This course provided the foundation upon which all of my other courses and experiences are based. The course utilized a case study approach to learning in which groups would analyze real world companies and advise the companies on strategic courses of action. In addition to the case studies, students were matched with a mentor who was a Duke alum with experience as an entrepreneur launching their own venture. The course taught students how to analyze a company and provided us with the tools to launch our own ventures. After completing the course, students will have a solid understanding of the four major corners of a venture: the customer value proposition, the go-to-market plan, the technology and operations management, and the profit formula.
Artifact: Lit Motors/ Sinclair
Lit Motors C1
For this case study, two companies were compared side-by-side: Lit Motors and Sinclair. Both companies attempted to revolutionize the transportation industry. My partner and I read through the case studies thoroughly and analyzed both companies on our own before sharing thoughts. Together we sorted through all the facts and used what we learned in class to determine whether or not we would invest in either company. Additionally, we proposed future strategies for each of the companies. The deliverable for this project was to make a comprehensive and compact slide deck. The first slide was to be a title slide, the second was to be an analysis of Sinclair, the third was the be an analysis of Lit Motors, and the last was to say whether or not we would invest as well as recommendations for the companies.
Click here to view the slide deck.
Building Relationships with Professionals:
A large reason why this course has been one of my favorite at Duke is due to the teacher Kathie Amato, who prefers to go by her first name Kathie. Throughout the semester Kathie put forth a tremendous amount of effort to get to know each and every one of her students on a personal level. Our first assignment was to write a brief biography on ourselves, and a couple weeks into the semester she knew all of her students’ names. In addition to being a great and organized teacher, Kathie’s willingness to get to know her students made the course all the more engaging. In addition to creating relationships with her students, she encouraged us to get to know one another as well as various other professionals we encountered. One of my favorite assignments paired us with a mentor who was a Duke alum who had started his or her own venture. I was able to gain a lot of insights from my mentor’s experiences. Kathie helped me realized that I have access to many experienced people who can serve as mentors if I make the effort to get to know them. In the real world, you are never assigned a mentor, and mentors are only as useful as you make them. While most people don’t exert the effort that Kathie did, most people are receptive when you ask for advice and are happy to give you time out of their day to help you, but only if you ask.
Going Beyond the Product:
Throughout the course, I learned how to analyze a company based on quantitative metrics using Excel spreadsheets. I learned how to calculate the present value of a company based on the Gordon Growth model and determine what targets a company would need to a hit to achieve profitability. I gained an understanding of how to read financial statements, and how to implement value based pricing. I began to analyze markets and gained an understanding of how markets shape the direction of a company. In what I believe to be the most useful project of the semester, we were given a slide deck and tasked to give a five-minute pitch. The product we were selling was not our invention and the slides used were not of our own creation. This made us focus entirely on our delivery and presentation skills. I learned how to speak clearly and persuasively, and in the process, I became a much better public speaker in a very short time.
I originally thought that all of the things stated in the paragraph above were of secondary importance. I believed that the effectiveness of the product itself would either carry or sink a company. This course taught me that creating a good product is only the first step towards creating a successful venture. I was drawn to innovation and entrepreneurship based on my love for product design, but I had a misinformed view about how far an idea will get you. Without a solid understanding of market conditions, and financial prospects, a company will never be able to get off the ground. It is useless to have a fantastic product if you don’t have an intelligent company to sell it. Products don’t speak for themselves and they can only be successful in conjunction with a well-run company.
The Lean Startup Mentality
Much of this course focused on the necessary tools to begin launching our own venture using the lean start up methodology. This process focuses on rapid iteration and seeks to apply the scientific method to business by implementing hypothesis driven tests to learn about market needs. I have latched on to this methodology and it has helped me in various facets of my life. I have always been a perfectionist, and I don’t like putting forward anything that is not my best work. The lean startup mentality has shifted my perspective and has shown me that fastest route to “perfection” is through a series of imperfect integrations, which inform the creator of how things can be improved. When tasked with a problem, I no longer sit in a room waiting until I come up with the ideal solution. I rapidly brainstorm ideas, writing down solutions that sometimes appear ludicrous at first. I have found that these unusual ideas are what allow me to think of a problem in a new light and come up with more creative solutions. The method also changed the way I come up with ideas. I now recognize that you don’t know how influential a product will be until it has been validated. Ideas that look strong on paper could be useless to consumers, and ideas that seem foolish on paper could be the next big thing.