Tag Archives: education

Entrepreneurship Educators Should Have (And Share) Entrepreneurship Journeys

I am a firm believer that educators should have practical experience in the subject matter they are teaching.

Someone teaching nursing should be a practicing nurse.

Someone teaching mathematics could have been a logistician or an actuary.

Someone teaching history could have been an archivist or a lawyer.

Someone teaching acting/theater should work as an actor or behind the scenes of a theater.

For those teaching entrepreneurship, we should be currently engaged in entrepreneurship. This way, we understand the nuances and tools of today’s entrepreneur. I share this belief with students, and then share my current experiences in entrepreneurship with them. To show them that I try, that I fail, that I learn, that I succeed, that I persist.

Most importantly, I show them that I am willing to do what I am asking them to do. A role model is a powerful thing!

Below are the high-level points of some of my entrepreneurship stories I share with my students:

internrocket.com

This is a story of entrepreneurship gone wrong. I collided with two guys around the idea that internships suck, for students and for employers. The process is long and painful and not transparent, among other problems. So we hatched the idea of micro-internships between students and local small businesses. The business pays maybe $10 to post a job-to-be-done. The student doesn’t get paid but gets real experience and a real connection to a real business person, all with little time commitment.

Our original goal was to be a data giant and get acquired by LinkedIn or Monster.com or some similar entity for many millions.

Mistake #1: We were not lean. We empowered one of our founders to be the CEO and gave him plenty of leeway. He chose to delay release of the product for years, until it was “perfect”, instead of launching a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and iterating quickly based on customer feedback.

Mistake #2: To support this long product development cycle, we took on a few hundred thousand dollars in investment from local friends. This was a bad idea because these “investors” were investing in the CEO more than in the business. Of the two real investors approached, one asked for his money back after a couple years of zero traction, and the other basically laughed at the proposition of investing in this as a “business”.

Mistake #3: Because we took on investment, we got distracted by pursuing potential revenue streams instead of sticking to our original goal of building a data goldmine of young people pursuing employment. We twice approached a large corporation to build a platform for/with for them. We twice got turned down. We worked to integrate with Khan Academy and a variety of other ways for young people to gain valuable skills. We forgot our original practical goal and bloated into a fantastical dream.

Because I no longer agreed with the culture or the direction of the company, after 6 years, I sold back my 10% for a mere $2,500. This was a significant discount from the $5 million valuation our CEO was shopping to investors, but I just wanted out because the business and culture was something I could no longer support. Along the way, I didn’t fight for the business I wanted to build.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Establish a strong outcome goal and don’t waver
  2. Vet cofounders
  3. Don’t take investment to build product (only take it to scale traction)
  4. Fight for your ideas
  5. Launch it yesterday

Legacy Out Loud

This is a story of unrealized potential. I realized that the women in my classes were significantly better students in all the ways that mattered (i.e., not grades), and that there were very few women in my classes. Over a year or so, I spoke with 500+ female entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders (mostly through LinkedIn hustling) about how I might attract and support more women in entrepreneurship classes & programs on college campuses. One entrepreneur had a similar vision, so Elisabeth and I started down the road of building a community and eventually a business. We would recruit female college students and deliver some sort of curriculum (what they didn’t get in college but what we knew they really needed).

Mistake #1: We didn’t have a strategy or structure. We didn’t know how we were going to generate revenue. So it was more of a hobby for us than a business (because the things in our respective lives that generated revenue would always take priority – I was an educator and Elisabeth was already an entrepreneur).

Mistake #2: I lied to my wife about the time and financial commitments I was making to this endeavor. I eventually contributed roughly $20,000 to finance an awesome experience for some of our students to attend and be highlighted at Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations. Without a revenue model, we have no way of recuperating that investment, which is a sore spot in my personal life.

Elisabeth and I continue to pursue our mission. We have run two pilot cohorts of college students through our curriculum, where they experientially learn sales and other elements of personal growth they don’t find in their college curriculum. We learn, we ideate, we iterate, and we still struggle with structure and strategy.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t start without a revenue model
  2. Develop a rhythm of productivity
  3. Be honest and transparent (this is just generally good life advice, but particularly good advice when it comes to balancing a relationship and a business)
  4. Pull the trigger

Entrepreneurship Education Project

This was a research project I began as a doctoral student, to better understand how people were teaching entrepreneurship. With very few resources and the collaboration of a few colleagues, this turned into a massive global dataset and an annual conference. My original goal here was to develop a longitudinal data project that would

  1. produce research toward my tenure requirement,
  2. build a large network of entrepreneurship educators, and
  3. improve how people taught entrepreneurship

Mistake #1: I did not understand the resources it would take to sustain a longitudinal global research study, so the data gathering petered out after two years (although, a core group of more experienced researchers are now rebooting the project with a strong plan for sustainability).

