Draper University

Don’t Take Startup Advice... & Other Startup Advice

Don’t take startup advice- that is, except for this.

Jolijt Tamanaha gleaned 7 key lessons from her first founder flop with her startup, Champio. Founders often make great bloggers- when it comes to their successes. Google “How to Get Into 500 Startups” or “How to Close a Series A” and thousands of blog posts from accomplished founders celebrating their wins will pop up, but a search for “Founder Mistakes” often yields cold articles written by tech journalists instead of the failed founders themselves.

Jolijt was a student in St. Louis with a moderately successful startup, Farmplicity, before she started Champio. Jolijt is not a glamorous or wildly successful entrepreneur with a huge track record. She is probably much like you, a young entrepreneur with some good experience under her belt. Her startup Champio is probably much like yours, as an early stage pre-funding company with a beta out. Her advice hits spot on for the vast majority of entrepreneurs out there who aren’t employing staffs of 100 or mamanging cash-flows of millions of dollars. Here are her takeaways summarized below- but please, read her full article on Medium here.

 

1. Solicit a ton of advice & actively ignore most of it

Getting advice from a trusted source is always important- but not because it should be followed. Tamanha writes that advice is “an opportunity to learn about approaches to the problem that you might otherwise not know exist. Never, ever turn to a source of advice in search of an answer. Nobody can give you an answer because nobody has successfully done exactly what you’re trying to do”.

2. Time is King

Instead of instantly committing full time to your idea, Tamanha advises that first an entrepreneur should work part time or come up with some way to provide for themselves as they find product market fit. Unless the entrepreneur has a track record of acquisition then VCs won’t fund a product without a validated market. Ways to do this could be to “work on your startup as a side project while you grow in a full-time position or as a student. Set up sources of passive income that give you a small salary. Charge customers from Day 1. If that’s not possible, start the company as a consulting practice while you finish building whatever it is you need to execute on your main business model”.

 

3. Focus on the numbers

She cautions to avoid getting caught up in customers, advisors, or authority figures bolstering your product with statements that lack commitment. Numbers, like user adoption, activity, and payments tell the real story about product market fit, because “even complete strangers on the subway will tell you what you want to hear”. Numbers don’t lie.

 

4. Hire for challenge-fit

Building a dream team is one of the hardest things out there; without the right team the right product can’t be built. But often hiring decisions are made based on credentials, past experience, or connections the candidate has. Employers rarely screen for attitude, and particularly the type of attitude that is necessary for an early stage startup. Tamanha’s “early stage team needs to be in it because easy things bore them. You will be hit by challenge after challenge and when that happens, you need a team that gets excited. They should to look at you, smile, and say: “let’s figure out how to solve this.” Build a team energized by difficulties and you’ve won half the battle”.
 

5. Celebrate small successes with Champagne*

Many entrepreneurs have a drive-it-forward attitude that can make it difficult to celebrate the small things. As Tamanha writes, “People need to be celebrated. And not celebrated in my improve-some-more-stuff way but just celebrated. With Champagne or at least a cookie.”

 

5. Stop trying to draw a straight line

The ideate-prototype-test-build-scale model for startups is ubiquitous, but everyone shouldn’t get hung up in finding that perfect J-curve exponential growth model. Most startups are all over the place in the beginning, and that’s a good thing. Jolijt assuages, “I am telling you not to give up just because the path doesn’t look like what you had imagined it would when you started going down it. Straight lines exist for lawyers and bankers and TechCrunch journalists, not entrepreneurs. Do what it takes to make the next dot appear, and the dots will eventually connect themselves”.

 

6. Don’t take blind risks

Since entrepreneurs characteristically do well under pressure, often last ditch efforts to buy time or cobble together funding can actually be mildly successful. But the point isn’t to buy another few weeks- it’s to maintain that long term vision that the startup was founded on. Sometimes it’s better to take a step back rather than take the money, especially if there is more desperation than data behind your decision. Tamanha concludes with, “I can’t take an informed risk right now. I don’t need to see a straight line but I need to see the next step, the next dot. The money from family and friends will get us 10 months of runway if I’m the only one working on Champio. And if I’m the only one working on Champio, I don’t see a next dot”.

 

It’s better to refuse the money if you have no clear exit for your investors. They will recognize your honesty and come back later when you’re ready. To be clear, this isn’t Jolijt giving up. She is still working on Champio, just also taking a normal job as well. She hasn’t given up, and hopes the same for every other aspiring entrepreneur out there.

Will the Pipeline Really Bridge the Gender Gap in Tech?

The “gender gap,” or disproportionality of men to women in technical professions, is always a common thread in Silicon Valley.

