Stanford campus photo from above


Forming teams, brainstorming ideas

By now, you've received your initial teams of 8-10. These are not your final teams. You'll have a chance to adjust and form those in the 2nd round of open teambuilding after the first task/assignment is done.

For the first assignment, we'd like you to work with your initial team to brainstorm your 5 worst startup ideas and 5 best startup ideas (teams may be fewer or more than 10 member, so just keep these balanced between worst and best). This is meant to be just a warm-up, brainstorming exercise and so you do not need to use the idea you're thinking about for your startup project for the rest of the class. 

Specifically, we'd like you to generate the following:

1) As a team, generate your 5 "worst" startup ideas and then your 5 "best" startup ideas. Sometimes it is easier and more fun to begin brainstorming by coming up with ideas that could never work or are just silly. For example, selling ice to people in a very cold climate, such as Alaska. Or selling tourism space flights to Mars.

For your best ideas, if you are having trouble, it is often easier to start with problems or needs that you personally have experienced and know well. You might also talk to people you know well about their needs/problems that you could try to solve. For each of these ideas (worst and best) we want you to practice summarizing the idea briefly in two sentences and to practice thinking about the aspects of the business model. For each idea you should fill in the blanks in the following two sentences.

Sentence #1

For (target customer)

who (statement of the need or opportunity),
the (product/service name) is a (product/service category)

that (statement of benefit).

Sentence #2

Unlike (primary competitive alternative),

our product (statement of primary differentiation).

The target customer is your initial guess at which type of person might want to buy. The statement of need is what need or problem this customer has that the product or service addresses. The primarily competitive alternative is what product or company currently competes with you to fulfill this need or solve this problem. The primary differentiation is how your product or service is different from that main competitor.

So for the selling ice in Alaska example above, we would have something like this:
Sentence #1

For people in Alaska between the ages of 18 and 100,
who need colder beverages and drinks but do not like large ice cubes,
the pre-packaged, small ice cube product is a consumer product

that provides a way to create cold drinks.

Sentence #2

Unlike bags of ice currently sold in stores,
our product offers smaller ice cubes so you can fit more in a drink.

Obviously this is a silly and very simple example, but it helps us to summarize the idea and begin working with business models.

2) Once you've created these two sentences for each idea, you can use them to fill in an initial guess for each aspect of the business model for each idea.

It may help to watch the following video on business models and to use the business model canvas to think about each aspect.

If you use a supported browser, you can view Youtube videos via the YouTube HTML5 Video Player, which may be more accessible for keyboard and assistive technology users.

By Sat. April 14th 12pm noon PST, you should log into (or if your team formed outside of venture-lab you can use the forum) and fill in your responses for the 5 best and 5 worst ideas, including one (or maybe 2) sentences for each part of the business model as follows:

(If an area does not apply to your idea, just leave it blank.)

Customer segment:
Who are our most important customers? Are the paying customers the same as the users of the product? (in the example this is Alaskans age 18-100)

Value Proposition:
What value do we deliver for the customer? (In other words, what customer problem are we trying to solve?) (in the example this is cold drinks and smaller ice cubes)

Key Partners:
Who are our key partners, if any? This could include suppliers or distributors. (in the example this might be ice manufacturers or delivery companies and retailers)

Key Activities:
What key activities does our business require that we do?

Key Resources:
What key resources do we need? (in the example this might be initial funding to pay the ice manufacturers)

Customer Relationships and Marketing:
How do we reach our customers to make them aware of our product and how do we maintain a relationship with them if necessary?

How do we deliver our product or service to the customers (via the web, via retail stores, by mail?)

Revenue streams:
How do our customers pay us and how much? (By subscription, a one-time fee, on a per use basis?) (in this example it might be a payment for each bag of ice, or it could be a subscription to get ice every week.)

Cost structure:
What are our most important costs? Materials, personnel?

We will provide further details on each of these aspects of the business model, so do not worry if any of them are unclear. The point is to get you to begin thinking about each of these aspects of startup ideas and to get you to have some fun with your team creating initial guesses for each aspect. Later in the course, when you are working on your startup projects you will be thinking and testing in detail these business models so we just want you to start working with this framework for now, so don't worry if it's not perfect or you aren't sure what to put, or if a category doesn't apply to your idea. This is a fun warm-up and teambuilding exercise so have some fun with it! Think about a ranking of which one of your "worst" startup ideas is the "worst" one and which of your "best" is the best one and discuss it with your group.

We are eager to get our videos out to you and launch that piece of this, but have some final meetings with the legal team and edits for IP/accessibility issues to work on first. But in the meantime, we're excited for you all to start forming teams and practicing brainstorming ideas. If there are questions on this, please ask them below and vote up the more common questions so that we (or fellow students) can answer them. Also, you can check out the recommended readings for help as well.


