Enterpreneurship Classes at Stanford

Stanford, and the Business School specifically, are serious about entrepreneurship. The school doesn't just pay this area lip service; the selection is broad, diverse, and satisfying. It's possible to spend the majority of your time here just in entrepreneurship-related classes.

What follows are some of my thoughts around the many classes offered at the Business School and at Stanford in general. I tried to be clear about my sources (took the class, friend took the class, applied to the class, just heard about it, talked to the professor, etc.). Note that a lot of the below is often just my personal opinion. If there is one thing I learned about entrepreneurship, it's that it comes in all shapes and sizes, trying to survey the whole field is near impossible, and trying to extract best practices futile at best. But by taking a variety of classes, I've exposed myself to a number of different mindsets, backgrounds and personalities, and I feel that I'll be just a tad less surprised once I get out into the real world.

Finally -- but most importantly! -- two big caveats. I've met a lot of people who "want to be entrepreneurs". I've always had a problem with that statement. What many of these people really are saying is that they are enamored by the mythical entrepreneur, by the story of the college dropout who created a $100B company in his dorm room. In talking to people who have seen and been through a lot, I found that those who end up being dedicated entrepreneurs do it either because (a) they are cursed with an idea, something that won't let them sleep, something that they would just love to have solved but there isn't a good solution so they are compelled to do it themselves, or (b) they have a relatively big ego (which is not necessarily a bad thing!) and they just can't work for anyone else. There may be other characteristics, but I'd encourage you to think very hard about what "entrepreneurship" means to you, personally.

Secondly, the best way to experience/get better at/learn about/prepare yourself for entrepreneurship is to just do it. Sitting in classes, no matter how "hands on", simply won't cut it. It may seem hypocritical, me talking about getting out there while I sit in the idyllic Town Square at the Stanford Business School, but the most impactful "teaching moments" I've had about entrepreneurship happened when I got outside of the classroom. Classes -- especially speakers -- open your mind up, and force you to question things, which is useful, but you want to apply what you learned quickly and frequently. Most likely, your first ex-classroom experience will be to do everything you were taught not to do (as it happens, this very thing happened to me...)

I'd put the Stanford entrepreneurship courses into four categories: Theory (the most familiar to a GSBer: case-based classes that introduce to you various entrepreneurship-related themes), Lab (hands-on experiences that have you do something), Workshop (mostly project-based courses) and Peripherals (not entrepreneurship per se, but offer useful perspective).


In Case/Theory classes, I'd be looking for: quality of speakers (what have they gone through? are they successful? can they offer insights?), and the teaching dynamic. It's worth to answer the case prep questions carefully -- they aren't hard, but they can get you to think about the themes/entrepreneurship challenges in general.

STRAMGT 353: Formation of New Ventures
(Took it in Autumn '13 with Siegelman+Leslie)

GSB's staple. Sections taught every quarter, usually co-taught by two professors. Very typical case-based class. High variation in teaching quality, and with that comes the variation in the quality of speakers (since professors invite the speakers they know). Consider not just the specific teacher, but also the dynamics of the duo. The course title is a bit misleading -- the class covers formation (first third), pains of a growing startup (middle third), and exits/failures/acquisitions (last third).
I enjoyed the cases and the speakers, although I wish they had spoken for more than 15 minutes each. The paper (two parts: midterm and final, but really one paper) is a good excuse to get out and interview a bunch of people in a startup. But start looking for startups early -- it's hard to get a commitment and the proposals are due early in the quarter.
Leslie+Rachleff is (I heard + witnessed in one class during admit weekend) the killer duo. Sadly, the year I took the class, Rachleff went on a sabbatical, and the Leslie+Siegelman dynamic was new and untested. Leslie was the dominant personality and, sadly, made it clear: interrupted Russ, talked too much at times at the expense of the speakers, seemed interested in the One way to answer his questions. But I came to like Russ a lot through this class (and through Startup Garage, which he also co-taught). I'd want to make sure you have either Rachleff, (hesitantingly) Leslie or Ellis teaching the class. Siegelman is new, and he's a big plus if he complements the aforementioned. In a few years I expect him to be up there too as the headliner.