Despite the rise of tech idols such as Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, Silicon Valley is still largely seen as a man's world. The American Association of University Women reports that:

  • Women made up only 26% of computing professionals in 2013 (which hasn’t moved the needle since the 1960s)
  • Women made up only 12% of engineers in 2013

Universities, coding bootcamps, and primary education have been working hard to encourage girls to become interested in math and science at an earlier age. The idea is that more of these female students will decide to major in a STEM field, resulting in a more diverse workforce with a narrower gender gap in a few years.  This is the concept of the “pipeline”, or fixing tech gender representation by funneling a more diverse student group into tech companies.

women-stem_0.png

Hackathon Hackers, with over 18,000 members, is the largest group on Facebook dedicated to attendees of Hackathons. Why? Because the best student programmers attend hackathons, and Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest are jockeying to employ them. Thus, this Facebook group is the best compilation of data on the active involvement of the tech pipeline. How gender is represented in this group will foretell how gender is represented in the tech industry in 3-8 years when these students graduate and go to work.

Megan Ruthven analyzed every post and comment since the birth of the Hackathon Hackers group to answer these.

To do this, she wrote code in python that analyzed all the pronouns in all the posts for male or female representation. For example, a post containing he, his, nephew, Dad, or brother would be male representative. A post containing she, her, niece, Mom, or sister would be female representative. The idea is that if a girl joins the group and sees only posts saying things like, “My brother just got hired at Apple because he and his bros made an awesome app,” then they might think this group was not for them. This measures not just female attendance in tech, but active participation. The results? The pipeline is no cure-all.

 

Q 1) Are Hackathon Hackers gender representation percentages better than industry?

Ruthven found that of all posts that contained gendered words, such as bro or she, only 13.7% contained female pronouns. To compare this to female representation in tech companies: 18% of Groupon’s tech workers are female, while Apple clocks in at 22% and Facebook at 16%. Hackathon Hackers, a snapshot of the tech pipeline, actually has a larger gender gap in their posts than tech companies today.

 

Q 2) Has gender representation changed over time in Hackathon Hackers?

Ruthven took a three month average of female representative posts and found that there was actually no trend up or down. Which means that the amount of content that represents women posted in the group isn’t getting worse, but not better either.

So what does this mean for the tech pipeline and the future for the gender gap in tech? Although many authorities have faith in the tech pipeline bridging the gender gap in tech, because the numbers of women enrolled in technical degrees has risen, data from the largest Facebook group representing the pipeline has shown otherwise.

 

How should the gender gap in the tech industry be addressed if the pipeline isn’t improving? Read the full story by Megan Ruthven here.

 

The Power of Crowdfunding

Written by Draper University Alumni Niti Shree.

Being a startup enthusiast and a budding entrepreneur, I always wanted to attend an unconventional entrepreneurship program in Silicon Valley. (Will be sharing in future posts that why I don’t believe in conventional educational programs). When I was in the middle of “Now what…?” phase, my boyfriend ( a Draper University alumnus himself) asked me to apply. I got the selection email for “April 2015 batch” in Feb.

Two of the Draper alumni (my boyfriend and his friend) were just discussing one day that technically I would be the first Indian woman to attend Draper University’s program. Well, to my surprise I received a call from a journalist friend from The Times of India (The No.1 English daily in India) regarding this. She interviewed me and boom — I started receiving calls from my networks on the eve of International Women’s day (Check out the article that appeared on The Times of India). Now, it was confirmed that I am going. Check out my post on “Why did I choose to go to Draper University”.But the question was “How?”. Only a month was left for the April batch and I didn’t have the visa. The bigger problem was “funds” even though I got a good scholarship amount of 4,500$. I had to arrange for 5,500$. I requested Draper University to defer my admission for the next batch to help me buy some time.For a young professional with hardly 4 years of experience with 3 career switches, there was no chance of the term called “savings”. “Family money” — no way, I stopped that ever since I graduated. There is not much you could expect from a middle-class family for an unconventional educational program like this.

While I was unable to see the way out to make it happen, my boyfriend came to rescue. He gave me the confidence that “Money is the least thing you should worry about. It’s going to happen no matter what”. So, I decided to crowdfund. Crowdfunding was a very new experience for me. I started reading articles on crowdfunding regarding — which platform is good, what approach I should have, tips and tricks etc. Wasted some time on launching as I wanted to be “perfect”. I came across an article on TheNextWeb. Taking inspiration from the article, I finally launched the campaign on Indiegogotitled “Superhero Mission: Everyone’s Personal Stylist” after wasting some time on over-analyzing. I thought ultimately this experience is a step towards my entrepreneurial dream. So, it was titled around my startup idea and in return I was offering perks of PR services. Tried making a video too as a lot of blogs written on successful crowdfunding says that it increases the chances for success. Ended up making crappy videos. So, just designed an infographic of my story on Piktochart. For 10 days, I didn’t reach out to anyone.

