Chronicles of Summer Startup Accelerator Experience, Insights, and Projects

Archive for June, 2012

Day 8: Had to take off – Finale between me and accounting

Sadly, I had to miss Day 8 of class since it was the day of my managerial accounting final. To those who are either: A) Great at accounting or B) Not in the business school, you’ll think it’s a completely trivial and not worth taking the day off to prepare for the final, but to everyone else whose ever taking financial or managerial accounting, you know the pain. Even the 10% who do well in class bitch and moan because of how difficult the course is. Perhaps it’s going to the business school that has the #1 program in the country?

This 3-week online intensive course was no different. The past week I have been sleeping at 5 AM and waking up at 8:30 AM. I had to take the day off since I needed to take my Exam 3 in the morning and my Comprehensive Final in the afternoon. I’m glad to report it was totally worth it. I got a B! This is below par for me, but considering my goal was to pass and get credit at UT, I feel pretty damn good!

While waiting outside the exam room, my heart began pounding. I feared failing. I was taking this summer intensive course and was actually fearful of failing. If I failed, then I wasted all my money and time. The pain in my chest prompted me to my go to for calming myself: meditation.

As I sat in the chair, I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing until my chest stopped rising and lowing. I began breathing with my diaphragm. I slowed my heart rate. I began to visualize answering every question. I saw myself checking my grades and rejoicing. I felt so present. It was like a dream, but I wasn’t sleeping and in full control. It was the most serene I’ve felt in years.

I took the test, and it went very similar to how I visualized. There is true power in meditation and visualization. When you’re stressed and feeling strung out, STOP. Take the time to sit, breath, and be present.

Now that it’s all over I literally feel like a weight has been lifted. Time feels unlimited, and I have freedom again. I was literally jumping and running up and down the streets of New York. I had a spring in my step. I finally could CHOOSE to sleep or stay up. It’s truly liberating to accomplish and achieve something. It’s an addicting feeling and I never want it to end.


Craft Coffee Project

Now that I have time to burn, I’m spending it working on the Craft Coffee project we were given. Our presentation is on Monday and I’ll probably be working with the team this weekend to synthesize it into edible, effective chunks to deliver to the Craft Coffee team.

Today Sam, Devante, and I will be going to Starbucks and doing some customer development and research for Craft Coffee.

1. Do you brew your own coffee.
2. Do you have a problem with brewing your own coffee?
3 can you tell us a story about the last time you went to buy coffee
(people will naturally highlight their pain points)
4. What would be your ideal solution?
After that, we pitch craft coffee and see if they’re interested enough to
give us their email. (In this case, their email is a form of currensy
proving demand)

– Those are the basic questions, and we’ll be adding on as the conversations go on. We will add more questions more specific to gifting coffee.

Additionally, I’ll be asking the Craft Coffee team for a sample box so I get better understand the experience of the recipient. There has to be some disconnect between the communication and the experience if people aren’t raving about it and sharing it. For Seth Godin fans, I’m trying to turn Craft Coffee into a Purple Cow.

If possible, I want to screencast my girlfriend going through the site and gifting coffee and if possible, getting others as well. I think this will yield the most results. Any bottlenecks in the process should be found here.


Dreaming of Tomorrow

“We can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow. How much would you pay to launch our economy? How much would you pay for the universe?”

Beautiful. Inspiring. Visionary.

I’m hungry to make and discover. Are you?

Philosophy of Life

“Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.” – From Blake Master’s blog who has detailed note essays from Peter Theil’s CS 183 course.

Day 7: CSS3 Techniques + Synthesis

Today was great! We were given an exercise to confirm our fluency in building links with sprites.

After that 20-30 minute exercise we were finally given our big project, which was to build a very legitimate looking web 2.0 website that synthesized everything we’ve learned thus far.

Everything from working with our blank template (essentially starting from scratch), copy & pasting old code and making sure to debug for the new website, implementing advanced navigation design and shadow boxes.