Teambuilding and Extension on Initial Project to 4/14

First, I wanted to let you know that you're all getting a one week extension on the initial assignment deadline. The initial assignment is now due on April 14th by 12 noon PST.

This is for several reasons, the most important of which is that we were able to form some additional teams and we have amended some teams in cases where they needed additional teammates. So to give everyone adequate time, it makes sense to extend the deadline. You may have new members on your team, so you should log-in again and check. If you just got a team, you should email your new teammates and let them know. A very important part of the learning experience here is about team formation, leadership, and team dynamics. We recognize there is some shifting around of teammates, naturally. This is why we designed in a multi-stage process to allow for this social process to unfold before the real work of the main team startup projects starts.

Second, we apologize but due to the sheer number of participants, we cannot respond to individual requests. Please use and we will try to respond to the most common questions and hopefully fellow classmates can help on other questions. Venture-lab is going to add a forum soon.

Next, the initial assignment will be one idea per person on the team. Initial teams have 9-11 members, so you should keep an approximate balance. 
A few other items we wanted to communicate:
  • and the videos/blog are coordinated, but independent. This enables you freedom to simply follow the blog/videos in your own team or individually using the mailing list at ( or to participate in venture-lab and build a team, get feedback and mentorship there. As such, the sign-ups for and the mailing list will remain separate and will not update one another. For those not using venture-lab, I will create posts where you can post/share assignments if you wish.
  • You should realize the initial assignment (5 best/worst ideas) you submit on venture-lab will be shown to other teams so that you can get feedback. You might not want to use the idea you're thinking of for the main group project.
  • When you submit the initial assignment, you should use other tools, such as Google/Word docs and then submit the final version. You will not be able to revert to previous versions, so you should submit only the final one.
  • Each individual will be able to log in and submit only 1 idea (best or worst). You should coordinate with your team and have a balance in best/worst ideas. But each individual can view the rest of the team's ideas and submits one each.
We are working on some very exciting ideas for the 2nd round of team formation and then you will have the opportunity to start from scratch and add any teammates that you wish for your teams of 4, whether local or international.



We had some people who didn't get matched into teams (a relatively small percentage, but given the scale, still a large number). This happened for a number of reasons, partly because there were some of you that didn't have information in your profile. We're going to match you all into teams as well. This is the first time anyone has done this kind of group project at such a large scale, so we apologize for any glitches and hope you'll bear with us. Most people were matched into teams or formed teams on their own.

There will also be a second round of team building after the first assignment. So if you haven't built a team on your own and if you weren't matched into a team yet via venture-lab, don't worry, there will be other opportunities in the 2nd round of team building to find a team and go through the group project.


Teams have been posted

The teams have been posted, you can go to

The first assignment is here:

By April 7th 5pm PST, you should log into (or if you are going through as an individual or if your team formed outside of venture-lab you can use the forum) and fill in your responses for the 5 best and 5 worst ideas, including one (or maybe 2) sentences for each part of the business model.


Team matches

The team matches are coming soon (within the next 24 hours or so). Please be patient.


Today is the deadline: Teams to be announced Monday

Today is the deadline for entering your information at

If you left fields blank, please go and complete the information you have submitted to us to help us choose the teams better. Some of you may have submitted the forms already, but you can go back and revise them now.

We will announce the groups by Monday.

Given the diversity of students, it is helpful to us to be able to form teams if you can use the space where we ask for a few sentences to submit one local problem/challenge that can be addressed by an entrepreneur.


HTML5 and iBooks

In an effort to be more accessible, all the videos here will now be embedded such that they can be played with HTML5.

 We're also in the process of generated transcriptions of the audio on the videos. Stay tuned for a possible iBook to download as well. I'm starting to play with the iBook authoring app, which is very fun.
Here are a few alternatives to the YouTube website which provide more accessible controls and a much cleaner interface.
If you still don't have what you need or want, the following are tools and resources for building more accessible YouTube videos including captioning:
Further reading:
If you developed an accessible YouTube solution, or know of another not listed, please leave a comment.


More time and info on team building

1- First of all, thank you very much for the overwhelming enthusiasm and encouraging feedback. Thousands of people have signed up and are still signing up for the venture-lab. We are working hard to make sure you will have a great experience. But please note that we are running this experiment for the first time and we are learning the process ourselves as we go ahead.

2- There were some students who preferred to just follow the video lectures online. We also had a few students who were interested only in the team project. As a result, the Venture-lab and the video lectures are becoming somewhat independent. You can follow the videos, participate in Venture-lab, or do both.

