About Robert

Robert Vesco

I'm a doctoral student at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

My research interests include understanding (a) why some areas are more entrepreneurial than others, (b) what drives people to pursue entrepreneurship, and (c) collaboration and innovation processes.

You can find my CV here

Syllabus for BMGT 461 *Spring 2012*


Course Description and Objectives

The purpose of this class is to prepare you for starting you own venture. I’ll review some of the big ideas you’ll need to be thinking about. I’ll also focus on a lot on areas that I find to be lacking in new entrepreneurs and where I feel I can give you the most value-add. Along the way, I hope to have people who are out there doing it right now come and talk to you. We will also have the opportunity to visit some local startups so that you can see what they are up to.

Contact Information and Hours

  • Name: Robert Vesco
  • Class hours: Tuesday, 7-10pm
  • Class location: VMH 1303
  • Office number: 3330L (PhD Offices)
  • Email: rvesco [[at]] umd.edu
  • Office Hours: Tuesdays, 5-6 pm or by appointment

Expectations of Students

You are expected to have read the material assigned for class and be prepared to answer basic questions about the material. These will be tested periodically in class using clickers and cold calls.

Decorum: Students are expected to treat each other with respect. Disruptive behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Students who are unable to show civility with one another or with the instructors will be subject to being referred to the Office of Student Conduct or to Campus Police. You are expected to adhere to the Code of Student Conduct at all times.

Grading Procedures

  • In class quizzes – 40%
  • Presentations – 40%
  • Participation/In class direct questioning – 10%
  • Final Project – 10%

Attendance Policy

Regular attendance and participation in this class is the best way to grasp the concepts and principles being discussed. However, in the event that a class must be missed due to an illness, the policy in this class is as follows:

  1. For every medically necessary absence from class (lecture, recitation, or lab), a reasonable effort should be made to notify the instructor in advance of the class. When returning to class, students must bring a note identifying the date of and reason for the absence, and acknowledging that the information in the note is accurate.
  2. If a student is absent more than 2  time(s), the instructor may require documentation signed by a health care professional.
  3. If a student is absent on days when tests are scheduled or papers are due [or other such events as specified in the syllabus] he or she is required to notify the instructor in advance, and upon returning to class, bring documentation of the illness, signed by a health care professional.

Arrangement for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities: I will make every effort to accommodate students who are registered with the Disability Support Services (DSS) Office and who provide me with a University of Maryland DSS Accommodation form which has been updated for the Spring 2012 semester.  We are not able to accommodate students who are not registered with DSS or who do not provide me documentation which has been reviewed by DSS after February 28th 2012.

Field Trips and speakers

We will have the great opportunity to visit some amazing startups/entrepreneurs and hear their stories. Don’t be a jerk. These people are busy and they are kind enough to share their wisdom and time with us – but do think of questions. This is an opportunity to hear from people who have successfully started their business or in the process of doing so – invaluable!

Estimated Schedule (subject to change)

Feb 7

Prior to class

  • Improving your Story Telling: pg 11 - 19
  • Made to Stick: pg 3 – 24
  • Video of introduction/passion
  • Review videos of colleagues


  • Cover the syllabus, books
  • Review class preferences, goals, backgrounds
  • Discuss importance of skills
  • Speaker @ 8pm: Jorge Diaz - http://cl.linkedin.com/in/xurde

Feb 14

Prior to class

  • The Lean Startup: pg 1-36 (Read briefly, but know main ideas/definitions) This did not make it to Testudo, so it will not be required!
  • The Secret of Mental Mathematics: Chp 0-1 (you should be comfortable doing the basic exercises provided at end of chapter)
  • Founders at Work: Chp 3 - Steve Wozniak
  • Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Customer Development: Pg 11-26
  • Brilliant, Crazy and Cocky: Chp 1-2 (think about chapter 2, do you agree?)
  • How to Read a Financial Report: NA
  • Improving your Story Telling: Section 1, pg 21-72 (Skim through, focus on big ideas and terms)
  • Made to Stick: Chapter 1 – Simplicity
  • Web links to read: NA
  • Video Assignments:
    • Find a TED talk longer than 10 minutes: http://www.ted.com/talks
    • Simplify it down to 3 minutes. THIS IS NOT A SUMMARY OF WHAT THE PERSON SAID. You need to give the talk AS IF YOU were the one giving the same TED talk, but shorter! PLEASE DO NOT SUMMARIZE what was said in the TED talk. Just find the essence of the argument and present that in a compelling way!
    • Put the links to both the original TED talk and your simplified version here: http://www.robertvesco.com/limesurvey/index.php?sid=66227&lang=en
    • This form requires registration, but you will get email confirmation once the form is submitted.
    • This form is due by Saturday night 11:59 pm.
    • Once I get everyone’s videos, I will send out an additional form so that you can review your colleagues.
    • You should be prepared to present your video in class, in person! I may call on you!
  • Other: Sign up for field trip, Feb 23rd @ 3pm, 15 spots: http://www.robertvesco.com/limesurvey/index.php?sid=69765&lang=en


