Entrepreneurial Institute

Why I Returned to Mentor at the NYU Summer Launchpad

Last summer, I was invited to mentor a student startup team as part of the inaugural NYU Summer Launchpad accelerator. Upon receiving last year's curriculum guide, I immediately purchased the required textbooks (The Startup Owner’s Manual and Business Model Generation) and began watching the required video’s (How to Build a Startup) and reading the PDF's, links, etc. Within 2 weeks, I had read (and watched) enough to determine that this curriculum was going to give the NYU Summer Launchpad teams an advantage—a significant, competitive advantage—over any company not following these principles.

So I discussed the methodologies (and what I perceived as their benefits) with my Product/Design staff at XO Group (NYSE:XOXO), and informed them that I was going to learn it all. And I made an offer: if anyone wanted to join me, and was willing to commit to reading hundreds of pages of materials, watching hours of video, and participating in weekly after-work review sessions for 10 straight weeks, I'd buy the books on their behalf - and throw in dinner as well.

My entire staff signed up. Word leaked out that I was doing this... and other departments began to request admission. I had to stop honoring those requests (too many participants), but the final group included members of Product, Design, Business Development, Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Investor Relations and Editorial.

For 8 weeks we plowed through the materials, and then conducted exercises—relevant to our immediate needs - based upon Steve Blank's principles. It was an eye-opening experience. Several assumptions we had long held about our audience's behavior, their needs, and the products we had built to serve them—were very off base. The experience fundamentally changed our perception of how products should be developed.

In speaking with one of this year’s NYU Summer Launchpad teams, they asked why I was returning to mentor.Because I sincerely believe in the quality of the program, and the benefits it will bring to any company. It's also the least I can do to thank Frank, Lindsey and Micah for providing me with the knowledge to grow. As for Steve Blank - I'm enormously grateful for everything he's done on behalf of entrepreneurs (myself included).