What We’ve Learned From Teaching the Trainings

A couple months ago, the team of StartupMonthly: Yuri Rabinovich and Vadim Slavin as instructors and facilitators, Micah McGraw as an assistant (thanks Micah!), and I as an instructor and author, ran another class of my Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript and NodeJS training.

From an idea to a prototype
Yuri Rabinovich – From an idea to a prototype

The training is a two and a quarter day intensive hands-on workshop designed for advanced beginner and intermediate programmers. The main goal is to take an idea to a functional prototype, known as Minimal Viable Product or just MVP in Lean Startup circles.

We cover agile software and business methodologies (Lean Startup), front-end development with modern tools (LESS, Parse.com, Git) and frameworks (BackboneJS, jQuery, Twitter Bootstrap), deployment to production with Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions (Heroku, Windows Azure) and back-end development with highly efficient and scalable technologies (Node.js, MongoDB). You can find the detailed curriculum of Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript training: on WebAppLog blog, and on StartupMonthly website.

Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript training
Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript training

We’ve learned a great deal from our students. Here are some of the most important, in my opinion, things:

  • Trainees with different levels of programming skills have different interests and different questions. We had trainees who were asking questions about running NodeJS stack in production and on the other hand there were people who were struggling with basic examples, e.g., making AJAX JavaScript call.
  • We still stayed competitive as a business venture even after reducing the discounts by $100 to $200, e.g., classes at Marakana are 1.5–2x more expensive; therefore rising prices don’t often affect the sales.
  • Having more time to market and sell is more important than having a lower price per seat. We came to this conclusion when higher prices and two months marketing yielded better results than lower price and one month of marketing. The brand awareness of the training is still insignificant to account for it. We mostly used [StartupMonthly] network and social events, a couple hundreds of dollars on Facebook ads, posting on Hacker News, and emailing to JavaScript dev groups.
  • Full refund policy didn’t turn out to be a disaster; in fact, it might have helped us to sell out the tickets. There was only one student who requested the refund simply because he didn’t expect that the training would be so intense and not suited for total beginners in web development.
  • Setting up dev environment is not an issue with a good step-by-step manual. Thanks to the lessons we’ve learned from out previous training, more about it in this blog post — Pilot Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript and NodeJS Class, I had beefed-up the manual with more robust tutorials; and only 2 trainees showed up for our optional Friday night pre-course session to get help with setting up a development environment on their machines. This is a true Reverse teaching approach.
  • Examples usually are not interesting to some of the students. We had a more engaging class when the students worked on their own ideas rather than code examples from the manual. Because examples are boring, people copy/paste code instead of writing it. Which leads to…
  • Copy/paste students complete assignments faster, but some of them have no idea how basic stuff works :-( It came to no-surprise that those trainees experienced barrage of difficulties when they tried to work on their own ideas or to implement additional functionality on top of the examples provided in the manual.
  • Advanced students skipped the second day, on which we had fun with NodeJS and MongoDB. Bummer! They were only interested in front-end JavaScript prototyping to complement their Ruby on Rails or Java back-end skills, hence the demand for separate front-end training exists.
Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript training
Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript training

Recently, I had a conversations with a new technical education company, Catalyst, which takes people from zero to employment; something similar to Dev Bootcamp but for JavaScript, including technologies like jQuery, CoffeeScript, NodeJS, etc.
We concluded that with materials widely available in a form of books, screencasts, GitHub repositories, and other mediums, learning technical skills come down to motivation. And motivation comes mostly from self-identity. For example, if I self-identify myself as a developer (or engineer, programmer, hacker), I could stay up all night fixing bugs, hacking around an obscure platform limitation, or trying to meet a deadline; however, if I wear an entrepreneurial hat, I’m more inclined to look at the bigger picture and either to defer the issue or to delegate it to a more experienced person. Therefore, entrepreneurial types usually less motivated to solve pure technical problems.

In our next iteration of the Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript and NodeJS trainings we plan to change our approach from education to coaching by:

  • Extending the format from two days to three to four days;
  • Accepting only those teams of two to three people or one-man-band-type individuals who already have an idea;
  • Packaging training materials in a self-study kit starting with a Rapid Prototyping with JavaScript book.

Students will work on their ideas while tapping into mentorship and experience of industry leading practices in both technical and Lean Startup methodologies. Exact dates and location of the next trainings will be announced on StartupMonthly website and on my blog — WebAppLog.com.

What is Accelerator.IO?

It’s a new social network for entrepreneurs with productivity tools based on Lean Startup methodology. Accelerator.IO is a niche social network similar to dribbble, which is for designers, and Forrst, which is for developers. Main focus for us, team of Accelerator.IO, is to provide valuable tools and content for startupers, founders, hackers and hustlers by connecting them with mentors, investors and most importantly fellow entrepreneurs across the globe. It is important to state that Accelerator.IO is not a competitor to AngelList but rather a complimentary tool. In fact, we leverage AngelList API to gather entrepreneurial information about users such as company name and website URL. In a sense Accelerator.IO is a global online co-working space where smart and bright minds collaborate and learn from each others failures and successes.


The key features of Accelerator.IO:

  • curated access and content moderation to keep discussions interesting and engaging;
  • access to global network of like-minded people;
  • leveraging AngelList API for easier adoption;
  • reliance on the over 6,000 people network of StartupMonthly fund and startup accelerator, across Silicon Valley/San Francisco, Middle East and Europe;
  • productivity tools for entrepreneurs and startups founders based on Lean Startup methodology.

Right now Accelerator.IO is in beta testing. We accept early access sign ups and beta testers at http://signup.accelerator.io.

Last but not least, if you are looking for a side-project to pick-up a new skills in web and mobile development, or get a free access to startup social events and get exposure on web — Accelerator.IO is accepting volunteers: JavaScript developers, front-end or back-end (we’ll teach you Node.js if you’re only front-end dev right now).