Friday, September 30, 2011

Mobile web applications development - VIA class 2

I had the second VIA class yesterday. Internet application development course focusing on mobile web applications for students at the Czech Technical University, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, dep. of Cybernetics, Prague.

The presentation title was "Steps to develop a web application". Our fist step was to create and organize the teams. It is almost finished. We have 11 teams with eleven projects.  Most of the teams already created their home pages and blogs for tracking progress.  I asked students to put an essay, high level description of the project, on their home page. The blog is set to track all development steps. I recommend to have two types of records on the blog. Milestones are two weeks jobs. Small tasks should take not more then few hours. I’d like students to write the tasks and mark who is solving what and when it has been finished. Breaking tasks to small steps is essencial. Marking progress is motivating and saves you from losing focus, (well sometimes)
Then we have started a small discussion trying to explain how to pick the right application. We brainstormed and discussed several suggestions. I have tried to explain what are the experiments to test the app idea. I have suggested what questions to ask other students to understand the usefulness of the app. How ask to discover how they will use the app. This is not simple but essencial before starting any development. I have tried to show some simple examples of the idea validation. I hope the sThis is precisely the set of problems I want students to focus on during the presentation. Their task is to present using experiments results what value the app will deliver to them, what problem is the app solving, and what needs it is satisfying. I have also briefly mentioned the Business model canvas and provided the wiki link for further study. The presentation was closed by discussing what is the Minimum Viable Product and, what is the set of minimal features. I have covered each of the topic very shortly, in depth discussion will require much more time and effort. Our class is more focused on technology but I thought this little excursion to business thinking is very important. Students need to understand and be motivated for the development of apps.
Next week we will continue with presenting the project ideas. Students are due to deliver an essay. Each team will get around 10 minutes and then we will discuss the idea.
Follow us on VIA pages.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Learn how to build a startup - VIA class 1

today I'll tell you about my plan for the winter Internet Application Development course. I want to teach students what are the steps for developing a useful Internet application. I got a little inspired by Steve Blank LaunchPad. Today, many of our students work on their own projects and typically they focus on programming. Real hackers frequently fall in love with new idea or technology. They spend a lot of time developing, but only few of them convert the idea to a working product. In my course I’d like to help them to change it and in the same time learn what are the product development steps.

How do we operate? First I am splitting students in to teams of four. Each team must set up a web home page and write short essay describing what they want to develop. Next, they should use the home page to attract the users and check the idea. During the whole course I want students to track the development. We will use blogs or other journal like application. Documenting progress is always good practice. List of finished tasks is creating a good feeling of progress, it also helps to stay in focus.

Who are the customers and what do we want to deliver? Customers are all students of the CTU and we want to deliver applications making their university live easier. Since developers and customers are the same it should be easier to validate the product idea. Teams, students will test the product on students.

I am also narrowing the choice of application to Internet apps for mobile. There are many reasons, besides the sales numbers and popularity. Most important is that mobile apps are typically much simpler. They focus on one simple task. Small screen supports only easy UI. Simple, small and intuitive apps are our target.

I’d like to finish the semester with real working minimum set of features applications. To make the apps development as simple as possible we will offer ready to use sandboxes for Android and Google App Engine. This should quickly jump start the development.

What will the students learn? How to lead a project, how to organize the development, and how to create something useful and attractive for users. The most important take away is the hands on experience.

I do not know how the whole course will work out, are there enough ideas for applications, are our students inventive enough to pick the right set, do we have enough time to do something useful? There are lot of questions, but I am sure we need to search for new ways how to inspire students and help them achieving good results. This is my try. I’ll keep reporting about the progress.  See the deliverables specifications at VIA web pages. Keep your fingers crossed, comment, suggest!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

eClub opening presentation

On Monday 26.9. we will welcome Hubert Palan at Czech Technical University in Prague. He is coming to Prague for a short visit from Silicon Valley. He will tell us why being an entrepreneur is the best career ever and how startups are built in Silicon Valley. Hubert will explain how the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem works, how universities, students, companies, entrepreneurs and investors collaborate and innovate. Luckily, innovation doesn't happen just in Silicon Valley and you will find out how to apply startup best practices anywhere in the world. Come and jump start your journey of building a great product with a stellar team and changing the world. Check it out at the eClub home page and recently on Facebook too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 26 - eClub

