Entrepreneurship at Stanford GSB: A Naval Officer’s Perspective

by on July 3rd, 2015

When I went to graduate school at Stanford, I never imagined that I’d learn the most about business by selling lemonade. Former military officer, business school student, lemonade entrepreneur.

But there I was, hawking the sweet stuff around Stanford’s campus and having the time of my life.

The Lemonade Challenge was given to me and two of my classmates by our “Launchpad” (LP) professors. The mission: Make as much money as possible in one hour by selling cups of lemonade.

At first, we walked and and asked strangers to buy cups of lemonade. Then we tried to convince at least one person out of a group of 30 visitors from Eastern Europe to pay $20 to dump a pitched or water on our head. My friend danced and sang the theme song from Oklahoma  for $5. In total, we made over $250 dollars, learned a ton about how to connect with customers and how selling is about doing whatever it takes.

Launchpad, one of the many entrepreneurship courses offered at Stanford, is strongly biased towards action and one of the most sought after and difficult classes to get into and is far from thetypical “academic” class. This means that the instructors only celebrate two results: 1) companies succeeding by growing and scaling or 2) folding and moving onto something new. It is clear the only way to fail the course is to wade in the middle between these two outcomes wasting precious time. LP has helped create a handful of successful companies like Pulse and educated a number of successful entrepreneurs.

Work for the course begins at least 12 weeks before the class even begins, so teams hoping to get into the class showing up at office hours every week during the winter quarter. The first time we presented our idea (bring management teams into nature for interpersonal dynamic workshops based on the GSB’s renowned ‘Touchy Feely Curriculum’) the instructors asked us: Why have we not doneit yet? They were blunt and harsh , but their point was clear: What are you waiting for? Stop talking and start doing. So we started doing. Two days after that meeting, we ran a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for free for a classmate’s startup. The following week we ran a more elaborate and in-depth workshop for a funded and incubated startup. We were on a roll and in the good graces of the instructors, until they found out we were doing this pro-bono. They pushed us to charge—and charge a lot. In truth, we didn’t end up charging for that event, but it was clear that was the last experience we did for free.

That next week we booked a startup for a full day experience and charged a good fee. All in all we had conducted three outdoor experiences and earned several thousand dollars in revenue before entering the class—purely based on the guidance and push we got from office hours in applying to the course. Launchpad itself was a whirlwind. Each day brought a new challenge:

Incorporate and decided equity division, create a viral advertising campaign, pitch to VCs on no notice, run a booth at a product launch convention, interview three candidates for our next hire andscale revenue by 10x in two weeks. The other companies in the class ranged from an ephemeral voice messaging app (think Snapchat for voice) to a vegetable delivery company. Two of the companies folded by the end of class (ours being one of them) and the other ten continued on, many working at incubators in the Bay Area.

I learned a ton from the class—from big ideas about entrepreneurship, to specific tactics to make it happen. It was unlike any of the other entrepreneurship classes I took at the GSB.

I could try and share those lessons here, but what the class taught me is that learning is best done through doing and not telling. So my one recommendation for those veterans interested in entrepreneurship: What are you waiting for? Start doing.

Colin is a former Naval Officer and an admissions consultant on the MtB team.

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