Learning by Shipping

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Posts Tagged ‘Harvard

steven @ a16z

As a reader of this blog, you probably notice the two big themes of learning (by shipping): (1) learning about new technologies, new ways to do things, and new products and (2) improving how products are made from an engineering and management perspective.  

I’m especially excited to learn by spending more time with entrepreneurs and those creating new technologies and products. Andreessen Horowitz is a VC firm that believes deeply in helping entrepreneurs and helping change the product and business landscape, which is why I am thrilled to join the firm as a board partner.

Board partners are unique at a16z. In this position I will represent the firm on the boards of portfolio companies when the opportunities present themselves, but will not be a full-time member of the firm.

I’m relatively new to the VC world and have a lot of learning to do—and I am very excited to do that. I can’t think of a better place to do this than a16z, as they share the commitment to learning and sharing that learning, for example through all the blog posts the GPs write. I first got to know Ben, Marc, and some of the over 70 people at the firm starting late last year. What was so cool to see was the commitment to fostering innovation, product creation, and working with product-focused entrepreneurs.

More than anything, what I find so cool about a16z are the values clearly articulated and lived day to day by everyone at the firm. From the very first time I got to hang out with folks I saw things that reminded me of the values that contribute to all great product (and company) efforts:

  1. Team effort – Scalable work that “goes big” requires a lot of people. Being part of a team that works to let each person contribute at their highest level is how the resulting whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  2. Long term – Sustainable efforts take more than one turn of the crank. The commitment to the long term that starts from building strong relationships through supporting entrepreneurs as they create sustainable products and businesses truly differentiates the a16z approach.

My own experience in product development has been focused on learning and changing from within an organization as part of teams—scaling teams, building the first professional GUI dev tools for Windows, marshaling the company around the “InterNet”, bringing together disparate apps to create Office, creating the first collaboration servers, and shifting to the tablet era. Each was decidedly a new effort working to change the rules of the product game while learning along the way. Bringing this relevant experience to new companies is something I’m excited to do.

Among other activities, I will maintain my EIR with Harvard Business School and will continue to pursue other business and product development opportunities that arise.  

As folks following me on Twitter or Facebook know, we’ve been splitting our time between coasts and will do so for a bit more time before transitioning to the Bay Area full time. I will still definitely explore companies out East, but maintain a strong focus on the Bay Area.

Of course I will continue blogging here on learning by shipping (and on LinkedIn Influencers) and you can follow me @stevesi or email me.

–Steven Sinofsky

Written by Steven Sinofsky

August 22, 2013 at 7:15 am

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Creating startups @HarvardHBS MBA program

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memo minderToday was “Launch Day” for the startups in Harvard’s first year MBA program.  Many of the products and services created are available on the web to try out or to order (though several are specific to the Boston area).   The process of creating the company from scratch, with a limited budget, on a tight deadline, in a collaborative team environment is super cool.

This post introduces you to over a dozen new companies.  Check them out!


The Harvard MBA program enrolls over 1800 students, which means there are about 900 students in each year.  The whole year is divided up into sections and you spend your academic year within your section (the startups in this post are all from Section C, which I was lucky enough to work with, led by Prof. Jan Hammond).  There are about 90 students in a section (and 6 students in each startup team).  As a first year student in Harvard’s MBA program (RC—required curriculum) you take a series of required courses generally taught using the traditional case method.  Starting last year, the RC introduced the FIELD program, Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development, a full year program which emphasizes learning by experience.

For the spring semester, FIELD3 focuses on creating a new company from scratch (FIELD1 is about leadership, FIELD2 is about global topics).  Imagine you are given a small cash budget, a fixed team size, and a fixed schedule including specific milestones for investment, viability and launch!  That’s what FIELD3 is all about.

The calendar is roughly:

  • Two weeks to develop a product concept
  • Funding simulation (“stock market”) which gives some teams the opportunity to raise more capital and others will need to make do with less, and thus pivot their ideas
  • About 8 weeks to fully develop the idea, go to market strategy, prototype or actual product, and basically to show that the product can be made
  • Launch day – this is where we are today!  On this day your product or service is ready to be used by people.  The stock market is opened for trading and based on the launch readiness and pitches, the value of companies goes up or down and some companies do not make it past this stage.
  • About 3 weeks to actually sell the product or service and ready for…
  • IPO day!

Of course this an academic exercise but it is also a very serious one as it brings together much of the classroom learning into focus for a real world trial.  The products and services are real and really meant to be used by people outside the student community.  That’s why you’ll be able to try them out below.

Launch Day

Today was launch day.  Each company (there are 15 companies in a section) has 10 minutes to pitch their ideas to the section that will buy/sell shares in those 15 companies (these are done pairwise so Section C are the investors in another section).

In the pitch, the investors see:

  • Demonstration and/or Product samples
  • Business fundamentals
  • Competitive advantage
  • Demand generation approach

Below you can see a pitch by one of the companies that created a packaged product that enables children to customize a pair of plain sneakers.  Here you see the market testing summarized along with the countdown clock for the pitch.

Launch Presentation

All of the startups used tools of modern product development.  Eric Reis, author of Lean Startup, is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Harvard and so the ideas of “MVP”, measuring the right things, and even the pivot are all front and center for the founders.  Because of the markets and the feedback loop, a number of companies in Section C went through substantial pivots.

The companies also make use of all the platform tools we see today that are available to quickly create new companies: paypal, wepay, shopify, AWS, and more.  Businesses requiring components source them from local manufacturers or online such as Alibaba. Plus the companies make use of local services such as Task Rabbit or Harvard Student Agencies in order to bootstrap any labor that might be required.  Apps target widely used mobile platforms.  Facebook, twitter, and Google were used for sourcing early testers and demand generation/awareness via tools such as SEO and keyword buys in addition to branding sites.