3- There were several students who tried to login into Venture-lab using their old coursera username and password. Those old usernames and passwords will not work. YOU WILL NEED TO SIGN UP SEPARATELY for Venture-lab.  The first time you go to Venture-lab, click on the link that says sign up and create your account. Please sign up by Friday 3/23 if you like to participate in the team project. We are giving you more time since so many people are still expressing interest and wish to invite friends to join.

4- We also feel the need to reiterate Privacy, Security, and Intellectual Property issues.  The nature of this website promotes the sharing of personal information by users with other users. In particular, your email address, name, and introductory paragraph will be shared with your teammates. You should note that the instructor, the owner of the website, or Stanford University cannot and does not assure that it is safe for you to have direct contact with other users of this website. You will be also participating in many discussions and brainstorming sessions with your teammates for the class project on or off the website. We can not also make any form of commitment to protect your Intellectual Property rights or to resolve IP issues with your teammates.  If you do not wish to work on the class start-up project, login to the website, click on edit profile and check the box that excludes you from the matching process and the start up project.

5- Our goal is to develop Venture-lab and make it a fully functional mechanism for building strong and vibrant teams of entrepreneurs, domain experts, and mentors. We believe that there is an amazing potential in connecting people around the world, teaching them the basics of entrepreneurship and help them collaborate to implement their ideas.  In our vision, the profile of every individual will not be just a CV, but his or her history of collaborations and contributions to his or her own or others' projects. Because of this, we invite you to show a great degree of responsibility and courtesy to your teammates and other members of the website.

This is going to be a great learning experience for everyone. We look forward to working with you.

All the best


What lies ahead

We have a few quick updates for you.

First, we have updated a few of the fields in the forms at  If you've already signed up and filled in some information, you can log back in and update or revise your information there.

Second, if you have not yet signed up at, please do so by March 18th. You have to sign up for the first time, that is, your old username/password will not work. There is no use looking for it, the first time you have to create a new username / password and sign up.

Next, an update on how we plan to use the team formation tool. We will have a two-step process to facilitate team building. You can also go through the videos individually, but we believe you will learn much more within a team.

Step 1:
We will introduce a set of 6-8 teammates to you in a week or two (they will get your name, email and paragraph). This will be your team for the first assignment which is to get together and brainstorm an initial set of 5-10 "worst business ideas" followed by 5-10 "best business ideas". You'll map out the business model (using something called the business model canvas) for each of them. This will be due 2 weeks later (we'll let you know when exactly). Alongside team building, this assignment helps you practice brainstorming (a topic covered in one of the lecture videos) and working with business models (also covered in detail).

Step 2:
We'll have you come back to for a final round of teambuilding where we aim for smaller teams of 3-4 people. Here we will only share certain information with suggested teammates that you provide, such as a LinkedIn profile. If you're happy with your existing group, you can stay together and split into two teams of 3-4. Those who would like to change or adjust teams will have an opportunity to select new teammates for the remainder of the team startup projects. After the initial brainstorming assignment, for the first project, you'll have a month to work on it and the top teams will be paired with mentors. Then the final project will be due a month after that.


Update - team building tool

Thank you for your patience as we've been preparing and updating the course. We are excited to announce that since technology entrepreneurship is a team-based activity, we've built a team-building tool to help enable team formation.

If you use a supported browser, you can view Youtube videos via the YouTube HTML5 Video Player, which may be more accessible for keyboard and assistive technology users.

[Transcription for download]
A version at dotSub for transcription/translation help:

When you sign in at, we're asking that you enter some basic information such as location, age, and industry so that we can suggest teammates for the course project. If you have your own team already of 3-4 people, that's great, you'll be able to enter those teammates into the site. For those who do not have a team or are looking to add teammates, we can assist you with finding others who are in a similar geographic location and interested in a similar industry sector. We are asking that you sign in (preferably using your Google gmail) and complete this before the end of the day March 18th, midnight PST. The course will launch soon, so we wanted to get started in the next few weeks to help you build teams and brainstorm initial ideas for your startup projects. We will send out the teammate suggested matches in a few weeks time.

Later on, you can use to post your ideas for the class startup project, your interim reports, and the final project. You will be also able to see and comment on other teams work. We will ask a group of area experts and experienced entrepreneurs to help and mentor a select group of projects. 

This gives a chance for thousands of people around the world to form groups, come up with new ideas, and collaborate to implement it. We are very excited about the possibilities for a model of online education that provides tools for students to collaborate and learn from one another as well as the instructor.

The course overview video can be seen here


Stanford class final presentations (2/2)

Today was the final day of OEP presentations for the Stanford E145 class. Thanks to all the mentors for the class and the judges who came in to give feedback on the final presentations. For many of the teams I am sure this is just the beginning! Two more class sessions are left to do the course summary and also to talk about stock options.

