Launching a startup is, out of necessity,  an exercise in impatience. Whether you start with no money or ten million dollars: if you’re working on it full time a startup has to be successful (or reach levels that allow it to raise money) before it runs out of money. Every founder should have a burning desire to get their product into the hands of reviewers/customers. I think a proper amount of impatience is a good thing. Today I’m going to write a “semester in review” from the perspective of an impatient startup founder.

In a Nutshell

Our recently completed first semester consisted of learning to code (centred around completing three projects), business class, networking, and extracurricular opportunities not specific to UIT or Sydney. I introduced the concept of impatience for a reason: the content need be relevant and at the right pace. Too fast is too fast and too slow is too slow: an impatient startup founder has little time for either. At the end of any non-optimal day or imperfectly relevant assignment the gnawing thought comes unbidden: “could I have made more progress towards my goals elsewhere or on my own?”. But then there are the days where I learn lessons and get support that would have taken a week of work alone! It’s such a tough task UIT has: not only must it teach how to start a startup, but it must do so to an impatient audience. I think I can answer my blog post 2 “Can you learn to launch a startup in school?” in the affirmative but have just identified the bigger challenge for the program and its founder-participants.

Coding

Our coding lessons this semester culminated in three projects: a portfolio, chat app, and SaaS app. I was super excited that I my SaaS app was a rough mvp (minimum viable product) of my startup idea! This was obviously highly relevant and generally learning about the engineering that goes into a site will serve me well while progressing down the founding path. But did I “learn to code” in three months? Certainly I can do some things but I didn’t acquire a full suite of training that would make me employable. This is no failing of UIT.. a bachelors in Computer Science is a 4 year degree for a reason. And I must remember we’re only a third of the way into the course! But overall, is learning to do some coding a perfectly efficient use of my time? As I’ve struggled to learn it this semester I’ve had my moments of doubt. If this is my one foray into the startup world it probably isn’t. If this is the beginning of a process and preparation for a life in startups it probably is a great foundation. The problem is: when you’re starting a startup you believe it will work (and act like it will) but you don’t know what turns the journey will take.

Business Class

It’s been great to have some direction and instruction learning about LEAN canvasses and business models and having a curated feed of business content has been very valuable. This was the part of the program I most eagerly anticipated for the first half of the semester. But again, pace became an issue as I developed the foundation to be able to continue meaningful learning and planning in a more self-directed way.

Networking

Three problems:

  1. We didn’t get a lot of mentor visits this semester. And that’s by design and will change. That’s going to be one of the greatest strengths of this program. Making one amazing connection can turn any aggregated program review score to an eleven out of ten in a hurry. Having this portion of the program come later means I’m more prepared now to take advantage of good connections. I impatiently, but understandingly, say: “Bring it on!”.
  2. I’m in a young cohort with only a few participants really interested in starting a startup so there isn’t a sense of a “shared struggle”. I think this speaks to the need for me to meet some peers (and maybe a cofounder?) in Sydney and elsewhere. I’m probably being impatient as I’ve only just created my mvp, and opportunities are visible on the horizon.
  3. Sydney is in an isolated geographic location relative to our families, and my wife and I have a baby and plans for more. “Should I go to UIT?” was a question I was able to answer affirmatively for the relevant programming. But if we’re not staying in Sydney, am I in the best place to meet the most relevant network that will provide long-term partners, opportunities and support?

Extracurricular Learning

UIT has done a great job introducing me to some relevant local resources that have been wonderfully informative and supportive. The resources available in Sydney are matched only by larger population centres in the Maritimes. I couldn’t be happier with these opportunities but I don’t think they’re unique.

Conclusions

These three months have been a rollercoaster of excitement and doubt but I think that’s what it’s like to start a startup (and travelling in some earlier than usual winter conditions hasn’t helped). Being apart from my wife and young son has added a layer of pressure to make sure the sacrifices are worth it.

1 thought on “Learning to Start a Startup vs Starting a Startup – The Struggle”

Eric Lortie Eric Lortie says:

Really great read. I’ve been looking forward to this post from you because I thought it would offer a fairly solid amount of insight on the program from your perspective, and as you pointed our yours is fairly different from the rest of the students. Certainly, your experience has been.

There’s one thing about learning code that may not have fully crossed your mind yet: You’ll understand how the world works to a substantially greater extent than many of the other people from your generation. I’m not really much younger than you and this has certainly been my experience. Not just “how to run a startup” but “how to exist in, and understand, this world.” That’s huge.

But now think about when our kids are older. Their generation will almost certainly be taught how to write code in school. You’ll almost certainly be able to provide way more assistance in their education than you could have previously and that education will be critical to their professional development. The importance of learning code for the following generation, perhaps more than any other, cannot be understated.

That importance also applies to us. Understanding code, being able to look at technology and make assumptions (or outright know) how it works is crucial to having a solid grasp on the world around us. You don’t need to develop that skillset to a level where you could be your own CTO, but every startup founder I’ve spoken to who doesn’t have a solid background in the fundamentals of programming has told me they regret it or are actively working towards addressing that deficit in their skillset.

You’re right that it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of the use of your time during any endeavour, but I suggest you weigh your time spent learning code against the remainder of your life, not the remainder of the time it will take you to launch your first startup. Speaking as someone who only learned to write code at 30, I genuinely believe that it has been the greatest piece of self improvement I’ve ever done. I think differently. I problem solve way better. I see things with a clarity that I didn’t realize I was lacking.


Leave a Reply