Feb 21

Prior to class

  • Made to Stick: Chapter 2 + 3
  • Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Customer Development: Pg 27-60
  • Improving your Story Telling: pg 75-93 (Skim through, focus on big ideas and terms)
  • The Secret of Mental Mathematics: Chp 2-3 (you should be comfortable doing the basic exercises provided at end of chapter)
  • Founders at Work: Chp 9 – Tim Brady
  • Brilliant, Crazy and Cocky: Chp 5 – Revenge of the Copycats
  • How to Read a Financial Report: NA
  • Web links to read: NA
  • Video Assignments:


  • Speaker @7pm: Amanda Nachman – UMD Alumni. Started College Magazine while in college. Won Cupid’s Cup.

Feb 28

Prior to class

  • Made to Stick: Chapter 4 + 5
  • Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Customer Development: Pg 61 - 96
  • Improving your Story Telling: pg 95 – 109 (Skim through, focus on big ideas and terms)
  • The Secret of Mental Mathematics: Chp 4 - 5 (Chp 5 is SUPER IMPORTANT)
  • Founders at Work: Chp 2 – Sabeer Bhatia
  • Brilliant, Crazy and Cocky: Chp 3 – How Israel Became a Powerhouse
  • How to Read a Financial Report: NA
  • Web links to read: NA
  • Video Assignments:

      So you just pitched an idea to a group of investors or skeptical friends and they just told you your idea sucks.

      You need to try a different way.

      Pretend your idea is on the line. This is a last ditch effort to save your dream.

      You're pulling a "hail mary" so to speak.

      Use all the tools as your disposal: Simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, and emotion. Show passion!

      Also, look at chapter the in customer development about assumptions, pg 71. How can the key assumptions you've made be articulated in a convincing way?

      In short, I want you to give a "This is why this is a good idea and this is why you should invest" type talk.

      Tell us your idea,  tell us why there is a market, tell us why you think you can make money ex cetera... You don't have to have all the details down perfectly, we will be working on developing those in the next couple of weeks, but at least "sound" like you know what you are talking about. Remember: PASSION PEOPLE.

              Lastly, I want you to WRITE & MEMORIZE your scripts first this time. There will be a space on the survey to paste your script into.


      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqIEE-g_-Uc&feature=related (example)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7BzmSBim7M&feature=related (long)

      STRICT TIME LIMIT: No more than 3 minutes – but it can be less!

      DUE: Saturday @ 11:59 pm

      Survey: http://www.robertvesco.com/limesurvey/index.php?sid=99598&lang=en


Mar 2  – Field Trip to WEBS, FRIDAY @ 3pm

Sign up for field trip, March 2nd http://www.robertvesco.com/limesurvey/index.php?sid=69765&lang=en

  • 2pm at College Park Metro OR
  • 2:45 at Webs HQ in Silver Spring MD

Mar 6

Prior to class

  • Made to Stick: Chp 6 - Stories
  • Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Customer Development: Re-read section related to assignment, pg 52 - 81
  • Improving your Story Telling: TBD
  • The Secret of Mental Mathematics: TBD
  • Founders at Work: NA
  • Brilliant, Crazy and Cocky: NA
  • How to Read a Financial Report: NA
  • Web links to read: NA
  • Assignments:
    • No videos this week – I’m giving you a reprieve
    • Contact me and classmates on linkedin (see email for names). This is not required, but it costs you nothing and it is a huge benefit in the long run. You should be doing this for everyone in all your classes.
    • Setup twitter account (or create a professional one if your current one is baudy) and follow people in the startup space or business space you’re interested in. You’d be amazed about what you can learn and how friendly people are. Again, this is optional, but it’s a good idea regardless of whether you are starting a business or not.
    • Read customer development again – create a spreadsheet with following tabs
      • tab 1 – CPS (see pages 68-70)
        • Describe your customer (also think about your market segment)
        • Describe your problem and/or need
        • Describe your solution
        • Why are you different? Why would anyone want to pay you?
      • tab 2 – Relationship Map (see pages 52-60)
        • Green arrows for money
        • Black arrows for product / service
        • Dotted for non-direct sales (if applicable)
      • tab 3 – Business Assumptions (see again pages 52-60 and page 71)
        • Think about the relationships from tab 2.
        • Are these really all the folks you’ll need to partner with to make the product/service work?
        • What will it take for you to make those relationships?
        • How much are customers willing to pay for your product?
        • How many will you need to be profitable?
      • tab 4 – Product-Service
        • Just think about all the features you think you’re product and service will need to be saleable.
        • If you have some competitors, post some links. How are you different from them?
      • tab 5 – Customer Funnel (see pgs 72-74)
        • In particular see figure 13, pg 74, and the commentary below it
        • Now, your business idea may not be that complex. Just do what makes sense for your business idea.
      • tab 6 – Your email and phone pitches (See pg 77-78)
        • Write up a pitch for each email and phone.
        • Use excel’s “text block” object rather than writing in a cell. It makes it easier for others to read.
    • Name your spreadsheet –> HW5.firstname.lastname.xlsx (for instance, HW5.robert.vesco.xlsx)
    • Put spreadsheet into class dropbox folder (you should have gotten an email for this, if not contact me)
    • DUE: Saturday, March 3rd @ 11.59pm
    • I will then assign you some folk’s excel files to review. You add a tab with your commentary.
  • So class, the folks at http://www.entreprelooza.com/ need volunteers. I’d much rather you go to this, then class. You’ll have an opportunity to meet interesting people and network. Also you have an opportunity to talk about your ideas.
    • Please see the email regarding volunteering. If you didn’t get this email, let me know ASAP!
    • If you’re not volunteering, I expect to see you in class tomorrow.


