November 28, 2017

Capstone Course

I&E 499: Innovation & Entrepreneurship Capstone

 

Professor: Aaron Dinin

Semester: Fall 2017

Artifact: Final Presentation_StickerU

Overview:

The I&E Capstone course provided an opportunity for all students to connect their experiences and past courses to a team-based, hands-on project of brainstorming and implementing a personal idea. The entire semester was treated as a 3 year simulation in the creation and development of a company, with each month of classwork paralleling a “year” in company growth. Each year focused on a different phase of the entrepreneurship journey: Year 1 represented “Ideation and Customer Discovery”, Year 2 represented “Proving Product/Market Fit”, and Year 3 represented “Scaling and Sustaining”.

For my capstone project, I worked with a team of three other students to create an experience-oriented venture called StickerU. StickerU sells a line of unique, college-specific stickers that can be featured on laptops, phone cases, water bottles, walls, or any other stickable surface. At its core, StickerU is a company that helps students document and highlight memorable moments in a unique, tangible, and often hilarious way.

Evolution of StickerU:

At first glance, the concept of stickers sounds simple. This idea isn’t something that will change the world and it certainly won’t be solving an incredibly painful problem, so why pursue it? To that question, I have two key answers: (1) I believe strongly in creating a campus community and connecting people through laughter and common experiences (a vision my team members shared), and (2) my group wanted to pursue a venture that was tangible and actually implementable in our 3-month period.

What began as small talk eventually developed into a full-fledged idea of selling “tangible memories” to college students. It started with the four of us seniors in our group coming together, reflecting about our time at Duke and wishing there was a better way to document memories. While social media sites like Facebook or Instagram provide media for people to document moments through pictures, most of the time those are lost in the throng of other posts, so it’s often hard to highlight special moments. Enter StickerU.

My team created StickerU with the specific goal of bringing back those special moments to college students. We wanted to capture those unique memories – tenting in K-ville, screaming in Cameron Stadium, or perhaps eating late night Pitchforks – central to students’ personal college journeys.

We were incredibly excited about the idea, so over the course of the semester, we conducted market research to get a gauge on the demand, launched a social media and physical marketing campaign, and eventually released 4 different sticker offerings to Duke students (#K-Ville Nation, Duke squirrels, “Home” featuring the Duke Chapel, and Duke Divining School famous grilled cheese sandwiches). By the end of the semester, we generated a sizable profit with margins of >150%.

Key Takeaways:

Going forward

This course gave me a taste of what launching a company is like, and I learned a lot about the process of innovation by going through each phase of the entrepreneurship journey. Not only were the readings relevant and helpful (Competing Against Luck, Predictable Revenue), I found that the constant pitching on the progress of our venture and insightful class discussions to be helpful to a future career in business. As an Economics major with a concentration in finance, I found the financial modeling of our venture exercise to also tie my background in finance with my aspirations/interest in entrepreneurship.

The power of working with others

While I was elated that my team generated profit after three months, the biggest reward was working with  three other motivated students to make something happen. Through this experience, I was able to interact with people from different majors and backgrounds who each brought something to the table. By combining our talents in design, marketing, creation, and writing, we were able to create a successful venture. Additionally, I learned the importance of being supportive of each others’ ideas; while some of our stickers did not sell as well initially, we all brainstormed together to think of strategies of how to improve our marketing and selling techniques.

Another important lesson I learned was how crucial good mentorship was to launching a venture. Our I&E Capstone professor Aaron Dinin provided great feedback, and our mentors (both at Duke and remote) were instrumental in helping us refine our idea. From speaking to industry experts in consumer experience and marketing management, we were able to focus on selling “college specific” stickers rather than generic “cute” stickers.

“Just do it”

Perhaps most importantly, I learned that implementing an idea is sometimes about grinding it out and “just doing it” (excuse the Nike slogan). Because we were given such a short time span of 3 months, rather than stalling in our implementation, my group decided to go forward and really launch our sticker products in the Duke community. So many times, young/ early-stage startups are focused on creating the “perfect” product or service before launching into the market, when in reality the journey of entrepreneurship is one of constant refining, pivoting, and adapting.