Todd Warren's Blog Site

This is Todd Warren's Blog. He shares thoughts on software entrepreneurship and software development. He teaches software entrepreneurship at Northwestern serves on the boards of Ashesi University and Venturewell. He built commercial software products used by millions of people at Microsoft, and has also been an early stage investor and Venture Capitalist.

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On Wednesday April 8, 2020, we began executing on the biggest mid course pivot we have ever made in teaching NUvention Web in 10 years–moving to remote instruction and coaching teams at mid-term through the “black swan” event of the COVID-19 crisis.

Since January, I have been co-teaching the 11th iteration of NUvention Web+Media at Northwestern University, where teams of students, undergrads and grads from across the University come together to learn how to build a web startup over 20 weeks (two quarters).

This post is a recap of the first quarter in 2020.

In early December, I had the opportunity to attend the Lean Innovation Educator’s Summit. We were lucky enough to have Dr. Alex Osterwalder present some ideas from his new book Testing Business Ideas co-written with David J. Bland. The book is fantastic, and along with Alex’s first two books, Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design provide a trio for Business Strategists and Entrepreneurs on par with what Don Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming did for the basics of computer science. This post will give my summary of the book, insights, and applicability. In short, if you are an entrepreneur, startup investor, involved in setting strategy in a company, or an entrepreneurship educator go buy this book!.

Starting in 2018, we have kicked off NUvention Web with a “coding bootcamp” focused on practicing team software development skills to get teams ready to go in NUvention Web. This year, we ran the camp in three evenings. The first two have focused on developing a sample project by running through a set of tutorials. The technical skills focus on getting familiar with GitHub, ReactJS, and hosting applications using Google Firebase. The final bootcamp, we brought in the full teams to work together to run a 3 hour iteration to prototype a slice of one of their ideas.

In NUvention web, we have student teams develop their own ideas as the seeds for their startup. We’ve tried to do this several different ways, and frankly I’ve come to not even like the word “idea” because I think it is too vague and too often confused by students and would be entrepreneurs as solutions. Therefore, in the first set of classes; we work with students to better observe customers and determine the jobs to be done. This started in our first class last week. The work of interviewing is so important we have students practice their skills on a practice problem—way finding on campus. Tran Ha has led students through this exercise the last 3 years, drawing on reading from Giff Constable’s Talking to Humans and Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research.

This Year at Northwestern I’m part of the team teaching the 10th iteration of NUvention Web+Media, a two-quarter class focused on developing a web, mobile, or media startup. Over 400 students and 50 teams have gone through this 20-week process. This post gives some background on the course, and what we are doing this year. We held our first class January 7th.


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