Mistake #2: I did not have a strategy or structure to scale or sustain this project. As the number of participating faculty grew into the hundreds, and it became necessary to translate our survey into dozens of languages, and coordinate the timing of administering, aggregating and sharing data around the world, I got buried and lost interest.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Ask for help (not only is it OK, it improves the chances of success)
  2. Have some semblance of a resource plan (what it might take, and where those resources might come from)

General Thoughts

It is good to share personal experience with students, particularly as it relates to the sort of things they are learning about and doing in the class. It creates connections that, I believe, allow students to feel more comfortable asking for help and taking risks. In addition to the business I try to start every semester, I try to model what I ask of my students in “real” businesses, and try to be very transparent in sharing those journeys with my students.

If you are teaching entrepreneurship, don’t forget to practice it, and to be transparent in sharing that experience with students.

Can We Reinvent Education?

I have been experimenting and daydreaming for many years about how education could be better for students (and, by extension, for faculty like me). More engaging. More productive. More lasting. More realistic. More fun.

There have been a plethora of articles, studies, and information put into the universe lately about innovative disruptions to the education system. From around the world (Finland to Japan). From here in the US. While some approaches are “cutting-edge”, some approaches have been around for a very long time. TED and other programs are getting in on the fun.

Most recently, my good friend and fellow education innovator Alex Bruton shared this Mindvalley Academy video with me. It is a very promising approach, but not quite there yet. I provide the transcript of the video below, and the some thoughts and reactions (search for “Thoughts and Reactions” to skip through the transcript).

Transcript of video follows:

Alan Watts, the great Zen philosopher once said:

No literate inquisitive, and imaginative person needs to go to college unless in need of a union card, or degree at the certified physician, lawyer, or teacher, or unless he requires access to certain heavy and expensive equipment for scientific research.

Yet when Watts wrote that in 1972, he couldn’t even have imagined what would be happening in the world today, with new technologies, rapid change, and shifts in how companies recruit. That would all combine to further make college kind of useless.

The Good Points of College

But the thing is, college has numerous good points:

  • We grow up.  
  • We mature.  
  • We make deep meaningful connections.  
  • We meet the friends and find the interests that ultimately define us.

So how can we completely re-engineer college to keep all of the good and disrupt all of the bad, obsolete points? Well, we think we have an idea. A new model that radically rethinks college. That questions all the rules about how we’ve been conditioned to believe education should look like, and takes advantage of emerging technologies, new social movements, new types of knowledge accessibility and new research on what truly creates happy, successful, fulfilled lives.

Ready to catch a glimpse? Okay, before I reveal this new model, first you gotta know what makes modern college so absurd in the first place. Let’s start with the length of time. So you take a teenager and you plant him in a bubble for 4 years. Same campus, surrounded by other nineteen-year-olds. Problem is, in today’s world things are changing at an exponential pace. Peter Diamandis said that between 2016 and 2022 there will be as many changes in the world due to exponential technology growth as between all of 1900 to 2000. Wow! 

So we have kids coming out of college with knowledge that has become totally obsolete in their four years on campus.

So what if we got rid of this four-year model? What if instead kids went to college for one month of the year. And then spend 11 months in the field. You know. Doing real work. Like having a job or starting a business. And then they come back for one month every year. What if this did not stop when you’re 22? What if it continued? What if this four years was stretched out? So you come back one month every year for 48 years? Sounds crazy. Hold on, we’re just getting started.

Second, what if we got rid of expensive campuses? Think about all of that wasted tuition fees. I was stuck in the same campus in Ann Arbor Michigan for four years. But the world is so much bigger. What if we did away with fixed campuses and instead move this college to a different city every year? What if we picked international amazing cities? Like Berlin, Singapore, Barcelona. Places filled with culture, places you dream of visiting? What if we could drop the price by ten-fold? No campus means huge cost savings.

But now, let’s look at another odd design about college. They say you are the sum of the five people closest to you. But at college you’re hanging out with other 19 year olds. What could you learn from the average 19 year old if you’re 19? When I went to college, I remember my freshman year, the coolest guys were the ones that could sneak is into a frat parties or buy us liquor. Not exactly brilliant. So, what if we disrupted this? What if age did not matter? Your friends could be 19 or 30 or 50. We learn from the wisdom of our elders. They learn from you. Age becomes irrelevant.

But then, there’s the curriculum itself. Neil Gaiman, the legendary writer, said of school:

I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.

