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The Stanford Class That Built Apps and Made Fortunes 125

Posted by Soulskill
from the right-time-right-place dept.
The NY Times has a story about a group of students who took a 2007 course in app development at Stanford that turned out far better than any of them expected. Quoting: "... by teaching students to build no-frills apps, distribute them quickly and worry about perfecting them later, the Facebook Class stumbled upon what has become standard operating procedure for a new generation of entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley and beyond. ... Early on, the Facebook Class became a microcosm of Silicon Valley. Working in teams of three, the 75 students created apps that collectively had 16 million users in just 10 weeks. Many of those apps were sort of silly: Mr. De Lombaert’s, for example, allowed users to send “hotness” points to Facebook friends. Yet during the term, the apps, free for users, generated roughly $1 million in advertising revenue."
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The Stanford Class That Built Apps and Made Fortunes

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  • MBA's . . . (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is what business schools teach? No wonder the US is going down the toilet.

    • Re:MBA's . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @07:09PM (#36059108)

      This is what business schools teach? No wonder the US is going down the toilet.

      No joke. Get rich quick! Don't worry about making something you're proud of. Be proud of the money you tricked people into giving you for broken functionality. Then call them morons for ever trusting you.

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        LOL, the QOTD is "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -- Thomas Edison"
        I guess nowadays, they just need the pile of junk.
        • by jo_ham (604554)

          Or, in Thomas Edison's case, a lot of people to copy from and then claim it was your own idea.

      • by yuriyg (926419)

        No joke. Get rich quick! Don't worry about making something you're proud of. Be proud of the money you tricked people into giving you for broken functionality. Then call them morons for ever trusting you.

        Jealous much?

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          Jealous much?

          No. I'm content where I am. If I was where they were, passing off (useless) programs to end users and selling the (useless) end user data to advertisers so that the advertisers can eventually annoy the end users with ads for stuff they don't want, then I'd feel guilty. This class (like many MBA classes) isn't about teaching business ethics or making a business you'd be proud of. This class sounds like a sociopath factory.

          • by yuriyg (926419)

            If I was where they were, passing off (useless) programs to end users and selling the (useless) end user data to advertisers so that the advertisers can eventually annoy the end users with ads for stuff they don't want, then I'd feel guilty.

            Obviously the users of these programs didn't find them "useless," as they chose to use them. It seems like you're trying to paint anything as useless if it has no utilitarian value. However, there are tons of things in the word that have no utilitarian value, but people chose to use everyday. Think jewelery, sports television, theater. The people who produce them are not evil in any way, they just fulfill the market demands. If it wouldn't be this MBA class it would be someone else.

        • Jealous is an incomplete description of how most people feel towards this behavior.

          We as humans (ideally) get to create a society and economy that makes our lives better.
          In this case it seems that we've created a system where being immoral and unproductive is rewarded. So we can either choose to envy those who are immoral and unproductive and aspire to be like them and share in their wealth. Or we can attempt to alter the system so that morality and productivity is rewarded rather than immortality.

          W
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SerpentMage (13390)

      I like software, its a good thing, but man we are going downhill quick! Its nice that facebook exists, but its just a communications platform. Its not the cure to cancer! I wish more research would go into things like green energy! Oh wait, I forgot that requires work, thought and energy! Its easier to crank out stuff for facebook!!!!

      • Re:MBA's . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

        by adamofgreyskull (640712) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @09:08PM (#36059556)
        Not a zero sum game. It's not like, if this class didn't exist, these students would all be working on improving Folding@Home, or developing a new kind of algorithm to help power companies optimise their electricity transmission infrastructure or some other equally "socially beneficial" task. Hell, some of those same students might be doing those things in one of their other classes.

        As for bemoaning Facebook itself (if that's what you're doing) and crying out for a cure for cancer or for research into green energy, again, it's not a zero sum game. If not for Facebook, would Mark Zuckerberg have started a cobbled together laboratory out of his apartment and grown it to a billion-dollar medical research facility within the same time period? Could he have built the next "Mr. Fusion"? No. In this alternate reality, he'd just be another nameless droid in a big company. And you'd be completely ignorant of the fact that e.g. he managed to deliver that company's new Intranet application, and you'd be complaining about whatever other social network replaced MySpace.

