MIT GSL Russia – Halfway Done Already?

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It’s hard to believe that 4 full weeks have passed since my first and only post about my experience with the MIT GSL Russia Incubator Program. So, what happened in these weeks?

  • With HALF of the program already complete, it feels both exciting & scary to imagine the light at the end of the tunnel (Check out our interview with the ITMO journalists about the program & our thoughts to this point). After spending the first half learning about basic business & technical concepts and working to refine their product ideas & business models, the teams are starting to spend the latter half building their MVPs & developing their investor pitches for the Demo Day on August 10th!!! So much work & so little time left!!!
  • It’s been fascinating to see the startups being built from ground up in such short span of time – right in front of my eyes! Every day & every week, I could see their ideas being refined & transformed to product concepts with real potential for success! Every step of the way, we walked around and worked with them directly in detail to make sure that they were thinking through everything comprehensively & logically. None of the teams are now working on the initial idea that they started with. Why? Because initial rounds of PMR (primary market research) revealed that they needed to change the product idea to solve a real problem of a “paying customer”.
  • I’ve also loved seeing each participant go through an enormous personal & professional transformation. With so many responsibilities at such young ages, they brought an amazing foundation for motivation & business sense. However, they have definitely built upon that significantly throughout this program (check out their interview about their projects & thoughts on the ITMO website). The “hacker” mentality (finding ways to go around the rules) is still very present, but I love that about them. Their English skills are getting better by the day, and we are really becoming an amazing community that is striving to succeed through helping each other!
  • Finally, I can also feel myself growing so much through this program! Having to effectively mentor 7 different startups launching in completely different industries is forcing me to learn so much about & get practical experience of those industries & entrepreneurship in general. Working & living with (and attempting to lead) 3 other super smart, independent, passionate, and eccentric individuals every day has given me the perfect opportunity to continue refining my leadership & team-working skills. It has also been an excellent testing of & learning ground for my self-awareness journey. Looking forward to continuing to reflect & improve ❤

Week 1 Highlights

As covered briefly in my first post, the 1st week was spent on:

  • Kicking off the program
  • Getting to know each other better through team building activities & a weekend trip Yagodnye village 2 hours north of Saint Petersburg
  • Naturally forming teams based on shared passion & vision & idea. Participants had to find people who “complete” them from business sense & who are “energy-amplifiers”.
  • Beginning to test the ideas & understand customer pain points through PMR (Primary Market Research)
  • Identifying the Beachhead Market. What is the MOST important thing for a startup to be successful? A paying customer. How do we find them? PMR & lots of interviews to really understand the customer pain points & which customer segment needs a solution for their pain.
  • Learning to code in Javascript, HTML, and CSS. Every day, we covered half tech & half entrepreneurship in the form of a quick lecture & a lab time for the teams to apply the learned content. The format seemed to work well, but we still evaluated each day at the end & adjusted the speed & method of teaching as needed for the next day.
  • Setting program rules (ex: people who were late were punished)



Week 2 Highlights

After a busy 1st week, we had even busier 2nd week!

  • The natural formation of the teams were still happening as the participants got to know each other better & understand if their passion & ideas aligned.
  • As the teams began to do PMR & customer interviews, they started to realize that their initial ideas were not necessarily addressing the customers’ problems. As a result, lot of the teams began to pivot their ideas which required them to work harder to redo lot of the market segmentation & beachhead market analysis before moving forward to the later steps.
  • We had local serial entrepreneur Andrey Satin (CEO of & co-founder at as a guest speaker. Both Andrey Satin & David Vasquez (local serial entrepreneur, co-founder & CMO @Spontana, founder @1Feedbot, co-founder @Zenbot) stayed for the afternoon to mentor the teams. To help them effectively mentor the teams, we also had each team prepare a few slides (close to a pitch-style) of their progress to present to the mentors & the entire group.  This worked so well that it basically started our Wednesday Presentations & Mentoring sessions. It’s also never too early to start working on pitching 🙂
  • The teams continued on the 24 Steps to Disciplined Entrepreneurship and worked on defining their beachhead market persona, full life cycle use case, high level specification, quantified value proposition, core, and competitive positioning. To be completely honest, that was way too much content to learn & apply to their projects in 1 just week. This was in addition to on-going outside PMR, and I feel terrible for overworking the teams 😦
  • For the tech side, they continued to learn the basics of programming but began to focus on ReactJS. With a mix of technical & business people in the group, the content was either too hard or too easy for the participants. This was definitely another note of improvement for future programs.


Week 3 Highlights

By week 3, the teams were pretty much finalized. However, they were still confirming their ideas (with some even making their 2nd & 3rd pivots)!

  • A restaurant booking app idea turned into a dating app
  • An automatic deck formatting app idea turned into an idea to help people learn programming in a gamified way into a platform that connects programmers with open source maintainers
  • A vegetarian restaurant menu & searching app idea turned into an idea that allows restaurants to manage their online presence from a single platform

Why did these pivots happen?

  • The introduction of the sales funnel, pricing strategy, and business model concepts forced them to begin to think about the potential profitability & feasibility of future scaling! Is it difficult to sell to these people? How much are they willing to pay?
  • Continued PMR allowed them to confirm or deny some inherent assumptions that were built into their ideas & make practical decisions to pivot. Although the idea for the product changed, at the core they were still trying to help the same people. Through the interviews, they gained a better idea of their understanding of the problem & their way of solving it.

In addition to continuing to refine their ideas, starting to think about business models, and presenting their progress on Wednesdays, the teams began to learn Meteor & MongoDB to be able to develop their MVPs.

They were also introduced to the design concepts to prepare for UI designs for their apps.

Week 4 Highlights

With the program almost halfway over (and the teams & ideas close to being finalized), we began to focus on starting the MVP development. Before starting to code, the teams had to do some necessary steps which included:

  • Developing app specification & technical requirements document
  • Learning about UI design & development
  • Paper proto-typing & testing
  • Wire-framing

In addition to our Wednesday Presentations & Mentoring sessions (Gideon Gibson, CEO/Founder of KickCity & Alexander Alhoff, CEO of Coursebug for this week), we also began to have formal one-on-one check-in meetings with each team. With the entire startup team & the GSL team present, it was really helpful to understand their feeling about the program, startup progress to date, team dynamics, end-of-program goals, and after-program plans.


We are super excited to see continued transformation & developed MVPs. Check back in a couple weeks for my next post on their progress!!! ❤

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