The Startup Schools — 3 schools of thought

The Lean Startup, Y Combinator & Seth Godin

Can entrepreneurship be schooled?

“What are the universities thinking ?— they go out of their way to ensure that their students are well supplied with contraceptives, and yet they are starting up entrepreneurship programs and startup incubators left and right... So can universities teach you about startups? Well, if not, what are we doing here? ” — Paul Graham

You can tell a lot about society by looking at its institutions of higher learning. Just as you can tell a lot about the people by considering what they want out of these institutions. Paul Graham states quiet rightly that universities are supposed to prepare you for your career; and that if your chosen vocation is ‘entrepreneurship’ then universities are forced to accommodate these demands. But the media with its valorization of college dropout success stories from the tech world have placed significant constraints on colleges to stay relevant and up-to-date. The result is the proliferation of startup schools.

But this raises the question: Can entrepreneurship be institutionalized? It is not only a question of whether universities can really institute it; can thought leaders and business ‘organic intellectuals’ preach the startup gospel sufficiently that it becomes a habitual norm? While I don’t intend to answer that question right now, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of three ‘schools of thought’ that are worthy of notice in this regard. Enjoy.

1) The Lean Startup & Customer Development

Steve Blank together with Eric Ries are the pioneers of an organizational methodology of startups which they call the The Lean Startup. The theory, which is essentially a synthesis of Kirzner and Schumpeter, supposes that startups seek out opportunities stemming from established incumbencies in the market and build new and better solutions for these problems that people will actually use.

The methodology is called lean because it uses evidence-based feedback channels from the customers’ experience of a minimal viable product which is then looped back into the startups team’s operations. By going straight to the potential customer with a proposed solution startup teams are able to make agile incremental adjustments to their solution that work in accordance with customers’ actual use of the product. Thus: evidence-based entrepreneurship, where the business model is mightier than the business plan.

Some have dubbed lean methodology as the scientific method of starting tech businesses, but Blank states bluntly that all startups really do is operate through a series of unknown guesses which they should either validate or dismiss based on what people do. He calls this customer development because through the process of validating assumptions startups create their own market. And so in startups the development of the product is the development of the customer; where the point is to make something people actually use.

READ: The Lean Startup

2) How to Start a Startup — Y Combinator

Y Combinator is an American-based business accelerator which funds new innovative tech business ideas. In partnership with Stanford University they hosted a seminar series in 2014 where they invited prominent Silicon Valley startup founders and investors to speak about their experiences of building tech companies. Some of these speakers included Peter Thiel (PayPal), Marc Andreessen (Netscape), Brain Chesky (AirBNB), and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) among others — all of whom have been involved in a billion dollar company.

The title of the series was How to Start a Startup’ which aside from offering practical advice for how to operate in a startup, raise venture capital etc. the series itself exemplifies the transference of knowledge from real-life entrepreneurs to students who aspire to start their own company. Universities like Stanford and lecture series such as these are institutionalising entrepreneurship and rendering it as viable and attractive occupation for future generations across the world. This openness and sharing of knowledge is something which is itself a tenet of how startups operate.

The series stresses the fact that a new innovative business is not just about technological invention (a notion which Schumpeter put forward), but is dependent on collaboration with others and learning from failure through trial and error, all of which is facilitated by a willful proclivity for being open to contrary information from others. Startups, because of these educational and knowledge sharing initiatives, are gaining further acceptance in higher institutions of learning and are now a aspirational vocations for the global economy now and in the future.


3) Seth Godin’s Startup School

Seth Godin is a marketing guru, author and public speaker from America. Godin’s success is owing to his craft for storytelling; the most effective and efficient way of making complex ideas simple and relevant for practically-minded people. Back in 2012 he hosted a workshop for a group of 30 entrepreneurs and today anyone can listen to recorded excerpts from the event.

Throughout the event Godin unravels his chief philosophy about the ‘connection economy’. The connection economy can be thought of as the confluence of Manuel Castells’ network society (2004) and John Howkins’ creative economy (2013), wherein the exchange of goods and services depend on businesses being able to connect with people through their products. The basis of this exchange according to Godin is trust and permission from specific sets of groups which he calls ‘tribes’.

New businesses are viable when they add value to the organically-connected members of the tribe and who thereby grant the business a monopoly over the function it serves for the group. If a company’s products are not appreciated by some customers that is perfectly fine for Godin. That just means that the product is not for them. He therefore attributes tenacity to the entrepreneur, and is someone who is willing to stand up and say: “This is me. This is what I am making. Here it is, I hope you enjoy it”.


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Thanks for reading.

If you have any other noteworthy startup school insights, feel free to leave a response below. I would really appreciate that.

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