Sri Lanka Summer 2015 Blog

June 22, 2015 to Aug. 7, 2015

Hurrah! Curriculum content done!

Nitah Onsongo

July 28, 2015

The 5th week marked a big progress as we completed covering the 24steps of starting a successful business. It was the toughest week having introduced unit economics of business to our students who are very technical and less business oriented. We covered Life Time Value (LTV) of an acquired customer, Mapping Sales Strategy,  Cost of Customer Acquisition (COCA), Key assumptions,  Minimum Viable Product and finally Financials. This content was new to the students and wasn't as easy as the previous steps. 

This created a good platform for a guest lecture on Digital Marketing. Dinesh the co-founder and Managing Director of ReapDigital came in on Tuesday and did an amazingly comprehensive lecture on Digital Marketing. He introduced new tools like Google Analytics that students weren't aware of. He pushed the students to think about their marketing strategies especially in this current tech savvy world.

Thursday onwards, we shifted our focus to pitching, prototyping and business plans. We would give them 5minutes and when the time was up,the team would be cut off. The teams would then get feedback both content wise and public speaking wise from the instructors and would consequently be expected to implement it by the next day. This was solely aimed at rehearsing for a pitching session to the sponsoring companies' CEOs and Saman (MIT Computer Science Professor) the following Monday.

The week ended with a social event on Sunday at Fort Cafè in Colombo which was attended by the students, instructors, successful GSL alums, MIT Professor Saman and other key people from the Sri Lanka ecosystem. It was a good chance for the students to get to network and talk to already successful people for insights and advice. The founders to 4-axis solutions, Enhanzer and Extrogene who are successful GSL alums were good inspirational models to the students. It was also great getting to interact informally with our students. What a good ending with the 5th week it was!

Yes! Halfway done through the program with success!!!

Nitah Onsongo

July 20, 2015

The GSL program being 7weeks, going through the 4th week meant halfway done. It left like the 4th week was moving rather sluggishly especially having taught on Sunday. On Monday, the13th of July, we introduced prototyping and UI/UX design. It was very clear that the students had been looking up to the start of technical content especially because almost all come from technical backgrounds. Perla started of her technical content with so much energy and engagement from the class.  On the entrepreneurship side, we went on to cover steps 8 to 13 from the core book - Disciplined Entrepreneurship. We put emphasis on quantifying their value propositions because it would be the basis of most of the subsequent steps. 

On Wednesday, the students were pleased to have Mr. Jeevan Gnanam, CEO of Orion City and Founding Director of the Lanka Angels Network (LAN) come in and address them. He himself being an investor, pointed out things they look out for from young entrepreneurs seeking investments. The students pitched their problem statements to him and got to listen to his earnest feedback from an investor's point of view. The feedbacks were well received especially with students whose ideas sounded appealing to him. However, some students felt turned down and we as instructors reinforced the fact that it was feedback from just only one of the many investors they would find in the real world. 

On Thursday, we visited University of Moratuwa - Sri Lanka's MIT - where we had a meeting with the Vice chancellor and representatives from all faculties. The faculty were very enthusiastic to learn the MIT way of doing things with a vision of providing excellence to the students. They really wanted to understand the entrepreneurial culture of MIT and the functioning of the Martin Trust Center.

Friday concluded the week with a debrief meeting between WSO2, University of Moratuwa and the MIT instructors. We rolled out logistics for the big demo day event. Additionally, we had a 2014 GSL alum come in and share his experiences with the class. The week ended with students getting a long assignment as their milestone number 7 to be submitted on the following Monday.

From problems onto solutions

Nitah Onsongo

July 12, 2015

The third week came to an end with students having been brought to the solutions stage which they had been eagerly waiting for. The first two weeks concentrated on ideation and the third week solely focused on the market that is the customer. We managed to cover market segmentation, targeting and positioning and there were guest lectures on these from Leslie, a lecturer at PIM in Sri Lanka. This constituted milestone number 4 that the students had to apply to their problems and deliver. User profiling, the persona, full life cycle use case and TAM were then taught to the students leading to milestone 5. Students had difficulty in completing these milestones but we pushed them to doing things well. 

Following a feeling that we were lagging behind in terms of the curriculum, we the instructors decided to start having classes over the weekendswith the students preferring Sundays over Saturdays because of classes they were attending in their universities. We also came to an agreement to extend classes to 8pm as opposed to 7pm. Hence giving us 4hours a day 4pm to 8pm. We had our debriefing meeting with the sponsors - Brandix and WSO2 - on Friday and made some logistic plans concerning the big day 'The Demo Day'. This brought the 3rd week to an end.


Preview of Demo day

Nitah Onsongo

July 10, 2015

It was a great opportunity to get to network with Lankan Angel Network (LAN) though Mr Jeevan Gnanam, the founding director who is also the CEO to Orion City, a company in Sri Lanka. LAN has about 70 members with a few of them being overseas. The Lankan Angel Investors run an incubation center where there are pitching sessions from upcoming young entrepreneurs every 2nd Thursday of each month. We were privileged to get a chance to take our GSL students to witness the entrepreneurs pitching to the investors. 8 LAN investors were present and 7teams presented each allocated 5minutes of presentation and 5minutes of questions. 

