Spring break tends to involve traveling to an exotic location or burrowing in bed, trying to catch up on six week’s worth of sleep. For five Harvard Business School students, however, spring break meant redesigning how they see entrepreneurship. Or, as the group coined it: “Startup Lockdown.”
“There’s a stigma around HBS that we don’t do a lot of building, or that we don’t know how to be entrepreneurs,” says Marcela Sapone, a first-year MBA candidate. “So, how do we change that perception and show at the same time we’re thinking about ventures and building in a very different way?”
The answer boiled down to one simple equation: “5x5x5,” five first-year students, five days and five businesses.
The idea sprang out of WHITESPACE, a new venture lab self-described as the brainchild of Sapone. With the goal of starting, funding and incubating businesses, Startup Lockdown served as the lab’s first experiment, which didn’t take long to attract the attention of fellow first-years at HBS.
“People want to join the team,” says Jess Beck, who met Sapone their first day of school. The two bonded after swapping stories of working at McKinsey, a place Beck watched several ideas never have the chance to get off the ground. “As you go throughout life, you run into people and you run into ideas that don’t have a home.”
With that problem in mind, Sapone and Beck started dreaming up ways they could reinvent the first step in starting a company — a way that put more emphasis on unlocking the potential in people.
“People believe in our dream,” Sapone says. “They want to be in a space that allows them to be creative and add meaningful value.”
Sapone and Beck worked alongside Em Toshack, a former senior associate of The Boston Consulting Group; Mike Chang, whose past work spans Bain and AT&T; and Okalo Ikhena, a previous program manager on the Bing mobile team.
Ikhena hadn’t jumped on board until days before Startup Lockdown started. But, as he told Sapone: “In 35 seconds, I decided to devote my entire spring break to working on this. I am going to learn something every day.”
And that was Sapone’s goal. “I want to give every individual the chance to challenge themselves, and give the opportunity for the team to work together in a way that was satisfying. They are creating an extraordinary business at the end of the day.”
The five businesses they created are:
On Monday: The Taxonomy of Bras | A standardized taxonomy for sizing bras, promising a comfortable fit every time.
On Tuesday: Magpie | Magpie combines the best business card and contact management tools into one elegant, simple app.
On Wednesday: Doorman | Doorman is the doorman service for individuals who don’t live in doorman buildings.
On Thursday: totem | totem is a storytelling platform that harnesses the experiences of others to enhance your story.
On Friday: Top Tipples | Your “personal sommelier,” Top Tipples allows users to instantly see the best wine on any menu, so they never make an uninformed choice ever again.
Every day, the group worked until 9 or 10 p.m., running around Greater Boston doing primary consumer research, whether that meant visiting retirement homes in the Back Bay or interviewing strangers in the Boston Common. All the while, they were working together as a “family,” even being made nutritious meals by Toshack, a former restaurateur, to keep energy high throughout the day as they rapidly prototyped ideas.
The future goal is to create a Kickstarter model so every idea can be given candid feedback and potential funding. “Our top goal is we want everything we do to be successful,” Sapone says. “Each of these businesses, we aim to be ongoing ventures.”
And with the first experiment complete, the duo claims they are going to move forward by trying to build WHITESPACE here in Boston.
“This is really step one,” Beck says. “This is the beginning of something. The beginning of a lot of different things.”
For a photographic recap of the last five days, check out the photos below.