We held our 2nd H4E class last week and the students are still figuring out the Lean process. That being said, many students are extremely receptive to feedback and are working hard to understand the concepts - that is important for us because the willingness to learn is the first step to mastery. This class was the first session where we kicked off what will be the format for this course going forward: Part 1 is Lean LaunchPad style Q&A and Part 2 is lectures from Travis Bradford. Unlike our inspiration, Hacking for Defense, we decided not to have any entrepreneurship lectures except for Customer Discovery on Day 1 (See the Class 1 Blog for an overview). Instead, class time will be devoted to the Q&A and energy lectures, while students learn the concepts of Lean LaunchPad by watching the Steve Blank videos on LaunchPad Central (these videos are also on Udacity). It is a great free resource that can help anyone better understand how to build a startup.
Prior to this class, the students watched the LLP videos on Value Propositions to learn more about what they are and why they matter. Our comments and feedback about their presentations focused on their VPs. We did to check and see if absorbed the learnings for the online lecture, or if they even watched it at all.
Team Presentations: Week 2
Before this class, the 6 teams spoke to 56 customers, a solid start of getting out of the building. We are really happy to see that the students are really embracing the interview process, even if they are just learning the concepts and interview techniques.
Some highlights from Week 2:
Many of the students are still focused on figuring out what data to gather. That is understandable given so much of academia is focused on data analysis.
The teaching team, entrepreneur instructors, and mentors used this week to again stress the importance of understanding what the customer wants. A solution without that in mind is likely not a solution at all.
Here are this week’s presentations:
We kicked things off with Team PowYorker. They are trying to figure out if there is a way to better monitor Con Edison’s electricity and gas underground infrastructure assets.
What we liked about this presentation: The team presented their mission as solution agnostic, which was great to see. They are willing to let the process guide in figuring out a solution
What we told them to work on: We suggested the team should spend more time figuring out their Value Propositions. They were falling into the common trap of thinking “features” are VPs.
Next up, Sustainable Catalyst Group, who is determining how SolarCity can best build a “Shared Solar” model for their customers.
What we liked about this presentation: The team has gotten some impressive interviews and is starting to realize that they cannot solve everyone’s problems. They have some time to decide where they should focus (possibly California EV owners), but they recognize the need to narrow down their customer segments.
What we told them to work on: The team seems to be very solution-oriented and needs to be more open about discovering what the problem really is before diving into a solution. They will have to be ever-vigilant about confirmation bias.
Team EVE followed, this team is helping GE to better match EV infrastructure with customers that need to charge.
What we liked about this presentation: We liked that they included social (non-monetary) value propositions. Many teams tend to focus on the quantifiable VPs like time and cost savings without realizing that emotional and social VPs such as reducing “range anxiety” can be just as important. We also thought their presentation was very open-minded. It was great to see that they are not jumping to any conclusions this early in the interview process.
What we told them to work on: The team needs to better understand the problem. Yes, GE provided a problem statement as a jumping off point, but there are many different facets of the problem that the team needs to investigate before they can be confident that their MVP is needed. For example, do all EV owners have problems finding charging stations or only some of them? How big of a problem is a lack of infrastructure for current EV owners?
Next was Team ReAct, who is building an analytical app with EPRI to better connect users to their smart devices.
What we liked about this presentation: The team learned that there are a lot of home automation solutions that can save energy, but some customers feel that there is not an easy way of controlling all of them from a single interface.
What we told them to work on: We told the team to reframe their business thesis, it should be 1-2 sentences that states what you can do for the customer, and not about what the technology does.
Team AggregEn is working with IBM to study the aggregator pricing model to see if it could better allow for the bundling, buying, and trading of energy assets.
What we liked about this presentation: The team is still figuring out the scope of their project, but they are starting to get empowered to go where the customers say their problems are rather than being forced to stay in the confines of the original problem statement.
What we told them to work on: The team presented their customer as organizations, not as titles/roles (i.e. people). This is a common mistake in the early stages of customer discovery, and we told them that. They need to think of their customers as people, because it will help better personalize the problem that they are trying to solve.
Our last presenter for Week 2 was Team Li-Ion NYU. The team is aiding NYU’s Office of Sustainability as they transition their vehicle fleet to electric vehicles.
What we liked about this presentation: The team has done an impressive job of getting in-person interviews (9 out of 10 this week). By going to different universities in the local area, they are quickly realizing that each university has their own priorities. They are still learning about what drives fleet operators decisions on converting vehicles to reduce carbon emissions. One issue is that the impact of such a change may be relatively small compared to other changes the university could make elsewhere.
What we told them to work on: The team could not fully articulate the hypotheses they were testing. We reminded them as well as the other teams to make sure that they have specific hypotheses that they can validate or invalidate in the interviews rather than wandering aimlessly through the conversations.
Energy lecture: Class 2
The class dove right into Travis Bradford’s lecture on the energy system. Prof. Bradford is fully embracing the entrepreneurship part of this course and actually organized his lectures so that they matched up with the concepts taught in the Udacity lectures. Since Week 2 was focused on Value Propositions, Travis presented an overview of the energy industry in terms of the industry's value propositions.
Some highlights Prof: Bradford lectures:
Lessons Learned from Class 2: