The final paper will be a report of your final project. There are two parts - in the first, we would like you to revisit your midterm report and tell us what has changed since you wrote it. We do not want you to re-hash information that you have already given us. We will read your final report in conjunction with your midterm report, and we would like to understand the evolution of your ideas. If you were wrong about something or have decided on a better approach, we want to know why. If something has not changed, we want to know what you have learnt that has justified your initial approach. In your answers, draw upon specific market research that you have done or conversations that you have had with potential customers.
Note that in some sections, there are either new questions that we want you to address, or questions that we felt were inadequately answered by most people that we would like you to expand upon.
In the second part you will be describing the progress that you have made since the midterm break in developing your product, conducting market research and evaluating your business model. You will also describe your prototype implementation and your technology stack.
We don't want you to write a lot. But we want you to think a lot. Please read the questions below, and then think hard about them in very specific terms with regard to your company/situation. A great paper will have spent a relatively small amount of time writing, relative to the amount of time spent thinking and researching.
Read the questions carefully, and make sure that you address all of them in your report. It helps us if you answer the questions in serialized form in the same order they are asked.
The paper should have the following qualities:
- Crisp writing: to the
point, corporate executive summary style writing is encouraged;
don;t caveat too much, and don't try to be polite or
complete in covering all bases
- Quality, Creativity,
Originality and Clarity of Thought: choice of company/product in
light of questions asked, thinking out of the box, coming up with
interesting, original solutions and ideas and non-textbook points of
view, clear thinking and exposition
- Judgment: The choice of
company, and especially the richness of the issues it exposes per
the questions below. So please think hard about that up front.
- Realism: The realism of
the company's situation and the issues you examine. All
companies have challenges and opportunities, and they are usually
very specific to the company itself.
- Domain knowledge in technology and business: demonstrating deep understanding of
technical and non-technical issues; researching on the Web to
acquire knowledge is strongly encouraged
- Choice and exposition of Tradeoffs: the section on design and technical tradeoffs will carry
more weight, so we encourage you to spend more time on it -- we are
looking for specific trade offs that make business sense, and that
don't have an obvious answer
- Language: good writing in
- References: citing
relevant material, can even be online resources
In this part, we want you to tell us what has changed in the major sections that were covered in the midterm report, and in some cases expand upon certain questions.
- (New) Give an executive summary style description of your company. This should be the "elevator pitch" of the company and also describe any key milestones that you've achieved so far.
- What about your company's vision has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change?
- If there is no change in your company's vision, what has affirmed your belief in this vision?
B. Customers and Market
- What about your target market has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change? For example, you may have decided to focus on a niche segment, or on a completely different market altogether.
- If there is no change in your target market, what information or data have you collected that has validated your belief that this is a good market to target? Talk in specific terms about conversations that you have had with potential customers, data that you have gathered from surveys or other sources etc.
- (New) What is your competitive advantage over your competitors? How can you defend and maintain this competitive advantage? What barriers to entry can you erect that can ward off future competitors? For example, this could be your technical secret sauce, your product, your branding and customer support etc.
- What about your company's competitive landscape has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change? For example, you may have discovered new competitors who are attempting to do the same thing, or learnt that a big company can easily do this better.
- If there is no change in your company's competitive landscape, what steps did you take to evaluate and confirm the competitive landscape?
- What about your company's product and go-to-market strategy has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change?
- If there is no change in your company's strategic plan, what information or data do you have that has affirmed your belief in the existing strategic plan?
E. Product and Design
- What about your product has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change? For example, you may have decided to focus on a specific/niche use case, or you may have switched to a completely different product altogether.
- If there is no change in your product, what information or data do you have that has confirmed that this is the right product to build and that there is a good product-market fit?
F. Customer Acquisition
- What about your company's customer acquisition strategy has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change?
- If there is no change in your company's customer acquisition strategy, what has affirmed your belief in this strategy?
G. Revenue and Pricing
- What about your company's revenue and pricing model has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change?
- If there is no change in your company's revenue and pricing model, what new data do you have that has confirmed your projections?
- What about your company's projected cost structure has changed? What new information or insight do you have that led to this change?
- If there is no change in your company's projected cost structure, what new data do you have that has confirmed your projections?
This part will address the progress you have made since the midterm in developing your product and business model
A. Prototype and Technology
Describe, in detail, the work you did for your prototype/implementation. Talk in some depth about the technology stack that you used for your prototype and whether this differs from the technology stack you would use for your actual product.
B. Market Research and Validation
Describe, in detail, the work you did in conducting market research and evaluating your business model and product-market fit. Talk in specific terms about conversations you had with potential customers, their feedback about your product and business and any user studies that you ran.
In this section, we want you to build a simple financial model for your business. What we would like to see is, for the next three years, by quarter:
- Projected revenue
- Projected cost of goods sold ("Above the line costs")
- Gross margin
- Projected "below the line" expenses
- Operating margin (don't worry about taxes)
- Cash flow. In particular, how much cash is needed till the company becomes cash-flow positive
More than the actual numbers, what we care about in all of the above is your reasoning behind why the numbers and time-frames (to profitability and to cash-flow break-even, for example) are the way they are. So the more you explain why, the better. Just numbers are not very interesting by themselves, and won't get you much credit. Remember, even investors will largely discount the actual numbers, and will focus on the reasoning and how good a handle you have on the different aspects.
We don't expect you to know how to build a full profit and loss statement or cash flow statement. What we are looking for is your ability to reason through and defend your revenues, costs, and the timing of cash, the last of which is different form profits and losses and affects funding needs.
D. Future Steps
Do you think your project is something that you can take forward and build into a successful company? If yes, answer the following questions. If no, explain in detail your rationale for why you would not like to pursue this any further.
- Fundraising - What is your plan to raise funding? How much? From whom?
- Hiring - What is the growth trajectory of your team? What kind of people constitute your first ten hires? How do you plan to find them and how do you plan to convince them to join you?
- Exit Strategy - What is your exit strategy (IPO, acquisition, merger etc.), and why do you think this is the most appropriate strategy? In what timeframe?
What to Submit
One submission per group.
- PDF format only
- Include everyone's full name and NetIDs
- Use the following file name format: COS448_Lastname_Firstname_FileDescription.pdf
- No more than 14 pages single-spaced or 28 pages double-spaced (excluding cover
- Use a font size of at least 11
- Use one of the following fonts: Arial,
Times New Roman or Calibri
- Use at least 1 inch margin on every side
When to Submit
Submit by midnight on May 12
Note: You will not get any credit for late
submissions. We will grant extensions only in the case of illness
(with a doctor's note) or extraordinary circumstances.
Extracurricular activities and heavy workloads in other classes
don't count as "extraordinary", no matter how
unexpected or important or time-consuming. Please let us know ahead
of time if illness or an extraordinary circumstance will cause you to
submit a writeup or paper late, then you should discuss the matter
with your instructor as soon as possible.
Where to Submit
Have one team member submit the project via email to email@example.com.