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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *