Startup Bootcamp: A Glimpse of the World of an Entrepreneur

Cecily Liu

I never saw myself as an entrepreneur before INSEAD.

In my mind, entrepreneurs with the likes of Steve Jobs or Elon Mask have a certain level of coolness; they are free spirits with a tremendously high risk-seeking appetite. I imagine them to be working day and night in T-shirts and jeans in their tech-enabled cozy offices, drinking coffee and ordering late night takeaways, pushing the team towards new breakthroughs with excitement!

Coming from a more traditional background, where formal suits and conformity are the norm, I have felt far away from the entrepreneurial world although something within me has always been fascinated by their courage!

INSEAD is one such safe place where fascination and curiosity gives one the opportunity to explore new worlds.

Attending the INSEAD Startup Bootcamp over one weekend has allowed me to explore the myth and reality of entrepreneurship. I was pleasantly surprised by how close to my life this world really can be!

Led by INSEAD alumna Charlotte Mason, who is a savvy angel investor and mentor to many startups, the 48-hour bootcamp is a wild ride accelerating our group through the whole lifecycle of a startup. Our diverse learning ranged from idea generating to market research, from building revenue model to pricing, from pitching, presentation and communication to answering investor questions.

We had lively discussions on successful and trendy startups, and reviewed some promising but failed examples to learn from their mistakes. Finally, we reviewed how the entrepreneurial experience can be replicated in a corporate world, for those who wish to innovatively impact changes, but are not quite ready to dive into the deep-end of giving up a secure job to become an entrepreneur!

The highlight for me is the personal connection I have built up with my lovely group mates – Latitia, Barkha and Broderik.

Having met each other for the first time via this Zoom bootcamp, we learnt to share our ideas, divide and conquer the heavy workload, and place trust in each other to deliver.

Via Zoom, we laughed, openly shared our struggles and concerns, taught each other top tips in powerpoint, pitching and writing skills, and gave each other open feedback. Broderik, who was dialling into our bootcamp from the Philippines, stayed up for a late night on Saturday (ending our group activity around 5am Philippines time!) We urged him to get some rest, but he insisted to stay with us to keep up the group spirit. We all felt so touched, and in that moment I finally understood the team spirit that bonds startup founders together!

Our startup pitch idea came from Latitia, who saw her brother suffer academically this year as COVID made learning difficult to engage for him. She thought, wouldn’t it be beneficial if her brother could seek guidance to discover the best learning tools and learning activities suitable for his personality? From that starting point, we developed the idea of an Ed-tech firm which used smart technology to determine each child's learning characteristics and matched them with suitable activities and support classes. Over the course of 48 hours, we developed the strategy plan, explored market potential, priced the product, and by Sunday we pitched our full idea and had a detailed discussion with a panel of investors via a Q&A session. We felt so proud of ourselves!

Another great highlight was to hear the talk and exchange views with a guest speaker – Vivi Cahyadi, co-founder of the disrupter global corporate housing firm AltoVita. An ex-banker, Vivi had first-hand experiences of being relocated by her employer 11 times; an experience which made her realise how inefficient traditional relocation temporary housing could be despite their high commission fees. 

Starting with this issue, she built an asset-lean technology-first corporate housing firm, providing duty of care compliant properties and services to corporates needing accommodation for their relocating employees. What I most appreciated about Vivi as the guest speaker was her openness to share her behind-the-scenes journey to become a successful entrepreneur. On this long journey, she was significantly underpaid (and had to sustain herself through firm conviction in AltoVita’s grand vision) and she parted ways with persons who had different ideas and priorities. Such open and honest communication would definitely not happen when she was pitching on stage to investors, and we all felt grateful that the startup bootcamp allowed us to share within a safe space.

And now I do not feel the world of startups to be so distant from my life or daunting at all.

Instead, I feel that startups are created by creative individuals who have dreams to solve real-life problems. The techniques, logic and thinking methods they apply on their startup journeys are so applicable to our corporate world as well as corporate entrepreneurship initiatives, and I feel confident they will help me in my next job.

Like Charlotte says, it’s never too late to become an entrepreneur – and I feel very grateful that INSEAD has allowed me to come to this realisation and given me the keys to explore a new world!