Wikipedia says: September 26 is the 269th day of the year (270th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 96 days remaining until the end of the year. I say: on September 26 we start the first 2011 winter eClub meetinging. Join us.
The winners of the last eClub, the easyWall team returned from California with a lot of interesting suggestions. They advised me to make at least the first page in Czech. The English version is apparently discouraging some of the students. OK, I am listening, the first page is in Czech, but I kept the rest in English. As soon as we catch those shy students we convert to English anyway. We need to cooperate internationally. We need to be understandable.
I also was told to make sure everybody understands that eClub is not part of the curriculum, no exam, credits for participation. Good point. Another important comment was do not emphasize it is at Czech Technical University. So don’t be scared all meetings will be easy going and entertaining. We will welcome students and their friends from all technical or other universities interested in starting business. eClub is open to everybody.
In our club you will have a chance meeting your peers, interesting entrepreneurs, technologists and visionary. We will welcome great speakers Karel Obluk, Karel Janecek and others. We are also planning to have first presentation streamed directly from Silicon Valley. Keep the fingers crossed. One more note: after each presentation there will be an after-party in the nearby restaurants to chat with your friends.
We have dry run project presentations planned for October 24. I hope, most of the participants will try to present their own project. We will tell you how to formulate the project plan and how to present. We will help you to get advice from mentors. You can use our forum to discuss.  An international jury will select the best projects and they will get the awards just under the Christmas tree.
Those of you who cannot join us in person make a note: all presentations will be recorded and displayed on our pages. Let me know if you have any suggestions, comments, improvements, etc.  and don't forget September 26.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What startup is best for you?

How to motivate students to create a startups? What are the types of startups? I am putting together the program for the Entrepreneurs Club these days and these are some of the questions I want to discuss.

The university students are in the best period of their life to experiment, turn their dreams to something useful. The entrepreneurial path is offering lot of different opportunities. The most ambitious is the high-tech path: pursuing PhD program, inventing new, disruptive technology and turning it to a startup. Contrary to scientific research, some students may start a small business in their hometown.  Some may chose to work alone or in a small group and make enough money to have a comfortable life. The top aspiration is to go for the big thing, creating a scalable business addressing millions of customers worldwide. Let’s look at different types of startups in more detail.

One person makes the smallest startup. Typical example is Tonda Hildebrand who calls himself a micropreneur. He wrote and sells an enhanced Finder version for Mac. He has thousands and thousands customers around the world. As a micropreneur, thou you are the only person in the company who needs to do all what the business requires. You need to be a very strong personality to not lose motivation and focus, and to overcame all difficulties. You can focus on what makes you happy, where you are best and outsource the rest. You will be very independent in time, location etc. On the other hand you’ll be vulnerable, if you find and develop an application addressing large customers cloud, the competition will kill you rather quickly.

Typical startup has two or three people at the very beginning. Many of the startups die, some survive but do not grow, and they become small companies with few staff members.  They may choose working on a single product. If they manage to find a niche market and customers, they may create a successful business. As long as the number of customers is of no commercial interest to large companies they may create a sustainable income. In eClub we had a presentation of the Fakturoid team falling in to this category. The danger is very similar to micropreneurs, the variety of products is narrow and the single core product can become part of larger companies portfolio or the whole business model may die. The right niche market may generate a good stream of revenue to have a comfortable life, therefore: lifestyle companies. Some small companies managed to address considerable number of customers with their very successful products, for example 37signals.

What is the majority of IT companies in the Czech Republic? According to the Czech ICT Alliance 98% of companies have less than 20 people. My estimation is that these numbers will be similar in many other countries. These companies are focusing on web pages authoring, administration, IT integration etc. Mostly they provide custom development or services in a small, local scale. They are very important for the national economy, but they do not have the ambition to work worldwide or grow. They can be classified as small business startups.

The real startup is mostly associated with a high grows, technology oriented company. We all know the top startups: Google. Yahoo, SalesForce etc. They are very successful in introducing new disruptive technology. They have found great business model, grew to a large company and developed additional lines of innovative products. An idea for a great scalable business can emerge anywhere in the world, but it is not easy to find the right people and the right ecosystem to scale. This is the reason why most of the large technological startups are coming from Silicon Valley. It is the reservoir of the best programmers, engineers but also top IT managers, visionary, lawyer, venture capitalists, marketers, sales people… Even the most successful Czech IT startup entrepreneur Roman Stanek moved his Gooddata operations to Silicon Valley.

Researcher or scientists like a high-tech startup developing a disruptive technology based on technological break through and new algorithms. Turning the results of their several years long research to a business may lead to significant competitive advantage. The formation of such startup is a very intricate process since people of science typically do not have commercial but scientific targets. The success metric is the number of scientific articles not revenue or number of customers. Startup is the best setup to commercialize new IT scientific ideas. The typical goal of scientific startup is to prove the technology, show the growing revenue and sell the company.

Beside of missing non-profit or open source startups and a very special kind of startups winning government tenders, the list is complete. Most of the students will start their entrepreneurial activities without knowing in what category they will end up, but from the point of view of what we do in eClub it is not important. The goal is to make students active, teach them the practical steps how to create a product and how to find customers. I will be delighted, if as a result of eClub, we will see a new company in any of the above categories.

Do not stay aside, communicate, be active, and join us.