September 11, 2013

HAMED: Why Your Senior Year Should Look Like a Lean Startup

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The beginning of senior year marks a difficult time for many Cornellians.  As we begin to flock back to Ithaca and into our first classes, the question “What are you doing next year” can almost be felt before it’s asked.  We cautiously ask each other how our summers went and the phrase “Did you get an offer?” is almost omnipresent among any dialogue.

For a large portion of the senior class, the beginning of the year serves as an opportunity to brag about a job already acquired upon graduation. Many will be heading to banks, consulting shops, marketing firms, non-profit organizations or hotel groups.

But for most, the path is not quite clear.  Some liked their summer jobs, but did not get offers. Others are still shopping around, and some still do not know what they want to do after school.

This blog is to those people, who don’t know what they want to do, from a startup-guy’s perspective — as I think a lot of us would find a lot of benefit in approaching our lives as if they were one big startup.

In the startup world we almost unanimously adopt something called the lean startup movement. The lean startup movement preaches lots of testing. Before the lean startup method existed many tech companies would build a very special product, wait a year or so to release it until it was perfect, and pray that people liked it.

This was expensive and very risky, as a lot of investment was spent on one assumption. And if users didn’t end up liking the product, all the money was gone and the company would fail.

As the lean startup came to fruition, people began releasing products early and testing things constantly.  People began releasing MVP’s (the minimum viable product that would allow a user to achieve a goal. These products typically are not beautiful, well designed or complete, but get the job done and cost less to release).

The reason people began releasing minimum viable products was in order to get the product in a user’s hand and get feedback as quickly as possible.  These new startups that used “lean startup methodology” used the feedback to constantly mold the product, try new things, or decide to do something completely different.

I explain this because I encourage those of you who do not know what they want yet to apply the lean startup concept to your life.  Try everything, meet lots of people and constantly get feedback.  You have one year to be free of stress, to have fun, to be a kid, to be okay with the unknown.  And once we graduate we’ll still be young. But the one mistake you can possibly make now is to wait until something you love finds you. The second worst thing you can do is try very hard to look for something perfect, and wait, and wait, and wait, and look, and look, and wait until it’s May and somehow you still haven’t found anything yet.

Just start doing. Start reading. Pick up a hobby, try making money off of that hobby or find someone who has made that hobby his or her job. Learn about something new and when meeting people ask intelligent questions.

Use both internal feedback (how much enjoyment you’ve received from trying something) and external feedback (how good people think you are at it, and whether or not people are willing to pay you for it) to then decide if it’s a good idea to continue the pursuit.

It’s an exciting time, not a nerve wracking time, so with my first post of the year I’d like to encourage our senior class to spend the year acting like a startup, experiment with a ton of stuff, and see what sticks.