Volopay, a Singapore-based startup building a “financial control center” for businesses, announced today it has raised $ 2.1 million in seed funding. The round was led by Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, and included participation from Soma Capital, CP Ventures, Y Combinator, VentureSouq, the founders of Razorpay and other angel investors.
The funding will be used on hiring, product development, strategic partnerships and Volopay’s international expansion. It plans to launch operations in Australia later this month. The company currently has about 100 clients, including Smart Karma, Dathena, Medline, Sensorflow and Beam.
Launched in 2019 by Rajith Shaiji and Rajesh Raikwar, Volopay took part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program last year. It was created after chief executive officer Shaji, who worked for several fintech companies before launching Volopay, became frustrated by the process of reconciling business expenses, especially with accounting departments located in different countries. Shaiji and Raikwar also saw that many companies, especially startups and SMEs, struggled to track different kinds of spending, including subscriptions and vendor payments.
Most of Volopay’s clients are in the tech sector and have about 15 to 150 employees. Volopay’s platform integrates multi-currency corporate cards (issued by VISA Corporate), domestic and international bank transfers, automated payments and expense and accounting software, allowing companies to save money on foreign exchange fees and reconcile expenses more quickly.
In order to speed up its development, Volopay integrated Airwallex’s APIs. Its corporate cards offer up to 2% cashback on software subscriptions, hosting and international travel, which Volopay says are the three top expense categories for tech companies, and it in November 2020, it launched a credit facility for corporate cards to help give SMEs more liquidity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared to traditional credit products, like credit cards and working capital loans, Shaji said Volopay’s credit facility, which is also issued by VISA Corporate, has a more competitive fixed-free pricing structure that depends on the level of credit used. This means companies know how much they owe in advance, which in turn helps them manage their cashflows more easily. The average credit line provided by Volopay is about $ 30,000.
Since TechCrunch last covered Volopay in July 2020, it has grown 70% month on month in terms of total funds flowing through its platform, Shaji said. It also launched two new features: a bill pay feature that allows clients to transfer money domestically and internationally with low foreign exchange rates and transaction fees, and the credit facility. The bill pay feature now contributes about 40% to Volopay’s total payment volume, while the credit product makes up 30% of its card spending.
Shaji told TechCrunch that Volopay decided to expand into Australia because because not only is it a much larger market than Singapore, but “SMEs in Australia are very comfortable using paid digital software to streamline internal operations and scale their businesses.” He added that there is currently no other provider in Australia that offers both expense management and credit to SMEs like Volopay.
As an entrepreneur, you’re always on the lookout for ways to bring more organic traffic to your website. We’re constantly told that “content is key,” but there are plenty of misconceptions out there regarding the best approaches to content curation and marketing, and how search engine algorithms (such as Google’s) give preference to one type of content over another.
The fact of the matter is, churning out as much content as you can isn’t the key to success. In fact, today’s search engines penalize sites that hammer out poor quality content just for the sake of publishing regularly.
Your target audience doesn’t benefit from spammy content, so why would Google give it any kind of preferential treatment? If all you’re doing is pushing out content for the sake of it, not only will your SEO effectiveness likely take a big hit, but your audience will soon seek better quality alternatives, likely in the form of your competitors.
To put it simply, instead of fixating on quantity, start curating your content and sharing relevant material that’s strategic and beneficial to your brand in order to heighten brand presence and awareness.
Let’s dive into the world of content curation, including a few essential tips to help your business.
More than ever before, consumers are relying with increasing frequency on web content as an essential aspect of their everyday lives. It’s where we get our news, hear about new brands, businesses and products, and it helps us make decisions regarding everything from where we’ll order takeout from tonight to which career path we’ll take.
Today, content curation is key, and forms the heart of a winning content marketing strategy. This is true for interactive content, simple blog posts, photos, videos, podcasts… the list goes on. And if you’re looking to stay on top of your search engine results whilst keeping your audience members engaged, it’s something you need to pay close attention to.
Just as a museum curator picks out art that weaves a narrative, uncovers a truth, or provides consistent education and insight, you must curate your content to ensure your audience truly gains something from its presence on your site.
Content curation is a process of bringing a conscientious approach to your content marketing strategy. It is, in essence, almost a contract between you and your customers: you’ll provide material of value, they’ll engage, share, and drive your numbers to new heights.
Making the effort to curate content for your target audience pays off, often in ways you might not initially expect.
Let’s take a look at four key benefits of content curation to bear in mind:
You’ll be recognized as a thought leader or subject matter authority. This is probably the top reason for curating your content, as it’s all about the impression your brand makes on your target audience. Content curation allows you to stand out as an expert in your field.
