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Feedback on the weekly updates

Every week we ask the students to send an email to the rest of their team, their mentors, and the faculty with an update on their progress. This update is an important part of their grade but it’s also an important part of their team communication.

After reviewing the student responses from the first week, I quickly developed re-usable snippets of feedback that applied to common mistakes. For each student, I assembled a response by using the pre-defined snippets, customizing them, and then adding free-form text as needed.

I also graded each student on a scale of 1-5. Because this was the first update, no one received a score less than 3. If I thought the student was focused on the right things and making real progress then he or she got a 4. If the student stuck out above the others as making exceptional progress he or she got a 5.

Here are some of the snippets, in no specific order but with the more frequent ones near the top.

  • This update was all paragraphs. While that’s appropriate for some discussions, most people have an easier time digesting information in lists. If you could reformat some of this information to include some bullet lists that might be easier to read, remember, and scan later. Any time you have an update this long, you should probably start with a bullet list that summarizes what I’m about to read. You can use bold or italics to make things stand out.
  • I like how you summarized the main points at the top of the message. I’m also a big fan of using bullet points to help people parse a message quickly or reference it later. Using bold and italics is good too.
  • Any time you send out an update like this, you should be thinking about what your “call to action” is. Why are you sending this and what do you want to happen? Make sure to state that clearly. The last line of the email should usually be the action item that you need. In your case, you might list out areas that you think you need help from the mentors, instructors and other team members. I will often include the exact same call to action text at the begging and the end of an email.
  • Your email update was too much “we” and not enough “I”. If we wanted a team report we would only ask for one. We are asking each of you to write one because each one should be personal and different than the others.
  • Your email update had a good balance of “we” and ” I”.
  • Your goals for this coming week are not personal, measurable or actionable. What are you going to accomplish this week? How will you know if you are successful?
  • Your goals for this coming week are personal, measurable and actionable. Good job! Keep focusing on making them as measurable as possible and you’ll find that you achieve them more often.
  • You aren’t asking for enough. What do you need from the team, the mentors, the instructors, or anyone else?
  • It sounds like you are focused on the right things.
  • I don’t think “any decision we make is also made with the consent of every team member” is realistic at all. Organizations just don’t function that way. Important decisions can be made that way, but day-to-day decisions can’t be made by committee. To execute efficiently you need to give the CEO the authority to make decisions, and if he’s a good leader he will delegate that authority to others.
  • Good job tackling the team challenges head on.
  • How are you handling company ownership for the other students in the class that are helping with your company this semester?
  • It’s good that you thanked everyone for their contributions. Doing it by name is even better.
  • Your message had funky formatting. I would force it to text before you paste it into the email.
  • If you’re going to the be the CEO, there are probably a bunch of goals you should have besides coding. Things around getting the company incorporated, getting the website moving froward, etc.
  • I really like the tone of your message and how you spoke to the entire team.
  • Good job setting up an email list for the team and mentors. That will help make sure everyone stays in the loop.
  • Good goals for the team for the week. They are well defined and measurable.
  • I would attached PDF’s instead of Word documents. Anyone can easily open them on any device and without worrying about having the right version of the software.

Don’t miss Frank Moss, founder of Tivoli, Thursday night at SAC Auditorium (1.402)

Frank Moss, a professor at MIT, is an entrepreneur, former CEO of Austin startup Tivoli, former director of MIT Media Lab, and author of The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices. He will speak about his entrepreneurial endeavors and be interviewed by Bob Metcalfe. This is open to the public and a rare opportunity for everyone to sit in on a 1 Semester Startup class. Hosted by the Technology Entrepreneurship Society.

Click here to register.

Bob Metcalfe’s advice on public speaking

Professor Bob Metcalfe sent this gem out to the students and fortunately he approved sharing it with the world. I’ve had many opportunities to see Bob speak to all kinds of audiences and I can say that he practices what he preaches – and it works – he’s an amazing speaker that audiences adore.

Our daughter Julia asked me for advice on giving talks. I hope she doesn’t mind that I’m sharing my advice with you. Listening is my real specialty, with writing in second place, but here is stuff that works in speaking; note that I have written it down:

  • Speak on what you know.
  • Prepare by collecting and organizing your thoughts in writing, say on 3X5 cards for small groups, 5X7 index cards for larger audiences (that’s humor), or Powerpoint.
  • Start preparation by asking who your audience is and why they will be listening to you.
  • Show respect by over-dressing your audience. Smile and say thank you.
  • Summarize what you are going to say, say it, then summarize what you said.
  • Speak slowly and clearly, pausing now and then at carefully chosen places, to let people process what you’ve said.
  • If at all possible, take questions from the start and continuously through your talk.
  • After promising at the start to end on time, end on time. End on time. Early is better.
  • Keep in mind that generally your audience wants you to succeed — they are rooting for you.
  • Bless their hearts, but audiences generally do not realize that you can see them, so for impact make some eye contact and smile.
  • Be funny, especially if the topic isn’t.
  • Look at your audience when speaking to them — pick out friendly faces in the audience here and there, move your eyes from one to the other.
  • If people start to tune out, notice, stop talking and ask if they are still interested or have questions, you do not want to waste their time.
  • When you make lists, three items is best. Start a list with your second strongest item, end with your strongest.
  • When someone seems to want to ask a question, stop talking immediately, invite them, and reward them by listening carefully to their question, asking for clarification if needed.
  • If someone asks a question you cannot answer, say the words “I don’t know” and make a big show of writing it down and promising to get back on that.
  • If an audience member misbehaves, walk toward them and that usually quiets them down.
  • Be sure to have fun speaking; audiences can smell fear.
  • Get good at it by practicing — get gigs regularly.
  • If someone makes a video of your talk, watch it twice and take notes on how to improve.
  • Speaking is the most fun you can have standing up.
– Professor Bob Metcalfe

Speed Dating Event Today in SZB 416/422

Just a reminder: Speed dating event to meet students and mentors is going on today in SZB 416/422.

Here’s a map to the location and an event invite. See you soon!

New Combined Participant Spreadsheet Available

I’ve created a NEW combined spreadsheet that keeps students, teams, mentors, and links to videos we filmed in class in one place. If I have your Google account info, you should have access. If you do not, please request access from You must be a student or a mentor to be eligible.