Category Archives: Fall 2015

My Mess Got In The Way

Service Bell with Check in  Sign at Hotel Desk

Checking In

This experiment this semester is a mess. Sometimes it’s a glorious mess. Sometimes it’s a nasty mess. For each student it is different, depending for the most part on how they engage with me and the experience.

I offered 30 minute calls over the past few weeks to each student, to touch base about where they are, what problem they’re solving, who they’re solving it for, and what solution they are thinking of developing. Many students took me up on that offer. Many did not. Those who did let me know they got a ton of direction and motivation out of it, because they had a much clearer direction and purpose and more belief and confidence that they could do this. Learning lesson: next semester I’ll force a 30 minute meeting with each student very early in the semester. I waited too long this semester to do this. I didn’t push them enough.

Many students are cranking away on their “businesses”. Some have something to sell already. Nothing that’s going to change the world. Some have jewelry. Some have a minor product. But it’s something! Some have a website where they are gathering emails or other information about potential customers’ intent to engage (purchase, share, etc). Again, nothing too significant, but it’s something they have put into the world having done a little bit of research. Many students have seemingly checked out. They still show up to class (a victory in and of itself since it is totally voluntary). But they don’t engage, in class or outside class. I think some of them are working on their business idea. I’m sure some are  not. This is one of my eternal battles with my approach and this class – how intrusive do I get into their experience?

“No Dad, What About You?”

I’ve been validating. I previously validated my assumption that professionals would give 15 minutes of their time once a week to talk to students interested in their line of work, and that students would want to spend 15 minutes talking to a professional about a job they’re interested in. I have been working on validating my assumption that students will be willing to pay for this connection. I have talked to 50 random students across ISU’s campus – some at the student center, some on the quad, some in random buildings. Some looked young, some looked older. Some looked like athletes, some looked like nerds. Some were white, some were black. Etcetera – I got a somewhat random cross-section of our student population. I asked them three questions:

  1. If they knew what job they wanted to do after college, would they have questions they want to ask someone who currently does that job?
  2. If they could spend 15 minutes on the phone or Skype asking someone who currently does that job those questions, would they pay $5?
  3. If they wouldn’t pay $5, would they pay $2?

Out of the 50 students I asked, 46 said they knew what they wanted to do after college. Of those 46, 100% said if the opportunity presented itself, they would develop questions to ask someone. Of those 46, 12 (26%) said they would pay $5 – most had some qualifier on their answer like “if they were really qualified” or “if they had a lot of experience”. For the 34 who said they wouldn’t pay $5, 20 (58%) said they would pay $2, but most again had some sort of qualifier.

What this leads me to believe is that students will be a little leery of this – not necessarily trusting that if they’re paying, the person on the other end of the phone/camera is qualified and should be trusted. This makes sense. So part of what I need to do is be able to somehow legitimize the professional. Maybe include a short bio, or a link to a LinkedIn page.

I wanted to have set up a preorder landing page to run this experiment by now. With a vacation to Disneyworld, TEDxNormal and a Legacy Out Loud launch event in New York City in the works, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. That’s the next step – getting a landing page to test it out.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Missing In Action

Missing In Action

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks while I’ve been missing in action. TEDxNormal is quickly coming up, which I have been organizing for many months. My new venture, Legacy Out Loud, is partnering to produce the after-party for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on November 19th in New York City, so I’ve been hustling to make that happen with zero budget. Yup, a super high-end party in Manhattan with no budget. Talk about taking a risk!!!!!!! I was honored to give a keynote speech at the annual conference of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and also a workshop about my approach to this class. And, most importantly, I received the prestigious ATHENA Leadership Award for my contributions to inspiring and encouraging the empowerment of female leaders. Oh yeah, and teaching, and family, and eating and sleeping, and . . . .

Back to School

Class is plugging along. The students wrapped up the Online Venture Challenge (OVC). It was a pretty disappointing exercise, to be honest. I consider it a small success and a large failure on my part. I realize I did not present enough setup structure for the students and enough encouragement. Of course, my point with this class is to introduce them to an opportunity and let them decide what to do with it. In this case, though, I fear they may not have understood the opportunity. A few teams made a profit, but only around the $100 range. A few had a few customers (8 or 10). Nothing mind-blowing, nothing impressive. They underwhelmed me, both with their effort and their performance. My lesson learned is to create more excitement at the beginning of the month, and to create more pain if they don’t engage.

