What is the value of a year?

A lot can happen in a year. You could start your career, or pursue a postgraduate degree before starting your career. Our MSc Software Entrepreneurship offers you the opportunity to develop a number of personal skills, while pursuing the real possibility of developing a startup business. This could be a year to change your career, or even your life in exchange for a year of your time. These are possible options. You take the programme, and have the option to pursue the business ideas you work on during the year. However, you are not committed to them for life, unless you choose to do so. You can walk away from them knowing that you are a different person now with more skills and a different mindset from the person who started the programme. You could successfully walk into any number of jobs after taking this programme. You could even go back to an enhanced role with your old firm. Let’s see what some of the options look like for this programme.

You could use this year for personal goals such as, according to Daniel Pink, video summary of Drive, developing the three factors that influence personal satisfaction through internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We’d argue that our degree enables you to pursue goals that let you provide you with a platform for this motivation. We provide you with the skills to create your own business by developing several potential businesses. We also guide you and mentor your development of these skills so that at the end you walk away with understanding of what autonomy could be for you, enough practical experience to master the skills you need for the roles you’ve created, and by having a business you’ll also have a purpose.

ideating business ideas

You could be in a startup for the money. The potential is there to make millions at some point. Realistically, this is unlikely to happen within a year though. It usually takes longer, but maybe you and your team will have an idea that takes off miraculously fast. It could happen, and it would all belong to you and your team. The university has no claim on the IP of your idea. The university would only come on board the idea during a funding round as any other investor would. Most people, however, are motivated by the idea and seeing the idea grow and develop. Most people in startups are not in it for the money. Most do it for the change to be in charge of their own future as part of a team of founders.

You could do it for personal development and growing your skills. If you’re straight from university as an undergraduate, or if you’ve done another masters already, then this could be a year of developing your skills in a real way working on developing startup ideas to see which one(s) gain traction and seeing where they take you during the year. This is an ideal time to do this. You have little or no income, so you have nothing to give up while you pursue the MSc and your business ideas. Anything you can develop by way of a business and income during the year is a bonus.

If you’ve been working for some time and are thinking of a change, then you’ll be giving up your salary for the year. This is a bigger commitment, but is worth considering due to the potential return for your time on the programme. You bring your experience and understanding of the working world to the work you’ll do in your teams. This will help you provide a good understanding of the problems and issues businesses face, as well as a greater awareness of life after university. This provides more sensitivity to potential commercial ideas, which could be turned into businesses. You give up more to be a part of the programme, but you also have more to take away too when it is over. The more you put in, then the more you potentially take away.

If you’ve been working and decide to go back to your old firm after the degree, maybe you can convince your employer to offer you a sabbatical (maybe even with pay), then you come back to the firm with many new skills to be an ‘intrepreneur’ and help develop new ideas within the firm. You’ll be the perfect person to help oversee the development of new ideas and mini-businesses within the larger firm. You can deploy the same skills we work on to develop new stand-alone business ideas to develop business ideas within your firm. This could be a good way to help develop your career, and therefore pay you back your time away from the office rather well. If you need help brainstorming reasons why your employer, should help you with this, then get in touch. We’re happy to help.

To summarize, the return on your investment for the year on the programme looks something like this:

Background Downside Upside
Student (either UG or PG) a year away from starting your traditional career you start your ‘career’ immediately and possibly walk away with a business and any associated income
Employed and changing career lose your salary for a year and interrupt your career everything from ‘student’, plus you are more aware of your future career potential
Employed and staying with firm possibly lose your salary everything from above, plus you have a means and time to plan how to develop your future career with the firm

In each case the upside outweighs the downside as this programme will help you plan what you do after the degree. We want to leave you with transferable skills so that you are aware of your potential and with the knowledge of how to develop this further. We want you to succeed and are here to help you.  Join the conversation and tell us how we can help you achieve your dreams.


Another Weekend of Fun with Global Service Jam

The weekend of 7-9 March saw us running the Aberdeen leg of the Global Service Jam with about 14 people. We had three teams ideating three main ideas over the weekend to good effect, and everyone had a good time and learned new prototyping and ideation skills. This time we had one team pushing out a possible deck of cards that can be used by teachers with pupils in schools. While we also hoped to run the the local edition of  National Hack the Government event too, we had too few people turn up for that, and those two people who did, decided to stay working on their GSJ project.

All of our teams did many iterations prototyping their ideas on paper, with models, and with Lego bricks as you can see in the evolution of their ideas taken down via video commentary over the weekend. If you start on the last page and work forward, then you’ll see the ideas evolve. Sauron’s Box became One Box and Mad Box became EduPod. By constantly pushing the ideas further and refining them again and again over the weekend the ideas became better.

