ENGR 245 - Winter (Open to all Ideas)
The classic Lean Launchpad learning goals with some modern updates. Teams can apply with their own ideas or a list of ideas selected by VCs.
Taught by Jeff Epstein (VC at Bessemer), Mar Hershenson (VC at Pear), Sarah Smith (Angel investor and former VC at Bain Capital Ventures), and Radhika Malpani (Board Member, DCI Fellow, and Founder of Google Images)
1/10/2024 - 3/15/2024
Mondays 3:30 - 5:50pm (5:20 - 5:50pm Office Hours)
Wednesdays 3:30 - 5:50pm (5:20 - 5:50pm Office Hours)
Intro to Lean Launchpad
This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a VC presentation or a Y-Combinator Demo Day. And it is most definitely not an incubator where you come to build the “hot-idea” that you have in mind.
This class combines Lean Startup theory with a ton of hands-on practice. Our goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give you a framework to test the business model of a startup while creating all of the pressures and demands of the real world in an early stage start up. The class is designed to give you the experience of how to work as a team and turn an idea into a solution for a real-world problem.
You will be getting your hands dirty talking to “customers” as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup actually works. You’ll practice evidence-based entrepreneurship as you learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and customer development to get out of the classroom to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product. Finally, based on the customer and market feedback you gathered, you will use agile development to rapidly iterate your product or concept to build/design something customers would actually buy and use. Each block will be a new adventure outside the classroom as you test each part of your business model and then share the hard earned knowledge with the rest of the class.
- We teach Lean Startup Theory + hands-on practice
- You will learn Urgency, Evidence-based entrepreneurship, Customer Development, “good-enough” decision making
- You will do so by talking to 10-15 customers a week and present your results in class weekly
How You'll Learn
Flipped Classroom: Unlike a traditional classroom where the instructor presents lecture material, our lectures are online. Watching the assigned lectures is part of your weekly homework. The information in them is essential for you to complete your weekly interviews and present the insights the teaching team will expect in your presentation for that week. We expect you to watch the assigned lectures for the upcoming week before class and we will use time in class to discuss questions about the lecture material and to provide supplemental material. You need to come prepared with questions or comments about the material for in-class discussion. We will cold-call students to answer questions about the online lecture material.
Experiential Learning: You will be spending a significant amount of time in between each of the lectures outside the class talking to customers. Each week your team will conduct a minimum of 10 customer interviews focused on a specific part of the business model canvas. This class is a simulation of what startups and entrepreneurship is like in the real world: chaos, uncertainty, impossible deadlines in insufficient time, conflicting input, etc.
Inverted Lecture Hall: Sitting in the back of the classroom are experienced instructors and professionals who have built and/or funded world-class startups as well as seasoned military professionals with significant experience in the field. We won’t be lecturing in the traditional sense, but commenting and critiquing on each team’s progress. While the comments may be specific for each team, the insights are almost always applicable to all teams. Pay attention.
Peer to Peer Culture: While other teams are presenting the results of their weekly experiments, the rest of the class is expected to attentively listen, engage, and react to what they see and hear. Sharing insights, experience, and contacts with each other is a key way that this unique laboratory achieves results.
Class Culture: Startups communicate in a dramatically different style from the university or large company culture you may be familiar with. At times it can feel brusque and impersonal, but in reality is focused and oriented to create immediate action in time- and cash-constrained environments. We have limited time and we push, challenge, and question you in the hope you will quickly learn. We will be direct, open, and tough just like the real world. This approach may seem harsh or abrupt, but it is all part of our wanting you to learn to challenge yourselves quickly and objectively, and to appreciate that as entrepreneurs you need to learn and evolve faster than you ever imagined possible. This class pushes many people past their comfort zone. If you believe that your role of your instructors is to praise in public and criticize in private, you’re in the wrong class. Do not take this class. You will be receiving critiques in front of your peers weekly. The pace and the uncertainty pick up as the class proceeds. As part of the process, we also expect you to question us, challenge our point of view if you disagree, and engage in a real dialog with the teaching team.
Pre-Class Preparation: This class hits the ground running. It assumes you and your team have come into class having read the assigned reading, viewed the online lectures, and prepared a set of contacts to call on. If you apply individually, you must attend the information sessions and the mixers to meet other students that have applied individually.
Suggested Projects: We suggest that you consider a problem in which you are a domain expert. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and hopefully some expertise. Do not select this type of project unless you are prepared to see it through.
Only Project: Given the amount of work this class entails, there is no way you can do the work while participating in multiple startups. A condition of admission to the class is that this is the only startup you are working on this quarter/semester.
Shared Material: Your weekly presentations and final Lessons Learned presentations will be shared and visible to others. We may be videotaping and sharing many of the class sessions.
Meaningful customer discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal of the following:
- Teams building a physical product must show us a costed bill of materials and a prototype.
- Teams building a web product need to build the site, create demand and have customers using the product.
- Teams building a mobile product are expected to have working code and have customers using the product.
Weekly Narrative: Your weekly blog narrative is an integral part of your deliverables. It’s how we measure your progress. Your team will present a weekly in-class presentation to show your progress.
Attendance and Participation
- Missing Class: You cannot miss the first class without prior approval. If you expect to miss a class, please let a TA and your team members know ahead of time via email.
- Intensity: This is a very intense class with a very high workload. If you cannot commit to 15 hours a week outside the classroom, this class is not for you.
- Startup Culture: The startup culture at times can feel brusque and impersonal, but in reality is focused and oriented to create immediate action in time- and cash-constrained environments. The teaching team’s main focus is your learning, and we’ll be there for you when you need us.
- Dropping the Course: If during the semester you find you cannot continue to commit the time, immediately notify your team members and teaching team and drop the class.
- Behavior in Class: We expect your attention during our presentations and those of your fellow students. If you’re getting bored, tired or inattentive step outside for some air. If we see you reading email or browsing the web we will ask you to leave the class.
- Participation: During your classmates’ presentations you will be required to give feedback online. Please be prepared to give your undivided attention to the team at the front of the room.
- Enrollment: Priority is given to Stanford Graduate students. Non-graduates can be on teams. Non-students can serve as advisors to teams.
- Exceptions: Exceptions for team size and external members will be made on a case-by-case basis.
- Course Intensity: This is a very intense class with a very high workload. We expect you to invest at least 15 hours per week and to make yourself available for lectures, presentations mentor meetings and office hours.