Here’s where my philosophy gets tested – do I let the failure be theirs, do I share in the failure, do I take ownership of the failure?

Tomorrow we will debrief the OVC and I’ll see what they have to say about the experience and hopefully that gives me some fodder to adjust the experience for next semester.

On Deck

On Deck

Now we turn 100% to the individual project – starting a business. I have scheduled 30 minute phone calls with each student to check in with where they are, what they need, etc. I have encouraged them to provide me the following details so I can get them encouragement and feedback:

  1. The problem they are attempting to solve.
  2. The customer who experiences the most pain with that problem.
  3. The solution they are proposing to build.
  4. Their routine. I want to know how they will stay productive, and have encouraged them to have a routine. I presented them with the concept of a Lean Sprint as one model, but condensed into 5 days – one stage per day. I really don’t care what their routine is, but I tell them they better have one so they stay on task and don’t let themselves slack.

I have received nothing from any of them. I know a few of them are working on ideas, a few are actually at the point of messing around with prototypes in preparation of our big student startup competition here at ISU in a few weeks. But I don’t hear from them.

Next conversation is about experiments. I will again explain them in the context of Diana Kander’s tools – determining and documenting the goal, the hypothesis, the subject, the logistics, the currency, and the success and failure criteria. I hope they jump in the pool instead of sitting on the sidelines or just dipping their big toe in!

My Work

I am already getting excited about next semester. I have ideas of how to better incorporate the Online Venture Challenge – I will make it a competition with students from other schools using the tool, I will model for them the behavior I’m looking for, and I will do a much better job of setting up better structure to get them some forward inertia. I also learned about rejection therapy, and am giddy to include that next semester so my students (and I) get better at accepting rejection. Rejection Therapy

I think I will also incorporate some sort of rhythm to the individual project portion of the class. Like the Lean Sprint idea. I’ll have to figure out how to balance doing that with letting the students have their own experience.

With my business, I am off and running. I have validated my assumption that professionals would give 15 minutes of their time once a week to talk to students interested in their line of work. I called 40 professionals in my network (a broad variety of industries and tenures), and 37 of them said they would donate 15 minutes per week. I then set up a basic landing page with this very simple request: “Many college students are interested in learning more about your job, your employer, your industry. Provide your email address if you would be willing to spend 15 minutes per week answering these students’ questions.” Of those 40 professionals I talked to, 34 provided email addresses. Hypothesis validated (30 of 40 professionals would donate 15 minutes per week to talk to college students interested in learning more about their job)!

I also validated my assumption that students would want to spend 15 minutes talking to a professional about a job they’re interested in. I talked to 40 ISU students – 10 junior business students, 10 senior business students, 10 freshman, and 10 sophomores, 20 male 20 female. Of these, 35 said they would (the 5 who didn’t were freshman, which didn’t surprise me). I think the seniors and some juniors were actually drooling when I was talking to them 🙂 I then set up a basic landing page with this very simple request: “Provide your email address if you would be willing to spend 15 minutes asking work-related questions to a professional who has a job you’re interested in pursuing.” Of those 40 students I talked to, 38 provided their email address. Perhaps the freshman thought about it a little bit after we talked and changed their mind!

So, next steps are to validate the revenue model. My assumption is that students will be willing to pay for this connection. I can’t imagine professionals would pay for it. So, I will talk to more students and set up a preorder landing page to run this experiment. I will talk to and drive 50 students to the landing page and success is if 25% preorder. If 12 students preorder, I will set up a very basic Carbon site to begin gathering student and professional info and make matches. I will also have to likely hunt down professionals to match up with students as they sign up. If this has any legs, it can be an on-ramp for one of my student’s businesses (NuGrad), and another of my businesses (internrocket).

I Have an Idea

Expose Students to “Real” People

Visitor

Last week we had wonderful visitors. It is critical for any student in any discipline to hear from people who actually DO what they are learning about. The professor may be that person, but from my experience the students just won’t see the professor as anything other than a professor. So, I like to bring in entrepreneurs to share their story and insight. Their insight and recommendations are usually the same as mine, but when students hear it from “real” people, it sticks.