Also critical, is that all companies adhere to local and state laws for anything that involves safety, privacy, and more.  HBS has a code of conduct and separate set of rules around how the companies can interact with the University Community.  So yes, this is like real life!!

Each pitch must also leave time for investor questions.  These can be pointed and often return back to the previous rounds of investment.  The investors are not given unlimited funds and are also keeping “score” trying to maximize their own return.  This is a full financial market simulation.

Here’s the ticker before the market opened based on the closing prices of the last round:


The Companies

Here’s a chance to try out a few of the companies and see the work – keep in mind this is work done in the past 10 weeks or so and almost all coding was done via outsourcing!  Personally, I could not be more impressed with the progress and the ability for the companies to navigate the tricky waters of both developing a product and a business, all while learning and doing all their other class work!

View The Rental (ticker:VIEW, http://www.viewtherental.com/). View the Rental provides objective information about apartments and houses for rent in Boston or Cambridge via remote video chat for renters who are unable to view their rental in person.  This product uses Skype to establish a live walk-through of the exact apartment you might be renting.

RescueMe (ticker:RSCU, http://rescuememedical.com/, also available at local retailers).  Traveling for Spring Break? Don’t leave without RescueMe, the all-in-one travel meds (and essentials) pack!

My Friend Bert (ticker:BERT, http://www.myfriendbert.com/). MyFriendBert provides expert-planned, customized date itineraries tailored to your preferences, delivered right to your inbox within 24 hours.

LaunchPad (ticker:PREP, http://getlaunchpad.net).  Looking for a job or an internship? LaunchPad gives you the answers you need to stand out in your job search.  LaunchPad sets up a customized 1:1 conversation between a student looking for a job and someone in that field who can offer advice and feedback on the industry or approach to finding a position.

easybiodata (ticker:BIO, http://www.easybiodata.com).  Targeted at singles of Indian background, easybiodata is a solution to matrimonial search.  Creating, Sharing and Managing your Biodata has never been easier with easybiodata.com whether you are the parent or extended family member helping the matrimonial search.  EasyBiodata.com helps you spend less time sending emails so you can spend more time finding the perfect candidate.  (Note: showing the global nature of the typical HBS team, this team was made up of students from 6 different countries: USA, Japan, Haiti, Slovak Republic, Kenya, and India).

Dinner Rally (ticker: RLLY, http://www.dinnerrally.com/). The best food from Harvard Square delivered straight to your door.  Dinner Rally makes available food that is not normally delivered at a very affordable price, delivered straight to your door.

HuddleUp (ticker:HDDL, http://huddleevents.com). HuddleUp helps fans find the best place to watch their upcoming sports games at local bars.  We know it can be tough, especially for fans of out-of-town teams, to find places to watch their games AND other fans to watch with.

Sepono (ticker: SPNP, http://sepono.co/).  Sepono delivers on-demand nail and salon service booking.  Tapping into over 1400 spas in the Boston area, Sepono makes it easy to find an appointment and obtain service.

SitCrawlWalk (ticker: BABY, http://www.sitcrawlwalk.com/).  SitCrawlWalk We help parents discover the best products for their little ones at each stage of the baby’s life. Featuring reviews, curated and clutter free product offerings, and unbiased research sitcrawlwalk is a unique shopping approach tapping into the market for “social shopping” and affiliate sales.

PaintSteps (ticker:PNTS, http://www.paintsteps.com/). A creative shoe painting kit that lets your children’s creativity flourish and keep children occupied in a fun activity for hours. It includes a pair of children’s white canvas shoes, safe acrylic paint, palette and brushes, as well as an educational inspiration book. The inspiration book is designed by a professional illustrator and allows children to practice coloring on paper before painting the shoes.

stARTworks (ticker:ARTS, http://startworks.myshopify.com). Welcome to stARTworks brings the beautiful artwork of blossoming student and local artists to your doorstep! Here, you can view and purchase existing pieces, or create custom art from your own pictures and photos. Browse our artist pages or “What We Do” section to get started today! stARTworks is a socially conscious company that supports local and student artists.

Blinq (ticker:BLNQ, http://blinqpoll.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/blinQ/534331106610301). blinQ is a mobile application that allows you to ask your friends for advice in real time before making time sensitive decisions.

PrepChef (ticker:CHEF, http://myprepchef.net). Simple, delicious recipes delivered right to your door!  Free delivery includes portioned ingredients delivered to your door and simple step-by-step instructions.  Teach yourself how to cook, host a dinner party, or just enjoy an evening of a self-cooked meal.

Party In A Box (ticker:PRTY, http://boxyourparty.com).  One click theme party solution for those who love to party, like experimenting with new party themes and want great supplies and decorations delivered to their door.  Feeling nostalgic for Backstreet Boys, slap bracelets and the Fresh Prince?  Check out our 1990s box.  Missing Ferris Bueller, track suits and bad hair?  Our 1980s box has you covered.  Your friends at Party-in-a-Box are also here for you on those special, once-in-a-year events: St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day, the Kentucky Derby, etc.

Phew…those are just the companies from Section C.  There are 9 other RC sections as well.  You can see that many of these company ideas came about because of the unique problems faced by students leaving the workforce, relocating, traveling, meeting new people, living the life of students, and so on.  Mother necessity is alive and well in FIELD3.

The stock market is still open and folks are still settling on their investments.

The next step will be the IPOs.  But you can try these out now (note, some require you to be in Boston).  And who knows, some of these might be the seeds of future companies as students continue to evolve the businesses.


–Steven Sinofsky

Written by Steven Sinofsky

April 24, 2013 at 6:30 am

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