Mar 13

Prior to class

  • More to come Thursday night – but in the mean time….
  • Please review the comments your colleagues made on your spreadsheets.
  • Contact 5 people who can help you address your assumptions (they should be people you don’t know and I want you to contact them by email first, bcc’ing me)
    • Create tab in your main spreadsheet, call it “communication”
    • Create the following columns in the spreadsheet (shorten names of columns to whatever you want)
      • Name of contact
      • Website or name of business (if applicable)
      • How did you find out about them? (web search, through contacts on Linkedin, etc…)
      • Why this person? How do they help validate your idea?
      • Problem
      • Current solution (obviously they may not have one)
      • Your solution
    • On the 2nd row of your spreadsheet, briefly write down your points from TAB 1 where relevant (ie the problem, solution, etc..)
    • See pages 80-83 of customer development for details. The goal is to validate your idea.
  • I will be providing feedback on your spreadsheets on Friday, but don’t wait for my feedback to start contacting these folks. I will also be sending out grades for last couple of assignments.
  • Obviously, some people may not respond by email, so you may need to follow up by phone.
  • Also, if you have not been reading your “mental math” book, please do so, I will conducting pop quizzes in class.


  • We’ll be going over business assumptions, ideas
  • We’ll be talking about lessons learned from contacting people and discussing your idea with them. What did you learn?
  • I’ll be doing a number of pop quizzes on math problems
  • More to come…

Mar 20 – NO CLASS

Prior to class


Mar 27

Prior to class


Apr 3

Prior to class

  • How to Read a Financial Report: Chapters 4-6 (Chapter 5 will be relevant to our speaker)


  • Speaker: Asad Ali, Business Development Lead,  http://lemurims.com/
  • Have students present 1-2 minute pitches (see my email for details on people who need to present)
  • Go over structure of presentations
  • Go over overview of starting a business
  • Be ready to be able to do calculations from readings

Apr 10

Prior to class

  • How to Read a Financial Report: Chapters 7-9
  • Read “Pitch Deck Resources” further down. Required reading asterisk * links, but peruse some others so that you get a sense of the diversity of opinion and styles – especially the real pitch decks.
  • Note to Teams
    • This is a group project – even if you’ve already thought through the idea a lot – divide up the tasks as if you were starting almost from scratch.
    • If possible, aim higher and larger. Maybe you thought about opening a single hair salon – well think about opening a chain of them.
    • Remember you’ll be pitching as a team. You’ll be graded by your team members, individual, and as a team as a whole.
    • This is an opportunity to think big and get feedback from real entrepreneurs and investors.
  • HW – Put the following in dropbox by class time in HW8 Folder.
    • PPT Slides (these slide will change over time, but you’ll start wanting to think about your story. How are you going to get attention?)
      1. In one pithy sentence – what is your business?
      2. What’s problem
      3. What’s the solution
      4. The team
    • Industry Analysis in word doc (1 page)
      • What going on in your industry?
        • Trends?
        • Legal issues / Regulation
    • Competitor Analysis in excel


  • Markets Size, Financial Projections, Valuation.
  • Mental math problems based on “How to Read a Financial Report” so make sure you can do that calculations!

Apr 17

Prior to class

  • How to Read a Financial Report: Chapters 12-15
  • Read accounting and finance section
    • In addition, check out vbic.umd.edu lots of resources there on finding out about markets, costs, etc…
  • Dig as deep into potential revenue and costs as you can. Please create a spreadsheet called finance.xls and drop into HW9 folder
    • Create one tab for revenues and another for expenses. Then create the following columns in each.
      • Item (rent, trucks, receptionist, engineer – junior, engineer – senior.
      • Revenue or cost
      • Where did you get this number? Website, talking to people
  • Create your full draft of the slide deck (obviously you may not have any finance slide)


  • We’ll go over how to create financial models and valuation.
  • I’ll have you walk over your presentations (informally).