Both our visitors talked with and highlighted for the students various aspects of starting a company:

  1. On Monday we welcomed a good friend who also happens to be an ISU professor who is starting her own greeting-card-with-a-twist business. She shared what led her to her idea, which is a very common mix of “it just hit me” with “I couldn’t . . . ” She had a problem she needed solved, and realized she was the perfect person to solve it in a way that could create a business. Then we turned the tables on the students and she asked them for feedback – she did the same sort of customer development on them they are learning how to do on others. What a learning opportunity to actually feel what it’s like! The students provided amazing feedback to my friend about her products, but they really provided something much more valuable (Note: I can be really sneaky and manipulative if I need to be!) In talking with my friend I kept telling her she needed to put the idea out there, to talk to strangers about it. She was hesitant. So I invited her into my class under the guise of getting feedback. What she got out of it was confidence – to share her idea, to accept feedback (negative and positive), and that she had an audience eager for her product. My students won (they felt their customers’ experience and they heard a great story of the development of an idea). My friend won (she gained confidence in sharing her idea and also got tremendous feedback). I won (my students are now more engaged, they believe more of what I’m telling them . . . and I didn’t have to prep!!)
Yippee

Photo Credit: cmr727 via Compfight cc

  1. Jessica Tenuta stopped by on Wednesday. Jessica is an amazing young woman! She is a recent ISU alum who is part of the team leading Packback Books to new heights of disrupting the educational experience for students. Shameless plug – if you are teaching anything at all, you should use Packback’s platform to create a much more engaging learning/discussion experience for your students than whatever LMS you currently are using! Jessica shared her story of emerging from her shell of a very nervous young girl to become a leader in a student startup that landed a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank and is killing it in the Chicago startup scene. She shared the story of Packback Books and some advice to my students about just getting out there and doing it. She again flipped things on the students – she asked what businesses they wanted to start. One student mentioned she already has a photography business and Jessica gave her advice. Another mentioned he’s working on a hunting product, and another student piped up that her uncle owns a hunting business. Sparks were flying! In an entrepreneurship classroom. Go figure!

Packback

 

What’s Next For the Class?

The students are struggling through their Online Venture Challenge project. Some are figuring out their initial idea doesn’t work (because they jumped instead of talking to potential customers). Some are figuring out it’s a lot of work. Some aren’t figuring out very much. I am getting them to also turn their attention to their individual businesses they will start toward the end of October. They need to turn in a concept in the next couple days, and then I will meet with each of them for about 30 minutes, so I get them excited and so I know how I can best help them.

What’s Next For Me?

So what is my business? I have been talking to lots of students, and have hones in on a problem and an opportunity. At least here at ISU, many students have a sense of what they want to do post-graduation. But they have very little clue about what that choice means, what it entails, what it requires. What I am hearing in my conversations with them is that

  1. They do not know how to get a realistic preview of their chosen career path
  2. They do not know how to find out the specific opportunities in that space
  3. They do not know what experience they should be working on getting right now

I have also been talking to a ton of entrepreneurs, business leaders, business owners, and employees. Many of them acknowledge they would have loved the opportunity to chat with someone actually doing what they wanted to do.

What I’m hearing is students want connections, and professionals want to connect with students. Nothing deep here – they’re all talking about a short phone call to ask and answer some basic questions, to provide some very basic insight/guidance. Sure, more will evolve in many cases, but the idea is to provide a way for that initial connection.

I’m doing more customer development before turning my energy to the product itself – more to come in the weeks ahead!

SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!

No Sweat

Act I: “No Sweat!”

The students have been making more progress with their Online Venture Challenge projects. As a reminder, they have one month to make as much money as possible that they will then donate to a charity. A few groups have made sales (three figures!) – which means they have identified a charity, identified a product that aligns with the charity’s mission, set up a Shopify store, marketed their cause and product, and closed customers! They for the most part don’t really see the progress they’ve made, even though I work hard to point it out. One student remarked “this entrepreneurship thing isn’t as hard as I thought.” That’s funny – can’t wait for him to hit the wall. Here is a quick breakdown of where they are:

Can Crafts

 

 

Can Crafts is supporting the Wounded Warrior Project with airplanes made from recycling cans. It’s a fantastic charity, a great product, and since these guys have a steady stream of cans, they should do well.

 

 

 

Drinksbee

 

 

Drinksbee is supporting Mothers Against Drunk Driving by selling a game popular with college students at tailgates and outdoor events and spaces. (I know – I had the same look on my face)

 

 

 

Wishbone

Wishbone Tees is selling t-shirts to support the Wish Bone Canine Rescue. Not just any shirts, though. They have a picture of a dog at the rescue and the saying “Rescued Is My Favorite Breed”.

