Tag Archives: opportunity

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).

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!

I Got Fired – Is That Bad?

The last time I got fired, I was 16 years old and I made a very conscious choice to party with my friends instead of show up to work. That was nearly 24 years ago. I got fired again a while ago. Not from my “food-on-the-table” job, but from a consulting sort of gig.

Getting Fired Sucks

It all boils down to fit. I did not fit with the direction the project was heading. I am always the first one to step out of the way if I’m going to impede progress of a good initiative – and this was a very good initiative. Fired due to lack of fit. Could be worse.

I will be the first to admit that I have a healthy ego and am pretty narcissistic. My wife will confirm this! Being fired does not suit my ego or narcissism very well, in fact it bruises it to some extent. That may not be a bad thing, but it certainly does not feel good. After the sting wore off, I began to think more deeply about being fired, what that means, and the opportunity that presents.

Getting Fired Isn’t So Bad

There are a number of reasons I came up with that getting fired isn’t so bad. Now, being a recovering addict, I realize this may be similar to making up excuses why today is a bad day to quit. However, here I go:

1. I have more time on my hands.

2. I have more intellectual bandwidth available for projects for which I am a good fit.

3. I reflect on my approach, my conversations, my interactions with people.

4. I have to review and update my CV (resume), my social media profiles.

5. I have to be humble with family, friends, colleagues. The family part stings pretty bad for one reason, and the colleagues part stings in an entirely different way. But equally as painful.

I have to reflect, I learn a little humility, I have more time and energy. None of those are a bad thing. Admittedly again, this is not my bread-and-butter job – that would be a different story. But any experience that requires us to reflect, to be humble, to take stock can’t be all that bad, can it?

Would You Fire Yourself?

This led me to look at other side gigs in my life right now. None of them are necessary; I took all of them on for one reason or another, but all I consider voluntary at this point. I asked myself if I would fire myself from any of them. This is a very tough inner journey that incorporates issues of self-worth, satisfaction, greed, narcissism, love, passion, and all things beautiful and ugly. I decided I would not fire myself from anything at this point.

On an intellectual level, I am not glad I was fired. I really enjoyed the possibility that project held to engage with a great audience and to accomplish something fantastic. On a more personal level, I can say I am somewhat glad I was fired – only because of the opportunity it presented me. I failed. In this particular project endeavor, I failed miserably. I put my everything into it, and I got fired. That failure presented a fantastic opportunity for me to pause, reflect, and learn. I am better for it (at least I will be next time around!)

My question to you: what would you fire yourself from?

Entrepreneurship of a Different Sort

Entrepreneurship is . . .

Entrepreneurship has many different definitions and variations.  I am often asked by students, colleagues, and various stakeholders of the organizations of which I am a part some version of the following question: “Have you ever started a business?”  I am in the midst of starting three right now:

1. internrocket, which is aimed at blowing up the internship and hiring processes by focusing on micro-project experiences.

2. That Ain’t Normal, which is aimed at disrupting what is normal in fashion (the basic model is like Quirky for apparel/fashion)

3. Legacy Out Loud, which is a global initiative to refocus the foundational conversations that inspire and empower young women to think, act and lead entrepreneurially.

So according to that traditional perspective of entrepreneurship, I am currently an entrepreneur.  I’ve tried a few in the past and failed miserably before much progress happened.  I’ve consulted for many folks who have started both successful and unsuccessful ones.  But the sorts of experiences I’ve had, I would argue, are equally (if not more so) valuable to my goal of engaging students in entrepreneurial thinking and doing.

The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship can be driven by necessity or by opportunity.  I grew up in a fortunate situation where I never had to think about necessity.  I always engaged in opportunity-driven entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship can also be legal or illegal.  In my younger, more immature days, I engaged in illegal entrepreneurship.  In order to get the cocaine I needed, I started dealing for some heavy hitters out of Detroit.  I would put that experience against that of any entrepreneur any day.  I had to manage product.  I had to manage employees.  I had to manage financials.  I had to manage stakeholders.  I had to monitor competition.  Anything a “real” business does, I had to do.  But I had to do it with the highest of stakes.  Not that I wouldn’t have food on my table, or I wouldn’t have enough money to pay rent.  I would have a couple dudes called Slim (he wasn’t slim by the way) and Frosty visit me from Detroit.  I had to cheat and steal and manipulate and operate well over that line between moral and immoral.  Every day I had to make very real, very dangerous (physically and emotionally) choices.  I would say there is nothing more entrepreneurial that this sort of experience.  It certainly shaped my current world view of what is possible and of how to get it.

The Bright Side of Entrepreneurship

As I matured and realized I needed to clean my life up, I turned to education.  As an educator, I am extremely entrepreneurial.  I look for opportunities to disrupt the broken ways of teaching that we too strongly hold onto.  I look for the failures of those who’ve come before me, and I give myself every chance to try some new method or technique, and to fail.  I hustle my ass off – weaving students, faculty, alumni, colleagues, associations, entrepreneurs, investors from around the world together around fantastic experiences.

Am I an entrepreneur?  I honestly don’t know what that means (Babson College is doing some cool projects around defining that word).  But my answer is categorically YES! So when I get asked that question about whether I’ve started a business, I often reply by letting people know that I’ve been entrepreneurial from an early age.  As my path through life changes, the focus of my entrepreneurial spirit changes.  But that spirit has always been in me.  Is it in you?  How does it manifest itself?  Find the opportunity.  Learn to fail.  And hustle.  The results will be extraordinary!