And you know what I’m talking about. Yes, you get a 4-year degree. But does it need 4 years? More and more of the job related aspects of college are free online. Harvard, Berkeley, MIT – their courses are now online. Just go to edX.org. You can learn anything from app development to physics for free. Study the classes you need for your chosen career, but why do we waste 4 years on a fixed campus, hanging out with 19 year olds, trying to get enough credits to fill some arbitrary degree that we might never ever use? The world is changing so fast. Many of the top jobs today were not available as college degrees a mere five years ago.

So what do you teach? You teach what Neil Gaiman preached – real-world skills:

  • How to lead, how to create a vision for your life, how to be a better parent, spouse, lover.
  • How to have healthy self-esteem and emotional intelligence.
  • Goal setting, crafting a vision for your life, entrepreneurship.
  • Personal growth skills, like how to keep fit and healthy, practice meditation and mindfulness.

These are the skills that truly lead to happy, successful lives. But you do not learn this in college. Which brings us to the teachers.

What About The Teachers?

Are the best teachers in the world today in the world’s universities? Not always, and here’s why. Teachers today have their hands tied more than ever. To survive as a teacher in a classical system, you are often rewarded for the research, much much more than your actual teachings. So as a student, you don’t always get the best learning experience. Books offered are quite dry, and classes not too engaging, leading you to disconnect and not truly retain the knowledge you’ve been given.

Those who have a true passion for teaching find themselves gravitating out of the traditional system. The very best teachers are the ones writing best-selling books, building their businesses, speaking at large seminars, speaking on the Ted stage. They have transcended the need to be stuck on a singular campus. Colleges may have great researchers and scientists. But not necessarily the best teachers. So what if you could learn from these people?

What if your teacher was someone whose work was so profound, he has sold 20 million books. Or broken a Guinness record. Or was a New York Times bestselling author. The best in the fields.

So let’s recap:

  • No more four years. It’s now one month a year.
  • No fixed campus. You move to a different spectacular city every year.
  • No fixed age. Your peers come from all around the world. And are of all ages.
  • No outdated curriculums. You learn the skills that actually matter to happiness and success and making an impact on the planet.
  • And your teachers are the best in the world.

But wait, despite all of this, college does have some good bits. You meet some of your best friends in the world, you form your character, find your community, and create incredible memories.

So what if we can retain and amplify these good parts, and disrupt and reinvent all the obsolete parts?

What would education look like then? We think we have an idea.

Welcome to Mindvalley U

First, you don’t come to this for four years. You come for one month and then you go back into the regular world.

Now about the campus, rather than have a regular campus we take some of the most exciting exhilarating cities in the world. For 2017 it’s Barcelona. Hundreds of students are coming to Barcelona in June to join this new type of education model.

Next, age. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 of 70. Everyone moves to this city together. Using Airbnb and other tools we make the city our living space. Our playground. The community works together in shared co-working spaces, form their own networking groups, and attend exciting new classes together.

And now about those classes. These are no ordinary trainings and certainly no ordinary teachers. Imagine a faculty that consists of some of the greatest minds in human development. For this upcoming beta project in Barcelona you might take a class from the likes of Neale Donald Walsh, who wrote the best-selling book series Conversations With God which sold 20 million copies. Or learn from Eric Edmeades, who trains people on the art of masterful communication, one of the key skills that will help you to ascend your career. Or study with Wim Hof, who holds over a dozen Guinness records and can teach you how to hone your mind and body to superhuman levels. Or study with some of the world’s top entrepreneurship and personal growth programs. Like Lifebook. Or learn to hack your mind with Marisa Peer, the hypnotherapist who works with A-list celebs and Olympians. Or learn mindfulness from Gelong Thubten, who trained the actors of Doctor Strange on Eastern philosophy.

But it’s more than just classes. Throughout the month, we organize meet-ups, masterminds, networking groups, volunteer opportunities. All to allow the students here to connect and bond and forge great friendships. After all a Harvard study said that the single greatest determinant of your happiness in life “is going to be the strength of your social connections”. With the social opportunities we create, and the fact that you can return every year for the rest of your life to plug-in, grow and re-connect, you’ll never feel lonely again.

You Found Your Tribe

And about that tribe. It’s not just young people. It’s all ages. It’s utter rubbish that we designed a society where we think you’re meant to see the end to college life by 23. On our campus you meet people of ages. Even families attending with their kids. Fathers and sons. Mothers and daughters. Teenagers and people in their fifties and beyond. All connecting, learning and being part of one international tribe. A curated community of people bound together by a desire to grow, to connect and craft epic lives. This is Mindvalley U. And our first city campus is in Barcelona. It’s happening this June 2017. Stop by for a month. Or a week. Or just attend a specific lecture. But know that no matter what you choose you’re participating in an experiment to redefine education. In the past decade we’ve reinvented the phone. The car. The TV. Now it’s time to reinvent how we learn. So you can choose to live an ordinary life. Same city. Same job. Same style of parenting and relationships and daily 9-5 as everyone else. Or you can choose to question everything. Welcome to a new style of education.