Our students appreciated getting to attend the session and comparing themselves to the entrepreneurs who presented. They also got to network with the entrepreneurs. Some of the teams about 3 were able to get investors interested in their ideas. 

There was a noticeable trend in the questions investors posed on the teams after their presentations. Listed below are some of them:

1. Do you have a budget?

2. How much funding do you want from us?

3. How much more time do you need before your systems are up and fully functional?

4. Have you heard of so and so? They run the same application/system in the USA etc

5. Is your prototype working?

6. What do you need the funds for? Is it completing development? Marketing? Or launching?

7. Are you going to be working full time on this product if you get funding?

8. Have you talked to any customer who is willing to pay for your application/product?

Some teams were well equipped with clear precise answers while for others it was evident they had not done thorough work. The teams that attracted investors interests were those that had answers to all the questions. Additionally, their public speaking skills were polished i.e.

1. Their problem statements were coherent and well scoped/quantified. 

2. Whoever pitched was audible and clear

3. Their presentation slides were well put together

4. They also dint bore the investors with too much repetition

5. The teams looked knowledgeable on their finances

6. The teams had a paying/willing customer

7. They had prototypes; more than 70% of development completed

8. Had a launch date


10. Had a project plan and timelines

11. Had citations 

12. Had answers to all questions asked

13. Gave a good first impression to a number of the investors

What was catching was also the fact that all teams had some similarities. In that all involved USSD applications,  web applications, location based systems and android/ios platforms. The teams wanted funding mainly for marketing purposes using billboards, posters, websites and sms. Teams were also well balanced in terms of skill sets. Overall, it was a good networking event not only for the students but also for us the instructors. We hope our students got to have a preview of what Demo day would be like and gain the confidence to keep working and do better than what they saw. 

Week 2 GSL Sri Lanka

Nitah Onsongo

July 6, 2015

Unfortunately,  week 2 did not start of with high energy as week 1. On Monday only 13 out of 30 students showed up with most showing up late. Nevertheless, we were able to make the class engaged. The students got introduced to Cause-effect-Chain, a new tool aimed at logic brainstorming. They later applied the tool to their problems. The following day the students presented their work to the class and got feedback from the instructors as well as their peers. Tuesday came to an end with students being given a long assignment to work on the next day - Wednesday- having been a religious holiday. The assignment required the students to interview 4 to 6 customers who were potential users of their problems. This was after the emphasis that 'A paying customer' was the most important factor to a successful startup. The students would also submit their first milestone which included a clearly quantified problem statement, user classes, a summary of their customer interviews and their goals henceforth. 

Thursday came and the whole session had students come up and present their work in 20-30 minutes. 6 teams presented their well-done assignments with some having very good PowerPoint presentations. It was impressive to see that the students did their assignments as instructed. One team was kindly asked to go out and interview people as it had not done it. At the end, the teams got constructive feedback on their public speaking skills and also an insight into what problems seemed more feasible to keep working on.

The second week was brought to an end on Friday with the students getting to listen to a guest speaker, Sanjiva Weerawarana - The CEO of WSO2. He talked to them about the difference between being employed and owning a startup. He reinforced the commitment and dedication needed to run a succesful business and mentioned the nitty grities like being clear about each founder's expectations and needs were. He was quite humorous and kept the class wanting to listen to him. Students were able to get a chance to ask their burning questions. The class ended earlier than usual letting the students go rest after a long rigorous week. Instructors and sponsors also had their weekly debriefing meeting just to ensure we were at per. 

Overview of the first week

Nitah Onsongo

June 29, 2015

The first week was focused on ideation. On the first day we had the students pitch their ideas. There were good problems from the students. The second day onwards we went into precision of problem statements, quantification and scoping of problems. We introduced the nine windows technique. Every day there was a lecture followed by a group activity where students applied frameworks taught to their problems. The students appreciated this active learning and acknowledged it not being common to their education system.  

On thursday, we accompanied the students to a networking event at Barefoot Gallery café in Colombo. It was impressive to see the students network with entrepreneurs that have startups in Sri Lanka and having their questions answered. was among the startups reperesented. Friday brought the first week content to an end with Brandix and WSO2 companies presenting potential ideas specific to their own companies. Brandix talked about increasing functionality of clothing, automation of fabric manufacture and lack of big data analytics. The students having already teamed up, pitched their refined problem statements to the  companies' representatives and got constructive feedback based on their experiences with the Sri Lankan startup ecosysytem. 

The first week came to an end with a social event on Saturday where we went bowling at Excel World and later had dinner together at the big O! It was aimed at team building. It was good getting to know the students personalities better and seeing their out-of-class interactions. The first week was rather a success especially being clear we had proactive students. 

MIT GSL Sri Lanka 1st day

Nitah Onsongo

June 26, 2015

The MIT GSL Sri Lanka 2015 started of with high energy. The instructors (Perla, Pallavi, Joseph and Nitah) met with the program sponsors - Brandix and WSO2 - to outline each stakeholders' expectations clearly. Later on, we got to welcome the students to the program at WSO2 headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The first day was focused on introductions and outlining the 7week schedule. We did the marsh mallow challenge as an ice breaker to get the students challenged and also as a fun group activity. There were 6 teams and team number 2 emerged as the winners with one team having a negative value. The students really enjoyed the activity and got more motivated to attend the program. The first day was a huge success.