It shows you’re on top of trends. The content you curate for your followers will revolve around news and insights specific to your field. By feeding your audience up-to-date, relevant and genuinely interesting material, you’ll remind them that your brand is there with purpose and intent.
It enables growth. Quality content isn’t only going to edge you toward the top of Google’s search listings, it also has the potential to expand your network, your global reach, and your business as a whole. Content gets shared, commented on and engaged with, and this leads people into conversations and sales funnels before they realize it.
It keeps you informed. In addition to the benefits of curated content for your customers, what about the benefits for you as an entrepreneur? The most obvious revolves around the fact that, as you curate content, you’ll increase your business knowledge and gain insights you might not have attained otherwise. In essence, content curation keeps you informed and makes you a better entrepreneur.
Learning how to curate content like a pro could help give you the edge over competitors.
Let’s take a look at a few basic steps needed for content curation success:
Figure out the golden ratio of curated content: The first step is to decide how much content you actually want to curate. Most businesses will need to figure out a working ratio of original and curated content and find the best ways to make this work for their organization. It’s important to keep in mind that the ratio of original and curated content needn’t be fixed, and nor does it have to be consistent across different platforms. For example, social media platforms like Twitter lend themselves better to curated content than ones like Instagram.
Consider your sources: Once you’ve figured out your content ratio, it’s time to think carefully about your sources. While it’s important to ensure that you offer a variety of content from an array of different sources, it’s even more important to ensure that you provide content from reliable and trustworthy sources. Be sure to thoroughly vet your content before sharing it.
Sharing with style: OK, it’s time to start sharing curated content and provide that all-important value to your customer base. The key thing to bear in mind with this step is that you should add some customization or personalization to curations whenever you can. This can be as simple as writing a sentence explaining your thoughts and opinions when sharing an article on LinkedIn, or linking the content to an event, product, or service you offer.
Content is king: Make your curated content work for you
A solid, effective content curation strategy is vital for success in today’s saturated marketplace, regardless of your startup’s industry. It’s one way to stand out from the crowd, and better yet, curating content helps keep audience engagement high.
The last we heard from Luther.ai, the startup was participating in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in September. The company got a lot of attention from that appearance, which culminated in a $ 3.2 million seed round it announced today. While they were at it, the founders decided to change the company name to Human AI, which they believe better reflects their mission.
Differential VC led the round, joined by Village Global VC, Good Friends VC, Beni VC and Keshif Ventures. David Magerman from Differential will join the startup’s board.
The investors were attracted to Human AI’s personalized kind of artificial intelligence, and co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti says the Battlefield appearance led directly to investor interest, which quickly resulted in a deal four weeks later.
“I think overall the messaging of what we delivered at TechCrunch Disrupt regarding an individual personal AI that is secured by blockchain to retain and recall [information] really set the stage for what the company is all about, both from a user standpoint as well as from an investor standpoint,” Kanuganti told me.
As for the name change, he reported that there was some confusion in the market that Luther was an AI assistant like Alexa or a chatbot, and the founders wanted the name to better reflect the personalized nature of the product.
“We are creating AI for the individual and there is so much emphasis on the authenticity and the voice and the thoughts of an individual, and how we also use blockchain to secure ownership of the data. So most of the principle lies in creating this AI for an individual human. So we thought, let’s call it Human AI,” he explained.
As Kanuganti described it in September, the tool allows individuals to search for nuggets of information from past events using a variety of AI technologies:
It’s made possible through a convergence of neuroscience, NLP and blockchain to deliver seamless in-the-moment recall. GPT-3 is built on the memories of the public internet, while Luther is built on the memories of your private self.
The company is still in the process of refining the product and finding its audience, but reports that so far they have found interest from creative people such as writers, professionals such as therapists, high-tech workers interested in AI, students looking to track school work and seniors looking for a way to track their memories for memoir purposes. All of these groups have the common theme of having to find nuggets of information from a ton of signals, and that’s where Human AI’s strength lies.
The company’s diverse founding team includes two women, CTO Sharon Zhang and designer Kristie Kaiser, along with Kanuganti, who is himself an immigrant. The founders want to continue building a diverse organization as they add employees. “I think in general we just want to attract a diverse kind of talent, especially because we are also Human AI and we believe that everyone should have the same opportunity,” Zhang told me.
The company currently has seven full-time employees and a dozen consultants, but with the new funding is looking to hire engineers and AI talent and a head of marketing to push the notion of consumer AI. While the company is remote today and has employees around the world, it will look to build a headquarters at some point post-COVID where some percentage of the employees can work in the same space together.
