6 Lists of 12 for MIT’s Startup Bootcamp

Yesterday, hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs filled MIT’s Kresge Auditorium for “Startup Bootcamp.” 12 renowned entrepreneurs shared their insights and advice into the journey of starting a company and the entrepreneurial life.   There were many presentation styles and personalities on display, but they all shared common traits of passion and honesty;  you could feel that every entrepreneur was fully invested in the idea that they had 30 minutes to share the most valuable advice they could possibly give.  I wasn’t the only one who had pages of notes, so to honor one of my favorites sports bloggers and his “10 lists of 10” theme, I’d like to present you a few lists of interesting items that came from the event:

List #1: The 12 Entrepreneurs, in order of appearance (names link to Twitter):

1. Adam Smith, Founder, Xobni
2. Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder, Reddit
3. Ken Zolot, Founder, MIT Innovations Teams & Heartland Robotics
4. Dan Theobald, Founder, Vecna
5. Kyle, Vogt, Founder, Justin.TV
6. Angus Davis, Founder, Tellme
7. Hemant Taneja, Founder, Sunborne Energy, Managing Director, General Catalyst Partners
8. Dharmesh Shah, Founder, HubSpot, Author and Blogger
9. Robin Chase, Founder, Zipcar
10. Dan Bricklin, Creator, VisiCalc, Blogger
11. Aaron Swartz, Founder Infogami, Blogger
12. Drew Houston, Founder, Dropbox

List #2: My Favorite Quote from Each Speaker:

1. Adam Smith: “90% of execution is not giving up when others would.”
2. Alexis Ohanian: “Being Good is insurance for when you’re dumb.”
3. Ken Zolot: “Progress is about taking and managing risk.”
4. Dan Theobald: “Outside investment is like in the movie Alien, when they set the auto-destruct and gave themselves 1 hour to kill the alien or everything blew up.”
5. Kyle Vogt: “Take enough shots and eventually you’ll do the right thing.”
6. Angus Davis: “Think like a shareholder…remember what you own.”
7. Hemant Taneja: “The West Coast has a few VCs that are all about the young ones building companies…It’s evolving here now.”
8. Dharmesh Shah: “Stealth mode is for fighter jets, not startups.”
9. Robin Chase: “Everyone you come in contact with is your free consultant.”
10. Dan Bricklin: “Avoid lawsuits; they’re rotten things and you have no control.”
11. Aaron Swartz: “Have users from Day 0.”
12. Drew Houston: “Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”

List #3: 12 of the Most Tweeted Quotes:

1. Dharmesh Shah: “The more you postpone interacting with real people, the more time you’re wasting …”
2. Drew Houston: “As founder/CEO, your job description is rewritten every 12 months”.
3. Aaron Swartz: “Do not underestimate the degree to which your early users will help you define your product.”
4. “2.5 years of crazy hours, equal parts terror, panic & elation, & a savage obsession with making something people love.”
5. Drew Houston: “Our checking account has $60, can it actually hold $1.2MM?”
6. Drew Houston: “easier to pick up biz side, than for biz people to pick up engineering side”
7. Dharmesh Shah: “Thinking of a startup? You have a genetic defect that’s going to make you miserable for the rest of your life.”
8. Robin Chase: “Everyone you come in contact with is your free consultant”
9. Drew Houston: “Don’t worry about failure. you only have to do it right once”
10. Drew Houston: “I dont know if they thought it was drugs….or a startup”
11. Dan Bricklin: “Don’t celebrate with lawyers — you’re paying for it.”
12. Aaron Swartz: “Instead of the “Hollywood Launch”, go with the “GMail Launch”. Have users from Day 0.”

