Summer Entrepreneurship Training — (Guimarães & Porto) — July 2017
During the the first week of the SET program — 8th to the 15th of July - all participants were asked to reflect upon their lessons learned. In particular, the experiences they liked, found useful or surprised were of interest. What follows below is a day by day description of these moments starting at the day I moved from The Netherlands to Portugal.
7th of July — Multimodality Day ✈️
After having finished my last exam of the academic year on Thursday the 6th of July, the day after that I would travel to what is known as the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality: Guimarães.
After a short night of sleep (last-minute packing..), my alarm clock went off at 06:00 to catch the train to Maastricht, then the Flixbus to Cologne (Germany), then the a direct flight to Porto, the Getbus from the airport to Guimarães and eventually a walk from the city centre to my hostel for the first night (GuimarãesLiving). Easier said than done though: after a 16 hour travel I finally received the keys for my room from the owner of GuimarãesLiving who specifically came back to the hostel for me, since the reception was already closed by then.
This example clearly illustrates why Portuguese are known to be so very friendly people. The same holds for some local guys at the airport who really did their utmost best to guide me to the right Getbus even though they did not understand any word of English and my Portuguese vocabulary is limited to the list from the “SET Survival Guide”. On that note, I should say that the fact I pronounced Guimarães as “Goe — ma — res” also did not particularly contribute to their understanding..
8th of July — Shake hands day 🤝
After a surprisingly good night of sleep in a 3-high bunkbed, a very sweet but delicious breakfast and a interesting conversation with a guy from Helsinki, I had plenty of time to discover the beautiful city of Guimarães, since the SET-event would officially kick-off at 5 pm. Apart from the typical tourist attractions (historical centre, castelo Paço dos Duques), I found a great park nearby (Parque de Cidade) with lots of fitness equipment and very comfortable lying beds ;-)
Since I already walked across the Univeristy campus in the morning it wasn’t that hard to find the student dorms at the back of the campus: Universidade do Minho.
From here onwards, I’ll mention my “Lesson of the Day” since it turns out the tight schedule doesn’t allow much time for writing anymore (in other words: the SET-organisers really put together a busy program, which is great!).
9th of July — Acting Tough in Portuguese and Getting to Know Yourself Better 🗣
Apart from the following three (very useful..) Portuguese sentences I learned during the Vamos Falar Português..
Vamos lá? (Shall we approach her?)
Elas são muito areia parati (She is way out of your league)
Vai-te fossey (Fuck you)
..I also filled out two self-awareness tests in the afternoon. The results from the Hartman Personality Profile test indicate that I am motivated by both “Power” (red) and “Intimacy” (blue). The Belbin test says that my primary team role is a Completer/Finisher. This implies that I have capacity for fulfilling promises and working to the highest standards, but also have a tendency to worry about small things and a reluctance to let go.
10th of July — The Importance of Iteration 🔁.
The “Marshmallow challenge” is a funny exercise whereby teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of a couple of sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape and a marshmallow within a limited amount of time. My group failed this challenge miserably: the spaghetti structure fell apart at the deadline so we scored a total of zero points. In hindsight, the mistake we made was trying to build the highest possible tower immediately rather than iterating level by level. As Miguel told us afterwards, toddlers do iterate multiple times and as a result they reach a higher height than adults on average.
In the evening we played some team building games, one of which you see the picture below. The concept was as follows: there were 3 teams of 4 people who had to move 6 pingpong balls between two hoops. Only the blindfolded guy is allowed to pick up and move one pingpong ball at the time. The other teammates will guide the blindfolded person by shouting one out of the following words: “Innovation” (go right), “Investment” (go left), “Open minded” (go backwards) and the phrase for straight on I forgot. Ironically, we used that exact word almost the entire time, and just pulled the person on his t-shirt to re-adjust direction.
11th of July — Find a Rocketship 🚀.
On Tuesday we had to pitch our multi million dollar ideas and then vote for the best ideas. Although the results of this vote allowed me to take on a “team-leader” role to pursue my own idea, I decided to join the group by Tomás. That is because I truly believe “people” > “idea” since the idea will probably change throughout the validation process. Second, I liked the team composition. And third, this idea got the most votes and thus indicates that others support it. Even more, it could potentially become a rocketship.
12th of July — The Importance of Open Communication👨👦👦.