We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.
Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $ 6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.
Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.
At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.
He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.
Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.
Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.
They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.
The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.
The backbone of Indonesia’s economy are small- to medium-sized businesses, which account for 60% of its gross domestic product. Many still rely on manual bookkeeping, but the impact of COVID-19 has driven small businesses to digitize more of their operations. BukuKas, one of several startups helping SMEs go online, announced today it has raised a $ 10 million Series A led by Sequoia Capital India.
BukuKas launched in December 2019 as a digital bookkeeping app, but is growing its range of services with the goal of creating an “end-to-end software stack” for small businesses. Eventually, it wants to launch a SME-focused digital bank.
The funding, which brings BukuKas’ total raised so far to $ 22 million, included participation from returning investors Saison Capital, January Capital, Founderbank Capital, Cambium Grove, Endeavor Catalyst and Amrish Rau.
As of November 2020, BukuKas had a registered user base of 3.5 million small merchants and retailers, and had crossed 1.8 million monthly active users. During that month, the platform also recorded $ 17.4 billion worth of transactions on an annualized basis, a figure corresponding to more than 1.5% of Indonesia’s $ 1.04 trillion GDP.
BukuKas was founded by chief executive officer Krishnan Menon and chief operating officer Lorenzo Peracchione, who met eight years ago while working at Lazada Indonesia.
Menon’s previous startup was Fabelio, an Indonesian online home furnishings store. Every two months, he would visit smaller small cities in Indonesia, like Jepara and Cirebon, to source furniture.
“One of the things that stood out was how different the Jakarta bubble is from the rest of Indonesia, all the way from the penetration of software to financial services,” he told TechCrunch. While talking to merchants and suppliers, Menon realized that “no one is building products with them as the center of the universe,” despite the fact that there are 56 million small businesses.
Peracchione said he and Mebon had been brainstorming startup ideas for a while. “When he told me about the idea of solving cash flow visibility to SMEs, it immediately struck me,” Peracchione said. “My dad used to be a SME owner himself and during my childhood I experience first hand the struggles and ups and downs connected to running a small business.”
The two decided to start with digital bookkeeping after speaking to 1,052 merchants because helping them keep track of their business performance would generate data that would in turn enable access to more financial services.
“Our vision expanded into providing an end-to-end software stack to digitize SMEs and help them across a wide range of activities as a prequel to building an SME-focused digital bank down the line,” Menon said.
In addition to digital ledger features, BukuKas also sends payment reminders to buyers through WhatsApp and automatically generates invoices, includes an an inventory management module and analyzes expenses to help businesses understand what is impacting their profit. The company plans to add digital payments this month. During the rest of 2021, it will also introduce more features to help businesses sell online, including tools for online store fronts, a promotions engine and social sharing.
“With COVID-19, SMEs are rushing to get digitized, but they lack the right mobile-first tools to sell online as well as to manage their business,” said Menon.
The app focuses on smaller Indonesian cities and towns, since about 73% of the merchants who use BukuKas are located outside of tier 1 cities like Jakarta. Its users represent wide range of sectors, including retailers, food vendors, grocery markets, mobile and phone credit providers, social commerce sellers, wholesalers and service providers. BukuKas acquired digital ledger app Catatan Keuangan Harian, which has 300,000 monthly active users, in September 2020 to expand its market share in Indonesia.
With its large number of SMEs, Indonesia is seen as a desirable market for companies helping the drive toward digitization. For example, India’s Khatabook, which was valued between $ 275 million to $ 300 million after its last round of funding in May 2020, recently launched BukuUang in Indonesia. Other startups in the same space include Y Combinator-backed BukuWarung, Moka and Jurnal, all of which offer tools to help SMEs bring more of their operations online.
Menon said BukuKas’ advantage is its team’s experience building businesses in Indonesia over the past seven years. For example, it launched a “Know Your Profits” module based on user feedback. It also offers a self-guided onboarding process, a simple user interface and an offline mode for users in areas with poor network connections.
“In general, individual features can be copied but we believe our ‘integrated end-to-end software stack approach,’ coupled with our obsessive focus on simplicity, deep understanding of our users and a superior level of service will be key in differentiating BukuKas from competing offerings,” he added.
BukuKas’ Series A will be used on user acquisition, its engineering and product teams in Jakarta and Bangalore and to introduce new services for merchants. The company may eventually expand into other Southeast Asia markets, but “in the short term consolidating and further expanding our leadership in the SME space in Indonesia is our top priority,” said Menon.
