By: Abhisek Agrawalla (IE Business School IMBA Student)
Start-up Lab. One of the main reasons I chose IE over Babson. The thing I was looking forward to the most at IE. My journey in the start-up lab started even before coming to IE. I remember stalking all the people and ideas related to entrepreneurship at IE. Starting from Allison to Hangry to Manara. I did my homework by talking to students who did things I dreamt of doing at IE. The insight I got from these conversations is: The TEAM is the most important part if you want to ace the start-up lab. With this thing in mind, I started my journey at IE.
After 4 months, which passed in the blink of an eye, the start-up lab activities began; ideation sessions by Alberto was wonderful, followed by team formation session by Bal. I was hell-bent on working on my idea in the education industry and did not care a lot about the team. I forgot rule 101 of the start-up lab. I tried hard to form a team that could work on my idea. Unfortunately, I was not able to because I was adamant on not working on another person’s idea.
When someone becomes overconfident, destiny plays its own game. I stumbled upon a team and eventually, I joined it out of compulsion as I was unable to form my team.
There was no looking back once I started this journey. We started with an idea related to the pet food industry. After talking to a few mentors, we decided to PIVOT. Guys, this will be the most used word in your start-up lab journey. Just like “it depends” were the most used words during the core period. We pivoted to an idea very similar to a dating app and then we pivoted again to a professional networking app, LinkUp, for business schools.
I would like to share with you the three most important learning that I will take away from my journey at the start-up lab.
All successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common: All of them are efficient at networking. IE got the best set of professors I could think of to teach us in the start-up lab. We were taught by Roy Richards, ex-CEO of Southwire (more than 5.5 Billion USD in revenues); Keith Ippel, advisor to HootSuite (a unicorn); Ignacio Larru, CFO KFund (a 50 million venture capital fund); among others. All the professors were either entrepreneurs or investors. Most of them were both.
I made it a point to interact personally with all the professors who taught us. Sharing my ideas with them, I took their opinion. All the professors were more than happy to connect us to their networks, who they thought could help us take our ideas to the next level. For instance, Rafael, a serial entrepreneur who taught us Lean Start-up, connected me to the President of Ryder Club, which has alumni from Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Yale, INSEAD, LBS, among other great schools, who helped me validate my idea in the start-up lab. In addition to professors, program coordinators also played a very important role in helping us validate our assumptions. Jana played a very important role for us by connecting us to the right people. In short, the quality of my network improved during these 5 weeks.
If you are a part of the start-up lab, PLEASE don’t miss out on the opportunity to network with these remarkable entrepreneurs.
The most important thing in a start-up is to have everyone on the same page. If the start-up is a hobby for one person and a do or die situation for the other, then it is highly likely that this team will fail.
The more diverse the team, the more intense the discussions. I had a very diverse team and a lot of intense discussions. Discussions are important for teams to explore other options. But, too much of discussions slow down the execution process, and in a fast-paced start-up lab, we cannot afford to waste a lot of time. To get over this, Tuto, my mentor, taught me Jeff Bezos modus operandi, “Disagree and commit.” This means to respectfully challenge decisions when you disagree, but you commit wholly once a decision is determined.
Developing trust among the team members and creating a safe environment for social cohesion is an important part of team building. During the lab, you may realize that this is not the team that you wanted. Don’t get disheartened, take this as an opportunity to learn how to handle people you don’t get along with.
I learned a lot about team dynamics during these 5 weeks. Confront your team members, if required. Don’t hesitate. It may be tough, but it’s essential. I learned this the hard way.
Age old question: Team or idea? If you are passionate about your idea and want to continue with it after graduation, then my suggestion is to go for the idea. This is the only situation when I would prefer the idea over the team.
Focus on the journey
Start-up lab was by far the best experience I had at IE. It was the most hectic and the most enriching learning experience.
IE did a spectacular job to put us in the real-life situation of an entrepreneur. Situations like pitching your idea every week to different investors (This creates a lot of difference. You will understand when you join.), raising virtual money, pivoting, customer validation, fast-paced and unstructured environment define an entrepreneur’s life. Every investor/judge has a different view. Some may like your idea, and some may not. For example, one team raised 150k virtual money in one round and then 25k in the next one. In these cases, try to think logically and see if you are passionate about the changes the judges have asked you to make. If not, then go ahead with your original idea.
During these 5 weeks, you will be given all the tools that you need to shape your idea. Starting from lean canvas to market.ionicframework.com. The idea you start with and the idea you end with after 5 weeks of rigorous work would not be the same. It was true in my case and in all the other 50 start-ups. I was not among the top 12 teams, but I am sure my learnings were no less than my friends who made it to the top 12.
Most of my friends went for the start-up lab, just to see if entrepreneurship is their cup of tea. After the lab period, some were 200% sure that it is not for them. And some wanted more time to see if they can handle the stress and pressure that comes with entrepreneurship. Enjoy this once in a lifetime experience where there is no fear of failure.