My Experiences with the MIT Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

Almost everyone has a new year’s resolution and so did I.
My new year resolution, while not exactly formed on the eve of New Year, was to become a better salesperson and get to know the business part of things that I do (which is software development).

Being a software developer, I had a reasonable knowledge of the Technical side of products, but I lacked the Marketing and Business side.
It occured to me that it would be super sweet if there was a program or project which I could do, that will help me venture into the Dark Side of the Force.

I can handle the tech side tho! 😜

A Google search brought up a lot of short term courses on similar topics offered by various Universities and Institutes but they were either too costly or not credible enough.

With some rigorous searching for few hours, I finally stumbled upon an Online Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, offered by MIT and surprisingly enough it was cheap enough for me to afford and still pay my bills.

What is the Online Entrepreneurship Bootcamp?

MIT runs a series of in person bootcamps (generally 3–4 days long) focused on entrepreneurship in which people with teams (and possibly ideas) come together to work on them and build a solid business plan.
At the end of third day, they have to pitch their idea along with a sustainable business plan to a panel of Angel Investors and MIT Professors (and possibly get funded 😉).

The bootcamp follows MIT Professor Bill Aulet’s 24 Steps of Disciplined Entrepreneurship to judge and evaluate a startup idea.
This ideology, as opposed to the Lean Startup focuses on determining if the problem is worth solving before actually going ahead and solving it.
This has its pros and cons, but I believe that in some places, the pros of disciplined entrepreneurship outweigh its cons.

Image Credit : http://disciplinedentrepreneurship.com/

The Online Bootcamp was MIT’s first attempt of making this course more accessible by providing it online.

How does this work?

This Online version, as opposed to the in person bootcamp lasts for ~3 months (or 8weeks).
At the start, there are no teams and no ideas, people join individually and have the first 2 weeks to network with each other.

After that, people are placed into groups based on the timezone (you can request to be placed with people of other timezones if you request 😉) and then you work on a common idea and follow the above mentioned 24 steps to create a business plan.

Weekly breakdown :

Week 0 : Networking with other participants

Week 1–3: The next 3 weeks are dedicated to User Innovation and how small problems we have in our day to day lives can be leveraged to create a business.
We had to create a 1 minute pitch showcasing a problem and what proposed solution we have for it.

Week 2: All the pitches above were peer reviewed and top 40 were selected.
Groups were formed with every group working on one of the above 40 ideas.
We then had to start with getting feedback from real people to see if it is actually a problem.

Week 3: Segment your market according to the end users and find the primary market segment that you can target and succeed in (Beachhead market).

Week 4 : Calculate the TAM or Total Revenue you aim to make over an year if you managed to capture the entire Beachhead market.

Week 5 : Finding your secret sauce or what makes your idea special!

Week 6 : Setting the pricing framework for your solution and determining what factors affect its price.

Week 7 : Estimating Lifetime Value of the solution and Cost of Customer Acquisition for your solution.
P.S. this involved lots of maths and excel skills to get done with!

Week 8 : Finalizing the Business Model, which basically means redoing all the stuff done earlier and combining it into a presentable format.
Oh and you also have to create a 5 minute pitch outlining what problem you are solving, what is the solution, and that should involve all the team members! 👀

Yes, I am a star wars fan. 🙄

Learnings from the Bootcamp :

There were some very important things that I got to learn from the bootcamp, things which I thought were important for building a company might actually not be that important and vice versa.

Some key takeaways were :

  1. It’s not about code.
    It really isn’t. Doesn’t matter if you can code Facebook from the ground up in a week, if you don’t know how to analyze the market and understand the need of the problem that you are trying to solve, it’s of no use.
  2. Sales trumps everything.
    If you want to be successful, you *need* to be a good salesperson, and by that I mean you should know how to present, how to convince and how to sell yourself and your ideas to others.
    Remember people buy and invest in ideas, not products!
  3. Choose your target market wisely.
    The target market you choose in your initial stage of running a startup (or the beachhead market) should be a very well thought out and reasonable choice.
    Ideally you should have other alternate market which you can dominate once you have conquered your beachhead market.
    For example look how Uber tackled the Food Delivery Market using its already established ride sharing market.
  4. It’s about people.
    As the saying goes, “It’s not about the grades you make, but the hands you shake” and it holds true in every aspect of life (especially if you want to be an entrepreneur).
    Good people and Connections matter when you are looking for team mates, investors, distributors, etc.
    So invest time in making long lasting connections with like minded people and people you feel happy around.
  5. Focus on your strengths.
    It’s almost self explanatory; Focus on better use of your weapons instead of constant repair.
    Identify and leverage your strengths instead of fixing your weaknesses.
  6. More than ideas, it’s about execution.
    This is one of the most important points I want to highlight, I see a lot of people not sharing their ideas for the fear of their unique, one-in-a-million idea being copied and stolen.
    Well let me tell you this, if you are one of the above people, then probably you are not the right person to execute that idea.
    Entrepreneurship is about sharing, and even if someone steals your idea, it’s the execution of that idea what matters.
    Zune was there way before iPod was released.
    Samrtphones existed way before iPhone was released.
    Orkut was there before even Facebook arrived in the market and Facebook is still there even after the release of Google+.

    These examples ought to tell you something.
  7. And more than the execution, it’s again about the people!
    Good people can make a terrible idea work and terrible people can flop even a million dollar idea. 
    Think about that for a moment ;)

Schedule during the Bootcamp!

To put it mildly, it won’t be wrong to say that having dinner at around 4–5am in the morning was quite normal and never in a week I slept for more than 4 hours a day!

While that might not be the case with other participants, ours was a special case.
You see, our team had people across India, San Francisco, New York, Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai; so keeping in sync across everyone and scheduling calls was a huge pain!

As you can see, we had meetings lined up one after another!

But it was fun nevertheless, the intense schedule definitely helped me push beyond by limits and these 3 months won’t be forgotten easily.

Negative aspects of the Bootcamp

While not much, there were still a few issues with the bootcamp; which is quite likely since this was the first attempt at getting the bootcamp online.

Some things that I personally didn’t like in the bootcamp were :

  1. Timing : The bootcamp could have been extended to 12 weeks, the last part of the bootcamp was pretty rushed and having just a single week to do the assignments was very unrealistic
  2. Team Formation : People should be allowed to choose their own teams, teaming them up according to their geography is not a good idea!
  3. Judging : Based on the common feedback, the judging criteria seemed to be a bit unfair.
    More focus should have been given to the actual content of the final presentation instead of focusing on just how the content was presented.
  4. Involvement from MIT : Since the course videos are already available to and accessible by public, a more intense involvement from MIT was missing which can be ironed out in the next cohort.

Is this for me?

While that’s a tough question to answer, but if you are a software developer who wants to explore something more than Softwares and has some extra cash to spare, I’d say why not!?
This bootcamp will not only help you learn the marketing and business part of things, but will also help you make long lasting connections with some very awesome people.

Our Team!

Finally this journey wouldn’t have had been this much fun if it was’t for our team mates who made the long working hours more fun and enjoyable!

I got to meet some of them when I travelled to Malaysia, Singapore and San Francisco and meeting them in person was more thrilling and rejoicing that I could have imagined!

Unofficial Reunion with Belle, Aayush, Dash and Jose (from left to right)

BRB, have to get my dinner! 🥘

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