Being an entrepreneurial student

This post on Medium that offers ‘A Guide to University for Student Entrepreneurs’ is rather good.

It covers university/not university as well as what to do while there, or not there to build a successful path to entrepreneurship.

It boils down to the following:

  • “A revolution in entrepreneurship is underway. Student entrepreneurs involved in technological innovation can reach a global audience with their new product or service
  • Go to university if you have the opportunity and there’s no obvious reason why you should not go
  • Include a technical degree in your studies or at least start with a software engineering subject
  • Make an effort: Meet new people, go to events and join clubs and societies
  • ‘Meander in your walk’ while at university and early in your career — try doing things you wouldn’t normally consider
  • Create an open network. Learn to be comfortable meeting people and develop into a network expert, be authentic and genuine in your interactions with others”

Go read and apply as best you can, as we’re all still learning as we move through life.

The startup is the classroom

Some entrepreneurship and business courses don’t provide the space for you to try your ideas in practice. That’s not our style. We believe the best learning comes through experience.

We pursue a learn by doing approach so that you spend your full-time working on your business ideas knowing that your whatever you build belongs to you and your team and that you’ll be supported by the staff with the help of guest speakers. This is what we offer for your year on the MSc Software Entrepreneurship programme.

You learn about startups while developing your own startup. We want you to understand how to integrate the right mix of ideation, innovation and implementation to successfully deploy your ideas in your future career. This applies as much to whether you launch your startup, or work for someone in a startup, as it does if you work in a team in a large organisation. You will learn skills you can take with you wherever you go, and prove useful in any career path you might develop. Learning by doing helps you to see the joins between the different parts of a startup, which you’d otherwise miss if you took a class on service design, another on finance, and a third on marketing. As you’ll be looking at all of these issues with respect to your team’s idea, you’ll see how finance influences marketing and service design enables you to innovate on your approach to create desire for your offering in your customers.

Teams working on the  startup

We facilitate this startup learning by placing you in teams each term. Each team is based around startup ideas, which you pursue as far as possible using lean-startup and service design approaches so that you co-create testable prototypes with people to ensure you create learning opportunities to confirm your assumptions about the ideas while developing your potential customer base. This is the approach we use when we run hack events as well as the Aberdeen branch of the Global Service Jam, and it works very well over a weekend. Just think how effective this will be when you apply it to a full year. We expect a number of teams to launch their businesses before they graduate.

By moving beyond ideation you will be challenged and aided to develop your skills in software development building larger applications that benefit from suitable agile skills based on lean development approaches. You will also learn to understand why you need to co-create ideas with your potential customers so that you ensure you don’t build too much of something no one wants. You will learn how and why agile development mixes with the lean startup and service design approaches to build business ideas that people want to pay to use.

While we expect most teams to develop service based businesses, we also expect that there might be some games based business ideas too. We would help you think beyond the current game your team might be developing to the whole service around the game, and future games you would want to create. All that we require is that it is something scalable as a software based business.

You might be a team of one. You might prefer to work on your own, or maybe no one else believes in your idea to the same extent you do. If this is the case, then we’ll help you both develop the viability of your idea the same as any other team, and also help you develop a way to work with others so that your idea can scale with more employees in a way that satisfies you. All companies work with other people, even the small single person ones, so we’ll help all teams to find ways to work in the context of their developing idea.

All of the courses on the programme are all driven by coursework that aligns with your startup ideas so you don’t need to worry about taking time away from developing your business to complete coursework. The same is true for exam revision as there are no exams. The courses are based around seminars and workshops so that you can spend time learning what you need for your idea in a practical environment.

Half of the coursework is based on what you do yourself, and half on teamwork due to the nature of the work. However, if you’re a team of one, than we’ll work something out for that too. But, the caveat is that a large business can’t succeed with just one person. At some point you need the help of others in order to succeed.

As the university is developing its entrepreneurship programme in the coming year you’ll be well-placed to take advantage of competitions and other events to help push your idea further and gather funding to let you play out ideas further. There is even a chance the university incubator will be launched by then too so that you can continue under the university umbrella that bit longer.

All of the IP in your idea belongs to you and your team. You can walk away with everything and the university has no claim on your business. The university, if it decides to invest in your idea, will do so in a funding round the same as any other potential investor when you hopefully pitch your ideas at events such as EIE in Edinburgh, which has hundreds of investors in the audience.

