Lessons from the Startup Bootcamp at MIT

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There was lots of entepreneurial energy in the room at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium today — as a sizable crowd gathered in the morning for a free daylong“Startup Bootcamp” full of lessons from technology entrepreneurs.  Here are some insights from just a few of the day’s speakers:

  • MIT’s Ken Zolot offered a set of questions to ask about an invention when you’re thinking about starting a business around it:
  1. Does it work yet?
  2. Is it special?
  3. Who cares?
  4. What do I have and who do I know?
  5. Who can help?
  • When you’re in those early stages of developing your idea, Robin Chase, founder of the car-sharing company Zipcar, advised entrepreneurs to think of every person you meet as a free consultant — and pay attention to the questions they ask you about your idea when you explain it to them. “When people ask you things, they aren’t asking dumb questions,” she explained. “You should hone your idea and the way you express it and move forward.”
  • Adam Smith, founder of Xobni, mentioned the importance of staying small until you achieve product market fit — i.e., you have a product that people want. When you achieve that, you can scale up, according to Smith — and then it’s more about execution.
  • Daniel Theobald, founder and CTO of Vecna, recommended avoiding taking “other people’s money” as investments if you can — particularly if you have a socially responsible business model as a vision. Vecna, he said, allows employees to spend up to 10% of their work time on community service projects — and the company’s model wouldn’t have worked if the company had taken outside investors’ money. Instead, he said, the company used IT consulting to bootstrap its startup stage — structuring its consulting agreements so that Vecna retained the intellectual property.
  • More than one speaker alluded to the need for start-up entrepreneurs to experiment and iterate quickly until they get to a successful business model. But that process isn’t necessarily easy for entrepreneurs — as Kyle Vogt, one of the founders of Justin.TV, vividly described.  Vogt spoke of stages Web start-ups go through — including the “Trough of Sorrow” that occurs after the initial product has launched but before the company has reached a stage Vogt calls “Acquisition of Loyalty.”  While in the “Trough of Sorrow,” Vogt said, entrepreneurs may face tough questions from family, friends — and from themselves.


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