Startup life puts many constraints on one’s daily life: time pressure, the ambiguity of what to do next and constant stress. In order to cope with that, one has to master all aspects of life, going beyond the traditional meaning of the entrepreneurial tool kit.

Written by Lidia Borisova

To be a successful entrepreneur you need to be able to build and manage a great team, you have to know how to listen to your customers, where to get funding for development, how to pitch your product to investors, how to disrupt conventions in your field, how to protect your idea from copy cats and how to create excellent inbound marketing content about your product from the first day of company existence – to name a few. However, is that enough?

Startup life will put many constraints on one’s daily life: time pressure, the ambiguity of what to do next, the need to pivot, constant stress and so on. In order to cope with that, you have to master all aspects of your life. That goes beyond the traditional meaning of the entrepreneurial tool kit.

At Aalto Ventures Program we believe that one of our goals is to create a safe simulation of the startup life for students interested in entrepreneurship and to equip them with the toolkit needed. Having that goal in mind, we run the Startup Experience course twice a year. We teach and practice all the traditional entrepreneurship skills and something more. By “something more” we mean that we introduce the students to a specific mindset that incorporates entrepreneurial behavior with not only business development but also with the personal life and daily routines.

It is natural for freelancers to live without a clear plan of where they might be or what they might do in a couple months’ time. The way things are now, it is impossible to create a static image of yourself, to develop a rigid plan and implement a typical sequence of actions necessary to achieve it. That’s why Designing Your Life concept, developed in Stanford’s Life Design Lab, became one of the building blocks of the Startup Experience course.

The current teaching format of the Designing Your Life methodology is following: first, at the beginning of the course, we ask students to start a diary of activities that bring them energy, flow, and joy. It should include all types of activities, not only work or study related ones. The goal is to help students to reflect their everyday activities and to be able to design a life with a purpose. Then, at the end of the course, we run the Designing Your Life workshop during which the students, based on their diaries, ideate and prototype alternative versions of their lives.

This spring the workshop was exceptional. Besides this important and exciting topic of life design, students were taught by their peer – Margarita Mishinova, a student from the Startup Experience course. Having a student co-teaching broke down the boundaries of traditional teaching and diminished the gap between students and teachers. Maggie was sharing her experience of life design, the challenges that she faced, and the benefits that this mindset brought to her. She managed to establish a direct link to the students’ hearts and minds that would be more difficult if only us – teachers – would be leading the workshop.

AVP Student Margarita teaching at the Design Your Life workshop

The lesson we learned from incorporating the Designing Your Life methodology in Startup Experience inspired us to start designing a separate track at AVP called “Routines of personal growth”. It will aim to build healthy life habits in the routines of future or current entrepreneurs.

Lidia Borisova is an AVP teacher with a background in design thinking and service design. She has worked on many projects in Finland and Russia as a service designer, has taught design thinking and held workshops for companies, universities, and social institutions.