        What we should be discussing, (instead of bitching and moaning that them young folks are making money from silly ideas), is that instead of developing a web app for a project in class that helps a fictional hotelier manage bookings, billing etc. they developed a real product and put it out into the world. This, surely, is a good thing, no matter how trivial their product.
    • by SETIGuy (33768)
      Here's a million dollar app idea, free for the taking. New app called "Paris Interactive Pussy". It's just Neko with the Eiffel Tower in the background. No Demo. Charge $3.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    teaching students on how to be shills for advertisers, dont write apps because they are a good idea but so you can shill adverts and products for questionable and obviously desperate businesses !.

    there was a time when people would never even think of advertising in an application (we called it adware) or adverts on your own website ? the shame of it, a time when people had dignity, now i see a bunch of desperate fools trying to get rich by trying to jump into the long line of middlemen

    • To think, the GAUL of someone who wants to provide end users with a FREE search engine that might need to actually sell something to keep the servers and lights on! (It seems many of the newer software models are FORCED into this model by end users who are tired of constantly paying for software that doesn't live up to its promises.)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "send “hotness” points to Facebook friends. Yet during the term, the apps, free for users, generated roughly $1 million in advertising revenue."

    Somebody please just put me out of my misery. Humanity is fucked as a species.

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      "send âoehotnessâ points to Facebook friends. Yet during the term, the apps, free for users, generated roughly $1 million in advertising revenue."

      Somebody please just put me out of my misery. Humanity is fucked as a species.

      I'd send you hotness but I'm out of mod points.

  • The best minds (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drmofe (523606) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @07:58PM (#36059270)

    The best minds of our generation are occupied finding the best ways to leverage advertising revenue.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      The best minds of our generation are occupied finding the best ways to leverage advertising revenue.

      Could be worse: at least they're not becoming lawyers.

      • by Weezul (52464)

        This.

        Wall St. has been giving all the stock broker jobs to geeks.
        Advertising jobs are going to geeks.

        We might actually create a fairly pleasant world eventually.

        There is also the issue that people who don't understand jake shit are being dis-enfranchised, but that might be temporary, i.e. eventually we might create a society in which ignorance of mathematics, science, and programming is widely understood to directly lead to poverty.

      • by debrain (29228)

        Could be worse: at least they're not becoming lawyers.

        Indeed; Heaven forbid our best and brightest pursue a career in advancing the advocation of equality, justice and civility, the rule of law over force, and championship of what is right over the bastion of those with might. If we steer our best and brightest away from professional advocacy, those lawyers we produce will be nothing but mouthpieces, who will exist in want of the wisdom and foresight to advise large corporations and governments of the cataclysmic consequences inherent to short-sighted selfish

        • by iserlohn (49556)

          Jurisprudence is only a small part of what most lawyers do. Everything else are just arbitrary rules that can be simplified so that the common man can understand (and therefore negate the need for 95% of lawyers).

          • by Compaqt (1758360)

            Well, developers are the only ones who are stupid enough to work themselves out of a job.

            Doctors and lawyers would never do that.

    • The best minds of our generation are occupied finding the best ways to leverage advertising revenue.

      I don't see a problem with that as long as that's what they like/want to do.

      • by drmofe (523606)

        Sorry, I was lazy and posted before looking up or citing the source [aodmarketing.com]

        The point is that when the social media revolution is over, the knowledge that we gained ill be limited to how to optimize large-scale Web servers and database clusters, which we kinda knew to do before the social media revolution took off

        • Re:The best minds (Score:4, Interesting)

          by adamofgreyskull (640712) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @09:52PM (#36059708)
          Why not cite the actual source [smh.com.au] of the claim, rather than the marketing blog that tries to defend against it?

          Anyway, the telling quotes from the original article are:

          Hammerbacher quit Facebook in 2008, took some time off, and then co-founded Cloudera, a data-analysis software startup.

          Unlike one of his more prominent Harvard acquaintances—Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg—Hammerbacher graduated. He took a job at Bear Stearns.

          On Wall Street, the math geeks are known as quants. They're the ones who create sophisticated trading algorithms that can ingest vast amounts of market data and then form buy and sell decisions in milliseconds.

          So basically, he says that the "brightest minds of a generation" are being squandered targetting ads at users, and that's why he left Facebook. But before he went to Facebook he was a quant, that most hated of evil on /., making money from having a picosecond headstart on the competition. And after he left Facebook, he started Cloudera. Hardly curing all the world's ills is he?

      • by joshbosh (814376)

        I don't see a problem with that as long as that's what they like/want to do.

        You don't see a problem with a greater amount of humanity's resources being allocated to the production and distribution of propaganda (e.g., advertising)? You don't see a problem with the public basing more and more of their decisions, including medical and political decisions, on propaganda?

        Not only do I think it's a problem, I think the severity is so great that the students from K-12 should be required to study propaganda, inclu

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      The best minds of our generation are occupied finding the best ways to leverage advertising revenue.

      The article glosses over just how many of those 75 students didn't come up with a hit app.
      The business world loves to celebrate success and ignore failure.
      Unfortunately, the failure rate for most new businesses is exceedingly high.