Apr 24

Prior to class

  • Practice giving 10 minute presentations
    • Each person should have an opportunity to talk
    • If you are rushing through your presentation, you have too much stuff. Shorten it.
      • However, feel free to include backup slides in case you get asked a question.
    • Is the value of project clear?
    • Do you have a story? Are you entertaining?
    • Are you making your problem and solutions concrete enough so that someone who doesn’t know your product/service knows what you are doing?
    • Can you explain it to your grandma?


  • Speaker: Imran Aftab, CEO, www.tenpearls.com
  • You’ll conduct your first formal 10 minute presentations.

May 1

Prior to class



Prior to class


Pitch Deck Resources

General Advice and Templates

Pollenizer - universal pitch deck


*Alliance of Angels - 10 minute pitch deck


Cheap Revolution - 10 slide pitch deck.


*reoverthinking - pitch deck and discussion


*Garage.com - Perfecting your pitch - 10 slides


Slidehare - Legend Ventures - VC Pitches that Work


Guy Kawasaki - 102030 rule


BeyondVC - Positioning and Pitch Decks for Startups


Slideshare - Dave McClure - How to pitch a VC


Mark Suster - Raising VC Money Video + Pitch Deck Info


Slideshare - Yourphones - generic pitch deck


*DealHorizon – Best Investor Deck Ever


Real Example Decks

Mint.com PreLaunch - not really theirs, but nice


Business Insider, Foursquare’s first deck


Techcrunch, Tim Young of Social Cast, 5 Deck Slide.









Slideshare - Matt Brezina - Xobni - No cares about your startup


Competitor Analysis

*Mike Arsenault – How to Grok Competitive Analysis


Competitor Evaluation and Inspiration (very high-level)


Cascade Insights – Accelerating Sales with Competitor Analysis (Long, but lots of good ideas on how to find info)


*Mark Suster – How to talk to investors about your competitors


Accounting and Finance

Marsdd - Top down and bottom up forcasting



Pasadena Angels - the truth aout early stage pre-money valuations


Innovation center - How much is your pre-revenue company worth?


Jordan Cooper - Seed Stage Valuation


*Slideshare - Mint Founder Institute Accounting


SlideShare - Steve Blank - Why accountants don’t run startups


Slide Share - Dave McClure - Startup Metrics



Early Stage Process

Learn modern startup terminology used by VC/Lawyers/Consultants/Tech Scene. Learn about iteration, pivoting, and hypotheses driven development. Both books are inspired by Steve Blank’s, Customer Development, which is a great yet, but very dense.

  • The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
  • Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development - Cooper & Vlaskovitz

Mental Math / Accounting

Learn how to do calculations in your head. Essential for all aspects of business – though often not taught in schools. Also learn some basics about reading financial statements and use your mental math skills.

  • The Secret of Mental Mathematics - Arthur Benjamin
  • How to read financial reports - John A. Tracy


Another important skill that is learnable and not often taught. These books will help you tell more compelling stories covering content, style, and inspiration.

  • Made to Stick - Heath and Heath
  • Improving your storytelling - Doug Lipman
  • Founders at Work - Jessica Livingston
  • Brilliant, Crazy, and Cocky - Sarah Lacy

ISBNs and Approximate Prices

Title Author ISBN of Book Price Amazon
Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician's Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks Arthur Benjamin 978-0307338402 10.99
The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development Cooper & Vlaskovitz 978-0982743607 19.95
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days Jessica Livingston 978-1430210788 17.99
Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky Sarah Lacy 978-0-470-58009-7 16.14
How to Read a Financial Report: Wringing Vital Signs Out of the Numbers John A. Tracy 978-0470405307 11.77
Improving Your Storytelling: Beyond the Basics for All Who Tell Stories in Work and Play (American Storytelling)  Doug Lipman 978-0874835304 10
Made to Stick Heath and Heath 978-1-4000-6428-1 16.5

Academic Integrity and Intellectual Standards

The Robert H. Smith School of Business fosters an environment of academic integrity and development of thoughtful and sound analysis. Faculty and students will hold each other accountable to meeting intellectual standards including demonstrating clarity of thought, articulating statements based on evidence, presenting relevant arguments, and engaging in logical reasoning.  By adhering to these standards, students will develop essential critical thinking skills to be demonstrated in both their oral and written work.
The University's Code of Academic Integrity is designed to ensure that the principles of academic honesty and integrity are upheld.  All students are expected to adhere to this Code.  The Smith School does not tolerate academic dishonesty.  All acts of academic dishonesty will be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of this code.  Please visit the following website for more information on the University's Code of Academic Integrity: www.shc.umd.edu

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