Zipmex, a digital assets exchange headquartered in Singapore, announced today it has raised $ 6 million in funding led by Jump Capital. The startup, which plans to become a digital assets bank, says the round exceeded its initial target of $ 4 million. Along with earlier funding, it brings the total Zipmex has raised so far to $ 10.9 million.
The exchange is regulated in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia, and licensed in Thailand. It focuses on investors new to cryptocurrency with educational features, as well as high net-worth individuals, and says it has transacted over $ 600 million in gross transaction volume since launching at the end of 2019.
The funding will be used on hiring and to add more product offerings. In addition to its cryptocurrency exchange, Zipmex’s services also include ZipUp, its interest-bearing accounts, and its own ERC-20 token ZMT.
Zipmex’s goal is to become the largest digital exchange in the Asia Pacific, where interest in cryptocurrency investing and blockchain technology is increasing quickly. For example, DBG Group Holdings, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, recently launched a crypto exchange, though it is currently open only to professional investors.
But Zipmex is also up against a roster of competitors, including regional exchanges like BitKub in Thailand and Swyftx in Australia, as well as players like Luno, Coinbase and Binance which are targeting growth in the Asia Pacific region.
Zipmex chief executive officer Marcus Lim said the company’s ambition to become a digital assets bank sets it apart from other exchanges. “We currently offer customers to invest and earn interest on their digital assets,” he told TechCrunch. “In the future, we are planning to roll out payments and lending and the investment into securitized tokens.”
Other cryptocurrency startups that Jump Capital, an American venture capital firm, has invested in include BitGo and TradingView. Its parent company, trading firm Jump Trading, powers Robinhood’s crypto trades.
Despite the very public ties that BadVR had to Magic Leap, as one of the enterprise applications on the platform, the startup was more insulated than other businesses from the pivot away from consumer-focused apps.
It’s the second grant that the company has taken from the NSF and is an example of how startups can turn to government funding for capital and avoid some of the pitfalls of fundraising from venture capital.
To be sure, even Magic Leap’s trip to the brink of collapse wouldn’t have been that bad for BadVR, which makes enterprise applications for extended reality devices.
What the Magic Leap story shows is that companies don’t need to take venture capital to make it. Indeed, as costs come down for equipment and remote work democratizes access to a country that’s still teeming with engineering talent, thrifty startups can get the capital they need from government sources and corporate innovation grants.
That’s how BadVR got most of its $ 3.5 million in financing. Some money came from a grant from BadVR, while at least $ 1.25 million has come from the government in the form of two National Science Foundation cooperative agreements through the Small Business Innovation Research financing mechanisms.
A headset capture of BadVR’s climate change application, built for the Magic Leap One headset. Image Credits:BadVR
BadVR uses virtual and augmented reality tools to visualize geospatial data for a range of government and commercial applications. The startup’s tech is already being used by big telecom companies to accelerate the planning and deployment of 5G networks. And, within the public safety sector, the company’s tech is used to improve situational awareness for first responders and to reduce training, staffing and operational costs.
“Society has become aware of the power of data and the impact it has on our daily lives. It’s critically important that we make the access of data easy to every organization, regardless of technical skill level or background,” said Suzanne Borders, the chief executive and founder of BadVR, in a statement.
For Borders, the key to tapping government funding is all about proper advance planning. “Those take a long time,” Borders said. “When you get awarded them, you’re looking at a year’s worth of effort. [Our grant] was a testament to us planning for that about a year ago.”
These grants are typically milestone-based, so as long as BadVR was hitting its targets, it could be fairly assured that the money would be there.
“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”
Other government competitions are providing the company with additional non-dilutive cash and a chance to kick the tires on new capabilities.
A capture from BadVR’s augmented reality geospatial data environment, which allows users to visualize multiple live and historical data sets via overlays relevant to their environment. Image Credits:BadVR
That has translated into traction for the company’s Augmented Reality Operations Center. The AROC is a new offering for the product that visualizes data for first responders. Through a challenge hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, BadVR was able to work with the Eureka, Missouri Fire Department to develop a prototype for a specific emergency situation.
It’s an evolution of an early product the company had developed where enterprises can create digital twins of their factories or stores in virtual reality and do a walk-through to examine different conditions.
The visualization work that BadVR does isn’t necessarily all geo-spatial. The company can take all kinds of data and integrate that into an environment that makes the data easier to see. Borders sees the company’s services extending into creating all kinds of collaborative environments for companies.
