Hacking for Defense @ Stanford – Weeks 8 and 9

We just held our eighth and ninth weeks of the Hacking for Defense class. Now with over 917 interviews of beneficiaries (users, program managers, stakeholders, etc.), the teams spent the last two weeks learning what activities, resources and partners they would need to actually deliver their solution. And they’re getting a handle on what it costs to build a company to deliver it.

Understanding the left-side of the mission model canvas (activities, resources, partners, and costs) forces all teams to ask, “Are we building a product for a DOD/IC customer only or do we have a “dual-use” product that could be sold commercially and get funded by venture capital?”

(This post is a continuation of the series. See all the H4D posts here. Because of the embedded presentations this post is best viewed on the website.)

Next week the teams will present their final Lessons Learned presentations.

Two Items for the Bucket List
Two bucket list items got ahead of my blogging so I’ve combined the final two lecture weeks of the class into this one blog post.

Four decades ago my first job in Silicon Valley was with ESL, the first company to combine computers and signals intelligence. The founder of this 1964 Silicon Valley startup was Bill Perry. His work at ESL made him one of the 10 founders of National Reconnaissance.

Dr. Perry eventually became the 19th secretary of defense. But a decade earlier as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, he was the father of the second offset strategy using software and semiconductors to build smart weapons, smart sensors, and stealth aircraft that helped end the Cold War.

Last week I interviewed Bill at Stanford about War and Peace, innovation and entrepreneurship.


I also gave the commencement speech at the NYU engineering school here.

The Left side of the Canvas
If you’ve been reading along so far, you know that this class is not an extended hackathon nor is it a 10-week long incubator. Hackathons and incubators are helpful in getting product teams focused and result in great demos, but you’re left still not knowing whether you have something beneficiaries/stakeholders/users want nor do you know what it takes to deploy the solution to the field. Ultimately you are left without a strategy to turn your idea into a solution that people will use.

Using the Lean LaunchPad methodology our teams do much more than just build a product or understand customer problems/needs. They also learn how to deploy the solution, how to get stakeholder buy-in and how to measure success. And in these last two weeks of class, they learn what activities, resources and partners they’ll need to deliver their solution and derive what it costs to build the company to deliver it.

The teams capture their work in the mission model canvas a framework for each week’s activities. The canvas illustrates the search for the unknowns that new ventures face. The 9 boxes of the canvas visualize all the components needed to turn beneficiaries needs/problems into a solution.

Mission Model Canvas by week
Each week the teams marched through another box of the canvas, testing their hypotheses in front of beneficiaries using the customer development methodology, all while building and updating their minimal viable product. It’s a ton of work. Over the course of the class, each team will have talked to 100 beneficiaries/ stakeholders/ users. The result is evidence-based entrepreneurship.

Team Presentations: Weeks 8 and 9
Over these last two weeks, teams began to figure out the activities, resources and partners their company would need to deliver their value proposition (product, service or both) to the beneficiaries in their sponsor organizations.

Activities are the expertise and resources that the company needs to deliver the value proposition. They might be hardware development, software expertise, manufacturing, launching rockets, funding, etc. Resources are the internal company-owned activities. Examples are a company-owned manufacturing facility, big data or machine learning engineers, DOD proposal writers, venture capital, etc.  Partners are the external resources (third parties) necessary to execute the Activities. i.e. outsourced manufacturing, system integrators, etc. other companies, that will provide those activities.

activities resources and partners

In addition, teams worked on understanding the costs and operations and deployment timelines for delivering the product to their sponsor.

finance and ops timeline

Team Dynamics
In these last three weeks the benefit of having a team of mixed business and technical resources becomes apparent. Teams that are just all technologists quickly grasp product/market fit (the right side of the canvas) but often have a hard time understanding the left side of the canvas (activities, resources, partners and costs.)  When the technologists work together with business focused students as a team, the learning is impressive.

However, the downside is that one of failure modes of teams (and startups) is a team that doesn’t jell. One of the symptoms is technologists going heads-down building product and features without customer input while they defer all of the left-side of the canvas to the business team. Or conversely business team members draw timelines and costs without a deep understanding of the technology hurdles.

Almost every class has a team or two that goes through team conflict – different working styles, different time commitments, pivots taking them to places where they’re no longer interested, etc. Given that 1/4 of startups meltdown over team dynamics before funding, seeing this happen to teams in the class isn’t a surprise. We treat team dynamics as a normal part of learning in the class. (Team members get to grade each other on their contributions as part of their final grade.)

Considering that none of these teams have worked together in the past, the amount of synergy and teamwork in this cohort is impressive.