As motivated as my group was, we started working like crazy since the beginning. The idea I described you yesterday, had already gone through multiple iterations. From a conversation with the professor from University of Minho we learned that “accreditation” of MOOCs is really hard. Also, we discovered that the main customer segment of online education is not the typical student of our own age. In fact, 83% of all Udemy students is between 21 and 54 years old.
As a result of the many pivots, it was challenging to keep the whole team up to date of the current value proposition. This eventually led to some (unnecessary) annoyance among the team members, because it was oftentimes assumed that information was known to all. As you’ll read tomorrow we settled down the next day. Still, the lesson learned here is: don’t make assumptions about someone’s prior knowledge, make sure there is open communication from the very beginning.
13th of July - Focus 1️⃣
On Thursday all groups pitched their ideas to Miguel who we met earlier this week at Startup Braga. As you can read in my post from the 10th of July the lesson I previously learned from him was about iterating as many times as possible. This day I learned another very important lesson: aim to solve one problem really well. Put differently, focus on one vertical at a time even though it may be tempting to follow your entrepreneurial spirit (and gut-feeling) to address numerous challenges simultaneously. In our case, Miguel identified the following three problems in our pitch:
- Difficulties with finding high-quality online courses (MOOCs)
- Lack of course flows (the order in which you should )
- Low completion rates
Since we later found out there already exist MOOC search engines (problem 1) and from literature we know that changing human behaviour is really challenging (problem 3), we decided to go for the second problem.
Just after the pitches Tomás, Antony and I went to a professor from the faculty (António Brito) I approached the day before for an interview about in-company training by universities. After meeting him face-to-face in the departmental building, I scheduled the meeting through e-mail. You can find a screenshot from his response below. Tomás told me that this communication style (in my opinion “blunt”) between students and professor is very common in Portugal. Well, maybe he is simply really focused?
As turned out later he was not blunt at all. We had a 35-minute conversation and even though it was sometimes challenging to fully understand what he was trying to say we got some useful feedback. Let me mention a couple of numerical facts that stood out to me:
- About 2–3 times a year he gives 40 hour of training (20 sessions of 2 hour) to a group of 7–20 employees. This includes both basic training for people with only a high school degree and advanced training for engineers.
- Companies pay about €60/hour but he does not receive any of that money directly. It goes to the university fund which he can indirectly make use of to buy a new laptop for example.
Given this feedback we hypothesised industry companies might be interested in training their staff by means of MOOCs. In particular, we like further exploring the option to offer personalised learning paths based on the results of a pre-assessment. As you’ll find in my post of tomorrow we decided to focus on this problem and corresponding customer segment.
Further, today was the last day to finish the tasks for the so-called “Scavenger Hunt”. This is basically a list of somewhat unusual challenges participants have to carry out. The one who completes the most number of challenges wins the game. For example, one of the tasks was “exchange an apple for something more valuable (money or object)”. You find the picture (and proof) of me completing that challenge below.
14th of July — The Moment of Truth (part 1) 😳
Time flies, today it is already the last official day at Guimarães (in case you wondered, I am able to correctly pronounce the name by now; or at least to that extent that others know what the hell I am talking about). In the afternoon we were expected to give a more formal presentation to a jury consisting of Daniella Monteiro (executive director Startup Braga, co-founder Startup Pirates and Startup X), José Carlos Pereira (member of the board of of the Portuguese Quality Association), Rui Santos Couto (founder of Founders Founders; no typo there) and Marco Barbosa (founder and CEO of eSolidar; 30 under 30 list for Europe). In other words, the moment of truth. But before that, we received some excellent pitching training to prepare for the final pitch in the afternoon. Particularly, the trainer helped us a lot by crafting a bull-shit-free elevator pitch. This 30 second talk followed a standard structure:
Our company [COMPANY NAME]
is developing [A DEFINED OFFERING]
to help [A TARGET AUDIENCE]
[SOLVE A PROBLEM]
[WITH A SECRET SAUCE]
With some help with the trainer we got the following result: Our company EduPortal is developing a Curation Website for online open courses to help university students and employees to learn more effectively, by finding the best course flows given their prior knowledge thanks to community reviews and personalisation.