“The system highlights things that are important to look at,” Borders said. “It’s virtualizing the data visualization experience and bringing it into an immersive environment — and building a more collaborative aspect to that experience.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses across the country to operate virtually, Borders said the demand for the kinds of products her company is building — with the government’s help — has only increased.
“That’s been due to increased demand for remote collaboration tools,” Borders said. “We’ve had increased interest in people across the board — but tools that have remote collaboration capabilities — and bring people together to one immersive data experience… those are taking off.”
With the theme “Build Back Better” Jerry Engel, Pete Newell, Steve Weinstein and I co-hosted nearly 500 Lean Educators from 63 countries and 235 universities online for a three-hour session to share what we’ve learned about educators on how we can help our communities rebound, adjust, and recover.
We got insights from each other about tools, tips, techniques and best practices.
Here’s what we learned.
Background When we last ran this virtual summit in July, our 400 educators were just coming to grips with teaching remotely. The two questions on the table were, 1) Could the lean methodology work remotely? 2) And what kind of pedagogy would support a class that depended on “getting out of the building” to work virtually? Tactically, how effective would customer discovery be for the students? Would customers sit for virtual interviews? How would you show them minimal viable products if not in person? How do you keep students engaged?
This Summit This summit discussed how the pandemic has shifted the way we teach, but also what we learned teaching and how we can use the Lean methodology to make an impact on our communities.
COVID-19 has dramatically altered the business landscape. Main Street businesses are severely affected. While many parts of the high-tech sector are growing, others are either contracting or shutting down. Amid these uncertain times we believe that Lean educators can prepare students for this new investing climate and help communities recover.
The summit opened with a panel of Investors sharing their insights of what the funding environment for entrepreneurs, non-profits and small businesses will look like as the economy recovers. See here for a video of the investor panel.
Next, Lee Bollinger President of Columbia University in conversation electrified the audience with description of the fourth purpose of a university. (I’ve summarized our conversation with the video and transcript of the entire talk following the summary.)
The core of the summit was gathering the collective wisdom and experience of the 500 attendees as we split into 20 breakout rooms. Besides sharing tips for teaching traditional entrepreneurs the discussion also included how we could help Main Street businesses. The output of the breakout sessions provided a firehose of data, a ton of useful suggestions, teaching tips and tools. Following Lee’s talk I’ve summarized the collective notes from the breakout session.
Lee Bollinger – Columbia The three purposes of a university are research, education, and public service. But universities should take on an additional role. To try to impact and affect the world in good ways, it’s what I call the fourth purpose of a university. No university has said, “We should design the institution to have a bigger impact using academic work and join up with outside entities and organizations and partners to do that.” And that’s what the fourth purpose is all about.
If one looks around in the world, you see these huge problems, massive inequality, hunger, poverty, climate change, issues of how to set up a global trading system. You have national problems. So, there’s no shortage of major issues.
NGOs play a very important role, but they tend to be very focused on some particular issue. If you look at think tanks, again, many of them are captured by particular interests. And universities have this incredible sort of filled-with-public purpose people who want to have an effect on the world.
One of the things that’s been striking to me over the course of my career is that those people probably will not get credit for that work in the promotion and tenure process. And that strikes me as crazy. We should embrace in the appointment process people who have incredible talents of that kind. People who are extremely gifted and talented at making things happen in the world. I think all of us have known people like that.
[If we do this] we would have a cohort of people within our institution who are of equal standing, with the greatest scholars and the greatest teachers. But they are the greatest at having impact on the world. We do this to some extent. That’s why it’s interesting in a way. It’s not even like it’s completely novel. I mean, the great surgeon, the great lawyer will be an adjunct in the law school, or the great business person will be an adjunct in the business school. But we don’t embrace it in the way that I’m thinking about. So there’s who do you embrace within the university and what do you value?
I think it’s a very pragmatic and practical – where do you situate in your mind universities in the context of the world? Should they be highly removed and only focused on teaching and scholarship with some public service on the side? Or should they be actively engaged with problems, ready to work with outside people and organizations?
If you can’t see the video of Lee Bollinger’s talk click here. The transcript of his talk is here.
Breakout Sessions The core of the summit was gathering the collective wisdom and experience of the 500 attendees as we split into 20 breakout rooms.(There were also a special breakout room for those interested in the new Hacking for Environment/Oceans course that started at UCSC and UCSD this year.)
The output of the breakout sessions provided a firehose of data, a ton of useful suggestions, teaching tips and tools. I’ve summarized the collective notes from the breakout session.
The consensus in our July summit and reinforced again in this summit was, yes you can teach via Zoom and “get out of the building” when you physically can’t. And it’s almost good enough. Further, our 3-hour long classes which were challenging in person required a redesign to be taught online. Zoom fatigue was real.
