Yesterday was the last class in this year’s New Media Entrepreneurship course at the Zell Program of Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
The Zell program (funded by Sam Zell of Chicago) is designed for outstanding undergraduates in their last year of university who are seeking to create new ventures. Twenty two students were selected this year to participate in the program, plus six guest students from Singapore.
Over the last couple of years I’ve seen hundreds of startups in various stages. What was imminent with many early stage startups was that their founders lacked the foundations for asking the right questions about their own projects, unknowingly setting themselves to fail.
Hence, my goal when teaching the class was to teach the students to think like entrepreneurs; to understand what are the critical questions they must ask before starting their businesses.
In the eight 2.5-hour classes we spent a lot of time discussing distribution-at-scale (which is were most startups fails), building minimum-viable-products, customer discovery and the excellent 9 building blocks model. We also covered ideation (how to find ideas for your startup?), tools, variety of shortcuts (heard of Mechanical Turk?), money raising and other subjects that are critical for venture creation (hiring, founder agreements, the importance of good lawyers, etc.).
I believe in hands-on experience (read: lots of homework). The students had to go out of the building and conduct real-world work during the course. Each team interviewed 2 CEOs of startups on topics such as ideation, pivots and customer discovery. They interviewed dozens of customers as part of the customer discovery process, presented their up-to-date venture insights on an almost-weekly basis and spent real money with Google and Facebook campaigns to attract users to their startups’ landing pages.
We also had three excellent guests lectures:
- Omer Shai (VP Marketing of Wix), one of the best online marketing executives in Israel, gave a detailed presentation of Wix online marketing strategy and tactics.
- My friend Revital Hendler, founder and CEO of AllJobs, gave a talk about how AllJobs grew from a garage company to becoming the biggest job site in Israel, employing over 200 employees (side note: I single-handedly wrote the code for the site in 2004, using C# and a single SQL Server. That was the last time I wrote code until I started my new startup, a month ago).
- My friend Adam Fisher from Bessemer Venture Partners, one of Israel’s top investors (take a look at his portfolio and read his blog) gave an excellent talk about the VC industry and how he evaluates deals and startups.
I had lots of fun teaching this course. The students were great. I was pleasantly surprised by how smart, focused, enthusiastic and mature they were. Definitely the kind of people that will achieve great things in life. The Zell program is the best program of its kind in Israel, and kudos to IDC for creating and nurturing it.