 

Other groups are slowly getting there (I’m struggling as usual with wanting them to pull the trigger, but also needing them to learn that lesson on their own). I’ve explained to them the basics of customer development and experiments – how to set up the basic experiments they need to run, how to analyze data they get, how to set non-vanity metrics. I’m not sure they’ll put any of that to use in this one month challenge – they’re just going balls out without much experimentation and discovery and such. More just hardcore selling and hustling. Which is OK – that’s a great experience for them, to see just how much good they can accomplish with an idea and some hustle. But when they get to their individual venture after this, I will again revisit and stress the experiment and customer development process.

Act II: The Learning

We are continuing to read Diana Kander’s All in Startup. Every semester, every time I open this book I’m amazed at how engrossing it is. The students are devouring it (at least those that have cracked it open are). They’re really picking up and internalizing the ideas of making small bets and of looking for real problems that real customers have. I fear that many of them will still be focused on problems they have and get blinded by that. So, I keep hammering them with getting off campus and asking questions, measuring, analyzing, pivoting. And most of all, hustling!

Looking toward their individual efforts, I’m very excited to have developed a tri-class collaboration around my students’ new venture ideas (the next phase of my class):

*   I will to provide an IT prof 30ish startup ideas early October with name and concept, target audience, short-term goals, and tangible deliverable (app, website, etc)
*   The IT prof’s class will work on ideas, and develop them into flat high-fidelity mockups during the month of October
*   The IT prof will hand off 10 flat mockups (most likely with multiple screens) to an Arts Technology prof for online heat-map testing first week of November.
*   The Arts Tech prof will return data the second week of November.
*   The IT prof will return data back to his students for changes and edits to design

And then it all comes back to my students. It’s not a perfect scenario because it won’t be truly collaborative, but it’s very exciting that three classes in three different Colleges in ISU will be working together and all students are getting a “realistic” project to work on.

Last, I think to encourage and support them in their individual efforts, I will require them to individually meet with me for 30 minutes sometime over the next few weeks to chat about where they want to go with that opportunity. I want them to feel comfortable approaching me, to feel supported, and to feel excited. Best way to do that is to meet with them and lay it all out there.

In the meantime, I’m still struggling to find a problem to solve for my project. Oh well, it will come to me as I keep engaging with my environment and tons of folks in tons of settings.

For a Good Cause

A Rough Start

Last week started with a disappointment. We kicked off the Online Venture Challenge (OVC) portion of our course. I told the students that on Monday they could pitch me to be a member of their team, and I would bring my expertise, network, and resources to bear for their team’s benefit. I figured they would jump at this opportunity (it is, after all, a competition!) None of the teams prepared a pitch for me, and 3 teams gave it the old college try.

Photo Credit: mido1842 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mido1842 via Compfight cc

I chose not to join any team. The 3 who “pitched” did a good job winging it, but they didn’t pitch me on why I should join their team. They explained their product/service, but forgot to convince me why I would gain value from joining their team. So, a little disappointed that here was the first opportunity, and nobody jumped on it.

No More Jumping

Back to the OVC. I’ve never used this platform and experience in my course, but I think it’s the perfect introduction to what I’m trying to get my students to learn. I usually have them proverbially jump in the deep end and get to starting their own business right away. As much as I hate to admit it, I think the learning curve (or is it the comfort curve?) is too steep. They take too long to get going, they get too discouraged. So this semester, I’m using the OVC to help them wade in before they jump.

Photo Credit: Christopher Setty via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Christopher Setty via Compfight cc

My OVC is one month long. Students work in groups to design and sell products/services for a designated local charity, with all profits going to the charity at the end of the month. I encouraged students to first identify a charity they wanted to work for, then figure out what sort of product/service idea would align with the mission of that charity. For the most part, the students identified some level of fit between their product/service and their charity’s mission. For those who did not, they’ll soon believe me when they talk to their charity to receive their endorsement!

The crew behind the OVC is fantastic in terms of how they set everything up, so the students got going rather quickly with their Shopify store. They all had ideas right out of the gate. Some were fairly typical ideas (selling shirts and selling some artwork to benefit animal shelters), some were more unique (selling vehicles made from soda cans to benefit Wounded Warriors).

