If you want to work at / create your own startup, there’s not a better way to get into it than by starting to create your own product. However, if at the time you are reading this you are just another student doing university and you think you don’t have time to do both, let me show how you just might do.
This is the story of Jarvin and how I decided to find a way to take the idea I had and shape it into reality while doing my last year of university in the UK.
💻 It’s a tech world
First of all, I gotta say that this story works around tech and although I believe you could follow a similar process with almost any idea and any degree, in my case, I managed to do this studying a degree in Computer Science and creating a tech-related product ( an app ), which might make things slightly easier.
🤔 What CS uni doesn’t prepare you for.
If you think that studying a CS degree means learning all you need to come out of university with the next Facebook in your pocket, you are dead wrong. Creating a product involves a million things that universities will not even mention (or at least many as far as my experience goes). In fact, once you finish your degree, if you decide to go into industry, 99% of the time you will have to know many other things that universities don’t teach in order to get a good job. Otherwise, you’ll learn them at the job anyway.
The point is that in both the technical aspect and all the other key areas needed to create a product, you’ll need to know much more than what a university degree will teach you. Going to lectures and passing exams will not get you any closer to that new Facebook, learning on your own and getting involved in extra things, will.
Ok Borja, I already know that. I read the title of the article. You must be thinking… get to the point, I know creating something cool while I’m at uni will be great for me, but how? How do I make time to go to lectures, work on assignments, prepare exams, do my dissertation and on top of all this… create a product!?
⛏️ The best way to get what you want.
Well, let’s think about it for a second, let’s try to figure out what this secret sauce that allowed me to do all this might be. Let’s start by thinking about what are the things that have the biggest importance and will take the longest amount of time:
- University work (assignments, work, etc)
- Dissertation (normally worth around 1/3 of your whole degree)
- The product you wanna build 🌶️
We could have a discussion about how long creating such product would take and if it would be as long as the other two or not, but let’s assume that those three elements are the biggest items in your todo list that need checking.
Now how can we take all that work, and get the results we want, putting less effort? Well, my answer to that question and the core of this post is…
🙉 Use the creation of your product as your dissertation topic
What!? I know, a genius idea, right? Two out of the three biggest chunks of work just merged and now you can put half the effort and get the same results! And not only that but you would have a dissertation that:
- Sounds super cool and it’s different to everyone else
- It’s actually something you will talk about and use in the future
- Puts you in a great position to prove that you love creating products
Now, this might sound easier than it actually is. You have to bear in mind that universities tend to want very academic, technical projects as dissertations. Being able to achieve this will depend a lot on the lecturers at your university and your selling skills 😅. However, there are always ways to approach the matter, these are my tips on how to go about it:
- Find lecturers who have created something themselves or come from industry: people who have spent their whole life in the academic world tend to think within the academic box and might not be as open to the idea as someone who has already bitten the fruit of products.
- Make sure you include elements that prove you will be able to keep things “academic” and “useful” when you pitch the idea: you have to remember that even if you find someone who just came out of running a startup (whoa you are lucky!), they have a responsibility as supervisors to make sure an actual academic paper subject to standards is produced. Make sure you let them know that such a thing won’t be damaged by the fact that the actual topic is the creation of something cool!
- Define things very well from the beginning: there are many ways to go about how to mix the creation of your product and the academic side (paper to be produced, etc). From documenting the creation of the product and the technical aspects of it, etc, to focusing on the development techniques used (agile methodologies, lean model, etc). Make sure whatever you choose, you define how you are going to combine both elements well from the beginning.
- Be active: many times you’ll find yourself eager to do and see how the “way to do things” involved taking it really slow… doing research… finding references, etc. Don’t let this stop you. Make sure you follow all these requirements to keep things academic and get yourself a good grade but don’t let this kill the spark that led you to create the product in the first place.
🤷♂️ What happens after?
Jarvin started as a platform for students to ask questions to lecturers that ended pivoting into a similar app but focused on speakers and attendees of talks and conferences. The second version was quite successful and well used at different events in my university, however, the motivation behind me starting this project was to improve education, so this new direction didn’t really inspire me as much.
I have also recently joined a really exciting startup here in London (literally on the week of my last exam at uni) and have been working for a couple of months since then. I’m about to travel to Beijing for a month on a scholarship to improve my mandarin and I have another really exciting product lined up to start working on it as soon as I’m back from China.
With all this going on and since the new direction Jarvin took didn’t really passionate me as much, I’ve decided to put a stop on it for now. To focus on new things, and stay super proud of all the things I learned going through its creation process.
In fact, there are so many takeaways I got from this experience that the dissertation I wrote while doing it focuses on them. However, since I feel like a really long pdf won’t get to as many people as an article and I want to share these lessons with as many people as possible, I will be writing another post on my key lessons learnt on my experience taking Jarvin from idea to product, while studying my last year of university!