15th of July — New Place. New Life. 🚊
Thanks to Hugo’s excellent time management skills we managed to catch the metro to Porto just 2 minutes before it departed (otherwise we had to wait for at least half a hour). Since yesterday ESTIEM’s “International Night” took place, it was no surprise that many continued (or started?) sleeping during the ride to Porto. For passengers who entered the metro it was like a survival course to maneuver through the cabin due to our blockade of luggage. Seriously, some participants brought suitcases more than 3 times the size of my little Ryanair bag..
At the metro station we were kindly received by Local Group (LG) Porto who brought us to the nearby youth hostel (Oporto Sky Hostel) which will be the sleeping location for the second half of the program. Similar to the previous 6 days we will have lunch in the canteen of the university. However, as for the food it’s 1–0 for Guimarães in favour of Porto. After all, for some reason it seems like there is always a bit of competition between the two cities; both want to be recognised as the very best. In other words, up to me to judge it myself. The final verdict follows later this week.
After lunch, we attended a lecture by Alipio Torre and João Claro (two professors from the business school), pitched our ideas to them and got some excellent feedback. In general, they were positively surprised by the progress we had made in the past couple of days which was very encouraging. A fun fact which I want to share with you is the way they have distributed the toilets over the different floors in the university building. The toilets for men can only be found on the even numbered floors (e.g. 0, 2, 4, etc.), whereas the toilets for female can be found on the odd numbered floors (e.g. 1, 3, etc.)
At dinner we ate a “francesinha”; a dish originating in the city of Porto. It’s basically a combination of fresh sausages, beef, cheese, egg, tomato sauce and a little plate of fries. With difficulty I finished 1 portion while others ate more than 2 portions. I don’t mention any names, Tomás.
Even though there probably won’t be any reflection session at Porto, I’ll try to keep you posted with the daily updates till the end of the SET-event.
16th of July — Sunny Sporty Sunday 🏄
Today’s post will be slightly different compared to the previous ones in the sense that I will post a series of pictures, each with a short story. Let’s go!
City Tour & Apple Challenge
On our way back to the hostel
17th of July — Beginning of the Week. Fresh Start. Or Not? 📅
This morning we kicked off by a lecture by a professor from the Industrial Engineering and Management department of the university. He demonstrated the potential for omni-channels as an integrated shopping experience since it combines offline and online channels. For our idea especially the characteristics of online channels were relevant: low customer loyalty, rich product descriptions, importance of customer reviews, ample of alternatives and thus increased price transparency. If you want to find out more about it, he recommended the following Harvard Business Review post.
After that we had another pitching session by Rodigro Castro from Spark Agency and Pitch Bootcamp. This time the focus was on a so-called “High Concept Pitch” which is a very concise description of the business (e.g. for Yammer it is “Facebook for Companies”). Compared to the elevator pitch I mentioned 3 days ago, we made a couple of changes. After all, it turned out the phrasing “curation” was too complicated to grasp to and sometimes specificity was missing. The updated preliminary result:
Our company EduPortal is developing a Personal Recommendations Website for Online Courses to help employees in the technology sector to learn more effectively, by giving course recommendations based on their prior knowledge and learning style test results.
Furthermore, he recommended to use 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation where the body text has at least size 30 (10 x 20 x 30 method). A proven pitch structure is as follows: Problem (1), Solution (2), Business Model (3), Magic / Technology (4), Marketing (5), Competition (6), Team structure (7), Current Status (8), Projections and Milestones (9), Summary and Call to Action (10).
Two days ago I commented on the lunch in the canteen of University of Porto. Although Ramires (from Guimaraes) told me he loved the fact that their canteen is better, I have to correct this previous statement a bit. After all, I cannot deny the food in the other canteen we ate today was extremely good:
Fun fact: one of the professors brings a sheepdog to the university every day (see picture below). This dog remains very loyal and is always lying in front of the entrance of the canteen.
After some productive hours for group work in the afternoon, we attended a start-up talk by Luís Martins (founder of Infraspeak). He explained us the difference between the three tiers of start-up incubator. The higher the tier, the harder it is to get in. For example, YCombinator (level 3) accepts less than 1% of all applicants to its accelerator program.
According to him, founders looking for investments should ask for 18 months of survival money with the aim of being profitable within 12 months. During this early phases the start-up can oftentimes be characterised as “Ramen profitable” which implies that the startup makes just enough to pay the founders’ living expenses. Yet, he believes the best way to fundraise is when you don’t need because it allows you to negotiate the deal.
