Business models take shape in Customer Discovery Bootcamp

Photo by Mike Schinkel

While the paths of Tech graduates may initially split into a broad array of pursuits, many alumni will eventually consider entrepreneurship at some point in their distinguished careers.

For those students who seriously anticipate such a career move, the Customer Discovery Bootcamp run by VentureLab, a state-funded component of Tech that focuses on developing entrepreneurial talents among students, prides itself on teaching students the basics of customer discovery and critiquing business models.

The Customer Discovery Bootcamp is an intensive, six-week program. The class is free for Tech students, and its instructors are Tech graduates with experience in entrepreneurial startups.

“The [teachers] are serial entrepreneurs,” said Brandy Nagel, marketing catalyst at VentureLab. “They’ve all had startups that have succeeded and some startups that have failed. This makes them uniquely qualified to give feedback to people on their business models.”

Participants who complete the course and put in the necessary work outside of class are historically the students who gain the most from the program.

“The Customer Discovery Bootcamp made me get out of the building and meet people,” said Shauvik Choudhary, a fourth-year CS Ph.D. student.

The instructors strongly believe in offering critical, incisive advice to students.

“If I had not met my potential customers, I would have not realized that my project would not only require a lot of time and money but also that most customers won’t pay for the final product,” Choudhary said.

Although the instructors pull no punches when it comes to giving advice, they believe that students benefit from hearing honest opinions concerning their business ideas.

“What we find is that there’s a pretty strong entrepreneurial community in [Atlanta],” Nagel said. “When an entrepreneur comes to pitch their idea in front of an investor or a potential customer, we find that those folks are too nice to ever say, ‘that’s a crummy idea.’ The [instructors] are not that nice.”

The instructors don’t plan on curbing their enthusiasm in future classes, either.

“Some [past participants] say it was way too tough,” Nagel said. “We think that, even though the [instructors] are really brutally tough, Tech students can take it.”

The course takes on a teaching model known as an “inverted classroom.” Outside of class, participants complete reading, watch video lectures and conduct regular interviews with potential customers.

In the weekly classes, participants present their results and findings, which allows for participants to critique each other’s ideas.

Choudhary and others who completed the course gained insight into the intimate workings and applications of their own business ideas.

“At the end of the Startup Gauntlet program, I realized the specific domain where my idea would be more successful and give me the most returns in the near future,” Choudhary said. “I would highly recommend this program to anyone who has an idea and would like to validate its potential.”