Startup Lockdown — Day 0

I was pretty clear last year that one of the reasons I was coming to HBS was to try to start my own venture. HBS was busier than I thought. While I’ve been doing a better job of having ideas, execution is another story.

This week is Spring Break, and I’m going to be doing something a little different: Startup Lockdown. Startup Lockdown is a project out of, started by a team of five in the MBA class of 2014. They cofounded and now run a successful company, Alfred, that came out of this process. There’s a video on that here.

This year we’re replicating their process, with some twists and experiments along the way. We still have a team of five, and we’ll be pursuing five ideas. You can follow along on our team Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook — and I’ll try to post each day here, too!

(Here’s a hint: the full idea descriptions are towards the bottom).


Everything came together pretty quickly. Caitlin floated the idea by me during lunch on February 3rd (I was intrigued from moment one). We decided we were definitely doing it while I was in Iceland she was in Breckenridge in mid-February. On February 22nd we sat down to start hammering out what we needed to accomplish before this week. I’m happy to say we’re going in with as many cards as we can get stacked in our favor.

The Team

As anybody who has worked on… anything… will tell you, the team is the most important thing.

The top line was building a set of people who would challenge our ways of thinking. We didn’t want to be afraid of constructive conflict (conflict around ideas — not personal issues). We’ve already had this come up in several ways — do these ideas have deep enough impact? What’s the balance between starting from customer insights, and starting from an MVP product idea? How much time do we need to spend each day to get the best quality?

We also selected for a diverse set of skills. We wanted to make sure we had the know how across a variety of different things. The easiest way to explain where we landed on this is to share the skills people bring. At the broadest level you could lump them into: technical, design, sales, nonprofit, strategy consulting, venture, documentation. You can read all the specific bios if that’s up your alley.

Each of us will be driving one idea forward as “founder” over the next five days, even though we’re all working on them together. This gives us the ability to divide responsibilities more effectively.

The Process

Each day we’ll be following a set process — the process is just as important as the ideas. We want to make sure we get faster and more effective as the week goes on.

9–9:45 Framing: Go over the “one pager” an owner has prepared with a summary of what we know so far and our key questions. Together, we’ll work on specific questions to ask during interviews. Prepare the worksheet that we’d like each person to fill out during our user research phase.
9:45–11:45 Customer Research: Two teams of two work on research, where one person gets going on deliverables. The research teams will focus on some in depth research (long conversations, deeper insights) and some quicker talks to get a feel for the space.
11:45–1:30 Debrief + Pick an MVP
1:30–6:00 Work, Feedback, Iterate, Work: This is when we start to work on deliverables — do we try to get customers to sign up? Do we get people to pay us for a concierge system? Do we start building app mocks? It’ll all depend on the concept and what’s going to get us furthest. We’ll have regular “stand up” meetings during this.
6:00–7:00 Finalize Output Deliverables, get ready for Report out.
7:00–7:30 Report Out: We’ll invite guests into our studio at the Harvard Innovation Lab to see the day’s work. (Interested in dropping by? We’d love to have you — just let us know!)
8:30 — ? Team Dinner

The Ideas

We came together as a group last weekend to start to brainstorm the ideas. We started from ideas that each of us have had, and then did a round of “pain points you’ve encountered recently.”

We shared the ideas with the group — which sparked more ideas that we added to the board. We clustered them together to see categories emerged.


When we reconvened a week later, we used our initials to show which ideas we were most interested in, and made a list of any with votes.

Startup Lockdown, Brainstorm

We quickly eliminated most of the “one-vote” ideas — either because they weren’t well scoped for a day, we didn’t have enough expertise, or we knew someone would work on it anyway.


Monday: Personal CRM

This is still wide open. It came from an amalgam of ideas and pain points — a bunch of different angles.

Why are there professional tools like Salesforce and RelateIQ, but not something personal? Is it sleazy to use a system to manage friends? What about the gap between friends and acquaintances? How can I be a less bad friend? how can I be a better friend? how can I stay in touch more effectively? Why do I drop the ball? Do my friends really forgive me? Will future me forgive me?

Tuesday: Ethical Puppy Marketplace

One of our team members (Steve) has been trying to buy a puppy. It’s apparently harder than you’d think. We’re going to figure out a better way to get a puppy you feel great about — from a place you feel great about, too.

Wednesday: Day Launcher

Lots of people have cool morning routines. Lots of people (me) don’t. How can we make sure we get up on the “right side of the bed” every morning?

Thursday: Skill Building Vacation

Vacation doesn’t have to be sitting on the beach. Caitlin learned to Kite Board while on vacation. I just learned some cooking in Indonesia, and yoga in Cambodia. You basically have to travel to learn to surf or scuba dive. If you want to learn a specific skill, how do you plan the best trip for that?

Friday: Energy Cal

None of us are happy with the calendar solutions that exist. It’s impossible to schedule meetings with teams. You end up taking meetings you don’t want to take, or five meetings in a row (eating the last two are useless) but never making time to exercise or learn a new skill. How can we re-think calendars?

These are the five we got to that all of us were interested in. Of course, everyone comes up with ideas in different ways. If you’re looking for more, Katie Bolin (Spark Capital) just posted offering a few different techniques.

Want to help?

If you think you’re an interesting case for any of the five ideas, we’d love to include you in our user research — particularly if you have time for a longer conversation. We’re also open to anything else! If you have any idea you think we should hear for how we go about doing this, please let us know. And follow along on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook.

UPDATE! The Results

Monday — Pickld
Tuesday — Waggr
Wednesday — Voyahago
Thursday — Freelancia
Friday — Goalie