As a last note, the signs of lack of sleep are getting more and more obvious. Let’s hope for a energetic start tomorrow, though the fact that we have to be ready at 07:50 is probably not going to contribute much to that..
18th of July — The Place To Be 🇵🇹 🇩🇪 🇺🇸 🇳🇱
In the morning we visited UPTEC which is a startup incubator part of University of Porto. As with any start-up incubator a table tennis and table football table is to be expected:
In the afternoon we had one of my favourite workshops so far by Joaquim Valente on Customer Relationships. Let me highlight a couple of things of my elaborate list of notes.
Best Place To Live as an Entrepreneur
Joaquim has traveled across the world and has been part of multiple incubator programs. Based on this experiences he expressed some signs of criticism on start-up walhalla: Silicon Valley. Because public transport in the USA is very limited everyone travels by car. Consequently, there is an enormous parking problem: seeking for more than 1 hour for a single parking spot is not unusual. Further, he argues a mixed workforce is missing, there are hardly people outside on the street and everything is insanely expensive ($2,500/month for just a bed in an apartment). Moreover, from his network he knows many people in San Francisco who have achieved great things but do not have a great life at all. They hate what they are doing and the people they work with. According to him you find the best incubators at Berlin, Amsterdam and Lisbon.
In Porto you have a higher quality of life with 3K/month than with 100K/month in the Bay Area.
Going to the States
If you still want to go the United States of America, additional preparation is required. Make sure you have a network in the USA by going to as many parties and events as possible. Note that it requires you to live there for at least one year to build up your network and gain trust. Ironically, one of the ways you can build up trust and credibility among investors is by failing.
He truly believes analysing your competitors is the very most important task you should do as an entrepreneur. Even more, he spends at least 1 hour every day doing it. In the early phases it allows you to ask the right questions during user interviews, it leads to increased empathy for customer needs which in turn helps you create content your customers want. So how does it work in concrete terms? He has manually set-up multiple Google Alerts which notify him when competitors have made any changes, receive media attention or publish new content.
Inbound vs Interruption Marketing
The former refers to making interesting content which people are organically seeking for (pulling). Although it makes up 90% of the total number of clicks on the web it’s not easy to produce such content. Interruption Marketing, on the other hand, is based on a pushing principle (e.g. online ads).
Before the surprise activity would take place in the evening, we played a game called “Schnapps”. The rules are as follows: sit down in a circle and make sure everybody can see each other. Basically, as a group you have to count from 1 to infinity. One by one players who are sitting directly next to each other call the previous number incremented by one and indicate the direction with their hand (left or right). Those who don’t follow the exact rules have to take a bite of beer as a punishment and the game starts all over again from 1. There are some additional rules too make it somewhat challenging. Every time the number ends with “7” (e.g. 17, 37) or is a multiple of “7” (e.g. 14, 28) you are not allowed to call the number, you only indicate the direction. And for every multiple of “10” you can point towards someone as the next player. Sounds easy, right? Nope. Based on the highest number we were able to reach without making mistakes, I can ensure you that it is a trickier game than you might think, especially due to unexpected and fast direction changes and diminishing alertness because of Super Bock..
19th of July — The Home Stretch 🏁
Today is the day before the final presentation. It’s gonna be great. For sure. Since we still had quite some work to do it was mostly a working day. In other words, time was scarce. The same holds for the variety in my activities: work, work, work. Though, let me share some (general) things and pictures with you.
“If Loïc is here, everyone is here.”
20th of July — The Moment of Truth (part 2) 😳
My group decided to go to the university early to practise our pitch a couple of times. At 10 o’clock we were fully prepared, but there was one other problem nobody had foreseen: the jury members did not show up. That is why the organisation went all out to recruit new jury members. In the mean time we were hanging around in the lobby, taking a bunch of random pictures and throwing bottles water to each other. Another group thankfully made use of this extra time to put the finishing touches to their slide deck.
Although the final started off two hours later than planned, we were all far more relaxed. Further, it was nice to see our friends from Guimarães joined the final round of pitches. Below you find the videos of the pitches in the order they were held.