List #4: Favorite Concepts Introduced by each Speaker:

1) Adam Smith:
2) Alexis Ohanian:
3) Ken Zolot:
4) Dan Theobald:
5) Kyle Vogt:
6) Angus Davis:
7) Hemant Taneja:
8) Dharmesh Shah:
9) Robin Chase:
10) Dan Bricklin:
11) Aaron Swartz:
12) Drew Houston:

1. Adam Smith: Take Risk. 1/4th of your attempts should fail or you aren’t trying.
2. Alexis Ohanian: “No one wants to use your website.” Find out what your customers Do Want.
3. Ken Zolot: “Find your Strawberry Seeds.” (Fruit Roll-ups had a 10x increase in sales when they added Strawberry seeds)
4. Dan Theobald: “experimenting with OPM (Other People’s Money) is dumb.”
5. Kyle Vogt: “Listen to your users in the right way; just get them to tell you when something’s wrong.”
6. Angus Davis: RIFLE: Find your product-market fit. Segment your customer base.
7. Hemant Taneja: Raise VC money only if you Have To. (Bootstrapping works!)
8. Dharmesh Shah: “Build a barrier to entry with Marketing.”
9. Robin Chase: “As a start-up, be the peacock.” (Tiny bird, big appearance)
10. Dan Bricklin: You can build something great in a basement or bedroom.
11. Aaron Swartz: Is your startup an r (small and simple) or a K (large and complex)?
12. Drew Houston: “Drink from the Firehose.” (read as much as you can. learn.)

List #5: Speaker summary in a tweet or less:

1. Adam Smith: Hit the high notes; create a product that no one else can. It’s a huge barrier to entry and wows your users.
2. Alexis Ohanian: Startups are about embracing serendipity and being good; karma matters.
3. Ken Zolot: Ask your startup: Does it work? Is it special? Who cares? What do I have/know (Team!) Who can help? (Network!)
4. Dan Theobald: Hire the best people for all roles & take care of them; a great engineer does 10x the work of a good engineer & 100x of an average engineer.
5. Kyle Vogt: Startups are about being leaner, smarter, more efficient, and lasting long enough to find what works.
6. Angus Davis: Understand your customer base and maximize your return on them (i.e.- Yelp vs. Service Magic)
7. Hemant Taneja: Choose a VC who is 1) smart & a good listener 2) has a network relevant to your company 3) operates with transparency
8. Dharmesh Shah: Utilizing social media to share great content and interact with your customers is the best marketing for a startup.
9. Robin Chase: Create a company with a great product and exceptional customer service and you’ll have a lasting competitive edge.
10. Dan Bricklin: Competition is always around the corner.  Never grow complacent.
11. Aaron Swartz: Build a product with your users from day 0 and with a little cheap marketing, you’ll grow naturally and healthily.
12. Drew Houston: Running a startup means constantly learning and evolving your company and your role in it.

List #6: 12 Organizations Helpful for Young Entrepreneurs:

1. StayinMA
2. DartBoston
3. Boston Young Entrepreneurs
4. Innovation Open Houses
5. Onein3
6. MIT 100K
7. TiE Young Entrepreneurs
8. Mass Challenge
9. Tech Tuesdays
10. Mass Innovation Nights
11. Web Innovators Group
12. You can see all of these and more at: GreenhornConnect

…here’s hoping this last list becomes a baker’s dozen with the addition of an annual Startup Bootcamp.

What do the Oakland Athletics, Hubspot, the Houston Rockets and LEAN Startups have in common?

It’s all about metrics.

Regardless of the business you’re in, you have to be measuring and analyzing everything you can.  Who are your customers? What are their habits? How are they finding out about you?  Which products are each customer type buying? How much money are you making off of each customer?  What are the causes for not converting leads to customers? To understand these questions (and deeper ones) is what creates a competitive advantage.  All of the organizations listed above use metrics to gain their advantage:

Thanks to their metrics-progressive GM, Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics were able to compete annually in the late ’90s with the economic powerhouses of the Yankees and Red Sox, who regularly spent multiple times more money on their player payroll than the Athletics were able to.  An innovative team led by Billy more deeply analyzed both the the players and the game itself to discover new ways to compete by defying industry norms.  This competitive advantage lasted for years until finally the rest of the league started to catch on and teams like the Red Sox hired GMs who used similar deep, statistical analysis.

The old adage for marketing used to be, “half of our marketing is working…I just don’t know which half.”   Thanks to the Hubspot tools, small and medium sized business can precisely measure and optimize their inbound marketing process.   The advantages of the web are just being realized in many industries. Those that take advantage of them are seeing great results in boosting their sales.