STRAMGT 348: Very Early Stage Ventures
(Took it in Spring '13 with Reiss+Chess)

The class was new, first offered when I took it. I took a risk in the Spring of my first year and took it as an elective. The class basically takes the first third of S353 and explodes it to take up the whole quarter, talking in much more detail about team formation, idea generation, and funding. I found that to be great, because in general I've been yearning some depth at the GSB. I liked the class a lot. The duo was great, good dynamic, they clearly knew what they were talking about. Good speaker lineup. Professors did warm calls (started the class telling us who's going to be called on to answer specific questions). The speakers got to talk a lot more than in S353. Midterm was a good exercise in analyzing a specific startup (you don't get to do that much at the GSB), final was similar to S353. I found that I took much more away from this class than from S353, though it may have been because I took it first. The handouts were actually useful -- something I imagine myself going back to post-GSB. Note that there is a lot of overlap between S348 and many sections of S353, so you may not be able to take both, depending on which section of S353 you're eyeing.

GSBGEN 525: From business venture to business plan
(Didn't take it -- took E-Business, which was taught by Mendelson, and which I was told had good overlap)

Mendelson is an old-school professor: he has a certain way of doing things, but I found his teaching useful in absorbing the themes and the frameworks. Still, he polarizes the students -- some like him, some aren't big fans. In E-Business I learned a ton that I found myself bringing up in my second year. Mendelson's classes have a high workload.


In both S353 and S348, it was good to get to know the professors. They can offer their advice on life, or shred your business idea to pieces (which you should be aiming for at all times!). And, most importantly, the classes offer a wonderful selection of speakers, which is really what all this is about. Ask them challenging questions!


ENGR 245: Lean Launchpad
(Took it in Winter '12 with Blank, Miura-Ko and Feiber)

The original lean startup class, taught by a Stanford celebrity Steve Blank. You apply as a team of four, which you must form, and with an idea. Blank and the teaching staff interviews you. Blank has three info sessions/mixers that you can use to form a team. 4 GSB students is rare; if that happens, make sure 2+ of you have technical skills and really sell that in the interview. There are more GSB students than you think who want to take the class and don't care about the idea so you can form a team easily. Engineering students are harder to get - but they care about autonomy and if you start with a problem space and they like it (especially if there is a hard technical problem there), you should be fine. The class is in the Engineering school but it's really a Business school class (when I took it, more than 50% students were from the GSB).
The class teaches you one thing only, but it really, really teaches it to you: get out of the building, talk to people, and keep talking to people. It's great if you like a space (and ideally have some connection to some specific customer segment). It's not so great if you have an idea you fell in love with but if you haven't validated it -- Blank loves the notion that "no startup idea survives first contact with customers". Your idea needs to be specific, and something you can prototype (even if it's a low-fidelity, paper prototype or a "fake product").
Form a team of people who won't mind talking to a lot of people, because that's what the class is all about. Blank flipped the classroom so you watch the lectures at home, and in class you present. 15 minutes every week. The class is great in teaching you the importance of talking to customers, but the course structure and the need to prep a presentation each week may mean that you'll end up being distracted from building a company by having to prepare class deliverables. I call that the "course tax" and it was pretty high for me in the class.
In general, a problem with lab classes is that if everything is going as the professors have envisioned, it can be great. You start with an idea, somewhat full of yourself, then you talk to people, you realize that your idea sucks. After a few weeks of soul searching, you find something the customers want. Then you build a prototype, you talk to customers more, an identity crisis sets in, you dramatically pivot to something you heard in an interview that you hadn't thought of. Then you go really fast, build a prototype, and get an LOI (Letter of Intent, from a business that wants to buy the product that you haven't started building yet). That's the ideal, but it's rare. It's a little painful outside of that.
Blank is a self-proclaimed asshole, which I liked a lot -- I think too many people at Stanford are just too damn nice. He will interrupt you mid-sentence. It's humbling and he's often right. The teaching staff holds office hours every week, which your team has to attend. It's a great way to get some mentorship -- I actually found the OHs to be more useful than the class itself.
In retrospect, I should have probably just taken Startup Garage, though the exercise of forming a team around a half-baked idea was a good exercise in leadership.

