Customer Development, Education, entrepreneurship, Lean Startup

Teaching the Lean Launchpad – in Iran!


So this just happened: I was invited to hold a lecture at the Qazvin Islamic Azad University (QIAU), one of the most successful and private universities in Iran and one of the largest comprehensive system of universities, colleges, and community colleges in the world according to Wikipedia.

After thinking long and hard about what I should focus on at such a fantastic teaching opportunity, I settled on the introductory part of the Lean Launchpad curriculum called “What We Now Know“.  I think it gives the most bang for the bucks – the chance to introduce anybody to what a startup is, what we have been doing wrong in building them, why and what to do instead in a short, comprehensive and actionable lecture.

Me. On stage. In Iran. Below two Ayatollahs. Teaching the Lean Launchpad curriculum. From Stanford and Berkeley, USA.

So, yeah. That’s me. On stage. In Iran. Below two Ayatollahs. Teaching the Lean Launchpad curriculum. From Stanford and Berkeley, USA. With Farsi translator on stage, right.


Pretending I know Farsi to follow the the introduction ;)

The "Selfie" is a big deal in Iran :)

The “Selfie” is a big deal in Iran

Here are the slides I used:

UPDATE: The presentation was featured as Slides of the Day on LinkedIn SlideShare  September 11th 2015. Which makes it my 4th presentation featured in less than 4 months. :)


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Hanging with students

Hanging with students

The university's tech incubator

The university’s tech incubator

Inspecting some of the record breaking feats made by engineers at the university

Inspecting some of the record breaking feats made by engineers at the university

The campus is so massive, they told me it's the largest in the world - and judging from what I could see, I believe it

The campus is so massive, they told me it’s the largest in the world – and judging from the amount of land I saw, I believe it


Lessons Learned

  • No, as a Norwegian citizen I was not interrogated on arrival (super easy visa process, almost no waiting) and no, I didn’t have a chaperone of any sort (I’m probably not important enough anyways) although be advised that your experience as a British, Canadian or American citizen may vary
  • Something like 50% of Iran’s population of 78 million is under the age of 30 (think about the implications)
  • Students preferred me speaking in American English instead of British English
  • People here have actually heard about The Lean Startup, and are practicing it, albeit perhaps maybe not yet fully
  • People are super eager to learn, learn, learn
  • There’s an abundance of tech talent in Iran, lots of great universities (although I’m told curricula is lagging behind)
  • There’s a lack of constructive startup mentorship culture and experience, mentors doing real damage instead of help
  • Expat and international venture capital is moving in to Iran
  • Persian is almost synonymous with entrepreneurial, it almost seems to be inherent
  • Tehran has a nascent startup scene with funded startups
  • The international embargo is hurting entrepreneurs who are working for positive change
  • The embargo opened up copycat / cloning opportunities, but leaves them fragile to a post-embargo scenario
  • If this is the axis of evil, I wouldn’t known – I couldn’t find it, and I don’t think I’m being naive in saying so
  • Iran is very much a paradoxical country, like two parallel worlds, two systems in one
  • It is considered a faux pas for a man to touch a woman, so don’t extend your hand to shake theirs (mileage may vary, observation depending on level of religiousness, family background, etc)
  • I was of course traveling in highly academic circles, but still I got a sense that change is very much in the air
  • Things take time, so relax and enjoy – talking before doing seems to be an important part of culture
  • The people are incredibly polite and helpful, also when discounting the fake politeness of Taarof
  • Tehran looks and feels like any other Megapolis (18 million inhabitants!) except for the mandatory headscarfs that the women have to wear
  • Tehran has an intricate yet simplistic taxi system more sophisticated and practical than Uber
  • Yes, of course they have Coca Cola and Apple in Iran too – This is NOT North Korea by any stretch
  • Persian women are just as beautiful as in the legends, smart, headstrong and not particularly shy
  • Persian food is absolutely fantastic (e.g. after the obligatory Kebab, try Baqalipolo with Mahiche!)
  • You can get a tourist visa, so go to Iran and see for yourself!

Posing, posing, posing – The male contingency of students who showed me around campus and the city of Qazvin (in all fairness, not shown are the girls who was also a part of this group, turning camera-shy when out in public, a post-revolution cultural thing I gather)


Excursion time! The beautiful Chehel sotoun in Qazvin, Iran

Many thanks to Shahin for inviting me!