Teams used a number of tools and processes to improve their ideas. Many used journey maps, service blueprints and the Happy Startup Canvas as well as the Strikingly Idea Chain cards and Constraints cards too and prototyping ideas with Lego and other tools to hand. Most of these tools are familiar to us, and others were new ones to try and explore their potential.

Several things stand out for this year. First, we couldn’t do this without our great sponsors. The University of Aberdeen, and the Robert Gordon University for hosting our event. Fifth Ring and Neo for providing funding to feed our participants. And lastly, Stattys for providing us with their wonderful sliding products to use. Thanks to all of you, who help make this happen.

Secondly, the teams formed automagically on the Friday as people gravitated towards the ideas that appealed to them and didn’t need any encouragement to coalesce. Third, you can form a team based on a random group of people, who don’t know each other. This works perfectly fine, and as one regular said “[he’d] formed businesses with family and friends, and they didn’t work so great, so why not strangers?”. Fourth, the new Idea Chain cards were useful, and fun for ideation and we’ll need to build a better deck or two of those. Lastly, Skype chats work great as long as people focus on the key issues as time can be a factor, but it works real well to get feedback when you can’t otherwise reach your target audience.

All of these are lessons to bring back to the classroom and show that the random mix of people you find at these events  shows that a change of pace and people is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. We’ll definitely be organising this again next year.

You can also find another write up of the event by the co-organiser Steve Milne, and collection of links at http://stevenmilne.com/blog/global-service-jam-14.

University graduate startups increasing

According to a recent press release from the  Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), there were just over 3500 graduate startups in 2012-13, which is the year for the latest results. These employed over 15,500 staff, or about 4-5 members per startup. These are for across the UK. and show that startups can help with employment, but not always in large numbers. If we look at Scotland on its own, then we see that were only 152 graduate startups in the same period employing 730 people, so again employing about 4-5 people per startup. Again, much the same as for the UK as a whole.

Ideally, startups should employ more people, and it can be done. Look at how many people firms like Skyscanner and Freeagent are employing these days. It just shows that the growth comes later, and that a firm needs to persevere in order to become successful. As Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter says in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “…perseverance and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” The other interesting part of his interview was the confession that they built something, and then looked for a business model. They didn’t start with a business plan. They first determined that they had a problem worth solving.

The startup is just the beginning. The real hard work follows. For all of this there is help at hand, but you need to take the first step.

Your Spin Out becomes Startups Explained

We began this blog in order to help people get their business started. At the time we were eager to start doing something. We picked the name yourspinout.com and ran with it. We could see the logic of the name for what we wanted to do; helping people spin out their ideas into something that is tangible and real. Stop talking and start doing. We also realised that whatever we do is an ongoing process and that we’d need to stop, think and realign our approach as we learned more about what we’re doing and where we wanted to be working. It’s an ongoing adventure as a startup of our own and we need to eat our own dog food as the saying goes: live what we preach, use our example to teach others. The upshot is that we made a small mistake. The name isn’t quite right for what we want to do and the brand we want to promote.

It all goes back to Deming and the PDCA cycle: plan, do, check, act and repeat… Continuous improvement would be another way to look at it. As long as we make regular checks on what we’re doing, then that’s fine. As long as we do small increments, then we’ll never make big mistakes and it will all be ok.

Presenting ideas at Play4Agile

A mistake is ok. Woohoo! It’s a learning opportunity. We realised belatedly that in order to fit in with other parts of our organisation so that we can use this as an umbrella concept for all of us, that we’d have to do too much ‘translating’ between what people expect from the phrase ‘your spin out’ and how we use the phrase. This would not be good, and would lead to confusion with mixed messages. So goodbye ‘yourspinout.com’ and hello ‘startupsexplained.com’ (and startupexplained.com too).

The new name ’startupsexplained.com’ will work well as a place for people to learn about startups. We’ll be providing information about startups as well as more specifically those startups based around software. As you can see from our pinterest pages our main emphasis is on personal development for founders and others in startups, service design tools and processes, agile software development and general start up tools useful to any new business.

So come follow us on the journey as we explain startups. Even better, feel free to join the conversation we’re offering.

GSJ and NHTG event in March

Two events we like to support are both happening on the weekend of 7-9 March. Both of these events centre on helping people envision apps and services, which they’d like to see. Both events are there to inspire participants by what they learn and see happening at the events. These are events to explore and rapidly prototype ideas to see what’s possible and to put ideas out there to get feedback from people. These are places to come and hang out and try things with people. Yes, you might get an idea for a startup, and you might be able to spin out an idea trailed at the events into a real business, but that is not the goal of the weekend. The goal is to have creative fun with like-minded folks and explore the possibilities. It’s training for innovation.