Thoughts and Reactions

Yes, college is about meaningful social connections. 

Yes, 4 years is too long to keep young people in a bubble.

Yes, a physical campus is unnecessary. Not only is it unnecessary, it is dangerous. It enables students, faculty, staff, and administration to stay in a bubble, not threatened by the real world. It creates one more barrier to students experiencing the pain and wonder of reality.

Yes, higher education institutions tend to house a relatively homogenous group of students, certainly in terms of age and range of life (in)experience.

Yes, the typical curriculum does not present students with timely skills and competencies they can quickly put to use in their career path.  

Yes, the majority of teachers are untrained. Most doctoral programs prepare researchers, not teachers. Because research is the currency in higher ed, teaching is often seen as a distraction.

One month of “school” out of every 12 months is an interesting proposition. Spending that month immersed in a different amazing city makes it an even more interesting proposition.

But . . . very few people can take a month off from their real lives. Very few people have the financial means to live in Barcelona or Berlin or Singapore for a month. We need to somehow utilize technology to provide the opportunity for anyone to come together, at any time, in real time. A big-shot from New York City. A farmer from a small village in rural Nigeria. A family living on the streets of Beijing. The experience becomes much richer when more “real” people can engage when their curiosity is piqued and/or when their circumstance necessitates it.

Those leading the learning are posited as the “greatest minds in human development”. 

But . . . one significant barrier to students learning is that they don’t see themselves in the teachers. Mindvalley U exacerbates this disconnect. Students will struggle to identify with someone who sold 20 million books, who holds multiple Guiness records, who works with A-list celebs and Olympians. Many people without such success can deliver an equally powerful experience that would be easier for students to identify with.

In trying to reinvent education, we need to focus on the outcome, for the customer. What are students (customers) supposed to be able to do after their experience in higher ed? I firmly believe they should be able to embark upon a career path that is meaningful to them.

They need to identify what would be meaningful work to them. That means they need accurate previews, and short bursts of experience.

They need to develop skills necessary to sell, to build relationships, to create value. They will be selling themselves to potential employers or investors. They need to building relationships with a network to help them open doors and gain experience. They need to create value for some organization in order to carve out a living.

They need freedom to explore and discover, but with some pretty amazing guides who help them frame their experiences.

I am uncertain how to reinvent education, but I know it sorely needs to be reinvented. Mindvalley U is a valiant attempt, but it falls short in some critical areas.

What do you think a reinvented education system looks like?

How to Find Early Adopters

It is still amazing to me after working with hundreds of students and entrepreneurs for many years how quickly everyone wants to build solutions. I guess it makes sense – that is the “fun” part – but I try, often in vain, to get my students to understand that time spent engaging with customers now will exponentially increase their chances of 1) killing bad ideas sooner and 2) building solutions people actually want.

Which Customers are Early Adopters?

While some will argue that early adopters can’t be found, I push my students hard to think through what segments would be ideal early adopters, meaning people who:

  1. have the problem my students are trying to solve
  2. know they have the problem, and
  3. are actively seeking a solution

Where Are My Early Adopters?

In two modules of FOCUS Framework, we learn how to differentiate customers into early adopter, early majority, late majority and laggard buckets based on the 3 categories above, then we map out 4 or 5 of our own customer segments. What I particularly like about this exercise it is forces us to think about what behaviors early adopters engage in, and then to dig one important step deeper, what externally observable behaviors they engage in. For instance, for my idea of delivering on demand career advice to college students, behaviors early adopters would engage in might include:

  1. Searches Glassdoor for career advice
  2. Gets advice from university career center
  3. Googles “how to prepare for a job interview”
  4. Attends career preparedness workshops
  5. Googles “best resume template”

But I cannot identify what specific individuals are engaging in these behaviors, and thereby targeting them for problem interviews. So I need to convert these behaviors to actions they take that allows me to identify who they are, and ideally, make contact with them. The behaviors become:

  1. Reviews Glassdoor
  2. Reviews career center on the career center Facebook page
  3. Tweets with #interview or #jobsearch or #employment
  4. Reviews career-related workshops on the workshop Facebook event page

Now I know where I can start looking for potential early adopters. I have trolled my university’s various Facebook pages and Twitter accounts related to our career center and related events and groups, and have found a plethora of students there who are providing very passionate reviews (both positive and negative). Targeting customers in this way allows me to be much more productive in my customer development.