The statistical revolution is just starting to hit the NBA, and MIT alum Daryl Morey is leading the way with the Houston Rockets.  In just 2 seasons as the team’s GM, he has built a team that has surprised the NBA with its level of success.  Just like in baseball, there’s more to be learned if you look past the basic statistics…

Finally, LEAN Startups is all about measuring your customer.  You have to communicate with, analyze and respond to your customer.  If you don’t have great metrics, you won’t succeed in creating that great product that people will pay for.

How are you measuring your business? How else could you analyze it? You could be missing your next great competitive advantage.

MassTLC unConference Session Summary: Dodging Bullets that Kill Startups (LEAN Startups)

Occam’s razor states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.  When you ask the question, “why do most startups fail,” the simple, and often correct answer is, “because of a lack of customers.” The main message of John Prendergast’s session on “Dodging Bullets that Kill Startups” was to focus on your customer as early and as much as possible, so that your business can avoid that common cause of death.  John is a disciple of the “LEAN Startups” principles created by Eric Ries, which acted as the basis for the tenants he covered during his session of the unConference.

Create an “MVP”

An MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, is the absolute minimum features that would satisfy your customer’s most basic needs.  As a LEAN startup, your goal is to quickly and effectively create your MVP, so that you can deliver it to your customers.  However, the reason for this is not to drive early revenue; rather, you’re releasing your product at this point in order to learn from your customers.

When you release the MVP, you’re accomplishing 2 key goals. First, you’re getting customers to not just talk to you about your product, as you would in market research, but also open their checkbook; you don’t really know anything about your customer until they make the decision that your product is worth paying for.  Second, because you and your customer know it is an MVP, they understand it will be improved based on their needs.  With this in mind, you will have an open channel to designing the full product they want and will continue to pay for.  It is often easy to develop your product in a bubble in your offices or labs. By creating the MVP, you avoid creating a feature intensive, expensive product that doesn’t actually satisfy your customer.

Facts Live Outside the Building

At the center of having a LEAN startup is bringing the customer into the development process. This means delivering them the MVP and then having in place the proper communication and metrics to properly assess their responses to the product.  You need to ask them, “what are your pain points?” and evaluate their behaviors in using your product.  Most customers are ineffective at describing the product they need, because they don’t always know what is at the heart of their problems.  By watching their actions and understanding their key obstacles, you can tailor your product to what they need most.

Scaling a Company is your Last Step

In the dotcom era, you often heard about companies growing as quickly as possible in the hopes of gaining immense market share. Given the success rate of those companies, LEAN Startups likely has a point in suggesting that staying small and agile initially is best.  When you are small and dealing with only your core customers, you can focus on learning from them and perfecting your product; your burn rate will be lower due to fewer employees, and the smaller customer base will be more manageable for maintaining communication.

This harks back to some of the concepts found in the book, Crossing the Chasm. Author Geoffrey Moore suggests using those early adopters, who are anxious to be a part of the development process, to better position your product before reaching the early majority of customers.  It is in reaching those early majority customers, which represent significant sales that requires scaling, that creates the “chasm” companies often fall into.

Test, Analyze, Iterate, Repeat

In the end, the principles of LEAN Startups is about bringing the scientific method to the business side of the equation.  You need to measure everything you’re doing related to your product and understand what works, what doesn’t and what is needed.  The only way to know this is to test.  If you’re product is a website, that means trying things like an A/B test.  If you’re creating a physical product, you need to have customers using it and observe  how they use it. Regardless of the product type, you should be giving them short surveys and calling them. As John said, “call God himself if you can get his number!”  When you perform these tests you can then evaluate the results and improve and reshape your product; you can add features that are needed, while avoiding mission creep.

LEAN Startups is all about your customer. Get them involved and you’re much more likely to create a product that will satisfy and maybe even delight them.  Through this process you will also build a personal relationship with them, which is quite likely to improve the chance of continued revenue from them;  your product will be exactly what they need and they may even feel some ownership and loyalty to you because of how the product evolved with their input.


There is a lot more to learn about LEAN Startups.  John was kind enough to tweet additional resources, which you can find here:

Lean Startups Meetup GroupLean Startups Google Group, Steve Blank’s BookBlog, Eric Ries’s BlogMIT Event, and another blog