Author: Martin Trust Center

Building an Entrepreneurial Venture (15.378) aka GSD with Carly Chase

Course description:

Intensive, project-based subject intended for startup teams already working on building a new, high-impact venture. Applies advanced entrepreneurial techniques to build and iterate a venture in a time-compressed manner.

Includes weekly coaching sessions with instructors and peers, as well as highly interactive and customized sessions that provide practical, in-depth coverage on key topics in entrepreneurship. Topics include venture creation, primary market research, product development, market adoption, team and culture, and scaling processes with constrained resources.

Offered in Spring 2021 on Tuesdays from 8:00 – 11:00 am (3-1-8)

Q: So, the unofficial name for this class is GSD for “Get Shit Done.” Tell me about that.

Carly Chase: I was not here when the class was created, but the lore is that in the early days of Bill [Aulet]’s time at the Trust Center, there were students who felt they didn’t have time to build their startup and keep up with all their classwork. So, Bill said, “Okay, let’s build a class where we just get shit done, and move forward for building your startup.” Over the years it has become the advanced entrepreneurship class.

As an advanced class, what are the pre-requisites?

It definitely follows New Enterprises (15.390), and so we get a lot of teams coming in from that class. And we prefer teams who have already gone through that experience and have a base of knowledge, because we’re not really teaching you entrepreneurship fundamentals, per se. On a rudimentary scale, what we’re doing is helping you accelerate and continue the pace during the semester.

You can apply to the class without taking 15.390, but it’s strongly recommended and preferred. The other prerequisites are a really good familiarity with the 24 steps of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, having a team that’s been working together and is committed to continuing the journey through the semester, and a desire to accelerate progress of the startup.

The description also mentions a graduate version of this class. Are those taught separately or are both undergraduate and graduate students in the same class?

Sloan graduate students, other schools’ graduate students, and undergrads all take this course together. I’d say typically about three-quarters of the students are Sloan students.

How is the class taught?

A really special thing about this class is the high instructor-to-student ratio. So, it’s typically four instructors. That allows us to have a good diversity of skillsets and experiences in the room. It is also a huge benefit of the class that we set aside time for one-on-one mentorship. You know, one startup, one instructor.

What does this class deliver to startup teams?

The class acts as a point of accountability. It also creates physical touch points for co-founders to make sure that they’re in the same room once a week. It’s a team-based class; we don’t take any solo entrepreneurs and we require the whole team to come to class.

The other two pillars of GSD are community and mentorship. You can get a lot of in-the-moment advice from the community in terms of the group of peers at MIT who are doing this hard thing too. We emphasize community as such a core component of this class because it’s a necessity in entrepreneurship. And the mentorship comes from your peer community,

Are the startup teams created in the class? Or do you apply for the class with a team in place?

The students come in as a team, with an idea, and they’ve done some work towards building the company already.

The way we kick off the semester is everybody comes into the first class and pitches us. So, they do a five-minute pitch, and then the instructors get together. And we’re looking for a couple things. Number one, we’re looking for people who want to be community members of this class. I want them to be coachable. I want them to want this. This intensive one-on-one mentorship that the students in the class receive is huge privilege in my book.

How many students can be on a team?

We have a lot of two-person teams, because often they’re so early stage that they will find other teammates throughout the semester. I’d say a three-person team, though, is probably average.

What should the teams typically have completed before entering this class?

The average team has gone through the 24 steps of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, because they’ve taken 15.390 (New Enterprises). So, they’ve gone through the steps, they have an idea. They’ve done a little bit of initial validation of a problem they’re trying to solve, and probably of the solution that they’ve created.

It depends what kind of team they are. If we get more technically-minded teams, they might come in with a prototype. But by the end of the semester they might realize that it’s totally worthless and scrap it anyway. Some teams might come in with a couple pilots or paying customers they’ve already secured.

How intense is this class compared to other entrepreneurship classes? Will a student be “living” with their team?

It is rigorous, but I would say the rigor comes from the students themselves and how committed they are to their ventures. The class work isn’t going to take you an exponential amount of time, but, hopefully, we’re creating the environment where you’re motivated and you want to work really hard. So, I’d say it’s a little unique as a class in the world of academia, because it’s not intensive because of us, it’s intensive because we’ve motivated you to want this for yourself.

Which topics within the GSD class do you enjoy teaching the most?

I love that we’re able to see these students become entrepreneurs in real time. We see a lot of pain in this class, like, a lot.

I think that the most demonstrable pain was in the spring 2020 semester when we had students realize that their businesses just weren’t going to survive in the new world, in COVID. We had some that just completely pivoted, like E-Fish, which is a company that went through our MIT delta v accelerator last summer.

Can you discuss this startup more?

Jeffrey Tedmori, the founder of E-Fish, had just started a marketplace to connect local seafood harvesters to high-end restaurants. He really cares about the oceans and the way that fishing happens, and a lot of these are small family businesses. He had relationships with some of the top restaurants in New York like Jean George. And so, he was creating this marketplace, and then COVID happened like a month into it. And he pivoted immediately to connect the harvesters to directly to consumers. But this was quite a shock in terms of putting everything you have into one direction and then having to change that direction.

(Jeff wrote a great Medium post on his pivot.)

Which topics within the GSD class do you think your students get the most benefit from?

We focus a bit on “Why do you want to be an entrepreneur?” We do this at the beginning and the end of the semester, and I think students get a lot out of this. It’s really useful because we talk a lot about the students’ motivations, and work to understand them so we can help them as individuals and entrepreneurs.

Do you have guest lecturers? If so, can you give an example or two? Ever a past student who has gone on to become a successful entrepreneur?

We don’t have guest lecturers in this course. We’ve found that that the consistency of having the same instructors week after week really drives that accountability and that trust for the students to get the advice that they need.

Do the teams in this class typically go on to participate in delta v?

This class is a good precursor to delta v. A lot of the teams, especially in the spring semester, end up in the Trust Center’s accelerator, but it’s not automatic by any means.

For instance, Jason Abrams, the founder of Tire Tutor, took this class and then was a part of the delta v 2019 cohort. He’s trying to create an online marketplace for consumers to buy tires more easily and at the best prices.

It also depends on the time of year. If it’s fall semester, and they haven’t taken part in MIT fuse, hopefully we feed them into this IAP program in January. Or they could take part in I-Corps in the spring, which is a great technical program.

Any last helpful info or tips for students considering this class?

Yes, I’d really like to emphasize that it’s important to get the fundamentals first with the New Enterprises course. This is not only because that’s how we designed the classes to complement each other, but also because you’re going to be able to take advantage of GSD a lot more if you’ve done a lot of that core work first.