Problems, Assumptions, & Customers Oh My!

In my entrepreneurship class, I push students to start a business within the semester (evidenced by achieving authentic sales from strangers for something that they “created”). It is a scary landscape for my students. Instead of just talking them through it, I lead them through it; I hold myself to the same standard and also try to start a business within the semester.

College Students Need Better Career Advice

We find problems through personal experience and observation. Having engaged with hundreds of (mostly business) students every semester for 6 years (and having been a student a few years back), a problem I recognized is that students are dramatically unprepared for the uncertainty they will soon face. And, more importantly, I see tons of them actively scrambling to find resources to help them prepare. It is not just a problem I observe, it is a problem I see them actively trying to solve, and I hear from them that the solutions they are finding tend to be inadequate.

First we identify a problem: College students cannot find timely, actionable career preparedness advice in an easily digestible format they enjoy

Then we frame our problem as a question: “How can we provide timely, engaging on-demand career advice for college students?”

Then we reframe the question to lead us to more powerful conversations with potential customers: “How can we get students excited about their freedom?” or “How can we prepare students to create their future?”

Assumptions Will Sink You

As we prepare to engage with potential customers through problem interviews, we want to also be able to acknowledge the assumptions  we come into the conversation with. These are the leaps of faith, so can make or break our journey. Deliberately investigating our assumptions will help us experiment more effectively. The Assumptions Mapping Worksheet available from David Bland and his team at Precoil is a great resource to identify out desirability (“do they want this?”), viability (“should I do this?”), and feasibility assumptions (“can I do this?”).

Some of my assumptions:

College business students want help preparing for their career

College and online career preparedness/advice resources are inadequate

College students are scared of the uncertainty of post-college

College students will pay for targeted, on-demand career advice

What About The Customers?

My students want to get talking to potential customers. They want to learn about their problems. They want to sell them a solution. It’s really hard to be patient, and to prepare adequately for engaging customers. But it’s critical to do so methodically. I encourage them to really work on formulating a solid problem, and dig really deep to identify their assumptions. Next step is to do some work (through the FOCUS Framework worksheets “Who Are Your Early Adopters?” and “Your Early Adopters” by Justin Wilcox) to narrow down on the specific niche who will hopefully be our early adopters. For me, I’m thinking that niche will be 2nd semester junior business students. Freshman and sophomores aren’t quite there yet in terms of the urgency. Seniors often think they are all set, or just don’t care. Generalities here of course. We’ll get some planning done with these two worksheets and be much better prepared to talk to the right potential customers about the right problem so when we get to a solution we’re building the right solution.

What are your thoughts about this journey? Any suggestions for how to improve it? Any steps I’m missing?

I Like The Mess

My Big Questions

  1. How do you conduct customer problem interviews?
  2. Do simulations play a role in (true) experiential education?

Customer Development is Messy

Photo Credit: jope. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jope. via Compfight cc

After kicking off another iteration of my classroom adventure experiment, students have organized into a couple camps. Some have been in nearly constant contact with me outside of class – asking great probing questions, seeking feedback on steps taken and planned next steps. Some have engaged but only in class. Some have skipped town. Two of the skippers came into class with a “business” already and are pushing back that they don’t need this “customer interviewing stuff”. We are wrapping up what I would very loosely call the customer discovery module of the course. I invited students to create the following documents, to peer review each others’ work, and to get my feedback:

  1. Concept Brief. And I do mean brief – like 2 sentences at most (and hopefully more like 4 or 5 words). I need them to learn about being able to communicate their idea very concisely. I got a bunch of these, but none that were very concise, which I told them indicates they need to think about it much more and narrow their ideas down.
  2. Customer Problem Interview Script. I challenged them to identify their riskiest assumption about their customer-problem relationship, and to develop three questions that would provide them accurate information to evaluate that assumption. I got a bunch of these but with some pretty awful questions/approaches across the board. Students want to ask yes/no questions, or gather simple demographic information. I worked with many of them to understand why and how to use open-ended questions. More about this below.
  3. Customer Observation. I wanted them to get out and covertly videotape customers engaging in the problem, then write up a short reaction paper explaining the what/why and lessons learned from this activity. I haven’t received any of these yet.