Just creating a campaign on a crowdfunding platform does not help you. So, no funds came through in first 10 days. Then, I started sending e-mails to my network. 4 years after college I didn’t focus on minting money, but I did focus on learning and working for the cause I believe in. Helping early-stage entrepreneurs through volunteering for Headstart for over 2 years created a ripple effect of goodwill which I realized during the crowdfunding experience. I probably would have sent 200+ e-mails to renowned entrepreneurs, investors and technologists in India and Silicon Valley. The subject line of the e-mail always remained “First Indian woman at Draper”.I also got small contributions from early stage entrepreneurs who replied to my “Thank you” saying “Come on, if we were at a stable stage we would have contributed a large amount”. It was so touching. Out of many e-mails sent, one of them was to Liz Wald, the former VP, International of Indiegogo. As per her suggestion, I changed the title of my campaign to “Send Niti to Draper University”. In another e-mail to Slava Rubin, founder and CEO of Indiegogo, introduced me to Indiegogo Life and I received a good support from Indiegogo team in seamlessly moving my campaign to Indiegogo Life. I raised 4000$ on Indiegogo. Now, the “perks” were irrelevant. Though I communicated to my backers of support/services at any point of time.

I was still short of around 3000$ keeping in consideration the flight costs as well. I got 1000$ in my account through 3 other entrepreneurs. The biggest contribution of 2000$ came through Meera Kaul Foundation’s woman in technology program which was paid directly to Draper University. There were 36 backers including Meera Kaul and offline contributions. The amazing part was most of these backers were renowned technologists, investors and entrepreneurs from India and Silicon Valley.

With this amazing experience, my belief in myself and my work has gone to a whole new level. I will reveal the names of all the backers when the time is right.

Overall, the journey to Draper University became all the more prized experience because of the amazing backers in my crowdfunding experience.

A 101 for anyone interested in VC

As tweet-stormed by Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, Tyler Willis.


Q: If you were starting as a first-time VC tomorrow - what should you read consistently to improve your thinking & analysis?

Check out the tweet-storm originally located here.

The Making of a Superhero at Draper University

Alumni Post written by Niti Shree of Draper University Summer 2015

I have always been a risk-taker and a confident individual. I always took the road less traveled in my personal and professional journey. But, I never considered myself as a person who could do anything without any fear or self-doubt until the Draper University experience happened to me.

This story is the compilation of the realizations of my powers and unleashing of the Superhero within me.

Fail and fail again

In almost all the competitions, my team came last or got special mention points. In the societal norms, I should be sad, disheartened or give up in such situations. We often just quote “ Failures as stepping stone for success” in theory. But, at Draper University I learned to celebrate failures, improvise and move on.

Mind over body

I always considered myself as a physically weak person. Even though I am normally a “Say yes!” person, I couldn’t break the block of wood with my bare hand in first attempt. It took me five attempts to break that wood. That “proving myself wrong” feeling after breaking was amazing. I learned the power of your mind can get anything done from you.

Exploring the world with Gusto and Enthusiasm

In our day-to-day life as we grow up, we stop feeling excited about the new activities or challenges. I became one in someway. Draper University’s experience taught me that no matter how much you have grown up, keep the excitement alive in you.

The first step towards creation is observing

We live in a technology-led world and we become so used to such a life. We forget to pay attention to things around us. We are able to fly today because some entrepreneur built the aeroplane, we are able to talk to our loved ones on the go because some entrepreneur created the mobile phone…what if these people would have just moved ahead without paying attention. I learned to observe things around me after surviving at Survival Week at Draper University.

The network effect

It’s often said that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Your network shapes you. Alone you can only grow to a certain level. I can never forget the feeling of being nervous for the “Pitch Day” and my 68 friends cheering up for me. That feeling instills your belief in yourself and the work you are headed to do.

Be uncomfortable

The very first day Tim told us to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We all have probably heard this quote “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, but liitle we practice. During the entire program, we were uncomfortable — not knowing what’s coming next and doing activities which you never even dreamt of.

Fearless

Many times we don’t try something new or don’t do something because we are afraid of unknown or known factors. I swam for the first time, faced the mighty waves of Pacific ocean for the first time, making the first ever confident presentation…many more firsts. Conquering your fears is most powerful feeling which takes your confidence to whole new level.