This post is short, but I will admit I love this style of class. I’m feeling the power of the curriculum. We are learning, and more importantly applying it all on projects daily.

My favorite quote came from Dave Lifson, who came in to speak with us and allow us to pick his brain for knowledge – “there’s a fundamental difference between understanding theory and concepts and fluency in application. At General Assembly we hope to empower both”


Dave Lifson – he was a rockstar Product Manager at Amazon, the Team Lead for Product Management at Etsy, Co-Founder and CEO of Postling, and now head of Product Management for Education Programs + Outcomes at GA.

There was no formal lesson. We essentially had an opportunity to pick his brain. I think more guests should do this since, like a Lean Startup, allows the audience to guide the conversation in the direction it wants. The guest can add stories and give key lessons where necessary, but answering questions helps the audience get what they came for.

I got three key insights:

“there’s a fundamental difference between understanding theory and concepts and fluency in application. At General Assembly we hope to empower both”

“Work-in-process work has no inherent value, so get to “finished” product as fast as possible”. You want to get a shitty version of your project in front of some people versus keeping it in “built”. This is sort of like the drafts section of my blog. I’ve written blogs, but haven’t published them. Unpublished work , which isn’t shared, has no value.

Inherently starting a company and getting funding is all about risk. You do everything everyday to begin lowering your risk profile. VC’s run through a risk profile in their head: execution risk, team risk, market risk, etc. The lean startup method, lead by Eric Ries and started by Steve Blank, teaches entrepreneurs to close the gap as fast as possible. Every hypothesis is a risk and the sooner you get data and insight and are able to act on it the better. Every milestone lowers your risk.


Craft Coffee Project:

Now that accounting is over, I can finally dive head first into the project

Acting on Insights – My goal for the next day is to observe and collect as much data as I can. This means getting video narrations of people on the website and also building a flow-chart of the web and physical experience of gifting Craft Coffee to begin understanding what parts of the experience diminishes customer experience. Lastly, I feel the need to do a 5 Why analysis.

I think Sam and I are also putting together personas of their customers. I have a feeling I can just ask Mike and Angie about their customer demographic.

Search for tipping point & using the Pareto principle – My goal also includes finding the 10% we can change that will yield the biggest difference. This may be as simple as changing the messaging on the post card to optimizing the transaction to encourage gift givers to input gift recipient emails.

Day 6: Responsive Design + Business of Gaming

Today we focused on design responsive navigation bars and touched on HTML 5 and CSS 3.

Either someone read my blog and responded or the pace or things just went back to normal I loved class today.

I loved class today because it had great structure and I felt like we accomplished a lot in 4 hours. Within our time we learned about HTML 5, and checked out a few cool links like —>

After that we spent time on 3 separate projects today

We did a basic navigation bar with links only. From this very simple project, I was reminded of the importance of the “.clear” hack we learned to make sure containers don’t collapse on each other.

Our second navigation bar we made focused on turning a link into a button. One application might be that making a link’s environment active, then people can use it on a touch screen. Additionally, we got the background to hover behind a text link. This came with a lot of confusion until I learned the syntax to code it. It was a nested CSS, which gets long and looks like this: nav ul li a {}

Our last project Chris introduced us to SPRITES! He did this by showing us the Google pacman HTML5 page that’s just a series of images. He showed us that sprites were essentially an entire picture that the internet would download and call once versus make a call every time you needed the site to respond. We turned an images into responsive active links. I loved this. I’ve always been curious about how to make the web more reactive than just words. This really resonated with me. Basically, we had to re-position the picture within the container for each element’s attribute (i.e. a:hover a:visited a:active etc.)

*I apologize for shorter and shorter blog posts. Last week of a 3 week intensive managerial accounting class has gotten me sleeping sub 5 hrs every day.


The Business of Gaming – This was taught by Brad Hargreaves, a co-founder of General Assembly.