Students should have finished Diana Kander’s All In Startup book. This lays a powerful foundation for the process going forward, and particularly for the why and how to engage with customers. I then moved them into playing the VentureBlocks simulation during one 75 minute class period. This is a really great bridge between the classroom and the real world. Many of my students are very unsure of approaching and engaging with customers. I find this simulation is a fantastic way for them to gain more confidence in doing so. It is very quick – I spend about 60 minutes max (most students seemed to finish it in about 45) running it. Tomorrow we will debrief all the customer discovery work we’ve been doing (or not!) Diana’s book. VentureBlocks. Pounding the pavement learning. Most of us have not made it too far, because we are uncertain and lack confidence to reach out and search for certainty. Finding and interviewing customers is very messy, especially for young students who have never been pushed to take their learning out of the classroom and to take control of their learning. I see them scared, and I like that. It provides me the work I most enjoy – supporting them and mentoring them through that fear.

Photo Credit: Philip Dehm via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Philip Dehm via Compfight cc

Next we move into the define stage of the class, where we redefine and focus our questions based on insights from the customer discovery phase, and develop our point of view (i.e. an actionable problem statement). I will push them to write a guiding statement that focuses on specific users, and insights and needs that we uncovered during the customer discovery phase, and to develop a solution-generation springboard that frames the problem, inspires people we meet to engage with us, guides our innovation efforts, and provides a focusing reference point. In this phase, I’ll ask them to develop user personas and composite character profiles, to concentrate on point-of-view, and build a new concept brief focusing on their unique value proposition.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I reminded all the students that entrepreneurship is a mindset and that what we’re working toward here isn’t a successful startup, but an ingrained way of thinking and engaging with our environment. I find my students get hung up on the goal and aren’t good at paying attention to the learning during the process. They have been trained to wait by a dormant education system. I’m working hard to awaken that innate love of curiosity and learning we all started with. I succeed with some, and don’t with others.

My Journey

I find myself in an interesting place this semester. I have come up with an idea I truly care about, that I think represents a significant problem that I wouldn’t mind working to solve. Previous semesters, I just went through the motions as a means of developing trust with my students and to model the process. But this semester is different. Helping hungry children get food is a noble goal, and something I want to work at. I am finding there are many processes in place to address this massive problem, but most are pretty ineffective and contain way too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen.

I have found it very hard to interview parents of these children. Ideally, I could identify them through the school district, but of course that’s not possible. I could make some very ignorant and stereotypical guesses based on where folks live in town. That’s not helpful. I have asked some friends in town who work closely with some non-profits to put me in touch with some parents. No word back yet. In the meantime I’ve been talking to a number of grocery store managers, as they are a second customer in my business model.

The large corporate grocery stores, I am consistently told, have policies in place for how to “dispose of expired and nearly-expired items”. I of course am quick to point out that expired or nearly expired food has considerable life beyond their shelves. Basically, the produce and similar perishable food they throw out in their dumpsters. The other non-perishable food they distribute to a variety of organizations in the community (food banks, churches, shelters, etc.) In my interviews with these managers, they are following corporate policy and basically don’t think about the food once it is gone. Changing their mind and their actions is going to be next to impossible. 

The smaller, more local grocery stores are a different story. They follow a similar procedure to the corporate folks, but are more open to other possibilities, and have much more flexibility. One common theme I did hear during my 6 or so interviews revolved around liability. Something I’ll have to keep in mind. But these managers/owners did express in my interviews (by non-verbals mostly) some uncertainty and frustration about what happened to the food and goods once they left their store. They did also acknowledge verbally problems with the system to what one called “redistributing the food we should all have access to”. I like that quote!

My next steps are working on connecting with parents of children who face daily struggle with hunger. Also to work on user personas/profiles and the beginnings of a solution springboard. It’s messy going, but I keep slogging through it, because the problem is one I want to help solve. That makes a huge difference. I try to get my students to understand that, but it’s tough to get them out of their “it’s just a class” mentality and truly engage and learn.

A New Beginning All Over Again

My Big Questions

  1. What would you do? Read below and share your thoughts on what customer development I should do
  2. How can entrepreneurship classrooms be more authentic and scary?

Here We Go Again: A New Version of the Same Entrepreneurship Experiment

infinity

The great thing about teaching is I can rebirth my courses every semester. This semester is no different – here is the syllabus for this iteration of my grand experiment: Entrepreneurship I Syllabus.

I will still try to build a startup from the ground up, just like I ask my students to. I will likely fail again, as most of them do. Diana Kander’s All In Startup book is still there. It’s such a phenomenal resource for students to learn how to understand and interview customers. Customer development is where it all starts for us. Our ideas suck, but my students don’t believe me, so I want them interviewing customers about their problems from day one. This semester, I added Venture Blocks (aka the Nanu Challenge), which is an online 3D simulation for customer development. We start our semester juggling a few things (just like a real entrepreneur!):

  1. Read Diana’s book
  2. Conduct customer problem interviews
  3. Constantly share ideas and progress with each other (i.e. do work!)
  4. Constantly give each other feedback (i.e. empower their colleagues to do work!)