  • Pick one or two features to work on. For the original iPhone it was a real web browser. Windows 95 and nt4 it was the ability to do things in hours that took weeks or months on Novell and unix

    Code the rest later little by little

    You have to be a fool to think that apple coded the iPhone sdk in the 9 months between the original iPhone and when they announced the app store. It was partly done but not ready for release and the original model won mindshare in the mean time.

    • In Windows 95 it was the ability to lose weeks of work after defragmenting your hard drive. Yes that happened to me and I discovered Linux very soon after and it has never (so far after 12 years) eaten any of my data. Incidentally what did take weeks or months on Novell or Unix that took hours on Windows 95/NT?

      • by plut4rch (1553209)

        Incidentally what did take weeks or months on Novell or Unix that took hours on Windows 95/NT?

        The period between system restarts?

    • by rsborg (111459)

      Pick one or two features to work on. For the original iPhone it was a real web browser.

      Your comment belies the entire premise of Apple and the iPhone. Apple could have released something years before the iPhone debuted but because of Steve Jobs' monomaniacal push for quality and refinement, what you saw in 2007 was the result of years of work. The iPhone in 2007 had plenty more than a usable web browser, it had an impressive display, multi-touch, a working onscreen keyboard and amazingly good battery life despite all this.

      Your analogy was half-baked and non-sensical... but that's what you g

      • iPhone display sucked in comparison to that of many Windows Mobile devices, of all things, which had full VGA resolution by 2004 and WVGA by 2008. Only the fourth generation of Apple's overhyped devices actually has got an impressive display.

  • .....meaning "more profitable". Microsoft is profitable, but I think you'd have a hard time selling the argument that this makes them "better" in any software sense. They are better at making money, and I'm sure plenty of economists would argue that that is the important metric. One of the reasons people pine after the "golden age" of technology is that people who are better at making money are much worse at making something worth the money being paid for it. It's not that the "golden age" actually had prod

  • i call bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by decora (1710862) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @08:07PM (#36059302) Journal

    a university teaches students to create product for a private corporation.

    that corporation claims fantastic profits of 1 million dollars, and the professors involved claim a massive educational success.

    What the fuck is really going on here? Let's read the fucking article for some clues.

    "His team’s app netted $3,000 a day and morphed into a company that later sold for a six-figure sum."

    Where have i heard this shit before? Oh yes. 1999. Pets.com. What was behind that tech bubble? It sure as hell wasn't technology, students, or legitimate business activitity. Rather, it was a massive fraud perpetrated by investment bank 'equity research analysts' who were riding a gigantic speculative bubble, which was no different than any other speculative bubble in history, from Tulipmania to the CDO market.

    "Venture capitalists also began rethinking their approach. Some created investment funds tailored to the new, bare-bones start-ups."

    Ahh yes. The same shitbags who drove VA Linux to become the largest IPO in history, selling shares to the clueless masses. If you want to know what an IPO is, read Running Money by Andy Kessler, and Trading with the Enemy by Nicholas Maier. IPOs like this nothing but a fucking scam. They are the transfer of wealth from the ignorant to the well connected.

    I know that 'true techies' like to harsh on Best Buy for selling people 'extended warranties' and Kaspersky's Smirking Douchebag Suite 9.5 but think about it; the IPO scam is no different than what Best Buy does. It sells shit product to ignorant people for profit. It is not much different than from any other street hustle.

    Now, let's look at what kind of 'income' these people are bringing in. "Their apps caught on with millions of people and were soon bringing in nearly $100,000 a month in ads."

    What kind of ads do you see on facebook? "One tip for a flat belly". "Acai berry revealed". "Obama gives mom's money for college". "Earn your bachelors degree from Diplomamill Subprime University".

    The whole fucking edicife of this 'app industry' is propped up by bullshit and intellectual prostitution.

    Am I Jealous? Yes I'm fucking jealous. I will sit on my shitty treadmill of a job at my evil corporation where It is timed to the minute when I take a piss and where my email is monitored, and I wish I could make $1000 a day selling 'hug apps' on facebook. Yes I'm jealous.

    But I am glad for one thing. At least I understand what I am doing, and why I'm doing it, and don't lie to myself about the true nature of my work.

    • oh well. there's no "delete comment" on slashdot. guess ill go join the ranks of disobey.com and fade into obscure lunatic ranting .

    • by Shin-LaC (1333529)
      Oh, I hear you. I'm getting an engineering degree, and it's fucking worthless. The best I can hope for is to make a decent living while contributing to the fortunes of people whose life has been and will always be much better than mine.

      Essentially, there are three tiers of skills in our present world. The gold tier is entrepreneurship. The people who have it become rich and rule the world. The silver tier is money-twiddling. These people may not be gold, but they are close enough to money that they get ri
    • Re:i call bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

      by giorgist (1208992) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @09:13PM (#36059568)
      You seem to need a hug, but given you don't accept hugs, I recomend a book instead

      "Rational optimist" by Matt Ridley. Read some of his other books, but this will be a good start.
    • by Nyder (754090)

      ...