– It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, since I thought it would be about game design or gamification, but understanding the gaming economy was fascinating nonetheless. Great live class, with great production quality! Would definitely recommend it!


Craft Coffee Project: So far we’ve had a difficult time coordinating. Today we finally came to the conclusion that we’d have to synthesize a series of insights and surveys into one short and sweet deliverable along with a short presentation.


Lack of communication between everyone.

Some people leave right after class…having nothing to do after class the first week set precedent saying that it was over after that. We need guidance and someone to tell everyone that this is a program where we have to stay until 5-6pm and work on the project after class. Thus far I feel like a few people take this project very seriously and some people just don’t care. Maybe it’s just all poor communication.

Regardless, initial efforts are being made to putting together break into sub-divisions,  target websites for survey, systems of communication, standards of reporting, etc.

Tough Times with a new team. We are all still in the forming stages of team development…I don’t think we all know each other’s name by heart yet, but professional excel regardless of circumstances, so we will excel.

Awesome Part – Beginning to get a feel for everyone in the program. Making great friends!

The Future Is Ours

This is what drives me. This gets me up in the morning every day. This makes me give a lot of damns.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Day 5: Grid Based Design & Typography + Craft Coffee

As we move forward with more and more projects, class has become a little less dynamic. We spend a lot of time in class working now versus learning new things. As Chris mentioned earlier today, this is the point where you begin to see some people start to excel and other lag behind. I know I need to focus on organizing my code and making sure I focus on the separating the uses of HTML for structure and CSS for style. Additionally, this means making sure I note everything while I code, and open and close accordingly. I think this will come with time, but today Chris got confused looking at my code…not a good sign. On a brighter note, Chris has been super helpful and hands-on when it comes to debugging our code or explaining things individually.Starting with some templates he gave us which included separation of header, body, footer, etc. helps a ton. Not to mention understanding how to use tags.

Unfortunately, we’ve either gotten behind or strayed away from the proposed curriculum. This may be for our own sake, or we are just slower than we should be. I’m hoping it’s simply to make it more personal. I actually wish we could go a little faster because I do want to learn Grid-based design, typography, and navigation in relation to UI design for websites. That’s the subject that really fascinates me, but I appreciate slowing down the pace to begin mastering the basics of what we’ve learned. If I remember anything from years of martial arts, it’s that the basics (main 20%), will give you 80% of the desired results.

Today we worked with FileZilla which is a free FTP client. After the ordeal of buying a domain name and hosting, we finally uploaded some of our work. Check out my Hans Zimmer page. Super basic, but glad to have something to show for the first time in a long time.


Craft Coffee – Giving you fantastic, new coffee experiences

Today we met with Mike, Angie, and two interns. Mike gave us his history as well as how Craft Coffee came about. He openly answered more detailed questions I had about building out the backend and the relationship.

4 Key Messages:

  1. DO NOT start a company without an idea that has been festering and slowly but surely been in your head for a while. It needs to be something you really care about and make the extra effort to do with or without pay. For Mike, he was already keeping his eyes peeled on the entire coffee industry. When you talk to people and they think you’re insane…then you’re ready.
  2. Take notes wherever you go…especially about people’s complaints and bitching. You could start an entire series of companies based on a few people bitching and moaning.
  3. Act on insights – Craft Coffee pivoted after understanding users wanted:
  • Convenience – which came in the form of a subscription
  • Guidance – Craft Coffee curates what goes in the box
  • Tactile – People wanted to see, taste, touch, and smell the coffee beforehand, which is where coffee samples came about

        4.   TEST, TEST, TEST

  • His conversion rate tests were exactly on point when they finally did an official launch. This was great for planning and lowered risk for future investors.
Mike gave us a very important project to work on this week and I’m very excited to get working on it. I know that this is the sort of stuff that needs to get done in any startup. Not to mention I’ve been wanting to do some UX research!
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