Entrepreneurship Comes Alive

Design Thinking

The backbone of the class is a design thinking approach, which is basically a human-centered approach to resolving problems and creating solutions. In my class, customers are the center of our universe – we solve their problems, and we co-create solutions that solve their problems.

We empathize with customers by observing, engaging, and immersing. We define and redefine our questions and points of view. We ideate and ideate and ideate with business models and experiments. We prototype our solutions by failing quickly and cheaply. We test our prototypes, our business models, our customer use cases. We sell and we plan for growth.

Within this backbone, chaos ensues. Some students already have concepts off the ground. Some struggle endlessly to pick an idea to run with. Some rip through 12 or 20 ideas during the semester. Each student takes their own journey – including me!

Here We Go Again

At various times in my life, I have lived in or engaged with pockets of poverty. Growing up in a privileged existence, these times have always been eye-opening to me. This semester, the idea I’ll work on is more meaningful to me, because it has more potential to really make an impact. Child hunger is a problem. A big problem. It’s insane that in this country, with such wealth and opportunity, we have to deal with such a disgusting problem. But we do.

Child hunger

This is not a new problem. There are people who don’t/can’t get access to adequate nutrition for their children. There are businesses that have and dispose of excess food. There are a whole bunch of organizations and efforts working to close that gap and solve this problem. Food pantries. Soup kitchens. Churches. Organizations like No Kid Hungry and Feeding America. The list goes on. It’s not working. Or, if it is working, it’s not working fast enough. So, I’m going to take a design thinking and lean approach to solving this problem.

Working Up to an Entrepreneurial Idea

I lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn years ago. I loved talking to my neighbors, trying to understand their past and present. But it was sad also, learning about their struggles – the kind I have never known. One theme in many of those conversations that stuck out to me was pride.

pride

Many folks I talked to struggled to have enough resources to live – food, money, whatever – but wouldn’t take handouts. I heard the same theme when I was talking to some folks living in poverty during a recent trip to San Diego. People were willing to go to extraordinary lengths and take huge risks to get the very basics. But they wouldn’t take handouts; although they often didn’t have enough food to feed their children, they would not go to a food pantry or a soup kitchen or take food stamps. I am not here to say whether that’s right or wrong, it is what it is. But it is. Other folks I talked to found it too difficult to get to the places where the food might be available. They had to spend money to get there, money they didn’t have. They had to spend time to get there – maybe time away from family members they couldn’t spend away. For whatever reason, here is a segment of society not engaging with the “middleman” of this food cycle.

My idea is to take out the middleman. There has to be a way to get discarded food from establishments discarding it directly to people who struggle to put enough food in their children’s bellies. Transportation as a service. Not quite sure but that’s the beauty of this class experience – I don’t need a plan, because my customers will point the way.

Concerns

Just as my students do, I confront a few “duh” concerns – many highlighted by some great entrepreneurs with whom I shared the idea for feedback. Liability and bad PR of dealing with potentially bad food. Logistics of food delivery. Establishments writing off instead of donating goods/food. On a more local level, as in our community here, the lack of proper storage for perishable items. So I need to talk to lots of establishment owners and managers and such (grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) to understand their process of disposing of excess food and goods, and why they make that choice. I need to talk to parents of children who struggle to feed them, to understand what they do to combat that problem, and to eventually get feedback on the solution I invite them to co-create with me. I would love to be able to pick up food from stores around town, drive to a common location where many of these parents live, and in full Lloyd Dobbler style, blast out an announcement of “food is here, come and get it!”

Lloyd Dobbler

 

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.

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?

The Good and the Best About Being an Educator … There is No Ugly Here

Note: This was originally posted a year or so ago, and was composed using voice-to-text, so apologies for goofs 

The beauty of being an educator

Photo Credit: young_einstein via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: young_einstein via Compfight cc

I spend a lot of time bashing my profession but recently have had cause to smile about my profession. Actually I always have cause to smile when I am engaged with my students. I do what I do because I love giving back and helping my students find and engage their passion.   The other day one of my students, told me that she is graduating in a couple weeks and is completely unsure of what she wants to do after college. She is getting an HR degree but when talking to her I pulled out of her that the things that she’s really passionate about and loves to learn about in practice have to do with beauty and makeup. No this is not one of my areas of expertise I know this is shocking, so I started reaching out to colleagues of mine in Chicago who may be able today introduced this young woman to people in the beauty industry. Lo and behold instantly the number of my colleagues in Chicago we’re willing and able to introduce this young woman to people in the beauty industry.I believe that this process will help to change this young woman’s career path from something that she would settle for to something that she could live for. That’s an impact. That’s why I’m here. That’s the beauty of what I do. It doesn’t usually happen in the classroom during class time. Sometimes it does, when those light bulbs pop on. But more often it happens outside the classroom, during deeper discussions about purpose, passion, and uncertainty.