GSJ Aberdeen 2013

This is the second time we’re running the Global Service Jam, and the third time it’s been held in Aberdeen. The goal of this event is to have people come together to share their skills and rapidly prototype new services. The event theme is revealed on Friday evening, and after brainstorming service ideas we’ll form teams around this theme to develop services over the Saturday and Sunday. These ideas should be rapidly prototyped and taken to the streets to show to people and then revised based on what you learn. This is all about learning front of house skills as it were. If you’re normally someone who works in the back office and never meets customers, then this is your chance to get out there and see what the others do. This is your chance to better understand what they do and to help develop new ideas and try them out with people.
Aberdeen Culture Hack 2013

The National Hack the Government events run by Rewired State are efforts to help the people build a better government by coming together with others to inspire and build the apps they’d like to see using government open data sources. You can get an idea of what others have done in the past by looking at the projects that came out of previous NHTG events. We had a small version of this in Aberdeen in 2011 when it was a one-day event. This year it will run over the Saturday and Sunday with us offering remote teams who can report back to the main group of folks in London. We’re hoping that some of the ideas gathered from the GSJ folks on Friday night will lend themselves to app ideas for the Saturday and Sunday.
This event will be a good mixture of service design, some agile development and a hack event where the focus is on ‘seeing what works’
Go signup and follow @GSJAberdeen for updates

Tech Startup survey in the Economist

The Economist magazine issue of 18 January 2014 has a good review of the tech startup scene. Go get a copy, or read the online version. There are useful info graphics and articles on why this is a good time to launch your startup, and overviews of incubators, investors, and the business eco-systems that sustain startups. It was very focused on the big places for the most part, with a few mentions of smaller startups coming for smaller scenes.

Scottish Startup Christmas Party

The main emphasis of the survey of articles is that this time is different from the bubble of 1999/2000 because you there is a better eco-system of tools and support for startups. This means the threshold for entry is lower and with the many APIs as well as cloud computing platforms available, it is easier to launch your idea. This is no guarantee of success, but it is easier to try and make it work.

A growing part of that ecosystem to sustain tech startups in Scotland can be found at the Scottish Entrepreneurial Support Network, an online tool to explore the different nodes of support in Scotland. You’ll find about incubators, finance, education, and networking events and other types of resources you can use.

The article supports what we’re doing in that we are there to help provide support in a safe environment with our programme. According to the survey article, 90% of startups fail. We aim to help you be successful by looking for validated ideas until you find one that works for you and your team and then pursue that further and launch the idea. During this time we’re there to support you, and if you end up staying in and around Aberdeen after you graduate, then you will have the community around you still too with our growing Aberdeen tech scene.

Build a happy startup

We’ve been thinking a lot about startups lately and how you pull the ideas for a business model together in a simple format that says what’s important in to interested people. We’ve had long hard looks at both the Happy Startup Canvas and the Lean Canvas as both of these looked like what we’ll need to use. The HSC would provide the ‘why’ and the key problems being solved along with potential solutions, the key ‘story’ and ‘values’ of the business, while the LC would focus on the hard to replicate unique proposition being offered by the business.

the happy startup canvas

We also like how the HSC starts with how the employees are treated along with the idea that if you treat yourself and the staff as well as you do your customers, then the rest will fall into place. This is what Deming argues in his work. Few firms seem to follow this, but it makes good sense, and seems to work for the small businesses we know more closely too.

The HSC is a nice way to bring together a number of  ideas in a one-page summary. You can use Simon Sinek’s ideas to formulate your ‘why’ and you can use the elevator pitch game to craft your ‘story’, and then polish it with ideas  from the Heath brothers’ Made to Stick book. All of this helps you to build the idea and work on validating your assumptions in a fast and furious manner so that you build a sustainable business.

In addition, we can also add Umair Haque’s ideas from his Betterness book. In there he suggests that as business has changed since the financial crisis, and we need to focus on ‘betterness instead of business’ in order to increase the Common Wealth, we should focus the following: First, ‘ambition’ of what our business aims to do for its customers. This answer why are we here? Why does our organisation exist? This maps to Sinek’s why too. Second, ‘intention’ of how we’ll help customers improve their lives. This answers the ‘what are we here to do on a daily basis? How will we make our customers more capable in their daily lives? This is ‘constraints’, of what your business will never do. What’s a step too far for you? What are your limits, and how will these help make your customer’s lives better? Fourth, what ‘imperatives’ do you have as universal rules to live by for your business? How can you translate this into something your customers will benefit from?  All together these turn the business into ‘how we benefit’ into a firm that works with others to lift everyone up and build a better society and through that gain a profit. This follows in the footsteps of Apple, Whole Foods and others.

This will work once we have an idea of what to do after we’ve gone through an ideation session to generate some possible business ideas.

Are you a Coder or Developer?

