Entrepreneurial Design, aka “Internet School” or, as guest speakers/entrepreneurs referred to it, “the class I wish that I had five years ago!,” ended last week. My description of the class crafted by Gary Chou and Christina Cacioppo of Union Square Ventures won’t do justice to the impact that the work had on us, but here goes. First, there was a remarkable mix of reading and writing. Second, a speaker series by star lecturers from the start-up world. And finally, at the center of the class were 10 assignments and one final project designed to reveal the power of networked technologies and to help us to create online personas. I’ll list them here:
Identify someone with whom you’d like to meet, and leverage your network to get an introduction. (write a blog post about the experience.)
Identify someone with whom you’d like to meet, send them a cold-email introducing yourself. Get them to agree to a phone call, video call, or in-person meeting with you. (Write a blog post about the experience.)
Write an original blog post that accumulates 10 back links.
Post something original that accumulates 20 RTs on Twitter, 20 reblogs on Tumblr, 20 Facebook shares or 20 Google+ shares.
Create and launch a video/site/infographic that explains a complex topic “in plain English,” a la Twitter in Plain English.
Pitch a story or blog post you’ve written to 5 blogs, each of which reach a minimum of 50,000 uniques each month according Compete.
Spend at least 60 minutes acting as a worker — and making money — on TaskRabbit, Work Market, GigWalk, 99designs, or Amazon Mechanical Turk. (Write a blog post describing your experience)
Launch the landing page of a new service and get 20 people to sign up with their email addresses. Secure traffic by email, paid search, Facebook ads, Reddit ads, paid Stumbles, etc., and track the conversion analytics. Submit the URL to your landing page, a screenshot of your signups, and an analysis of your user acquisition strategy—what worked well, what did not.
Launch the landing page of a new service and get 20 people to pre-pay (via Gumroad, PayPal, WePay, Venmo, Credit Card, etc…) as part of the sign up process.
Create and deliver a product or service that generates $1,000 (approximately one month’s rent) of gross profit before the final class on April 25. You can teach Skillshare classes, start a Shapeways or Etsy store, launch a Kickstarter project, or create something else entirely..
I don’t know if you can teach someone to be an entrepreneur any more than you can teach someone to have good taste, but you can teach about the power of the Internet. At the beginning of the semester, I was hesitant to reveal myself to the world online. I felt like I had plenty of identities and a strong network, I didn’t need more. But all of my doubts vanished when I wrote a blog post and immediately got responses from people I hadn’t spoken with in years. One of my favorite lecturers, Fred Wilson of USV, put it best: “I don’t sky dive, I don’t even like roller coasters, so for me pushing the publish button is that moment of risk taking…” I completely agreed. I pushed the button and lived.
Now I am a convert. Let me give you an example. My daughter was talking about how she was going to get a poor grade on her AP US History exam. I looked at her 2” study guide book and sighed. Anyone would get discouraged thinking that they had to assimilate that much stuff. So we looked online and found Grockit. It’s fun, it’s manageable, it has a good UI and it’s interactive. She doesn’t feel like she’s alone. We’ll see how it goes, but she’s studying, and she’s happy.
Next, she wondered about tutoring for Chemistry. We live in a town where Chem tutoring costs about $80/hr. She wondered if there was a senior who could teach her. I showed her Skillshare, a peer-to-peer learning site, and we talked about her starting something similar for kids at the high school. We’re going to launch it next week…if kids sign up, we may have something…and I don’t mean a business model, I mean a service that can help kids help each other. It will be something that she can create. That’s a gold mine.
The lessons from Internet school are life lessons. If I can sum them up I would say they are: 1. The Internet and the emergence of networks have disrupted and will continue to disrupt structures that are hierarchical. 2. Learn technologies and use them to build. We are no longer designers or writers or technologists, we’re creators. 3. Know yourself, have an opinion and share it. You’ll find others like you. Networks aren’t lonely, they’re empowering. 4. There is very little reason to work for others. If you have the skills that make you hirable, you have the skills to create something for yourself, and in turn, for others. 5. Don’t spend all your time refining, get your ideas out there and see if people like them.
There’s more of course, but that’s a good summation. When asked if they were going to teach again, Christina and Gary said “no,” which was surprising to us. How could they make a class that was so valuable and not continue it? But, in the spirit of the network, their idea was inspired: “We’ve taught the class, now who among you feel like you could teach it to others?” I confess, I raised my hand.