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May 2015

Jacob Johnston: How to Keep the Fire Going

Hey everyone! My name is Jacob Johnston and I am the CMO and Co-Founder of Landme.org, a company dedicated to getting high school students connected with summer opportunities. As this year’s MIT Launch sessions are getting ready to start, I wanted to share a few thoughts on my experience during and after Launch:

When I was accepted into Launch I was ecstatic and at first I didn’t know what to think besides “How the heck did I get chosen for something so amazing?”. The feelings I had going into the program were really mixed: I was nervous, excited, and curious all at the same time to meet my fellow classmates and be on MIT’s campus. When I stepped foot into Simmons (the dorm we were housed in) I was welcomed warmly by the director and staff and felt like part of the family right away.

Within the next few days we hit the ground running, met our fellow Launchies, and got to creating the ideas that would later form into our companies. During the ideation process, my team and I made sure that we chose an idea that would be able to continue after the program ended and that it was something that we would all be interested in. It turned out that for us the most important thing was finding something the whole team was passionate about because if someone is not interested in the idea, they most likely will not put in their full effort and determination. Although coming up with the idea of Landme.org took us multiple idea changes, a lot of pivoting our focus, and a substantial amount of time, in the end it all paid off because it was an idea we all wanted to continue working with even after Launch.

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Even though we all really wanted to continue what we had started at Launch, we had to figure out how to realistically make it work. Two members of our team lived fairly close to each other in Massachusetts, but I lived in Arkansas and Chris lived in New York, which would make it very difficult for us to meet coordinate all our work. So, I started researching a little on things we could use to communicate a little better after we left Boston. Sure there’s Skype and Google hangouts, but we needed something a lot more organized and professional. I came across Slack, a web platform that allows startups to create chat channels, organize files, and integrate specific programming modules to allow team members to see progress updates. It was perfect for us, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who plans to continue working with their team (especially if you live in different places). With communication being the biggest barrier to success with geographically distanced team members, we scheduled  to have weekly meetings to keep each other updated on what we were doing. This worked really well and allowed us to stay in touch and make sure that we were meeting the goals that we had set for ourselves.

As the excitement slowly started to dwindle down after Launch, my team looked for something more structured that we could do to further our business. YCombinator? Another Accelerator? Business competitions? Eventually we stumbled upon Catapult; a business incubator for startups with a location in Boston. We applied, had an interview, and were accepted to the program all within a short few months after Launch. This was a huge deal for us because it was what we needed to keep the fire going. Putting our team back into a program with structure where we could all meet and work together was exactly what helped us propel our efforts.

Best Social Impact on Catapult Demo Day!

Continuing the company after Launch is going to be hard. You’re going to have to get past the communication barrier and tackle problems as a team. Get organized, set goals, have meetings, and do something structured if you feel like you need it. On Launch pitch day, our team placed 5th, but we were also one of the only teams to continue our company after the program and at the end of Catapult, we won Best Social Impact on Catapult Demo Day.

Moral of the story is: what you create at Launch doesn’t have to end at the end of Launch. Do your best and if you still are passionate about the idea, keep tackling it! It might turn out even better than you expected!

Introducing Simmons: Commons, Culture, and Location

This is the second part of a two-part introduction to Simmons Hall. Please check out our last blog post for more information on Architecture, Rooms, and Resources.

Simmons Hall logo

Commons
On every floor there are at least a couple of common rooms and meeting rooms. Common rooms are usually carpeted and furnished with couches and beanbag chairs and a TV. These are typically areas to play music or hold a Super Smash Bros tournament. Common rooms are also equipped with board games and the larger common rooms/lobbies on the first floor even have building blocks and foosball tables (see Culture).

Commons

Meeting rooms are usually closed off by a glass wall and contain large conference-type desks. Meetings rooms are often where teams choose to work because they are conveniently scattered throughout the dorm, while still remaining separate enough and quiet enough to concentrate and be highly productive.

Culture
As mentioned before, Simmons is a quirky cool dorm with a lot of personality. As soon as you enter the building, you’ll notice a small pond with tiny rubber duckies bobbing around, and on the walls you may notice posters with references to velociraptors. These two are the unofficial “mascots” of Simmons and you’ll find signs of them scattered around the building.

rubber ducks

Simmons culture also comes from the unique architecture. The undulating concrete walls are actually similar chalkboard material, and you’ll see that people draw all over the walls with colorful chalk. Furthermore, in the front lobby, there are piles of wooden building blocks, and in the commons rooms there are plenty of board games. If you didn’t get the chance to doodle on the walls and build dangerously high Jenga towers as a kid, this is your chance 🙂

Location
The MIT campus is a long triangle that flanks the Charles river, and Simmons is located at the west end of this triangular layout. Directly across the river from Simmons is Boston University, and just a little further down Massachusetts Avenue is Harvard University.

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Simmons is just about on the opposite side of campus to the MIT Sloan School of Management, where classes will be held. Fortunately, the MIT campus shuttle stops right in front of Simmons and will drive all the way to Sloan. If you want to enjoy a morning walk to class, you can walk along the river for about 20 minutes to reach Sloan.

Located much closer are the Student Center, the Z-Center, and other athletic fields. Some athletic fields are right outside of Simmons while the Student Center and the Z-Center are about 8-10 minutes of a walk from Simmons.