I'm very proud of these students and amazed by what they were able to accomplish in such a short time. With this class I just keep asking for them to do more and deliver more in a short quarter and they keep surpassing my expectations. Today we had presentations on student group social networks, solving the grocery story plastic bag problem, and electronic dance music among others.

Next year I plan to ask them to build prototypes of their websites even earlier in the quarter as there are more and more tools to enable even non-coders to do this. Also I have found that students learn so much more about their startups when they have even a very basic prototype. You can see a real difference in those groups who actually went out and were able to go through a few cycles with customers of trying to get a sale. One team made $500 which I think is a record for the class. Another team made $200. Of course it's about making "meaning" as well as money, but I was thrilled to hear how much these teams learned from making their initial sales.

One of the biggest lessons I want to impart next time around is that there is a huge difference between potential customers saying they want something and actual customers really paying for something from you.

Next time around I plan to use fewer cases and take advantage of the situations that come up as the students work on their own startups as the "cases". I think they learn a lot more from their own personal experience and the 6 cases we do now are instructional in some ways but in other ways they get in the way of the students learning even more from their own experience. But that experience needs to be brought into context and to a higher level of scrutiny through the class discussion and check-ins with each team to discover what's going on and where they are getting hung up in the process.

GroupU -

Hopscotch -

T3 -
Yumshare -


Final presentations (first half)

What do an electric guitar with an iPhone app and no amplifier, an app for farmers, mail merge, and a website/mobile app to try out new clothing styles have in common?

We had the first half of the Stanford final class presentations yesterday. Here are the videos that I shot using a tablet and my phone during the OEP presentations.

In this class, I teach engineering undergraduate students (mainly juniors and seniors). The goal is to teach them about entrepreneurship and help them to decide whether technology entrepreneurship is for them. In the process, we aim to teach them leadership skills and entrepreneurial thinking, which can serve them well regardless of the career path they choose after leaving Stanford.

The class is a blast to teach with students from CS, EE, Economics, Management Science & Engineering, and all over campus. It's wonderful to see the ideas they come up with and to watch what they do with them.

This year what I did differently was:

1) Get them to form teams more quickly. I did this by telling them that the students who are in teams will receive preference to get into the class. (The course is always oversubscribed with about twice as many applicants as slots open in the class.)

2) I flipped the classroom. The students watched the brief lectures about customer development, lean startup, marketing, sales, fundraising, brainstorming, etc. on video before coming to class. That way class time could be used to answer questions and check in with the teams on how they were doing.

3) I did more simulated entrepreneurial situations. I had the students practice hiring and firing, board meetings, partner negotiations, etc. This was both a lot of fun and I think a good learning experience. It's quite different doing something in a real situation vs. saying what the CEO in a case should have done.

We have some terrific teams this year. In the videos below they give you a sense of the pivots and changes they made throughout the quarter (8 weeks!) and what they learned along the way!


Not a Course, A Learning Community

Over the past few months, I recorded over 30 video lectures as well as generating some ideas about how group projects might work on a large scale over the web. I'm excited to share these with you all.

Originally I was thinking of this as an online class. Something that could run parallel to my class at Stanford. But then I got a question on about why online classes weren't breaking free from the semester/quarter system. At first I have to be honest, I was slightly irritated by this question. Here I was, putting in extra hours in the evenings and weekends to be able to offer lecture materials for free on the web and someone was questioning the format of that offering. But... then I started to think more about it. I began to also wonder if I was really utilizing the power of the web for education and learning in the best way possible. I also began to wonder, what if we were more creative about how this was done. What if students could access the material on demand, at any time, as they needed it.

I became much more interested in the possibilities and the ability to experiment more broadly.

Here I would like to try something that perhaps is best not even referred to as a course. What if we tried to re-imagine how learning on the web ought to work from scratch using existing services, like blogs and YouTube? Ideally it should be accessible 24/7 without a password or login and it should be continuously updated, continuously in beta, always being refined. Perhaps the way that we should think about this is in fact not as a course as that is too constraining. What we should think about is how to build a learning community. Where it is as much about the participants as it is about the "instructor". Where learning occurs in all directions - student to student and student to professor as often as it does from professor to student in the traditional model. So, we should think of this more as a learning community. I hope you all will continue to provide me with suggestions and ideas as well as to help one another with learning about entrepreneurship and the startup process. I fully expect that my classroom teaching will benefit from this just as much as you all may benefit from the classroom and research material I hope to provide. It's a two way street.

In the meantime, here is a short video giving an overview of some of my research on entrepreneurial entry and performance in different contexts. This work includes data on startups from MIT, China, and Japan.

If you use a supported browser, you can view Youtube videos via the YouTube HTML5 Video Player, which may be more accessible for keyboard and assistive technology users.

[transcript download]