This is your chance to join a team and create your future. We have teams starting in September and January so you don’t have to wait long to meet your fellow students. With two starting sessions from January 2015 you also benefit from the wisdom of your fellow students as there will always be students one stage ahead of you.

Communication and critical thinking skills

There is an interesting post on Forbes, which talks about the two key traits graduates need to exemplify to future employers. These are soft skills you’re supposed to pick up along the way during your degree:

  • Effective communications skills so that you can work with the people on your team and others and be able to provide clear and concise messages tailored to the audience you’re addressing, while also using suitable communication channels in the appropriate context.
  • Real world critical thinking skills based on experience so that you are effective in your time management and situational analysis and know how to develop suitable creative solutions, which can be followed through with appropriate action plans.

All of this can be picked up through summer placements, as well as other work during your degree as well as volunteering if that option is open to you too. This is not hard, but is often overlooked by students.

GSJ Aberdeen 2014

These skills are also ones that you pick up while ideating and developing a startup business. You need to critically evaluate creative solutions to problems faced by potential customers. You also need to communicate your ideas to different audiences using suitable communication channels. You also need to determine appropriate action plans based on your limited time and money and follow through on them so that you can start the next iteration of the idea as you keep moving forward, or pivoting your idea as you uncover new informtion.

 

University graduate startups increasing

According to a recent press release from the  Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), there were just over 3500 graduate startups in 2012-13, which is the year for the latest results. These employed over 15,500 staff, or about 4-5 members per startup. These are for across the UK. and show that startups can help with employment, but not always in large numbers. If we look at Scotland on its own, then we see that were only 152 graduate startups in the same period employing 730 people, so again employing about 4-5 people per startup. Again, much the same as for the UK as a whole.

Ideally, startups should employ more people, and it can be done. Look at how many people firms like Skyscanner and Freeagent are employing these days. It just shows that the growth comes later, and that a firm needs to persevere in order to become successful. As Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter says in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “…perseverance and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” The other interesting part of his interview was the confession that they built something, and then looked for a business model. They didn’t start with a business plan. They first determined that they had a problem worth solving.

The startup is just the beginning. The real hard work follows. For all of this there is help at hand, but you need to take the first step.

Your Spin Out becomes Startups Explained

We began this blog in order to help people get their business started. At the time we were eager to start doing something. We picked the name yourspinout.com and ran with it. We could see the logic of the name for what we wanted to do; helping people spin out their ideas into something that is tangible and real. Stop talking and start doing. We also realised that whatever we do is an ongoing process and that we’d need to stop, think and realign our approach as we learned more about what we’re doing and where we wanted to be working. It’s an ongoing adventure as a startup of our own and we need to eat our own dog food as the saying goes: live what we preach, use our example to teach others. The upshot is that we made a small mistake. The name isn’t quite right for what we want to do and the brand we want to promote.

It all goes back to Deming and the PDCA cycle: plan, do, check, act and repeat… Continuous improvement would be another way to look at it. As long as we make regular checks on what we’re doing, then that’s fine. As long as we do small increments, then we’ll never make big mistakes and it will all be ok.

Presenting ideas at Play4Agile

A mistake is ok. Woohoo! It’s a learning opportunity. We realised belatedly that in order to fit in with other parts of our organisation so that we can use this as an umbrella concept for all of us, that we’d have to do too much ‘translating’ between what people expect from the phrase ‘your spin out’ and how we use the phrase. This would not be good, and would lead to confusion with mixed messages. So goodbye ‘yourspinout.com’ and hello ‘startupsexplained.com’ (and startupexplained.com too).

The new name ’startupsexplained.com’ will work well as a place for people to learn about startups. We’ll be providing information about startups as well as more specifically those startups based around software. As you can see from our pinterest pages our main emphasis is on personal development for founders and others in startups, service design tools and processes, agile software development and general start up tools useful to any new business.

So come follow us on the journey as we explain startups. Even better, feel free to join the conversation we’re offering.

Tech Startup survey in the Economist

The Economist magazine issue of 18 January 2014 has a good review of the tech startup scene. Go get a copy, or read the online version. There are useful info graphics and articles on why this is a good time to launch your startup, and overviews of incubators, investors, and the business eco-systems that sustain startups. It was very focused on the big places for the most part, with a few mentions of smaller startups coming for smaller scenes.