The Goal

For one month, the students need to design, build, and sell. Something. Anything. I’ll assess them on the design of their site, their performance (revenues, profits, users, visitors, etc.), and a series of tasks & metrics built into the OVC platform (getting customers from Facebook, getting an endorsement from their charity, etc.). Again, the OVC team has done a great job developing metrics that capture the sort of tasks I want my students to be performing.

Last (But Certainly Not Least)

We are also reading Diana Kander’s All In Startup. I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone teaching any variety of entrepreneurship or small business or innovation. Students devour the story, which is a very engaging story one it’s own, and thereby learn a TON about customer development and some of the very basic steps necessary to starting a new business, growing an existing business, etc. Diana delivers great discussion questions to help the professor along, and even goes so far as to suggest a variety of activities (some easy, some hard) to go along with her book. With a relatively inexpensive book and accompanying discussion/instructor’s guide and activities, what could go wrong?

Lightning

 Why?

Hopefully, at the end of this month, students have 1) devoured Diana’s book and have a decent sense of what customer development is about (and why it’s so important), and 2) iterated through the process from idea to sales. This should position them much better than I have in past classes for success for the journey they’ll begin for the rest of the class: starting their own real business.

I am pretty sad I won’t be working with any one team specifically during the OVC segment of this course. I really looked forward to kicking some ass! Guess that will have to wait until the portion when we all start our own business (myself included). I don’t have any ideas yet about what to start – any thoughts?

Next week is stepping on the gas and hopefully making a ton of progress (and money) with their OVC businesses. Nice and simple!

Time to Launch

This week got a lot more serious. We did Justin Wilcox’ 60 Minutes to Launch as a class on Monday, and got goin on the Online Venture Challenge on Wednesday.

379

Just Launch

I have been a big fan of Justin Wilcox’ work for some time. He and I keep circling some of the same goals, connecting here and there, brainstorming here and there. I have been impatiently waiting to try his 60 Minutes to Launch exercise in my class. Since my class is 75 minutes long, it is perfect! He recommends splitting into three teams:

  1. Landing Page
  2. Video
  3. Payments

I struggled all week with how to implement this in class. I could have the entire class work on one project, or split students into many small groups to work on their own projects. I went with the class working on one project. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure why – as is my nature, I made the decision as I was walking into class. I think I was hoping that way we could all talk about a common context. As I do frequently, I chose wrong! 5 or 6 students wanted to be on the landing page team. Too many. 7 or 8 students wanted to be on the video team. Too many. The remaining 20 or so students wanted to be on the payments team. WAAAAY too many.

In debriefing with Justin after the class, he explained to me his strategy when he uses this exercise in workshops and events. He has people form teams of 3 (maybe 4 at most). And he encourages/forces people to do the thing they don’t want to. So the creative mind who is good with video needs to work on landing page or payments. The more technical folk who want to work on landing page or payments need to work on the creative video piece. Why? This way, people understand just how painless it can be to put on another hat. From now on, anytime I use this (which I plan on doing at the upcoming NACCE conference and also at the upcoming USASBE conference) I will use this approach.

The Big (Bad) Idea

I also gave my students the idea. For many semesters I’ve heard complaints from male and female students about male gift-giving behavior (or lack thereof!) in relationships. Very generally speaking, the feedback I hear when I push further is that

  1. The men don’t enjoy gift giving and aren’t sure what to get
  2. The women don’t appreciate men putting it off to the last minute, which often results in lame gifts
  3. The women even more so don’t appreciate the men forgetting important dates (birthday, anniversary, etc)

I explained the idea and rationale to the class. They mostly agreed it was a problem, although a few questioned how big a problem it was. We proceeded with this idea – a service where young men could go to reserve and/or purchase a customized gift basket for their significant other.

147 (1)

Students got to work on http://www.gifttotherescue.com/ (it didn’t last long – don’t bother trying to find it). They created a landing page, a video (Mission Impossible style – very clever!) and payment capability. As Justin implores and reminds, it was done but certainly not perfect.

  1. We had a functioning landing page with payment system for pre-orders before class ended. But many students missed a big part of the learning opportunity. Very small teams next time will encourage the engagement I was seeking.
  2. Students understood that done is better than perfect
  3. Students saw how “easy” it can be to put something into the world

Mission (mostly) accomplished! Thanks for the great exercise Justin.