When we learn to code we do so for different reasons. Those presumably change some over time as we learn more about development work and develop our own coding skills. If you’re wanting to be someone who codes and is also an entrepreneur; someone who can also spin out an idea into a business, then you want to end up as a developer according to Scott Hanselman, who looked at the ‘why’ you want to learn to code side of the issue.

For Hanselman identified some crucial aspects about ‘why’ you want to code, which could help or hinder your entreprenurial ideas. He noted that there is the important ‘talk to humans’ aspect, which some people don’ t like to do. This is the classic image of the person in the basement coding away on their own. However, if you want to spin out your idea into a business, then you really do need to talk to people.

You need to be able to listen and learn, while also talking when required with you colleagues, or potential customers and investors. You can’t sit at home, even if you’re building a web app. You still need to talk to others about your idea and how you can best realise the idea. Also, at some point you’ll want to get another person or two on your team as well. This could be graphic artists, or business minded folks. You’ll need to speak to them. So, the long and short of it is that you need to become comfortable speaking to people. Everything works better that way.

Mentors Wanted

We are looking for mentors to help each team with their business idea. We believe that mentors will help student teams in a number of ways. First, they’ll help evaluate what the team is doing and how it is doing this with regular monthly meetings. These sessions are an opportunity for the team to explain the business idea to a supportive person, who can evaluate their processes to validate their business idea and what they are doing. Second, the mentor will be able to offer suggestions about who they should speak to, and what they should be considering doing to validate their business assumptions. Mentors are people who know people and can offer introductions and understanding of different businesses so have useful knowledge to help our teams.

mentors wanted
Third, the mentor will be there to offer wisdom based on their own experience. Our mentors will be business owners and entrepreneurs from a variety of relevant backgrounds. Mentors will have lots of experience following similar paths growing their businesses to those our students will also need to travel, and the mentors will be there to help them along the way and watch the business idea grow together.

If this sounds like you, and you believe in helping others get their business started, then this is your chance to help. All we ask is a meeting a month at your convenience, plus the chance to participate in a few other event during the year as and when you can. If you would like to be a mentor on the programme, or just want to know more, then please email us at enquiries@yourspinout.com to start the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you.

Global Day of Code Retreat 2013

Staff member Bruce Scharlau helped run the Global Day of Code Retreat at the University of Aberdeen on 14th December. This global event was happening in over 150 places around the world and they chatted with other event participants in Vienna and Edinburgh during the day.The event in Aberdeen was sold out at 30 people (half developers and half students), although a number didn’t turn up on the day. They missed a great event.
While a number of participants did the traditional Code Retreat that works through Conway’s Game of Life using Ruby, Java and C#, most people worked through a web version of the game fixing buggy CSS, HTML and Javascript in a ‘web retreat‘. A big hit for the webretreat participants was using Steven Milne’s Constraint Cards to help focus on creative issues.

Global Day of Code Retreat 2013

Facilitator helping a pair with their coding

The goal of a Code Retreat is ‘deliberate practice’ where you and the others set out to practice and learn new ways of coding using Test Driven Development (TDD), which is becoming a useful job skill, and required in some places. The goal is not to have a perfect version of the game of life. Indeed, you keep throughing your code away after each 45 session so that you start the next one with a new person from scratch. The goal is to learn while having fun. You’re playing with the code.

We ended up with four rounds on the day. You can find exercises and challenges at the CodeRetreat website.

The first round was done under a ‘get your feet wet and start’ with no requirements or constraints. People learned from their failures, which some worked out could be speed up by using tests. Everyone started with the grid for the cells, and two teams actually finished building a game.

The second round was done as ‘Test Driven Development, Primative Obsession’ which meant people took some time to get up to speed with TDD for their language and framework. Some had frustrations with unfamliar languages as they paired with people who were using an unfamiliar language. The constraint this time was ‘primative obsession’ where you create objects instead of using low-level integers so that you have more control over your objects. People found that for this case, this was a challenge.

The third round constraint was ‘no loops’, which required more intellectual overhead as you considered in-built methods more. It also shifted the focus from the board to the cell as it became harder to write tests for the board.

The last round was ‘evil coder’ where one person wrote a test and then the other wrote code to pass the test as simply and as easily as possible. This could be done in ‘evil’ ways such as using primatives instead of objects. People found this good fun as more learning was happening with respect to tests and how they could/should be written.

Part of the fun of a code retreat event is also getting to know new people and learning different ways of coding as you swap partners for each of the 45 minute sessions during the day. Students and professionals get many chances to code together and learn from each other. Many people replied that it was ‘great!’ and immediately asked ‘when’s the next event?’. Thanks to all of you who came on the day and we look forward to seeing you in the future.

Our next event will be the 48 hour Global Service Jam 2014 in the spring, and should be great as we’ve lined up one major sponsor already.