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Software Product Development and Launch

Welcome to Software Product Development and Launch for Summer 2016.

In this twelve week class, your goal is simple: define, design, develop, and release a software app. This is your chance to see what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, becoming part of a team that creates a startup business.

You'll need to hit the ground running as you'll want feedback from users quickly. You'll need to build a team of students with complementary skills, including software engineers and those who understand the business issues. The course will end with pitch day where faculty and investors will evaluate your final product.

This course is open to all graduate students. Any student is welcome to apply to the course (regardless of degree or focus). However, all students in the class must be present at the Silicon Valley campus during the summer semester to participate. Enrollment in the course is limited to six teams.

We have found that the ideal team size is two to four people. We will consider larger teams, but not solo projects. Consider forming teams around the skill sets needed to complete your project. At least one participant must have proven technical skills necessary to build the app. Teams should submit a one page project proposal with each team member's resume. Students wishing to enroll will be automatically wait listed, with enrollment permitted once your proposal is accepted. Email Tony Wasserman with your application.

Here is a template, but you should feel free to make your own document. Please submit applications prior to April 18th, 2016.  You will be notified about your acceptance (or rejection) soon after you submit your application.

This class is intentionally a contrast with the two-semester sequence of SPD, RA, SPS, and BSW, which provides much more time for identifying the problem, defining the features, as creating a marketing strategy and sales plan, as well as estimating various costs and revenue to determine business viability.  Here you will have to do all of those things along the way, but with the added constraint of building a piece of software that you release early and release often with the goal of building a user base.  Students who have taken the two-semester sequence can propose to implement their product in this class.

Product Details

We're open to all kinds of application areas. We’ll give preference to those that clearly address an identifiable customer need and those that provide a societal benefit.  We are less likely to accept proposals that closely resemble existing apps, so you should do a careful search of the competitive space prior to your submission.

We're open to many different kinds of software technology. However, we’re most interested in mobile apps (Android or iOS, including Apple Watch), cloud-hosted applications (AWS or an OpenStack implementation), big data applications, and IoT applications (AllPlay).

Course Details

Judges - The "final" pitch will be made to a panel of judges, including investors, who will evaluate the application, much as is done at the Launch Festival and similar events.

Failing is OK - Although we'd prefer you to be immensely successful from the beginning, we realize that failing does happen. We see "failing" as a key part of the learning process.  We'll encourage you not to be afraid to start again, or to made radical modifications to your idea.  The environment changes every day, and it may be necessary to adjust your thinking accordingly.

Your Product - Often, the best way to find out what the market really wants is to interact with the market, which is what we expect you to do, even before you submit your proposal. You want to find this out quickly before spending lots of time working on your product. Previous teams quickly learned that the customers didn't want to pay for their product, or didn't understand the value, or knew of a competitive product they liked better. For most of our talented engineering teams this was the first time that they had ever tried to "sell" a real piece of software. This is the first time they had "cold called" a stranger. Every team learned how hard it is to sell their applications. Most didn't like selling. They preferred to develop! We're here to help you with this hard transition in become more entrepreneurial.

Collaboration and Open Source - Teams are encouraged to learn from each other and to involve the open source communities. Using open source code is encouraged. The less code that you have to write yourself, the more that you can get built. Reusing code from other teams is encouraged. We want to foster a rapid learning environment where people pioneer new ideas. 

Grade - You'll be evaluated in part based on the initial acceptance (or not) of your product. How much traction did you acquire? As you prototype your application, you'll want to look at actual stats and see which features get used or don't get used.  Learn from real traffic.  Launch early and iterate. Think about how to reach your target market.

Entrepreneurship - Entrepreneurship is integrated into the course.  You'll learn the dynamics of a Silicon Valley start-up as well as the software engineering discipline to get the job done.

Approximate Course Outline

Class will meet most weeks during the Summer term (not during the Memorial Day week). Meeting time is 5:30 pm - 9:00 pm in Building 23, Room 212.

Class meetings will focus on the business side of product development and launch, while development will be done outside of class time.

Week 1 (before first class meeting) – Watch videos by Pascal Finette, Jane Finette, Diane Loviglio, and Rachel Masters on WebFWD, and videos featuring Steve Blank (too many to watch - so be selective).  You could also watch his free Udacity course.

Week 2 (25 May or before) –

Evaluate development tools and set up the development infrastructure: tools, hosting, collaboration
Product vision, driven by interviews
Present vision to classmates and faculty
Week 3 – Create Wire Frames or Mockups (paper or software based)
             - Identify target market 
             - Identify core functionality, and optional technology.  
             - Demo
Week 4 - Prototype - core functionality and navigation
               Competitive analysis and product positioning
               Demo 
Week 5 - Refine core prototype. 
               Guerrilla Marketing plan
               Demo
Week 6- Prototype - core functionality and navigation  
               Financial model            
               Demo Day - Demonstrate to wider CMU community, including alums.   Get reactions.
Week 8 - Launch Plan + Revenue Model
               Creating your pitch
Week 9 - Launch + User Testing

Week 10 - No class meeting
Week 11 - Launch + Analytics
Week 12 – “Launch Day”.  Present early traffic.  
                   "Failure Awards" - Try again
                   "Success Awards" - How can we keep the app going?  Next version?  Moonlighting?
                   "Prize" - Winner gets a prize.

More to come....