When Christina and I began the process of designing the course, we came up with a few principles to help us think about the content, structure, and goals of the class:
1. Networks are a foundational concept.
As a society, we are undergoing one of the most significant macro-level shifts in our lifetimes: the shift from centralized hierarchies to decentralized networks. We’re just starting to see how this affects governments, cultures, industries, and individuals. Whether you are building a tech startup or whether you are opening a coffee shop, it’s imperative that you understand not just the Internet, but the mechanics and implications of networks. They will inform just about anything you create.
2. Writing is a powerful tool.
The ability to effectively communicate an opinion in written form may arguably be one of the most important skills you can have. At a tactical level, it will help you raise money, recruit teammates, and market your product or service. It might even help you establish an online identity and build an audience for yourself.
Most importantly, if you can make it a regular habit, it can improve the quality of your thinking. There’s something about the practice of writing that helps you (subconsciously or otherwise) think through problems and connect the dots.
3. Working with others is encouraged.
Collaboration on the coursework and recruiting outside help is not only allowed but encouraged. In the real world, there’s no rule that says that an entrepreneur has to do everything by herself, and so it goes for this class.
4. There are no answers, just opinions.
The course is designed to provoke thought and discussion, and many of the questions we’ll ask have no clear, definitive answers. Over the course of the semester, we’ll bring in different speakers so that you can hear from a range of perspectives. But ultimately, you’ll be challenged to form your own opinions and to express them.
Over all, we think this approach will help you in the process of developing a meaningful perspective—one that is based on what you value, what you believe, and what you hope to see in the future.
Having a perspective (and learning to effectively articulate and cultivate it) is beneficial for both tactical and strategic reasons:
- It can inform the way you evaluate and hire your team members.
- It can also serve as an initial filter for considering potential investors and business partners.
- As you begin to build your product or service, having an established perspective will make it easier to figure out what parts of the user experience to focus on and what to ignore.
- And, as an entrepreneur, when the going gets rough, it will help you determine whether you should keep going, whether you should stop, or whether you should step aside.
At Union Square Ventures, we each cultivate our own perspectives as individuals, but we also have a shared perspective as a firm, which is expressed as our investment thesis. Because of the nature of the space that we’re in we spend a fair amount of time revisiting our thesis and articulating it. It benefits entrepreneurs for us to be as clear (and current) as possible about what we like to invest in. And, it benefits us as a firm because it helps us focus our attention.
To talk about this in more detail, we invited Union Square Ventures partner Brad Burnham to speak about our investment thesis in the context of what’s been happening with Occupy Wall Street and the previously proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation.
Here’s a video of a nearly identical talk Brad gave recently at the University of Chicago:
and here are the slides:
Add your thoughts and questions in the comments below!