Introducing Simmons: Architecture, Rooms, and Resources

SimmonsSimmons Hall might be one of the most recognizable buildings on the MIT campus (other than the Great Dome and the Stata Center). Famous for it’s architecture and culture, Simmons is definitely one of the most exciting dorms to live in and explore. In fact, architects from all over come to study Simmons, and some even try to sneak in to get an inside peek into this fascinating building! I’ll break down the tips and tricks of Simmons hall into 6 categories (Architecture, Rooms, Resources, Commons, Culture, and Location) and today I’ll be covering the first 3.

Architecture
Simmons is generally referred to as “The Sponge” by MIT students because–well, it really does resemble a sponge. There are many rows of small windows on each floor (it’s almost like having a grid of pixels) which makes it very convenient for spelling out words and shapes by lighting up certain rooms. The quirky architecture only gets weirder from the inside. The whole building is made of concrete, and many of the walls are not straight, and will have large, intentional undulations in them. There are also 3 towers in Simmons, and elevators service each tower. However, because of the arrangement of the towers, it’s often necessary to switch elevators multiple times to get from one tower to another. The architecture is quite confusing, but don’t worry–there are maps in every single elevator that will explain how to travel within the building.

Rooms
Launch students will be living in doubles (rooms with 2 beds) inside Simmons. These rooms are generally pretty spacious and come with a full set of furniture for each student: extra-long twin bed, bookshelf, desk and chair, a set of drawers, a wastebasket and a simple wardrobe. True to Simmons spirit, all the furniture is modular. Yes, you read that right! You can arrange your furniture creatively to achieve a loft-bed layout, or just adjust your bed and desk height by using the sets of drawers to add height where needed.IMG_3434

There are a lot of windows in each room for really great natural lighting, and the rooms also have ceiling lights, so desk lamps really aren’t necessary. All the rooms have tile flooring, which makes it easy to keep the rooms clean, but some students may choose to bring small throw rugs to make the space more cozy.

Most importantly, there are bathrooms for at least every three rooms. Some rooms will have private bathrooms inside the room–lucky you if you get one of these! Other rooms are arranged so that usually two (or occasionally three) rooms will share a bathroom.

Resources
Laundry rooms are located every few floors. As of 2014 it cost $1.00 per washing load, and $0.75 per dryer load and both machines accept quarters. Detergent may be left over from the semester, but your best bet will be to bring a few detergent tablets/pods.

During the school year, Simmons residents subscribe to the mandatory meal plan so there are no real kitchens in Simmons. However, there is a small kitchenette on one of the floors equipped with a sink, a hot plate, a few plates, a microwave, and a communal refrigerator. If you do buy food, make sure you label it with your name or else you may not see your food again! This kitchenette is pretty much only good for heating up leftovers, because it is nearly impossible to actually cook with such a limited kitchen.

The MIT app is available for both iOS and Android devices, and will show a campus map, shuttle maps and locations, and other vital MIT campus information. Download the MIT app and you will never get lost going to and from Simmons!

Lastly and probably most importantly, MIT wifi is campus-wide, free, and super fast. No more buffering when you’re trying to stream Netflix!

An introduction of Simmons commons, culture, and location can be found here!

Annie Zhang: Countdown to Launch

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I always get a little restless as April turns into May–maybe it’s because the weather is getting warmer or because semester-end projects are due soon. My best friend even teases that I have an incurable case of “itchy feet” and I guess it’s true. This year I’ve been more restless than ever because the countdown to Launch has begun.

Anxious, excited, intimidated, hopeful. Although this is the second time I’m counting down to Launch, I still clearly remember what it felt like the first time around. From the moment I joined the student facebook group, to the moment I set foot in Simmons Hall, it was already terrifyingly clear to me that the month ahead of me would be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Everyone seemed to be so accomplished and so smart. Not to mention, the curriculum was completely foreign to me. It felt like everyone was ready to hit the ground running while I was just learning to crawl. In hindsight, this was a blessing. Little did I know then that I was surrounded by 43 of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Little did I know that these were the people that would push me to grow. Little did I know that they would be the support system that would ceaselessly lift me up, even a year after Launch.

If you're the smartest

A year later, most of my peers and I can now joke about how we were all equally nervous at the beginning of Launch. I mean, when you put that many creative and determined minds in the same room and tell them that they have a month to bring their visions to life, it’s overwhelming to say the least. However, I’ve come to learn that at the end of the day it’s okay to be nervous or even to have absolutely no idea what’s going on. What matters is how you choose to react to the countless opportunities that will present themselves:

  1. Be as prepared as possible. Going into Launch having done the pre-work and brainstorming is like having a life raft after being thrown into an ocean. You’ll thank yourself later for taking the time to work through each step. And who knows? You might even be bringing the winning idea with you to Launch!
  2. Proactively connect with people. Launch is one of those communities where diverse, talented and passionate people make an effort to really learn from each other and grow together. It’s not just the students either, being at MIT (the crossroads of the world) gives you the chance to seek out some of the most interesting and people and thoughts you’ll come across.
  3. Approach everything with an open mind and open heart. Sometimes things don’t go the way you had them played out in your head. Learning to be an entrepreneur is about rolling with the punches and always springing back. Never be too stubborn to try something new.

Even though this is my second time around, pre-Launch still feels like a rollercoaster as it slowly rattles and rumbles to the top. You can feel it coming, but you don’t yet know how fast or far the drop will be. You don’t yet know how many loops there are, or if you’ll be flipped upside down. All you can do is throw your hands up and start to count down. T-minus 35 days.

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