An email thread with a UNC CS professor who I got along with well.

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Hey Jeff, 

It was great meeting you today. As I said, let me know if there's anything I can help with on your mission to make the UNC CS department more sane (ditching Java, teaching Git and other practical things, etc.) I'm also happy to speak on what it was like to start a company as an undergrad and what the CS department could do to encourage students like me. To be fair, this isn't entirely selfless: one of my personal goals is to fight against the "raising" mentality and show how you can build a company that runs entirely off of revenue right out of undergrad. I live in SF right now and can't stand the emphasis on raising money over building something that can sustain itself on revenue.

As I mentioned, I scribbled down some (raw) notes a couple weeks ago when I was thinking about starting Coursicle while at UNC. Here they are: 
Could advocate for universities to recreate our success by setting up a program like this: students want to make money over the summer, some have to, so that means an internship is required in their eyes. What if grants were given instead, and students could work on their aspiring project? The other thing students care about is prestige, so you could have a competition to get the grants and there could be a very loosely structured program around it too. Imagine YC but without the incentive to fund billion dollar companies, just companies doing good things. Maybe should be summer after junior year. 
Maybe even setup a thing where students can apply for 2 years of DigitalOcean servers if they have a really good and solid idea and product, because this was something that we really struggled with, was how much things costed. We didn't want any expenses, even $5/month to us was huge, and if we hadn't gotten certain things for free/gotten stipends/etc. we may have pursued a different path and not grown Coursicle into what it is today.
Happy to chat more about these things. I'm in town until the 4th. 


Joe Puccio
Co-founder, Coursicle

Hey Joe, I'm so glad that you introduced yourself last Tuesday! It was great to meet you, not only because of the family connection (have I mentioned that I'm a fan of your dad?), but also because of the departmental and entrepreneurial connection.

I'm actually in strong agreement with your bias not to raise capital. I did apply to YC a time or two, but that was more for the intense experience and mentoring than the money. Plus, I think they'd agree with your bias as well. My co-founder and I decided at one point that we really just weren't interested in VC for our startup. Not that that ended up being a (financially) successful story, so maybe I should caution people not to do what I did. :-)

Your thoughts about micro-grants for infrastructure and competitions echo some things that Michael Fern and I have been discussing. I hadn't thought about the summer angle, but I could see how students would be more free then. Part of the trick for us is to do it without a lot of oversight, unless somehow it can generate enough money for the department to hire somebody to manage it.

I may want to pick your brain more about these kind of things at some point. If so, I'll let you know. But so far this has been a pretty back-burner project that Michael and I are struggling to find time for.

Thanks again, and again, so cool to make your acquaintance. Best of luck not only continuing to grow Coursicle, but also to enjoy the ride.



Hey Jeff, 

I'm glad I recognized you! 

Good to know you agree. We had drank the coolaid as well and interviewed at YC back in 2016, but didn't get an offer. At the time, we were devastated having been as close as we were, and it took a while to regain confidence. But looking back at it now, I'm glad we didn't get more imbedded into the "raising" frenzy that I'm sure would have come with the YC community. 

Glad to hear I'm just pouring water on some seeds. If you got alumni to put together a fund, and then maybe put $5,000 into the for-profit ideas for a 5% stake, perhaps that could be some way to eventually get enough for it to run on its own. Even if it doesn't generate any return (probable outcome), I'm sure there are alumni out there who would be glad to throw some money at CS students' ideas. I would have regretted it now, but back when I was a student I definitely would have given 5% of Coursicle to the CS department for a $5,000 summer stipend to work on it. I think there are alumni who would be interested who are much wealthier than me, but if you can't find them I'd be willing to put down some money to try this.

I think this could and should be done with minimal oversight. The only involvement of the faculty/staff should be the selection process (which I'd be happy to volunteer my time to help out with), but their involvement would end when they write the check. 

Sounds good. I'm always here to lend an ear. 



I really appreciate your interest in all of this, not just in words but also potentially helping out on the financial side. I'll get together with Michael and see where we're at. I'll probably be in touch before too long. Thanks, man, and again, so good to meet you!

Oh, and I'm interested to hear what Monty's issue ended up being, when y'all figure that out.


Of course. Plus, as I've said before, this isn't exactly a selfless endeavor. Our interests are aligned: the more experience these students have when they graduate, the better hires they'll be for Coursicle. That said, I do care about this on a personal level, because I want to see more students build sustainable companies like Coursicle and I have a personal bent against the investment mentality that's dominated startups for as long as I can remember. Paul Bottino, one of our early advisors for Coursicle, was integral to the realization that investors are incentivized to convince startups that they need their money. I think there's a role to play in academics combating this narrative. 

I also think that UNC is one of a handful of schools that's well positioned for this kind of program to work well: the top 10/15 colleges are very heavily recruited by the consulting and financial industry (Tara, my co-founder, went to Harvard and so I saw this first-hand; even now all of her friends are still at BCG). These are very large industries to compete against. My contention is that students at the top 15-30 colleges don't have this recruiting pressure and also have the grit necessary to build a startup, and I'd imagine you have a growing STEM-interested population in the Triangle because of the baby boomers like my dad settling here to work at IBM, Cisco, and others in the 90's.

Also, just so you know, I talked to Jeffay about the funding issues you guys have been having and will be meeting with the Dean of the College, Provost, and possibly the Chancellor to discuss it when I get back to Chapel Hill  in January (again, fewer CS students means fewer Coursicle intern/full-time applicants. Given 3/5 of our hires have been from UNC, that's bad for business).

I've told Monty to stay in touch with you. We're putting that bug on the back-burner for now to get this loginless feature out the door, though.