STRAMGT 356/366: Startup Garage
(Took it in Autumn '13 with Zenios + Siegelman + Lin + Gur)

If you only take one hands-on class, take that one. It's the best combination of Lean Launchpad, Launchpad, and the more traditional S321. The class has an entire classroom to themselves, for God's sake! Look through the window at some point to see how awesome the classroom (M101) is, it's like a kindergartener's paradise. But, on a serious note, the class combines design thinking, Blank's "get out of the building" customer development and hypothesis-driven startup philosophy, and includes some hard skills -- how to prototype, adwords, etc. You even get some funds to test some of your hypotheses. You get comfortable brainstorming and prototyping.
The "course tax" is relatively low; you have to prepare for 2 design reviews + a final review, but I found the preparation to be super applicable to what I was doing. The availability of teaching staff and the mentor network is huge.
You apply in the Spring. The class is in the Autumn, and you may choose to continue in the Winter (usually, if you found a semblance of a product-market fit by December, it may make sense to continue in the Winter, where you continue with execution; don't force it to continue if you don't have an idea you're somewhat convinced in). You can apply as an individual (am section) or as a team, if you have some kind of traction (pm section). If you have a team, and ideally took one other entrepreneurship class, you should just apply as a team, the pm section is better. Most teams pivot in the first three weeks, so the idea isn't that valuable (you will hear that said a lot in Silicon Valley, and by God how true is that! Drop the whole stealth thing), and the pm section offers you more autonomy and caters the curriculum to what your individual team needs.
This was probably my favorite entreprenurship class at Stanford. I ended up liking Russ a lot (it was the third class of his that I took, which helped), and the other teaching staff were great also. I ended up spending a lot of time in M101, working on the startup idea, which is how you should be spending your time anyway.

STRAMGT 321/322 : From Idea to Launch
(Didn't take it -- went to info sessions, talked to prof and the TA)

For second-years only. Class is more inter-disciplinary than Startup Garage, and since it includes Sloans, often the people there are more serious about their startups. You apply as a team and with an idea which you should be pretty commited to.

ME301 : Launchpad
(Applied, didn't get it)

Design school class. I applied and met with the professors during their Office Hours, but I didn't get it. You apply as a team, and should have some traction (and should be in communication with the professors before the deadline to apply). We joke that it's really a two-quarter class, because you need to have worked on an idea throughout Winter (the class is in the Spring). The professors are great, and it's an awesome class to take if you haven't taken a D School class and if you're interested in design thinking as applied to entrepreneurship. It seems to me that the class is catered towards consumer products (especially physical products!), given the activities and what they are teaching, but you may be able to make variations (service business, or Enterprise) work. The class focuses much more on being customer-centric and prototyping.


Venture Studio
(Member since Summer '13)

I guess it counts as a workshop. You apply with an idea (and/or a team) and if you get in, you get some office space in either the Venture Studio on the third floor of Zambrano, or the CoLabl (M101). It's a great community to be a part of, and having space may make it easier for you to focus on your venture. I recommend applying.


STRAMGT 313: New Idea Workshop
(Taking in Winter '14)

I like Reiss -- see S348 -- but don't know what the class will be like.



Not entrepreneurship classes per se, but you can learn something about entrepreneurship taking them.

MKTG 355: Product Launch
(Took in Spring '13)

Half the students who take the class become infatuated with Levav. I was too. He's just such a good lecturer. He's inspiring, and pushes you to work, even though sometimes at the end of the class I left the classroom with a big "so, what was the takeaway?". The speakers are great, though. It was my favorite Foundations course. You have to petition since it's Advanced Marketing, and the petition really is an exercise in whether you can market yourself. So go, sell hopes and dreams!

STRAMGT 315: From Launch to Liquidity 
(Know the profs, talked briefly about class)

New class, didn't take yet, taught by Levav and Rao (of HR fame) and Rauh (whom I don't know). The first two seem like a good teaching combo, but the classes I did take with Levav and Rao were a little bit fluffy, so I would be concerned about compounding that effect.