Crisis accelerates certain trends. COVID broke the myth that distant learning was problematic and isn’t as effective.
It forced everybody into remote learning, and a lot of people came away with the feeling of, hey, for a lot of things, this works much better than we thought it was going to work.
Now everybody has lived through a pivot. Everybody has experienced disruption and perhaps is now more open to looking at new ideas.
That’s going to be a carryover into when we can go back. How do you use that as a technique and not be afraid of it?
We need to remember in these difficult times that many of the skills we’re teaching – problem solving and running around the brick wall or through it – are life skills that we’re teaching. They’re not restricted just to entrepreneurs.
Not pretending it’s business as usual was a great lesson
Pedagogy – How We Teach Remotely
On-line has made it easier for teams to meet, mentors to meet, easier access to world-class speakers.
The importance of actually doing good instructional design, was pointed out as is time consuming and significant work to do up front. But it pays off in enabling much better engagement and retention.
it’s forced educators to become much more coherent and clearer about what they want to achieve with their teams and their students.
Understand that that it takes longer for people to absorb information when delivered online.
The flipped classroom approach – lectures as prerecorded homework – reduces remote class load. It can make your synchronous time more focused on collaboration, both with you and the students as an instructor, but also among the students themselves.
Make each lecture available in advance of the class.
Reinforce the lectures with examples during the zoom session
We’re doing better online than ever. In classes it’s easier to get people to participate but it’s difficult to keep momentum, especially when you get into the hard part of customer discovery
Overall, there’s a higher pressure to be more entertaining
Some institutions have asked the students to design the class. They choose a topic, then the students design the class or help design the class
It’s really difficult to maintain that one-on-one intimacy, but zoom has been a passable kind of safe option.
We’ve had faculty say that hybrid classes – teaching both in person and virtually, simultaneously – are probably the most detrimental learning environment
Hybrid teaching – some students physically in classroom wearing along with others online was pretty detrimental to the quality of instruction
One way of ensuring that students go through the advanced materials, is to have the students come up with a question about the material in advance
When it all changes, we’ll go back in person. But zoom is simply a classroom which just happens to be electronic. And the breakout rooms are simply a breakout, a study session, it just happens to be electronic. I think you can build an argument that there are more innovative and more interesting ways to do this. I just don’t know what they are yet.
Shorten the time that you’re going to do things. You can no longer do a full day, you can perhaps do three hours max virtually
Break things into very, very small chunks, bite sized chunks, one-minute, not 20-minute presentations for teams. And micro videos so people can watch to learn things
You got to break everything up – 10/15 minutes, it can’t be anything longer than that
Keep everything very, very short
Make things very bite sized, even when you’re all together online
The chunking concepts worked really well for students, and array those chunks of information in a buffet rather than a monolith – to make it easier for students to access
Make certain you boil your class down and reiterate, “these are the five things you needed to take away from this discussion.” Because at the end of the day, there are a little bit overwhelmed
Students being overwhelmed was a running narrative
Reach of the Classroom
Educators can reach a much larger audience, even a worldwide audience. And that really opened up the educators minds that they can teach not just to a single group, but to a much larger group
Having a worldwide audience is now possible. Which is a huge strength and has network benefits that people couldn’t anticipate
Teaching remote enabled being able to increase access. There were some great examples of enabling students in Africa to participate in programs from Australia, which had never happened before
It made me think of us as teachers without borders. That access is really pushed out to everybody now, to a much, much increased attendance
We can bring more people in from outside the classroom. Not only the theorists but constituents for customer development, or with Main Street businesses and local constituents
We’re no longer restricted by the size of the classroom. This year we’ve gone from 8 teams and 32 students to 16 teams and 80 students
A year ago students would have looked down on not having in-person guests. Today they’re blown away by who we can get
Remote teaching offers a broader access to more guest lecturers. It’s a lot easier for guests to say yes in because they don’t have to drive in, they can do it from their offices
Pre-recording some guests enables access to guests who normally would say no because of their schedule
Getting out of the classroom in some ways can be a lot easier when you’re never actually in a classroom. There aren’t the same travel and logistical challenges.
Getting zoom interviews is actually easier. So some of the discovery process has been easier online
Mixed results, we were able to get more people engaged to get more people do more interviews, and because people are more available online. But we couldn’t go as deep and couldn’t do more of the informal observation, that part of really getting to some insight
We need to know what sweet spots for customer development work best with zoom and that don’t work best with zoom. We need to give our students greater guidance around that point.
