Javier Sandoval

Techstars grad at 18. Teaching entrepreneurship at Brown University.

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Live on a Couch or Work at Google?

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Last March, the Google recruiter answered his phone and asked, “Have you decided, Javier?” I flexed my jaws.

Do I take the position that pays more than my mom’s job and brings status? Or do I grow a company from a living room alongside friends that inspire me – a company that I’ll lose money working for, may fail before the summer is over, and is naked of experienced supervisors from which to learn?

I replied, “Sure,” then coughed to disguise my cracking voice.


Throughout my middle school years, my mother, younger brother, and I lived in a unique homeless shelter. Only single mothers could live there after explaining their bad luck and guaranteeing their work ethic in many interviews; the tenants cleaned the shelter daily to show their pride; and if a mom had to work late, another cooked supper for her kids and tucked them into bed. Although we were proud, my family’s finances...

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How Colleges Can Rescue Student Entrepreneurs From the Bullshit

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Since I revamped Brown University’s startup accelerator, I’ve had the honor to teach three batches of teams, which have taught me the major problems facing college entrepreneurs.

1. Focusing on the Wrong Things

I talk to a lot of students that want to build a business, but not many of them seem to prioritize progress. They want to incorporate. They want to write a business plan. They want to attend a major conference at Stanford. They want to prepare for a pitch competition. They want to network. They want stay in their dorms until the product is “perfect.”

None of these actually grow the company. They’re fancy forms of procrastination. As Tim Ferris said:

“It’s not how much time you spend on something, it’s what you spend your time on.”

Incorporating can wait. Business plans are 20% thinking of the business, 80% fucking with the layout and editing the grammar. Conferences are a...

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Chill With The Product, Bro.

As mentor-in-residence at Brown Venture Labs, two types of people most approach me: the engineer who built a product “but no one is using it,” and the non-technical visionary who “needs a coder. Immediately.” To both, I advise, “Chill with the product, bro.”

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I understand the rush. You have an idea (usually an end product, like this person)

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and itch to construct it, however, by striving to complete the “solution” (and not to solve the problem) you’ll race past critical insights and ultimately create something “no one is using.”

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To those with an idea, try this:

Manually solve the problem. For the above example, what really is the problem? He could ask on Facebook if anyone had thought of investing in Bitcoin but hadn’t yet. Then when someone responds, ask, “What’s keeping you from investing? Time? You don’t know how? Is there a minimum necessary and you lack the capital?” Then he...

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How to Recruit a College Coder

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As a non-technical college founder, recruiting a coder has its … frustrations.

The easiest way: attending college hackathons. Working alongside an engineer creates context to build a relationship, and even if at the event you don’t immediately work on your venture, you have plenty of time to recruit.

As you wait for the next night of Red Bull and code, send emails to computer science listservs and post messages on hacker and class Facebook groups, but please, do so correctly.

I asked Joe, CTO of Ventfull and BVL entrepreneur, to explain how a Literary Arts major convinced him to quit freelancing and join a startup. Below are his tips, pasted from his email, have to love his bluntness.


  1. Know what you’re doing before you start asking around. Don’t try to onboard students before you know what the fuck you’re even talking about. With a heavy course load on one side and 6-digit salary...

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How To Perform Problem Interviews, When Your Startup Lacks a Problem

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Problem interviews feel unnecessary when your startup focuses on fun, not an articulate pain. The benefits from the interviews come easily with SaaS companies, but with products like Snapchat, investigating a problem seem pointless.

A Brown Venture Lab founder felt frustrated with the interviews, so he emailed me his mind shift. The original message I compressed below.

I’d say that it’s wrong to think about “what the problem is.” A better way to is to start with the question: “What do people love?”

For a lot of big cases, you can’t start the business by thinking about the problem. Consider Ford Automobiles or Instagram. You can’t start out by doing research on the problem…

If you asked people before cars what the problems were, they would have said that their butt chafed during the horseback ride. If you asked people before Instagram what the problems were regarding pictures, they...