WEEK 8 Presentation

In slide 2 the Skynet team continued with customer discovery using experiments to validate or invalidate their hypotheses. Slide 5 does a good job of separating out their technical versus business activities. Slide 6 did a great job in connecting the activities to the resources and partners they’ll need.

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

In Slide 2 the team made progress on developing their MVP. In slide 3 they realized some of their conclusions about DARPA partnerships from last week were wrong. Slides 5-8 continued their learning about partnerships, and slides 9-11 are a great first pass on costs and financial and operations timeline.

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here


WEEK 8 Presentation

Slide 5 is a good summary of activities/resources/partners. Slide 6 connects those to the prototyping and deployment activities by partner and sponsor. Slide 7 lays out a potential field deployment schedule to the sponsor organization. Slides 11-14 show their continued testing of their MVP underwater.

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

Slides 7 and 9 is the team’s first pass in understanding costs, operations and fundraising. They continued their MVP development underwater in a pool at Stanford.

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here


WEEK 8 Presentation

The team really got out of the building and traveled to San Diego (at their own expense) and visited the USS Sampson and the 3rd Fleet headquarters. Slide 7 summarizes their activities, resources and partners.

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

Slide 13 is an excellent example of mapping out their costs.  Slide 14 is a great example of diagramming their financial and operating milestones.

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here


WEEK 8 Presentation

This week Capella was so engaged in their customer discovery and pivot to illegal fishing, they missed the assignment.

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

Slides 8 -12 illustrates their activities and costs. Because they missed last week’s assignment, you wouldn’t know from their presentation that they required a partnership with a space launch company 🙂  The good news is this team had been distracted and will have news to share in their Lessons Learned presentation

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here


WEEK 8 Presentation

Slides 4 -6 summarized Guardians activities, resources and partners.

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

Slides 4 -6 summarized their costs and operating plan.

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here

Right of Boom

WEEK 8 Presentation

Slides 4 -6 summarized Right of Booms’ activities, resources and partners.

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

Slide 3-5 summarizes their unique findings. This team discovered that their deliverable to the sponsor will not be a product. Instead it will be a series of recommendations on how to better utilize their existing products and data. Slides 6-8 describe the partners which can best deliver these recommendations to their sponsor.

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here

Narrative Mind

Slides 3 -6 summarized their activities, resources and partners

WEEK 8 Presentation

If you can’t see the week 8 presentation click here

WEEK 9 Presentation

Slides 3 -10 further refined their partners and summarized their costs and operating plan.

If you can’t see the week 9 presentation click here

Advanced Lecture 8: Costs
In week 8 Pete Newell gave the costs lecture and put it in the context of a DOD program. Slide 3 defined what costs were, slides 4-11 tied it to a specific example.

If you can’t see the costs lecture click here

Advanced Lecture 9: Reflections
In past versions of this class teams would call on beneficiaries/customers until the last week of the class and then present their Lessons Learned. The good news is that their presentations were dramatically better than those given at demo days – they showed us what they learned over 8 weeks which gave us a clear picture of the velocity and trajectory of the teams. The bad news is since their heads were down working on customer discovery until the very end, they had no time to reflect on the experience.

We realized that we had been so focused in packing content and work into the class, we failed to give the students time to step back and think about what they actually learned.

So now we use the last week of the class as a reflection week. Our goal—to have the students extract the insights and meaning from the work they had done in the previous seven weeks.

We asked each team to prepare a draft Lessons Learned presentation telling us about their journey and showing us their:

  • Initial sponsor problem statement
  • Quotes from beneficiaries that illustrated learnings and insights
  • Pivot stories
  • Screen shots of the evolution of Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  • Demo of final MVP

The teaching team reviewed the drafts and provided feedback to the teams and to the class as a whole. We discussed what general patterns and principles they extracted from all the customer interaction they had.

Dual-use Products
As you’ll see next week in the final presentations, some of the teams discovered that they could best serve their sponsor by building a commercial off-the-shelf product that could be sold widely and bought by the DOD/Intel community. Pete Newell came up with the best diagram I’ve seen to illustrate how the work the teams were doing in this class fit to do just that.

The diagram shows that during the class the sponsor needs drive customer discovery and product/market fit. But continued discovery would now include commercial customers and eventually those commercial customer needs would drive the feature set.

dual use trajectory

Hacking for Defense Educators Class
The H4D instructor team has been busy capturing what we learned (teams, lectures, sponsors, etc.) and we’ll incorporate the lessons from this inaugural course and revise the course materials. As part of our plan to scale this class nationwide to other schools, we’re writing an educator’s guide and offering a Hacking for Defense Educators Class Sept 7th – 9th.

Details in the next post.

Tomorrow, May 31st is the last day of class.

We’ll post the final presentations. Quite a journey for all these teams and their sponsors!

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