In PROD, my course on software product management, students can choose to develop a business plan for a software product. Not all of my students seem to take this as serious as I wished. Here is the opening sentence of the exec summary from one of the teams:
With a total loss of 388,987.50 Euros in the period of 2017 to 2019, we will increase profit by 2,123,121 Euros and the customer base by 1392% […] Break even will be reached by mid 2018.
Reminds me off the bubble days: “We will make 80 cents for one dollar spent and will be profitable in no time!”
The project management tool “RPLAN” makes it possible to plan projects efficiently and transparently. The user’s planning effort should be as small as possible. This will be achieved through a smart product which proposes further steps independently to the customer. For this purpose, RPLAN is connected to the web interface “Slack”, automating the planning process using natural language.
Arrow.js supports the user to identify the correlation between multiple contexts and a single file. We score the relation between different resources. As the result the user gets a score, which describes the probability of a connection between these data sets. This service is accessible through a REST call.
A system to test, if new data and code versions for the DB ticket booking system are valid. The system is deployed in a Docker container to be used in a continuous delivery process. The data and code versions are integrated into a VM, given to us by DB Systel, which can get booking requests and replies with the same information the DB booking site would. By validating, if these replies are what we expected, we can detect if the new code has errors a lot faster than before, thus improving overall developing speed of DB Systel.
In 2014, for a course that teaches students teamwork, I bought 20 sets of basic lego bricks for a bridge building exercise. The cost per set was 20 Euro. This year the number of students in our project courses exceeded what could be done with this basic set of legos and so I looked to buy more.
Two years later, the cost of these sets has exploded to more than 100 Euros per set. Mostly that’s because (a) the actual set was retired and (b) there is no proper replacement, just new “classic sets” that come with lots of pieces that nobody wants. I sense a bubble in the Lego bricks market… divest yourself now! Send them my way!
As part of my Startupinformatik initiative (in German), I’m trying to motivate student startups. Here, I want to talk about student startups coming out of a Master’s program. These are different from startups coming out of my research lab, which are based on work with my Ph.D. students. Master student startups are typically smaller, not based on significant intellectual property, and my working relationship with the team has been much shorter than with my Ph.D. students.
What are the three most important factors that make a startup successful? As the old saying goes: Team, team, and team. There is plenty of advice on the web on finding and building teams. I have a bit to add to this as well, but will do so in a different post. Here, I would like to focus on the next two most important success factors, which are product and passion. Without a good product there is no money to be made, and without passion, the startup will fall apart too quickly.
Sadly, being a student, having a good product idea, and having passion for it are factors that are hard to align. The following figure helps illustrate the problem.
I teach a course on software product management where I sometimes cross over into startup-land. During a recent class, I showed students a rara-talk by a VC, who was trying to convince them to become entrepreneurs. So I asked the class:
Statistically speaking, a 40-year old entrepreneur is much more likely to succeed than a student entrepreneur. Why is this venture capitalist so eager to get you to become an entrepreneur rather than a more experienced person?
After a bit of back and forth, one student finally said:
Well, if it takes 10 years to grow a startup, a 40 year old entrepreneur may not be be able to stick around for such a long time.
I’ve gotten used to such statements and take them rather stoically. A 40-year old PhD student of mine, however, was rolling on the floor laughing.
I teach product management at a public German engineering school, where I am a professor of computer science. Product management is my nod towards “business informatics”, otherwise I only teach engineering courses (and one general how-to-perform-research class).
There is an old debate as to who makes better product managers: M.B.A.s or engineers? Having worked on both sides of the fence and having gotten both degrees, I can confirm that as so often, the question is wrong: A hiring manager for a product management position needs to focus on skills and attitude, not on degree credentials. The degree may be an indicator of such skills, but it is not a sufficient indicator.