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Summary of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

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Instead of learning marketing, business development, or fund-raising, I obsess over product development because a good solution founds everything; however, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing changed my perception, which signals a book worth sharing.

The book explains the theory of marketing, not specific executions, which I loved. You’ll also finish it within four hours - again, love. Unfortunately, I felt as if Al Ries and Jack Trout generalized evidence to support their theories. Some points seem speculative and refutable, in addition to dated. Also, the style of the text bothers me. I’d think the two academics could shear the redundancies, but nevertheless the ideas baited me to the finish. Overall, the work impressed me - even without an editor.

I’ve paraphrased the passages underneath, and brisked through the chore. Continuing my interjections will read as italics. If you want...

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Differentiate Yourself From the Competition With These Customer Interview Questions

For your initial customer interviews, I already explained how to investigate the problem, segment, and channels. Now, let’s discuss where to poke customers’ current solutions. Although we ask general questions about how customers solve the problem today, we forget to kick the other tires.

In order to circle-in-red each competitor weakness and highlight our own products, we must study the current solutions’ “entire experiences,” and pull up the covers from their hidden value propositions. We must chase more than likes/dislikes about the present solutions.

We’ll achieve that by inspecting the product life stages and possible utilities of current solutions.

Stages in Product Life

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Customers interact with products during six transitions:

  1. Purchase
  2. Delivery
  3. Use
  4. Supplements
  5. Maintenance
  6. Disposal

Naturally founders inquire about the “use” utility with questions like: “What do you...

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A Letter to My 12-Year-Old Brother: How to Attract Women

Dear Adrian,

You’re twelve now, but soon, you’ll realize women lack cooties, they’re bizarre and beautiful creatures, and you’ll never understand them. Like many other young men in society, a single mother raised us; therefore, we believe obeying and appeasing women woos them. Doesn’t work that way, buddy. But off at college, the best help I can provide is this letter.

1. Pick a Role Model

Learning how to treat women as an attractive gentlemen requires a couple years of reflective effort. The process resembles practicing Christianity. You may read in the bible “Love your neighbor,” but you’ll never truly know what that means - it’ll never infuse into your guts - until someone steals your shirt and in return you give them your jacket with brotherly love. Reading/knowing differs from practicing/doing. Memory loses to habit.

So without a role model, you’ll miss the inspiration to...

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The Perfect Email Format for Customer Interviews

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Joe feels his phone vibrate and checks it, grabbing it so quickly it nearly flings out in front of him onto the sidewalk. Better be Katie. He had texted her four hours ago. Ugh. Email. Hmm. Taps on the notification and reads the introductory paragraph. Who are you? What do you want? How did you even find me? Irritated by the long message, Joe hides his phone inside his pocket again and heads into the flower shop. Maybe this’ll get her to like me.

The Email Template

A little dramatized, but the above represents most experiences with email. We check them on the phone, we wonder the same questions, we have short attention spans.

Now that the new BVL teams are out learning from customers, they’ll have to email to schedule interviews.

First of all, calls produce follow-on interviews 60% of the time, while emails result in a 20% success rate and have a longer closing loop. Call.

But when...

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You’ve Been Doing Your Customer Problem Interviews Wrong

How Steve Blank instructs the Problem Interview, straight out of The Startup Manual.

The Problem Interview chapter in Running Lean, by the great Ash Maurya.

The Most Common Mistakes Performed By Founders During Customer Interviews

I listed these mistakes in no particular order:

  1. Only interviewing. Ask to observe them working. ASK TO DO THEIR JOB. Then do it. Use their products. Go to their events. Read what they read. BECOME YOUR CUSTOMER.

  2. Going in with the mentality of validating, not learning. “But isn’t the point to ‘validate our assumptions,’ Javier?” Yes, but all too many times I’ve seen entrepreneurs act like lawyers, and not reporters. Instead of only looking for evidence that validates their hypotheses, founders must also try to disprove their assumptions. An investigative reporter builds up both sides, and focuses on learning. A lawyer always thinks they’re right and only...

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