.
Actually, we were in a super hard situation, the time is running out and we were stuck at where we were. So everybody’s folk out there mind: someone wanted to keep the operating system idea going, others want to find a new direction.
The Team is once again on the edge of breaking, and we got only two days to the demo day.
Later that day, in the night brief with our tutor, we reported our situation with sad faces.
Here’s what our tutor responded: “okay I got it, actually we all think that your team is going to make something. But I think you guys can tell that the personality I need to review is too strong to move forward as one. Maybe it’s because you have developers and engineers in the team.”
“now let’s be honest, I have one question for you, are you guys still interested in what you’re doing?”
After two days of sleepless research and brainstorm, we found this passage Beyond our capability. We stared at each other without saying yes or no.
Explain our situation in detail to our tutor, after a quick evaluation, he said this to us: if you guys keep this pace before the demo day, you’re not going to present a great pitch, your team is great, I think you should change direction right away.
After all, this is a team with some senior workers， so after a few minutes discussion, we decided to cut out sunk lost and started to make some new explorations.
We were asked to write our names, background, skills and one thing that is truly Great on the whiteboard. Trying to figure out whether there is something interesting just from the team member. After an hour or so, a brand-new direction came to us. It is a direction where are team members’ capability can be maximized with a very specific target audience, and also a very clear product.
We finally reached this direction, everybody knew what they’re doing, we can communicate smoothly.After days of fighting and struggling, suddenly we were in our super professional mode.
The things we learn from direction number three:
when the team is making decisions on some big issues, it’s important for everybody to say their opinion, but we have to make this process efficient and as quick as possible. Everybody have their rights to vote, but once we all agree we something, we have to work as one and move forward. Make sure that everybody is married to the profit and future of the team , not their own idea.
Direction number four:
Artificial intelligence telephone support system:using AI and telephone to match Advanced Internet service to those who don’t have a smart device or don’t know how to use one.
The detail of this project Will be mentioned afterward .
Now let’s talk about team dynamic. At this stage everybody is in their pro mode, starting from the beginning, sorting out what should be done by whom, and get the shit down.
When the direction is settled, and some big picture of the product is done. The rest of the work is mainly about the presentation. Practicing the pitch, figuring out the numbers in the business plan, making wonderful Pitch dock, that’s what we were busy doing at the end of the demo day.
Frankly speaking, there was a huge load of work for hustlers (finance)and hipsters(design), but the hackers and the team didn’t have much to do.
Samip, our engineer who was always dedicating to the team, found himself nothing to do. And became a little bit upset with it.
Another engineer Avi quickly adapted this workload, he then went into the big meeting room and talk with everybody else, just waiting for the demo day.
When you walk past us, you will notice that somebody is busy doing their stuff while others are just hanging around. I think this is a they’re a normal situation, everybody has its own role in the team. If you know what the team is doing, and you have done your job, just trust the rest of us, leave it to the right people.
The things we learn from direction number four:
When the whole project is coming near its end, the most dangerous time is coming. Figure out one’s role in the team and trust each other is more important than everything.
Ten things you should check before collaboration.
I can’t you tell much about the lectures, but I can show you something that I learned in boot camp that benefits me more than I can imagine.
It’s the team, the most important thing for me when it comes to entrepreneurship.
1.Before any meeting, have you sorted out what is in your mind?
2.Before making decisions, have you declared your position?
3.Ask yourself can you find your team mate super fast before actually working on sth.
4.Have you agreed on a deadline of the project?
5.Are you using quick prototypes to test others opinion on your work without going too deep?
6.When listening to others ideas, have you spoken out your true feelings.
7.Are you working on a specific work without listing the priorities of all the work?
8.When the team members are fighting against each other, are you fighting for the benefit of the whole team?
9.Have backed up for the final result and figured out plan B.
10.Are you having fun with your team member?
If we asked these questions before we made any move, there would not be so many fights and obstacles. The good thing is after these fightings, we’ve become true friends to each other:)
What is Demoday like?
The night before the demo day was peaceful, we have done pretty much everything we could do and something scary happened.
BUT THANK GOD I GOT THERE ON TIME.
We won the third place of the competition with a pitch that didn’t go rehearsal(my fault).
I can still remember the itching eyes penetrating out team members eyes.
How does it feel?
When you in a team that believes in itself, it feels like a battle that is about to win.
You can see how other team performed here:
I was the hipster designer in my team back in MIT, but actually, I major in civil engineer in China.
It was not a really easy rule as the designer, but I find myself really enjoyed it. The passion and happiness I found as a designer is something I never experienced before.
So after MIT, and after my damn military training (Samip sorry I didn’t respond to you for so long.), two things happened to me.
First, I introduce the CEO position to a professional manager, partly because the military training, partly because I turned to works an interaction designer.
Second, I applied for some design school to continue my career as an interaction designer with management skills from MIT.
It is honest to say this is an opportunity that is going to change your life.
There are lectures and speeches you will never encounter unless you were there, and great people that you can learn from and miss all the time.
To me, my startup got funded afterward and I found the endeavor of my next decade.
If you are wondering whether you should come to Global entrepreneurship Bootcamp.
Jump in now and be with us. It will change your life.