Have fun

Fun is the most important element of success which most of us forget. When working hard towards your goal people often believe that there is no scope of fun. That’s wrong. The true entrepreneurial journey must have lots of Fun. It keeps the creative juices flowing in your brain.

…Apart from above, there were other learning aspects too during the program. But above all, its the realization of the Superhero within me. You will get to know about my heroic skills as I go ahead in my journey.

DU Alum's Rideshare Service "Scooterino" Takes off in Rome

May 11, 2015 — Draper University alum, Oliver Page, has created a unique ride-sharing service in Rome with mounting success. In a city where scooters are one of the most popular forms of transportation, Scooterino allows you to hop on the back of someone's scooter who is traveling in the same direction. Oliver's idea was to adapt American ride-sharing services (like Uber) to Italian culture. Romans rely heavily on Vespas to zip through the congested metropolis, and Scooterino allows users to locate travelers on a similar route and catch a ride for just a few Euros. The service is meant to be efficient and cost effective, and Oliver will eventually take a small cut from each transaction. So far, Oliver has about 2,000 users and $50,000 in seed capital. He will test the Roman market for viability, but the service has already sparked interest in other scooter-happy cities across Europe. Read FastCompany's profile on Scooterino here.

scooterino

From Latin American Oil Rigs to Silicon Valley

Student Post — March 18, 2015 — Can you imagine a young Pakistani lady working on oil rigs in the middle of nowhere in amazon jungles in Latin America? It’s hard, but it’s even harder to imagine her transition from that world to a magical place called Silicon Valley. Graduation and Oil and Gas Industry

Rig photo

My name is Maha and I was part of Draper University's Winter 2015 class. I graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree from National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan and the University of Mississippi, US in 2013. As a fresh graduate, I was swamped with opportunities, and if you ask me today, I still don’t understand why I chose working as a field engineer on international mobile for Schlumberger. I left my family, everything I had, and took a plane to Brazil. After a week of training in Rio de Janeiro, I flew to Colombia and started working on oil rigs. My job was running measurements and logging while drilling tools to provide data such as gamma ray, resistivity, neutron porosity, bulk density and others to client companies (Ecopetrol, Petrobras, Equion, etc). I was part of the drilling group and had to be on the rig from the moment drilling starts till the time it ends. After working for 5 months, I was sent to the Training Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates where I was fortunate to be first in my class of 40 engineers from all over the world - and I was the only woman in my class!

After the training, I went back to Colombia to resume my work. I felt frustrated and tried to figure out why. Was it family, work rotation (I used to go to the rig for 40 days and come back for 3 days off), jungles or what?

It was during the Society of Women Engineers annual conference in Los Angeles a month later that I could see patterns. I realized that I was passionate about research, technologies, and startups.

After conducting a 26-hour long fishing operation in the rig, I stumbled on an e-mail from YouNoodle. The e-mail mentioned something about an entrepreneurship program in Silicon Valley, and that e-mail ended up changing my life!

I applied to Draper University of Heroes, was accepted, and immediately packed my bags and came to Silicon Valley.

Draper University and Silicon Valley

I can neither summarize my time at Draper nor at Silicon Valley in one blog post! It’s an experience, a learning, and a feeling that can only be experienced, learnt, and felt.

But for all the prospective students and avid parents out there, I would jot down some of the key workshops I completed: Vision of the future, Agility, Evangelism, Survival, Resource Acquisition, Incorporation, and the Art of Pitching.

Draper University is not a traditional university. Neither it’s an accelerator nor an incubator. It’s something more than that. It challenges one to think beyond her limits, believe that everything is possible, and be ready to embrace failure. The university leaves no stone unturned by bringing in speakers from Facebook to Twitter to SpaceX to Khosla Ventures to Founder’s Fund to Stanford University. It would take me another 3 hours to compile a list of the incredible speakers who came to speak to our class.

Another significant thing about Draper University is the mentorship the program provides. The university inundates a student with mentors. From famous Silicon Valley VC mentors to Entrepreneurs in Residence to Alumni mentors to personal female mentors, I felt overwhelmed. But mentorship played a very crucial role in helping me build relationships which I’ll cherish forever!

To summarize, I feel completely transformed today. I feel blessed to have gone through the program and built a network of friends, mentors, and people who want to help me succeed. I feel fortunate to have explored the magical Disneyland they call ‘Silicon Valley’ and 10x more excited to begin my PhD in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University this Fall.

As Tim Draper says – the world needs superheroes and I’m going to be one of those superwomen!

Draper University in the Taiwanese Media!

November 26, 2014 – Check out this great piece on Draper University out of Taiwan - personal interviews with DU alumni Hua Zhao and Ryan Moon from the Fall 2014 Class and another awesome interview with Tim Draper!