Minimal Viable Products
The very important role the MVP plays today, especially when you’re working in zoom. If you can get the product quickly, cheaply, and without using a lot of funding, you need to do that, because that’s going to get you a lot further along in terms of what you can learn from a customer development perspective.
Organize to have more class time in the breakout rooms in smaller groups, because this is where engagement really happens
As soon as you jump into a breakout session as a professor, you’re going to kill the discussion. Be sensitive, don’t jump in, let them finish the discussion on their own
Breakout sessions held via zoom help maintain team chemistry
Keeping the same team composition in the breakout sessions make those sessions work really well, compared to when they had split teams
The wallflowers within the class get to use chat, versus in person where they’re not going to participate at all.
How do you create energy during zoom sessions, especially during international calls?
There’s a drop off in engagement after one hour. Basically, they just disappear from the zoom
Some of the good things was being able to institute virtual pitching, virtual customer discovery, and in some cases a hosted special session to motivate faculty and students
Encourage students to learn the skill to consult with each other. This is a crucial skill. To be able to guide each other and say, “Well what did you learn about your customer discovery. And what did you learn about the value proposition.” Have them take the role of the educator a little bit
We need to find ways to allow students/teams do distance socialization. Find those kinds of activities in a way that gels the team and make that work out
Socializing happens naturally in person. You go out to dinner after things, you go get pizza, you hang out. That’s much harder to do virtually
Finding collaboration tools which can be used both during the zoom sessions but also outside of class. So students and the overall class can interact, both during the official hours, as well as during the unofficial hours
We’re no longer having these bigger networked conversations where you can have the serendipitous meet at the watercooler or the trade show, and kind of increase the creativity. But because of that some of these interactions have become more meaningful and purposeful because they’re very focused
Providing those tools is really important because they can’t just go have a cup of coffee after class, they can’t all get together at seven o’clock
Eventually bonding does happen if the teams meet on a regular basis and really connect over time
Community building is very challenging in remote context. Even though you’re able to get across a lot of the learning objectives, you’re missing a lot of these intangibles
Get the input from the students about what collaboration tools they’re most fluent in
Teams have more trouble forming and norming under the current circumstances
There’s the forming, storming, norming, performing kind of thing about teams that happens through working together over time, and socializing
Team formations to really gel as a team can happen in this kind of remote environment – but it takes longer
Continually push more for diversity in students/founders; older people, Hispanics, women, brown and black – people of all of all flavors
Having someone who looks like them lead the class info/recruiting sessions for diverse students. This dramatically changes the class makeup
Be sensitive to students’ personal situations
Students will turn off their videos, not because they’re checking out, but because of their location (bedroom, basement, sitting in their underwear, etc.)
Suggest a class rule that participation is part of the grade. When they do talk, they have to put the camera on. That’s a compromise on the sensitivity
In the online environment, it is a little bit more difficult to gauge feedback from teams
You need to work hard helping build highly engaged and motivated teams
You want to push them to take advantage of being virtual and conducting extreme customer discovery
On the other side, teams who might have started out strong at the beginning of COVID, and found it easier to do things virtually, have now hit a serious virtual fatigue, and are kind of disengaged and not excited about it. And just really exhausted, too exhausted to take anything more on
Mentorship becomes a lot easier. Rather than having to get people face to face meeting, we are now able to connect people. we are being able to bring the right mentors from around the country or even around the world to help our students with mentoring
There are three kinds of mentors; process mentors – those that know what’s coming up. Technology mentors, and then market mentors. Zoom makes it easier to have more people involved
Reach out to older/retired entrepreneurs, find them and put them into the mix as mentors, sometimes as founders and coaches and so forth. They’ve got time they’re willing to help
Keeping mentors and investors engaged over the video was a bit of a problem. They managed to shorten and simplify the process that tended to help. But q&a engagement is still a little bit of a struggle.
Exams need to be testing more of the understanding in the application of the concept
You can have an exam that is open for six or 24 hours. And then you’re able to actually ask the students to demonstrate more of the understanding of the concepts
How do we make sure that our students who may be falling behind and may not have been able to keep up because of the COVID pandemic?
How do we make sure that they’re on track after we get back?
How do we make sure that we are adjusting for their return and the return to normalcy after we get back?