- Empatch — Kimberly, Artem and Marcel
- Compra — Birk, Florian and Lampros
- EduPortal — Tomás, Atony and myself
- NEXpat — Loïc, Meryem and Pablo
After lunch and a presentation by the main sponsor of the event: Evonik (investment fund — see picture below) we went to the university’s bar again for a networking drink. Here we had the opportunity to get in touch with many representatives of companies we had seen before during the workshops. Also, it was time to announce the winning team of the event. Honestly, we weren’t aware of that since they told us earlier that the jury would only give feedback about the ideas without picking a winner. However, you did not hear us complaining at all. After all, EduPortal was awarded the first place! Therefore, we received a special “Winner’s Certificate” (see picture below).
Until the gala dinner at 7:30 pm we still had about 2.5 hours of free time. Loïc and I decided to go to the other side of the river (for a picture of the bridge that connects both sides, see my post from the 16th of July).
At 19:25 we arrived back at the hostel. We expected to be the last group, but it turned out we arrived second. Most of the others followed soon, apart from Birk and Artem. Since they liked the beach so much they decided to give it another visit. Even though they arrived more than 30 minutes too late at the hostel, their travel time must have been longer than the time on the beach. But yeah, in Russia there aren’t that many beaches you can visit. At least, I hope you guys have enjoyed it ;-)
21th of July — Hardcore music 🎶, 2 minutes left 🕠and looking back.. 🔮
When I woke up the following morning, many of the beds in the room were already empty. No, these people didn’t go out for an early morning walk. They had to catch an early flight. My flight would only depart at 16:35, so plenty of time to rest a bit and discover what other treasures the country has to offer.
But before I would leave the hostel, it was time for a typical hostel breakfast (2 buns with jam, cornflakes and a cup of tea). And no, I didn’t sleep in the kitchen (see photo below). Nevertheless, breakfast in bed would be great :-)
Some other folks would leave the day after that and were going to spend the the day on the beach. Birk would join them, but had some trouble waking up. Actually, others had some trouble waking him up too. In first instance, people gently tried to end his hibernation by opening the windows or gently touching him. The measures became more rigorous over time. On the picture below you can see a phone lying close to his head. Although you cannot hear the sound unfortunately, it played very loud hardcore music..
Although Loïc and Marcel would take a flight 2 hours earlier than me, I joined them on their way to the airport. In order to go from Trindade to the airport you need to charge the Adante card with a special journey to the z4 zone. Though, I only learned about these different zones after I had checked in with my z2-card. So, I had to buy another card, though the problem was that the machine didn’t accept my debit card. As a result, we managed to arrive at the right platform just-in-time: 2 minutes before it would depart. Thank you guys for waiting, especially given the fact you had to take this metro or else you would probably miss your flight home.
After I had said goodbye to the guys at the airport check-in, I went out for a little adventure since I had more than 3.5 hours until take-off. As you can see in the pictures below there is enough to experience in the neighborhood of Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro (once you pass the tourist zone).
Back at the airport, the return flight went without any problems and I arrived without delays (and with luggage) in Eindhoven. Quite by accident, I met an old classmate from high school in the bus to the train station (Anne). At 21:15 I was back in my student room and had a FaceTime call with my lovely mother who couldn’t wait any longer to hear my experiences in person.
One of the reasons, I like journaling so much and why I’ve put together this blog is that it allows you to reflect upon your previous thoughts. In hindsight, you can oftentimes identify patterns that you would never have thought of before. For example, in my application document I mentioned that an idea related to education and data science would be great. In the end, I decided to join Tomás’ group (and idea). Though, if you look back on the start-up we called “EduPortal” it’s actually a combination of Tomás’ initial idea, user feedback and idea 1 and 7 of my “Potential Business Ideas” list (see below). Ideas are worthless, but still a very interesting insight!
The last thing I would like to leave you with is another statement in my SET-application document. After all, I believe it’s important to remain realistic, especially in the start-up scene. Having said that, I would strongly encourage you to prove the last phrase of this statement wrong.
“As a start-up founder you simply have to work crazy long hours, get initially paid little to no money and last but not least the chances of your start-up surviving are astronomically low.”
11 Different Entrepreneurs. 11 Different Stories. Are you the next one?
As you could have heard in Antony’s farewell speech “SET is great because of its participants”. I fully agree with that, and that’s why I wrote a personal thank-you-note for all participants. You can check it out HERE. But even if you’re not going to read it, I want to thank you — the reader — for checking out this 25-minute post and sticking with me to the very end. I hope it gives you a good impression of the Summer Entrepreneurship Training 2017 and may even stimulate you to pursue your entrepreneurial spirit one day!