Core Concepts

The design of the course is shaped by a few core concepts, some of which we have known all along, and others which have emerged through trial and error.

They are: working in public, designing obstacle courses, and cohorts.

Working in Public

Our secret sauce is working in public. By asking the students to work on real projects in public, we incorporate real aspirations, stakes, and connections into the experience. We don’t believe in simulations or arbitrary grading systems.

Benefits of working in public include:

  • A more holistic learning experience for the students
  • Confidence comes from muscle memory
  • The rewards and benefits are real: $$, networks, skills, reputation, internships, job offers
  • The instructors get to be on the same side as the students

However, this is a high cost, high reward approach with serious risks, as well:

  • The consequences are also real and public, which feels high-stakes
  • Chaos: how do we prepare when anything could happen?
  • Emotional rollercoaster
  • High-touch, hard to scale effectively

This is why we decided to put this workshop together—because it’s dangerous to try this at home without some supporting tools and materials. What follows is a series of hard-earned tools and frameworks to make this approach easier.

Obstacle Courses

Design an obstacle course, not a syllabus. One thing that we have validated repeatedly is that no amount of lecturing will get across the core points of this class; some things just have to be experienced. But as the instructors, we can’t fully control or design each student’s experience—rather, we have to build an obstacle course through which an experience is likely to happen.

When designing an obstacle course, our building blocks are habits, challenges, and constraints. We have learned that it’s important to keep the objectives for the students concrete, even if our teaching goals are lofty and abstract.

There is no one-size-fits-all design; instead, you have to design the obstacle course based on your setting and context. There are lots of factors to consider:

  • How do you design an obstacle course that works for the whole class, when everyone is starting from a different place?
  • How do you keep people moving?
  • How do you build trust?

Some constraints we’ve added to the $1K Challenge over the years:

  • Students must run a Kickstarter campaign, as opposed to other methods of making $1000 (the all-or-nothing model of Kickstarter is very helpful, and corralling the students onto one platform makes it easier for us to teach)

  • Students must design with a community in mind, so that they’re forced to confront real people along the way (vs. finding problems and people for a solution they came up with in a vacuum)

  • Students must raise their $1k from a minimum of 50 backers (to dissuade students from relying on a few rich friends—and to dissuade overly enthusiastic family members, too!)


Cohorts increase the surface area of learning. Finally, we learned that it is much better for the students to encounter this experience in a cohort rather than solo, because it helps so much to watch other people go through it with.

To fully leverage the benefit of the cohort, we’ve learned that it helps to make the obstacle course a collaborative rather than a competitive one.

An ideal cohort is:

  • incentivized and able to support each other
  • has a mix of skills, resources, networks, experiences
  • shares something in common
  • rarely comes together by accident