there needs to be a part of education that allows students to dream and tinker and take risks. Something that makes them laugh and cry and hope and bond and stay up late in teams and chase self-assigned deadlines and ship something they would have never thought they could.
that was the ideal of buildschool.
we wanted to give students "an ecosystem of believer-builders who built things to solve problems because they wanted to". and having friends around always helps.
but the issue was, we were targeting a student base who had just come back from remote learning, who was not entirely immersed into this tinkering culture and was more driven by definite career paths.
in April 2022, Technical Society (TechSoc) started with minimal funding, full motivation and targeted growth hacks, to grow a strong community. I think the best takebacks from this journey are perseverence, dealing with ambiguity, and faith in the dreamers of tomorrow.
and our approach at TechSoc has always been - invest in the team, invest in the participants and invest in the future. here's 3 stages of how we built a community from scratch and run it well, to this day.
building a team
first, we had to make team buildschool believe that the mission they were solving was important because they would be enablers of a movement much bigger than themselves. so Anouksha and me used YCombinator's startup school curriculum and actually had each manager at buildschool study startup from a perspective of product strategy, history, revenue and future steps. this helped them understand how products are built, gain confidence in talking more about these ideas and also be better thinkers in general. over 2.5 months we did multiple startup teardowns, had these people practice cold emailing founders and speaking comfortably with them. here are some of their early day case studies.
once our little army was ready, it was time to go to war. boy, was it going to be brutal.
inspiring a community
the early days were very random and we had barely any clue of processes and contacts and pretty much anything. we were just very clear on what we had to solve - get 10 student prototypes, not powerpoints, out by the next 13 weeks.
to begin with, the issue was, how do you even get people to care to solve problems? it was always cooler to do fancy PoRs that add sure-shot resume points as opposed to taking a bet on whether you and your buddies could build something or not
and even if people do care, how do you get them to actually learn this process of product building - right from design, to shipping to release to iteration and beyond? well, the answer actually lies in inspiring people.
as Simon Sinek says, if you connect with the "why" of people, you can truly move them to do unbelievable things. and we did all sorts of crazy things to get the message across. here's a video from the early days. just a whiteboard, an ai generated thumbnail and some students talking about a crazy vision of 10 teams, 10 weeks, 10 prototypes.
we did speak to people and touch upon a nerve.
to further this, we revived the history of the "fun in building" through our alumnus Kedar Kulkarni - who started off with very realistic stories of moving up the quality ladder by building computer vision fun-tools with his friends and then moving up to govt partnerships and funded projects. looking back, i think that may have struck a really strong chord - even in me.
sustaining the experience
10 teams selected. basic application on their plan for 10 weeks. we were just looking for grit.
to refine our teams, buildschool organized really amazing talks right from product research and UI designing, all the way up to engineering and growth post launch. we got CXOs and industry veterans to give talks for free - how did we do that? well, we just connected with the "why" of these disruptors through a cold email as simple as:
boom! 7 high quality lectures in various domains - all conducted at zero cost. well, except for the food. it does not have to be complex -
growth hack - give people free food and they show up the 1st time, give them a memorable experience and they will keep showing up again and again.
and it was hard. students want to do all sorts of things at all times. so we used accountability partners called "build buds" for each team to navigate through getting the right resources, connected to the right folks, and even actually finishing right before deadlines.
guess what - at a mini demo day amongst the teams - 9 of them had a functioning product! here's a random picture from the mini demo day at the 8 week mark.
investing in the future
by the time the 10th week ended, teams had transformed beyond what we had thought. people who didn't know coding had built apps, people who were shy on stage were presenting, people who were unsure about their passions had picked up something new and built something meaningful out of it. well, and the buildschool team - they had gone through the extreme rollercoaster of 0 attendee events (that really happened, it was really stressful) to having a great turnout of 9 products built in those 10 weeks and then we came for a repeat in the upcoming semesters with even more student interest. what makes me smile the most, is that people actually now think of this as a thing they can do full time.
fun fact, one team even got incubated in the startup accelerator at IIT Madras. i look forward to more such stories.
⭐️ here's my takeaway - atleast once in life, i feel, every person must go through the pain and the fulfilment of building something from 0 to 1. because once you're on the other side of the storm - you gain the self-confidence to do anything you want.
that's what our vision at techsoc always has been. cheers and happy building!