Scottish Startup Christmas Party

The main emphasis of the survey of articles is that this time is different from the bubble of 1999/2000 because you there is a better eco-system of tools and support for startups. This means the threshold for entry is lower and with the many APIs as well as cloud computing platforms available, it is easier to launch your idea. This is no guarantee of success, but it is easier to try and make it work.

A growing part of that ecosystem to sustain tech startups in Scotland can be found at the Scottish Entrepreneurial Support Network, an online tool to explore the different nodes of support in Scotland. You’ll find about incubators, finance, education, and networking events and other types of resources you can use.

The article supports what we’re doing in that we are there to help provide support in a safe environment with our programme. According to the survey article, 90% of startups fail. We aim to help you be successful by looking for validated ideas until you find one that works for you and your team and then pursue that further and launch the idea. During this time we’re there to support you, and if you end up staying in and around Aberdeen after you graduate, then you will have the community around you still too with our growing Aberdeen tech scene.

Build a happy startup

We’ve been thinking a lot about startups lately and how you pull the ideas for a business model together in a simple format that says what’s important in to interested people. We’ve had long hard looks at both the Happy Startup Canvas and the Lean Canvas as both of these looked like what we’ll need to use. The HSC would provide the ‘why’ and the key problems being solved along with potential solutions, the key ‘story’ and ‘values’ of the business, while the LC would focus on the hard to replicate unique proposition being offered by the business.

the happy startup canvas

We also like how the HSC starts with how the employees are treated along with the idea that if you treat yourself and the staff as well as you do your customers, then the rest will fall into place. This is what Deming argues in his work. Few firms seem to follow this, but it makes good sense, and seems to work for the small businesses we know more closely too.

The HSC is a nice way to bring together a number of  ideas in a one-page summary. You can use Simon Sinek’s ideas to formulate your ‘why’ and you can use the elevator pitch game to craft your ‘story’, and then polish it with ideas  from the Heath brothers’ Made to Stick book. All of this helps you to build the idea and work on validating your assumptions in a fast and furious manner so that you build a sustainable business.

In addition, we can also add Umair Haque’s ideas from his Betterness book. In there he suggests that as business has changed since the financial crisis, and we need to focus on ‘betterness instead of business’ in order to increase the Common Wealth, we should focus the following: First, ‘ambition’ of what our business aims to do for its customers. This answer why are we here? Why does our organisation exist? This maps to Sinek’s why too. Second, ‘intention’ of how we’ll help customers improve their lives. This answers the ‘what are we here to do on a daily basis? How will we make our customers more capable in their daily lives? This is ‘constraints’, of what your business will never do. What’s a step too far for you? What are your limits, and how will these help make your customer’s lives better? Fourth, what ‘imperatives’ do you have as universal rules to live by for your business? How can you translate this into something your customers will benefit from?  All together these turn the business into ‘how we benefit’ into a firm that works with others to lift everyone up and build a better society and through that gain a profit. This follows in the footsteps of Apple, Whole Foods and others.

This will work once we have an idea of what to do after we’ve gone through an ideation session to generate some possible business ideas.

Are you a Coder or Developer?

When we learn to code we do so for different reasons. Those presumably change some over time as we learn more about development work and develop our own coding skills. If you’re wanting to be someone who codes and is also an entrepreneur; someone who can also spin out an idea into a business, then you want to end up as a developer according to Scott Hanselman, who looked at the ‘why’ you want to learn to code side of the issue.

For Hanselman identified some crucial aspects about ‘why’ you want to code, which could help or hinder your entreprenurial ideas. He noted that there is the important ‘talk to humans’ aspect, which some people don’ t like to do. This is the classic image of the person in the basement coding away on their own. However, if you want to spin out your idea into a business, then you really do need to talk to people.

You need to be able to listen and learn, while also talking when required with you colleagues, or potential customers and investors. You can’t sit at home, even if you’re building a web app. You still need to talk to others about your idea and how you can best realise the idea. Also, at some point you’ll want to get another person or two on your team as well. This could be graphic artists, or business minded folks. You’ll need to speak to them. So, the long and short of it is that you need to become comfortable speaking to people. Everything works better that way.