Educator’s impact is outside the classroom

I have had these discussions with many students in the few years I have been teaching. I have students who have found their way, on my urgent, to Boston. They ventured out on their own because they wanted something new, something exciting, something challenging. They were willing to face uncertainty and to take full advantage of what it offers. I have other students who are working their dream jobs in the Chicago area. They did not find these jobs with a resume, a cover letter, or any other vehicle that would make them seemed like every other robot coming out of college. They found these jobs because they were willing to stand up, speak up, and take a chance that somebody would be willing to help them figure out where they wanted to go and how to get there. I was willing to help.

Educators should do more than educate

I get excited when I see students excited. I rarely see students as excited in the classroom we’re talking about class related material as when I am talking to them trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.it does not take anything very special to make a dead in these young men and womens futures. it takes listening to them, asking difficult questions, supporting their fear, in their passion, and being their champion. Is that so hard? Even if it is I would argue it is the most meaningful experiences an educator can have.

The best part of being an educator, in my humble opinion, has nothing to do with education per se. it has to do with supporting our students in their search for meaning, for challenge, for security, for fun, and for the future that is fulfilling. That cannot be accomplished through traditional means of education and in a traditional formatted classroom.

My challenge to educators

I challenge all educators to change their view of what our role can be and should be in the students lives. And to think through how we can have an impact and be responsible champions for our students in their pursuit of a meaningful future.

What are you doing? What could you do better? How are you impacting your students in lasting waves? If you are not, shame on you. If you are, please share how you do that so the rest of us can learn and can be better at what we should do.

The purpose of education is . . .

Last year I did a TEDx talk at Heartland Community College about my visions for the future of education. It was a high point of my life; watching TED talks have provided me so much inspiration and to have that opportunity was incredible!  I spoke to the audience about how to change the education system so that a college experience can realize it’s intended promise to prepare students for the real world. I spoke about the generic purpose of education being to prepare young people to be responsible and productive citizens and lifelong learners. Specifically, I think the purpose of education is to help students find answers to their meaningful questions.

Thoughts on Education

I asked the attendees to answer the question “What is the purpose of education?” on a paper airplane, and at one point in the talk to send me their airplanes. Here are their answers:

Turn dreams into reality.

Foster the art of asking questions.

To inspire students to learn from on their own, and to prepare them for the world (Sam Ferrante)

To teach you how to think.

To inspire and evolve how we think.

To expand minds.

To get a better idea (Carol Hahn)

I have no idea about the education thing. . . I just want to be cool enough to live in a red house. . . and I will have a red plan also (my sidenote – my wife and I live in a red house, which is very rare in our town where all the houses are beige)

To question. To be aware. To be courageous (Carol Hahn)

To open minds, inspire creativity, and to teach us how to live in the world (Jean)

To help them discover their true potential (Alejandro Montesdeoca)

To expose people to skills and knowledge that will allow them to lead happy and productive lives (Jon Shackley)

To discover and pursue interesting questions

Improving people’s lives (George Mueller)

To teach people of all ages relevant skills and provide them with relevant knowledge. Education can be delivered via many modes! FOR FUN . . . education should not be confused with training. You wouldn’t want your kids to take a sex training class, would you? (Doug Minter)

For individuals to better themselves and build a future/career. Expand on their knowledge and better themselves as a whole (Arianna Shipley)

To educate (Antonio Montes de Oca)

Knowledge is power (Antonio Montes de Oca)

Education is a forum for new ideas seen through the lens of the ideas of others

To teach people to think

To challenge yourself and become a better asset in the world (Kali Lewis)

Give the ability to explore (Ravi K.)

People say education prepares you for the real world, when in fact education is the real world. While being educated, kids are and should be allowed to truly think and create (Kayley K.)

“So that employees can follow written instructions” So sorry for being jaded (Marcus)

To get smarter (Julie Shackley)

An opportunity to gain knowledge, build self-confidence, know who we are and increase awareness of our surroundings and our world (Linda Walter)

To advance one’s self to the benefit of one’s self and community

To provide students with the tools and creativity to go beyond their own expectations (Cecilia)

Foster all ideas in a non-judgmental setting

To bankrupt parents!

Education is to help us discover the purpose of life

To prepare a student to be successful in their future (Brent R.)

To learn to love learning (V. Sittig)

To teach how to think, question, and create (Robyn Walter)

What do you think is the purpose of education?