      Am I Jealous? Yes I'm fucking jealous. I will sit on my shitty treadmill of a job at my evil corporation where It is timed to the minute when I take a piss and where my email is monitored, and I wish I could make $1000 a day selling 'hug apps' on facebook. Yes I'm jealous.

      But I am glad for one thing. At least I understand what I am doing, and why I'm doing it, and don't lie to myself about the true nature of my work.

      So you sold your soul to an evil corporation, and they instead, sold their morals.

      Seems to me like you both lost.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      What kind of ads do you see on facebook? "One tip for a flat belly". "Acai berry revealed". "Obama gives mom's money for college". "Earn your bachelors degree from Diplomamill Subprime University".

      This says more about what facebook thinks of your demographic than anything else.
      If you join groups, 'like' events, or do a number of other things, facebook will start showing you ads related to your interests instead of generic "lose weight" and "go to college" stuff.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Where have i heard this shit before? Oh yes. 1999. Pets.com. What was behind that tech bubble? It sure as hell wasn't technology, students, or legitimate business activitity. Rather, it was a massive fraud perpetrated by investment bank 'equity research analysts' who were riding a gigantic speculative bubble, which was no different than any other speculative bubble in history, from Tulipmania to the CDO market.

      We are back to creating something out of nothing by making free apps that do nothing but "generate advertising revenue". Ad impressions already aren't enough for some folks, they need clicks now. And soon they won't just need clicks, they'll need a click and a purchase. Much like a drug user gradually needing more and more stuff to get the same high they got when they first used, advertisers are gradually going to get to the point where they can't get enough revenue to support their marketing strategies

    • Wish I had points, truly insightful.
    • I am *so* tired of seeing the "1 weird old tip for a flat belly" ad. Not only am I uninterested in losing weight, but this particular tactic loses its potency when I see the exact same phrase over and over.
    • by DrChandra (82180)

      Try to look at the bright side: At least there is one classroom full of students who are now less likely to wind up on the welfare roles after they graduate.

  • I say congrats to these students. Yes, some of these apps are really stupid, but so was the ChiaPet, the pet rock, Lava Lamps, etc. In fact, there have been a lot of stupid products over the years that have made their inventors/developers/etc. millions. This class accomplished exactly what business schools want students to learn: develop a product, find a market, sell the product, make money. From TFA one former student is now employing 30 people and just raised 6 million dollars in venture capital. At lea
    • I wish more schools would take risks like this to encourage students to do create businesses.

      I wish schools would remember that the point is to educate students, and that unless these apps were "CS 101 Homework Assignment #1" they were a waste of academic resources. Imagine what would happen if students were encouraged to create actual innovations, to do ground-breaking research, or to write programs that actually solve real-life problems. Or perhaps giving those students a better background in the theory of computation, so they can work on deep mathematics problems that have broad implications

      • Right, so what makes a better computer product is just some dude in a lab with exotic mathematics, groundbreaking chemicals, new ways to make magnets etc? This is flagrant bullshit just as much as the "I don't need no stinkin' math n' science" type of thinking is, it's just better disguised. I wish slashdotters (and the rest of the psuedo-intellectual crowd re: I 3 science but I couldn't lift a finger to help cuz you know...) would remember the point to a market is to sell things other people want. That is

        • I was going to just mod you down, but I might as well reply instead.

          Some things matter in this world. Computer science is no different. And while what "matters" is generally subjective, sometimes it's not. A good criteria to start with is "enables people to be more productive" (as in, it's a good tool). Or perhaps it's amusing or stress relieving - entertainment in general absolutely can have value. In any case, your list of things that have value despite the GP is a strawman - he'd completely agree with yo

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Repeat after me: This. Is. Just. One. Class.
  • That's 1 million USD split 75 ways for roughly 4 months of work.

    Congratulations you're making $50/hour.

    • by JSBiff (87824) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @10:22PM (#36059838) Journal

      True, but how much have you been paid by the college classes *you've* taken? I've never taken a college class that paid me 13 thousand dollars in a semester.

    • You're assuming they worked on this about 17 hours a week?

      1 million dollars in 4 months / 75 students / 4 months / 4 weeks per month / $50 per work hour = 16.67 work hours per student per week.

      Now, if instead of 4 months you use 10 weeks like TFA uses, you get 26.67 hours per week.

      How'd you come up with that assumption? It seems unrealistically high for an undergraduate to spend on a single course, assuming 5 courses minimum during classes for full-time students.

      Plus, undergraduate students rarely make $50

    • by drsquare (530038)

      That's something like three times the average hourly wage. From a worthless app they made while sitting on the shitter.

  • Should have asked if I wanted fries with that.

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