We as educators need to not treat solopreneurs or Main Street businesses as second-class citizens in our classrooms or incubators, or our meetups. They’re embracing the risks and challenges that big tech startups are embracing
Main Street customers had product market fit, and now they’re experiencing for the first time falling out of product market fit
Business owners are distracted, focused on day-to-day issues. And they’re impacted personally
Looking at all aspects of the entrepreneur has been a real focus on prioritizing the human element, when folks are dealing with layoffs, or cash flow issues, or potential eviction
How do we work with companies/startups that are maybe not so much innovation driven, but necessity driven? Because of the dislocations being created by COVID-19, and economic dislocation
How do we provide services at scale to help coaching? We had some people who had sent their students to help those local businesses in this time of need and pivoted their classes from doing the next step to helping mainstream businesses do it
And we had people doing that, both in Africa and in San Jose. And with Hacking for the community in Hawaii and going out to rural areas. But we still struggle with how to engage, especially with rural communities to help them do that
When you go out to rural areas, that younger people who are already fluent in the tools are more are more likely to engage
Similarly, the idea that empathy and engagement is extremely scalable. So some of the core principles here have really scaled a lot
One of the things that was really interesting was connecting entrepreneurial students with waitresses and bartenders to help them figure out how to get additional funding to compensate for the lack of subsidies they might not have been able to receive
It’s not always a sexy company that the student gets to work with. But they get to see real impact. And it’s something that they can use in their skill sets as project managers as they continue forward
SBDC (Small Business Development Centers) have a very strong demand for a modified lean Launchpad curriculum program for Main Street businesses. The individual Small Business Development Centers are doing the best they can to come up with a “just getting started” program. They’re all unique. They could benefit from what universities learned from the Lean Launchpad/Lean Startup approach
Getting businesses online, giving them social media skills, coaching on the canvas, as a critical thing they were doing for Main Street businesses
The teams aren’t done when they’re done with the class. In fact, they’re actually starting a real business during the class.
At Ryerson the University incubators are open to entrepreneurs throughout the community, not just enrolled students.
UT Rio Grande, where many students did not have access to good internet connections, improved their WiFi to extend it to their parking lots
To graduate from the University of Buckingham, you must found a startup before you get your diploma. The startup doesn’t have to succeed. And if it fails early enough, you get to do another one
We talked about a need to extend beyond the canonical I-Corps to post class curriculum to understand how the larger ecosystem can be part of that. We also talked about the need to track more than team activity more than just interviews. But to measure engagement with mentors and instructors. And the insights that come from those engagements
Hacking for the Environment and Oceans
Real benefit in teaching smaller niche cohorts more focused on a specific problem area
All of the coastal universities are finding that this methodology should have impact in these spaces
These courses are more complex to put on than even Hacking for Defense type classes, because you’re trying to bring a diverse community together
The types of sponsors are 1) nonprofits and from foundations, 2) Coastal Conservancy organizations 2) CEOs who hoping people will help them solve problems. 34) venture funds that are starting to be impact funds, particularly. It’s kind of a very diverse group.
Summary When the National Science Foundation stopped holding their annual conference of I-Corps instructors, it offered us the opportunity to embrace a larger community beyond the NSF – now to include the Hacking for Defense, NSIN, and Lean LaunchPad educators.
When we decided to hold the online summit, we had three hypotheses:
Educators would not only want to attend, but to volunteer and help and learn from each other – validated
Instructors would care most about effective communication with students (not tools, or frameworks but quality of the engagement with students) – validated
Our educator community valued ongoing, recurring opportunities to collaborate and open source ideas and tools – validated
A big thanks to Jerry Engel of U.C. Berkeley, the dean of this program. And thanks to our organizers The Common Mission Project which provided all the seamless logistical support, and sponsors VentureWell and GCEC and every one of the breakout room leaders:
Ali Hawks – Common Mission Project UK, Chris Taylor – Georgetown, Philip Bouchard – TrustedPeer, Jim Hornthal- UC Berkeley, Michael Marasco- Northwestern, Bob Dorf – Columbia, Tom Bedecarré – Stanford, Dave Chapman – University College London, Paul Fox – LaSalle Univ Barcelona, Phil Weilerstein – VentureWell, Stephanie Marrus – University of California, San Francisco, Jim Chung – George Washington University, Babu DasGupta -University of Wisconsin, Todd Warren – Northwestern, Jeff Reid – Georgetown, Micah Kotch – Urban-X, Radhika Malpani – Google, Todd Basche- BMNT, Todd Morrill – VMG
I am a solo founder and I am also a technical person. I am also able to do UI design. So I was thinking to outsource the MVP with the little code that I have written for my mobile app. I am also working on the UI design side of things. I want to bring my startup rapidly to the market. So I am curious to know whether this can be a good strategy or not. Would love to hear thoughts from all of you?
I'd appreciate all feedback and thoughts on this! Thank you all!