Course Description

This course provides real world, hands-on learning on what it’s like to actually start a company. This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, how well you write code or what your patent is, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint pitch deck for a VC “demo day.” And it is most definitely not an incubator where you come to build the “hot idea” that you have in mind.

This is a practical class – essentially a lab, not a theory or “book” class. Our goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to create an entrepreneurial experience for you with all of the pressures and demands of the real world in an early stage startup. The class is designed to give you the experience of how to work as a team and turn an idea into a company.

You will be getting your hands dirty talking to customers, partners, and competitors, 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 to build something customers would actually use and buy. 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.

Course Requirements

Be willing to accept criticism

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. If you come from a culture where receiving critiques in front of your peers – on a weekly basis – that may feel abrupt and brusque – embarrasses you, do not take this class. It’s not personal, but it is by design a part of the class to emulate the pace, uncertainty, and pressures of a startup. In return, 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.

Be willing to work hard

Teams have reported up to 20 hours of work each week. Getting out of the classroom is what the effort is about. If you can’t commit the time to talk to customers, this class is not for you. Teams are expected to have completed at least 10 in-person or Skype video interviews each week, focused in the Business Model Canvas area of emphasis for that week. In the 2nd and 3rd week of class, we expect at least 15 interviews to get up to speed quickly on Customer Segments and Value Proposition

Course Activities

Get out of the building

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 at least 10 customer interviews focused on a specific part of the Business Model Canvas. This class is a simulation of what startups and entrepreneurship are like in the real world: chaos, uncertainly, impossible deadlines in insufficient time, conflicting input, etc.

Online lectures

Unlike a traditional classroom where the instructor presents lecture material, this course 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 about the online lecture material.

Flipped classroom

The instructors will be sitting in the back of the classroom together with mentors and invitees that are professionals who’ve built and/or funded startups and have a lot of experience in working with entrepreneurial teams. We won’t be “lecturing” in the traditional sense, but commenting on and critiquing each team’s progress. While the comments may be specific to each team, the insights are almost always applicable to all teams. 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.

Team organization

This class is team-based. Working and studying will be done in teams. You can only take this class if you are in a team of 5. The teams will self-organize and establish individual roles on their own. There are no formal CEO/VPs. Just the constant parsing and allocating of the tasks that needs to be done. Besides the instructors, each team will be assigned a mentor (an experienced entrepreneur or VC) to provide assistance and support.


Teams must submit a project proposal that must be approved by the instructors. Team projects can be software, a physical product, or a service of any kind. While your first instinct may be a web-based startup, we suggest that you consider a subject in which you are a domain expert. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and hopefully some expertise. Teams that select a Web or mobile-based product will have to build the site or app for the class. Do not select this type of project unless you possess the necessary skill and are prepared to see it all the way through.


Meaningful Customer Discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal of the following:

1.     Teams building a physical product must have a bill of materials and a prototype. The product should have an associated website with the product features to attract potential customers.

2.     Teams building a web product must attempt to build the site, create demand and have customers using it.

3.     Your weekly LaunchPad Central narrative is an integral part of your deliverables. It’s how we measure your progress, and it is required that you maintain and update it at least once per week, if not after every customer insight.

4.     Your team will present a weekly in-class PowerPoint summary of progress. The presentation must be submitted before class starts.