The Next Challenge

Next class I introduced the students to the Online Venture Challenge. This is a fantastic program that costs students very little, can be a short module in a class, and engages them in powerful learning as they start, run and liquidate a “business”. I am using the next month for this activity in my class. Geoff Archer shared some great resources with me that he has developed and uses with this – master grading sheet, slide deck, etc. I gave students the context, gave them the basic structure, gave them the basic grading buckets (design of site, power of the site, performance overall – with lots of ways to triangulate within those buckets per the master grading sheet). I told them they needed to

  1. Identify a local charity to support (after this exercise is done, the teams have to donate all proceeds to the charity). I let students choose to pay themselves back their initial investment if they’d like ($25) – let’s see who is greedy and who is not!
  2. Identify something they can sell through their Shopify store that aligns with that charity’s mission.

All groups emerged from this class with a team in place, with a charity to work with, and a basic idea to begin with. I was a little baffled by a couple ideas, and very impressed with two ideas in particular.

One tweak I put on Geoff’s process was to inject myself into the competition (at the end of the day, students see this as a competition where they have to beat the other teams). On Monday, the students have the chance to pitch me on why I should join their team. If one pitch strikes me more than any other, I will join that team. I told them it is not guaranteed I will join a team, so they really needed to move me with a pitch.

Wrap-up and Looking Forward

It was a great week, for me and for the students. They experience the pain, confusion, and excitement of creating something and putting it into the world with the 60 Minutes to Launch exercise. They got moving on their first big challenge with the Online Venture Challenge (OVC).

Next week, we will officially start the OVC, and will also begin reading Diana Kander’s All In Startup, which will provide some guidance and background to what they need to do to succeed in the OVC and in their eventual individual leap into starting a business.

I’m interested to see the pitches on Monday to see what students think will move me.

Straight Outta Normal

Leap of faith

Week 1 is in the books, and my students took the leap of faith!

Let’s Get It On: Day 1

I had told the students before class started that on Monday to meet me in the little shopping district just off campus called Uptown Normal. Here are some picturcombine_imageses of their environment:

 

 

 

 

As students showed up, I gave the first one 10 $1 bills, and the next three I told were in a group with that first person. As each 5th student showed up, I began the process again. You can imagine their curiosity and anxiety when on the first day of class they have to meet away from campus, and their teacher is handing them cash with no explanation. Once all students arrived, I announced (some version of this):

“You have 35 minutes to make as much money as possible. Each group has 10 $1 bills [some actually had 15 bills and 5 members because a few stragglers showed up and I had to wing it]. Look around you – there is a CVS, there are plenty of stores, there are a wide variety of people walking around and sitting. There is a hotel and conference center. There is a hotel being constructed. There are cars everywhere. Whichever group LEGALLY makes the most money gets all the cash. I’ll see you back in the room at 2:45″

I saw mostly shock and confusion. Not a whole lot of excitement. But also not a whole lot of fear (likely because those with fear could lean on the group dynamic to cover it up and/or hide it). I walked back to my car super excited to see what they would come up with.

The Delivery

I was impressed that all the groups seemed to accept the challenge and at least engage with some enthusiasm (after all, there was at least $80 in the pot, plus whatever profit they made). The group that won made $27 profit. Nothing earth shattering. But profit. In 35 minutes. All other groups except one made something; one group lost 76 cents [I’m still not quite sure how that happened]. The most common strategy seemed to be buying bottled water and reselling it. Nothing shocking there. The groups that made some profit headed back to campus and sold it to college students. The group that won headed over to the Hyatt Place hotel being built and sold it to the construction workers.

Bottled Water

Quick Lessons Learned

  1. The money is a distraction. Most students will immediately think of what they can buy to resell. I purposely planted or reinforced this seed by pointing out the CVS only a block away.
  2. Selling anything to college students is difficult if you want to make a profit. They are usually on a budget. They are usually in a hurry.

The Debrief

We talked about the variety of approaches to this experience. I tried to hammer home the idea that money is a distraction and that it is a bad idea to spend first and then figure out how to dig out of that hole. Instead, I introduced the idea of focusing on the potential customers. Identifying a problem they might have and figuring out how to solve it. There were plenty of individuals and plenty of businesses these students could have approached to interview and identify problems they could solve. Opportunity overlooked.

