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Keystone

What is I&E 352?

 

Kathie Amato is known to prep her students for success, and she doesn’t hold back in I&E 352. In each class, we dove into the successes and failures of ventures before us and were expected to end class with key takeaways from each company’s journey. I learned to put my money where my mouth is and project the financials of a company, starting from its initial investment all the way to its EV. This course was abundant with knowledge, and I’m glad to have taken it.

 

Final Course Reflection

When first enrolling in this course, I took the “introductory” title of this class quite literally. My expectations didn’t exceed learning anything beyond surface-level information that would be more useful in higher-level I&E courses that aligned more with my areas of interest. From the first class of the semester, I quickly realized that Kathie intended for this course to be anything but a mere skimming of some I&E topics; instead, it was meant to equip students with some of the most important concepts to learn as an entrepreneur — and challenge you along the way. Since that day, I’ve been excited by the range of information Kathie has taught in class — her belief in our class helped us believe that we were prepared to tackle and analyze any entrepreneurial circumstance as our arsenal of tools built with each recurring class. Overall, I’m happy to say I’m exiting this semester feeling more prepared to approach entrepreneurial challenges head-on.

The most impactful moment in class was actually one of my first — the “Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to be Done”” reading encapsulated so much of what I thought was critical when building a venture in a mere 9 pages. It’s painfully obvious when founders are invested in a product or service because of the money or laud associated with it, rather than solving an obstacle a user may be experiencing. Only the most empathetic founders find a footing and loyal base of consumers that aid in sustaining and growing an organization. As we learned more about the value of customer feedback, I was especially excited to learn all the methodologies used to gather information from customers as a company is rapidly iterating and adjusting. This feedback-oriented approach resonated deeply with me as an engineer who loves prototyping and relies on responses from other engineers and users to adjust a product. With every new company we studied, there was a new way to garner customer feedback: AirBnb went door to door; Rent the Runway had pop-up shops and customer calls; E-commerce and SaaS ventures relied heavily on consumer data. Although the companies have a different end goal, they all managed to gather consumer opinions and insights needed to develop a high-quality product. I personally appreciated the close contact Rent the Runway maintained with their consumer base to hear reactions to their product; because they were tapping into a very personal customer experience, they understood that the type of feedback had to match that level of intimacy. Though they could have gotten more commentary by diversifying their

pop-up locations, they knew that the feedback would be very telling to them regarding the potential of the company because the environment set up for the potential consumers was high quality. As a future venturer, I plan on empathizing deeply with a user’s barriers and desires and always finding a way to generate an honest response from consumers, no matter how daunting that may be.

In the same way we’ve learned about the monetary and business mistakes that previous startups have misstepped on, I do wish our class covered more of the ethical mistakes founders have made in the name of “progress”. More often than not, the compromises leaders make begin with subtle adjustments to a company vision, employee treatment and pay, or customer prioritization that lead to an organization’s downfall. Instead of envisioning myself as immune to making such decisions, I plan on delving more into those storylines and understanding how to prevent such circumstances from occurring. Overall, the best leaders build a motivated and talented team, plan ahead, know how to prioritize and let go, are adaptable, and always keep the company vision and customer at the forefront — each of these values keep them with a level head and a system of accountability that will follow them with any roadblock. Rent the Runway is an excellent example of two founders that knew each other well and frequently checked in on one another to see how to adjust themselves to best fit with the company vision; their care for each other and their company trickled down to form a hardworking, zealous work culture that didn’t compromise ethically to

 

create a high-quality product. Conversely, I would contend that Design that Matters’ first attempt at an incubator designed for developing countries was focusing too much on the laud associated with their design instead of its utility — otherwise, a baby would have been placed in the incubator before its photoshoot with Time. While the crossed ethical line is more subtle, prioritizing praise or recognition over a product’s real purpose could be the first sign of a company slipping; I’m glad Design that Matters found a way to rework their design and have a much better user response with the Firefly model.

As I think about what my main takeaways are from this class, I reminisce less about the calculations I have performed and more about what mindset I want to resonate most as a teammate and leader. I know I will look to my case study team — composed of Joey, Nomunsor, and me — for inspiration. Overall, I feel like we did a good job of learning each other’s strengths, hearing each other’s ideas, and maintaining active participation. By the end of the semester, we had developed a comfortable rhythm where we understood each other and trusted the quality of the work we were going to produce. Because we took time to get to know each other, we were better able to understand how we approach assignments and problem solving, which is a practice I will carry into future collaborations.

Overall, I’m grateful for the ability to sit in entrepreneurship and truly begin to think like one.

Kathie always stated in class that we were already founders in the making, and I firmly believe that helped me believe in sharpening my skills for future use — and I believe that use will come sooner than I expect.