For the last three years at HBS, nine-hundred or so RCs have taken, in many cases, their first foray into entrepreneurship during FIELD 3. For some, the class can seem enlightening, intimidating, exciting or frustrating (or all of those feelings at once) but for most the experience is incomplete. You dedicate little time to product design, market testing and feature selection. You also quickly cobble together any resources you can find to produce saleable content on a fixed schedule. After all, you have to formulate go-to market strategies and prove financial solvency in merely a few months under the microscope of highly-scrutinizing peer and alumni judges! In the end, your idea will likely be cast aside once the course is over (quick test – can you name a FIELD 3 company other than HourlyNerd?), regardless of its immediate viability.
Thinking afterwards about my experience, I was strongly disappointed. The course increased my awareness of entrepreneurial buzzwords but left me even more uncertain about “the how” of entrepreneurship – we never really got to broadly test our idea before launching, had highly restrictive, conditions for assembling a professional-looking product and even received countervailing advice at critical stages of a (seemingly arbitrary) judging process. As I later faced the arduous decision to “perfectly” rank my EC class schedule (another #epicfail), one question kept gnawing at me: How could I build on my FIELD 3 experience in a lasting way? For those of you starting to have similar thoughts, I have a potential solution: Take Product Management 101 (PM 101) in your EC year, as I did.
You may have heard of the class – articles in The Huffington Post and other major media outlets have touted PM 101 as one of a handful of courses transforming the way MBA programs teach entrepreneurship. It was created by HBS students (13’ alums Prem Ramaswami and Rana Kashyap) for HBS students who want to extend the learning process from FIELD 3 and yearn for a meaningful supplement to the HBS case-method experience. Like me, they felt strongly that “learning by doing” is the best way to prepare HBS students for a lifetime of launching new products but that certain processes (market testing, design specification and selection, gathering engineering resources, etc.) were not thoroughly taught at HBS. The class, consisting of weekly workshops that support student-led entrepreneurial ventures with expert lectures and peer-to-peer feedback, relies heavily on the authentic spirit, collaboration and dedication of its participants.
During my EC year, I have worked with a partner to meticulously design, develop and test PlugBud, an app that helps communities discover and connect with others over shared interests. Unlike in FIELD 3, we got the time to really test the idea with hundreds of people before creating the specs and functionality that we wanted to include in the final product. We’ve also had multiple opportunities to present the product to leading design experts and entrepreneurs in the greater-Boston area, who have offered continued guidance and mentorship throughout the course. Topping things off, HBS funded the development of the app (more than at FIELD 3 levels!) because we provided overwhelming evidence to validate its launch.
The other products developed this year have varied in type and style but not ambition. They include YapZap (twitter for audio conversations), PowderRoom (professional makeup services for women in their homes) and HBX (HBS’s new online education platform was partially designed in PM 101). Scattered amongst the endless FIELD 3 flyers passed around this month, you will see these products marketed all over campus. If you haven’t done so yet, try them out! You will be amazed by their design, attention-to-detail and ease-of-use. These products also have staying power as many teams intend to pursue their ideas post-graduation.
Ask yourself, are you fatigued from “building on” on other people’s comments in case discussions that have comprised ~90% of your RC experience? Do you aspire to do something entrepreneurial? Do you want to learn how to test your ideas in the “real world” without having to justify how it (with no real users to date) will make millions of dollars in just a few months? If so, PM 101 might just be the class for you.