A few days after this class session I spoke with a friend of mine who related this story. Turns out she was standing on an adjacent corner from where the students started when the exercise went off. She had a $20 bill in her hand. A couple groups passed her by, but when one group caught her eye, she asked them if they were in my class. They said yes, so she showed them the $20 bill, explained she had money and wanted to know what they could do for her. Apparently, they had a very difficult time answering that question. Eventually one young woman mentioned social media, and my friend asked how many likes they could get her on Facebook and Instagram. The students floundered and didn’t get the money. How much easier could it have been?

In the end it was a fantastic exercise to introduce them to my course and to what I would be asking them to do the rest of the semester. They resoundingly said it was a good exercise and I should do it again, so I will. I was proud of the students for engaging [uncertainty is scary] and for being able to see the opportunities they missed.

Let’s Get It On: Day 2

How do I follow up that first day? With Idea Sex and Idea Math. As with most things, I don’t come up with these things, I just borrow them from others much smarter than I. In this case, these come from James Altucher, who is a genius in so very many ways.

Idea Sex

Idea Sex

I had each student make a list of things they loved, were passionate about. I then had them pair up and combine one from each person’s list. [Three guys got together and used three lists – referring to it as a threesome – gotta love college humor!] Most of the ideas were silly and really bad. The one I remember most was something about people paying to ice skate with a walrus. I mentioned how that was a terrible idea in so many ways, but that people might pay to ice skate with penguins (they are safe and cute) so they could work with the original nugget of an idea to arrive at a much more viable alternative. I encouraged them to write lists all the time – of things they observed, of thoughts they had about any random topic, of ideas they had. Anything, just as long as they were making lists, then they could come back to those lists and have Idea Sex anytime to keep their brain firing and to keep coming up with better and better ideas.

Idea Math

Next I asked one student for a food, an article of clothing, and a country [my memory is horrible – I should have taken notes – I think it was homemade macaroni and cheese, knee-high socks and Australia]

I had the students, in groups, come up with an idea (product, process, concept) that involved those three things. I should have written the ideas down [my memory is horrendous] – they were all pretty bad. One was using the sock to hold candies with Australia shapes that tasted like homemade macaroni and cheese I think. None of them stood out as anything with much potential.

I explained the concept behind addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in this context, and that each member of the group should take one operation and come up with a new version of the original idea. The ideas didn’t get much better, but brains were working.

Wrapping Up

This first week was an adventure, for the students and for me. I exposed them to uncertainty, to anxiety, to selling, to customer development, to ideation, to creativity, to frustration, to profitability, to winning. I feel good that they are excited, that they seem eager to engage and are anxious to dive in. I hope I can sustain that and continue to keep that flame burning bright.

60 Minutes

Next week is Justin Wilcox’ 60 Minutes to Launch exercise and introducing the Online Venture Challenge.

The Entrepreneurial Experience 2.0: The Next Iteration of My Class

In my class last semester, I put myself in the role of a student. It didn’t work in terms of traditional metrics – I didn’t really build anything, and I certainly didn’t sell anything. It was definitely a failure. But I learned a ton, about myself, about what my students go through in my crazy experiment, and about what I should or shouldn’t do in my class. Some changes I’m thinking of implementing for the fall semester:

The 1st week we will work together as an entire class to do the 60 Minute Launch – a great opportunity developed by Justin Wilcox.

The 1st two weeks we will also spend getting them in teams, defining an idea and a charity to donate proceeds of their first venture foray to.

Two things will be happening simultaneously during the next four weeks:

1. Those teams will work to implement their idea via the Online Venture Challenge. This way they will all go through the experience of pulling the trigger on an idea, with a good bit of structure surrounding it and a short-term end goal in sight (make money to donate to charity).

2. Each student will read All in Startup by Diana Kander. This will be a great complement to understanding customer development and a variety of other crucial components necessary to launch.

For the remainder of the course, each student will individually work to start their own business.

I think if they have two very short and semi-structured experiences up front of starting something (through both Justin’s 60 Minute Launch and the OVC), they will be more ready and excited about the opportunity to do it on their own on a larger scale for the remainder of the semester.

I will meet with them twice per week this semester – the Monday session will be more of a review of progress/problems, going through any content, answering questions, etc. The Wednesday session will be to play – exercises, fun stuff, visiting local businesses, etc.

Thoughts?