CU class Bootstrap Tactics brings business academia back down into trenches

BOULDER — Bootstrap Tactics for Entrepreneurs, a course at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, may go one better than guerilla marketing tactics, seeking to incorporate many of the small but often difficult lessons that most business owners know all too well.

?In academia, we’re very good at taking the view from 20,000 to 30,000 feet above the streets,? said Business Professor Stephen Lawrence, who founded the course a year ago. ?But what we found was that our students were less adept at the nuts and bolts of actually starting a business.

?This is a course from the ground level of how entrepreneurs get their businesses started.?

The experimental course, currently an elective in the entrepreneurial curriculum for MBA candidates, takes a different look at how to start a business, focusing on details such as the paperwork and the little lessons most business owners had to learn the hard way.

Lawrence said it does sort of spin-off from ?Guerilla Marketing,? a series of popular business books delivering do-it-your-self marketing, public relations and sales approach, but takes a far wider approach.

?This isn’t about financing, business plans or marketing. We have plenty of courses on that,? Lawrence said. ?This is about: After you’ve made all those decisions, then what do you do??

Lawrence has spent his time working in start-ups, most recently Warrior Solutions, a Boulder software company concentrating on devices for personal digital assistants, run by his wife, Cate. After receiving an electrical engineering degree from Purdue, Lawrence spent 10 years as an operations manager in corporate America before returning to get a doctorate in industrial administration from Carnegie-Mellon and continuing in academia to teach operations management and entrepreneurship.

?I’ve been around a couple of start-ups, and the most amazing thing is the tremendous amount of details that have to be attended,? Lawrence said. ?Lots of start-ups make a lot of fundamental mistakes.?

The course covers a variety of topics in basic entrepreneurship, including how start-up businesses successfully can undertake standard business functions such as organization, marketing, sales, advertising, operations, team building and finance with minimal resources.

Relying heavily on outside speakers and lecturers who have personal experience as entrepreneurs, the course gets right into the nitty-gritty, Lawrence said. ?There’s an infinity of details to attend to in a start-up,? he said. ?You can have a great concept, but you’ve got to pay attention to those details, or they will trip you up.?

And putting his arms around those many details — such as why it’s a good idea to let your accountant handle the tax withholding funds — has been the greatest challenge, Lawrence said. ?There’s a million and one things already that I now know we can do better,? he said. ?It’s a continuing work in progress.?

One of the weeks that really raised some student eyebrows, he said, looked at team building, for which Lawrence brought in three entrepreneurs with very different outlooks.

?One panelist was from a team that crashed and burned. The second team (examined) was sort of in the middle — it had early partners whom had to be eased out. The third was from Roving Planet, and team members talked about the issues they had to face as they became successful.?

MBA students Jim Snyder and Doug Chung took the course after starting their own business — Bobas, a pearl tea and coffee store on Canyon Boulevard between 28th and Folsom streets in Boulder. The partners soon hope to have many outlets serving pearl tea — a cold tea-based drink that usually comes in fruit flavors with tapioca ?pearls? or bobas at the bottom — but said the lessons learned in class are still helpful, even after they’ve made some of those initial mistakes.

?It was kind of funny because my partner and I actually took the course together,? Chung said. ?I remember us looking at each other and rolling our eyes, as if to say, yep, we should have known about that one.

?Actually, it would have been more beneficial if we had taken it the year before we started our business. But we still learned a lot during the class.?

All students must focus on either a business they want to start or one they want to use as example for a project, so Lawrence figures he may see a good many more businesses come straight out of the class.

?The course takes away some of the mystery of how to start a business and shows students that they really are not that hard to do,? he said. ?For some of our students, that was good to hear.

?Essentially, it’s how do you and your credit card get the business of the ground??