07/30/2014 09:08 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Lessons Learned Mentoring 300+ Student Entrepreneurs at European Innovation Academy

I just got back to The States after an amazing experience in the South of France mentoring at European Innovation Academy, a three week entrepreneurship education program. I Met some awesome entrepreneurs (both students and mentors) from all over the world. And I was incredibly inspired by how hard working and smart these young entrepreneurs (most were undergraduate students) are and what they were able to accomplish in just three weeks. Below are my biggest takeaways from the experience.

1. The Next Generation is Native to Mobile

It was interesting to see that many teams were working on mobile products. Many of which could have been web, but it seemed the teams first instinct was to build for mobile. This is great news as people increasingly transfer technology and internet consumption from web to mobile, as mobile ownership continues to skyrocket (perhaps most notably in emerging markets where people hadn't been able to afford desktops), and because mobile enables powerful new capabilities.

Just as people in their 20's and 30's now are "web native," the next generation is "mobile native." People in their 20's and 30's grew up with desktops and the Internet and have easily adopted to it's functionality (similar to the way someone who grows up in a Spanish speaking country would adopt Spanish). Similarly, people in their early 20s and younger have grown up with mobile phones and are more adept to using them and have a strong understand of their functionality.

2. Lean Startup Has Come a Long Way, But Still Has a Long Way to Go


Lean Startup and customer development were taught by the program and it's mentors and speakers and practiced by the students. If you've read my blog, you know I've completely drank the Lean Startup Kool-Aid. I was actually surprised by the extent to which Lean was adopted and emphasized. But it still wasn't enough. Some students still don't understand it, or are opposed to it.

I've noticed the people that appreciate Lean Startup most are entrepreneurs who have experienced the pain of spending lots of time and money building and trying to sell something that no one wants. I was drawn to Lean because it helped me focus on what's most important and get started on my ideas in an efficient and effective way, but became more enthused after hanging around Silicon Alley for long enough to see so many startups fail, often for the same reason - building something no one wants. Lean can help improve the chances of building something people want and reduce the impact of failure.

First-time entrepreneurs haven't experienced the pain of spending a bunch of time and money building something people want. They've been more exposed to the likes Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobbs than the countless number of entrepreneurs who spend months and years working on something that has no market viability. In the short-term, it's much easier keep building and keep the dream alive than it is to talk to customers.

For Lean to become even more widely adopted, perhaps more people need to fail. Or perhaps the messaging of Lean's value propositions could be improved (I found it difficult to express the importance of customer development at times).

3. Physical Location is No Longer a Barrier


It was amazing to see teams building products, acquiring customers, and doing all the things a startup need to do, from this beautiful remote location outside of Nice. Technology advancements, particularly in communication, have made it cheaper and easier to run a business from just about anywhere in the world.

No longer do you Need to be in the same physical location as your customers, employees, investors, etc. In fact, many locations have lower expenses, higher standards of living, more diverse culture, etc. than the most common startup hubs, which actually makes it harder to justify starting a company in these locations. Even if location was a barrier, there are large and underserved markets all over the world.

The United States has a large population but it's not as big as Facebook's!

4. The Future Holds More Entrepreneurship

It was amazing to see how much enthusiasm for entrepreneurship there was from these young students from all over the world. As software development gets cheaper and easier, startup best practices get transmitted globally, more people embrace the culture of entrepreneurship, and the global economy causes job security to continue to wane, I think we'll see more and more people starting companies.

5. No More Excuses!

The students made startups look easy! Many of the students were able to go from zero (no team, no idea, etc) to live product, users, and in some cases paying customers, in just three weeks.

European Innovation Academy pretty much abolished any excuse anyone (including myself) might have about starting a software company. "I don't have an idea." "I don't live in Silicon Valley." "I can't find teammates." "I don't know how to x." All: destroyed.

It just takes a little "foolishness," as Steve Jobs would say -- the ability to tolerate the risk and uncertainty of of not knowing if it will work out, and some hard work. Just get out there, talk to customers, and build some good technology. Technology has made it cheaper and easier than ever to build software, and the Internet has made it cheaper and easier than ever to learn, and connect with potential customers, teammates, etc.