Education Comes Through Opportunity, Failure, Hustle

How does one succeed in education?  How does one succeed as an entrepreneur?

To me, three words:  OpportunityFailureHustle.

My Education

Opportunity

These three words define me and my path through life.  I grew up comfortable – not rich by any means (my father was a math professor after all and even though he was ridiculously intelligent and a workaholic, he was a math professor in the 1970s and 1980s of my youth).  My parents afforded me unbelievable opportunities.  Private school and boarding school.  Toys and books and sports – all the things important to a young boy.  Each opportunity came my way, and more often than not, I failed at realizing each one.  Not that I ever worked hard at them.  You see, I had an older sister, and she set a bar I felt I couldn’t reach.  I know, typical story, right?  So my parents thrust all these opportunities my way – all of them wonderful and some of them potentially life-changing.  But I failed, over and over again, by choice.

Failure

I failed at realizing the opportunities my parents so kindly placed before me.  Because I was convinced I couldn’t meet the bar my older sister set.  I accepted these failures, but didn’t learn to learn from them until I was much older.  See, failure, it turns out, is the most powerful learning force there is.  Fail at something, feel like shit, ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, angry, humiliated . . . whatever the feeling it’s not pleasant.  Stand up and choose to learn from that and I promise it’s a powerful learning experience.  I kept failing and not learning.  Until I figured out that there are good choices and there are bad choices.  My sister would always outdo me when it came to good choices.   She wasn’t a goody-two-shoes.  I always thought of those types as ones who really tried at being good, they had to work at it, and it was awkward.  My sister didn’t try, it was just natural.  It was her spirit.  I couldn’t compete with that.  I quickly found bad choices, and realized I could be really good at those.  I didn’t fail any more!  Now I was a success.  And to be a success at the bad choices, I had to hustle.

Hustle

We all hustle.  It’s that drive that pushes us toward a goal.  It’s that fire that wakes us up, that gets us through the day, that keeps us up at night.  Some of us hustle for good, some of us hustle for bad, some of us hustle for ourselves, some of us hustle for others.  But make no mistake – we all hustle.  It’s a beautiful thing!

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Photo Credit: C. Ha via Compfight cc

 

I saw opportunity all around me – kids getting high and paying lots of money to do it.  I had failed many times at trying to be “good”.  So I turned my hustle to dealing drugs.  I was good at this hustle.  For many years.  Learned to read people, learned to negotiate, learned to sell, learned about numbers and cash flow and profit and loss.  Learned about customer relationships and supplier relationships.  Learned about  . . . way a second, sounds real similar to the kinds of things my business school courses claimed to have taught me.  You know what?  I don’t remember shit from those courses.  But I remember all kinds of lessons I learned from the hustle.  So if we could make education a system where students hustle to realize opportunities and learn from failure, students would have a better learning experience.  That’s my hypothesis, and I’m sticking to it.  So what are these three elements about?  Why are they so important?

Opportunity

Opportunities bombard us every day, through every one of our senses.  They seriously do – while I at times enjoy this sensory overload, most days it drives me bananas.  Any time we hear someone bitching about something BOOM! that’s an opportunity.  Any time we see someone struggle with something – physically, mentally, emotionally – BOOM! that’s an opportunity.  Anytime you see or hear giddiness, BOOM!  that’s an opportunity. And then there are those times in the shower, in your car and other private moments we don’t need to discuss when those seemingly stupid ideas flood the dull moments.  Opportunities never stop – we just have to be alert to them.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, just someone who is in tune with their surroundings, and with them self.  Just pay attention to what the fuck is going on around you.  Stop trying to create opportunities and look and listen – there are more than enough already there waiting to be realized, there’s no need to undertake the impossible task of creating one.

Failure

So the opportunities are out there, so what?  So pick one that’s interesting and act on it. Take a class, talk to a group of interesting people, learn a craft, try a new food, travel to a new location, reverse-engineer a product.  The list goes on – but only if you care enough to hold down the off button and be alert.

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Photo Credit: عدسة شاب سوري – Young syrian’s Lens via Compfight cc

 

 

If someone wants to try and learn something, or wants to try their hand at entrepreneurship – if these are the opportunities that they seize, hate to say it but they’re likely going to fail.  So what?  We’ve been failing all our life – since we were trying to figure out how to roll over unsuccessfully.  Seriously – think about it.  You failed in school.  You failed in sports.  You failed socially.  Failure is as much a part of life as are opportunities. They co exist and keep us on our toes.   And give us a chance to hone the most valuable skill possible: hustling.

Hustle

Some people cringe at the word.  It kind of makes me glow.  I love to hustle.  I love to figure out how to make something happen.  I love to work under pressure.  It’s a beautiful thing!  Because it’s a universal language of getting shit done.  No matter where you are, no matter who you’re talking to, no matter how different you are, everyone understands hustling.  Because in order to avoid failure, we hustle.  In order to take advantage of opportunities, we hustle.  It’s a glorious cycle of sorts I guess.  It’s the action that connects opportunity and failure in an enduring circle.  Learn from one, then experience the other.

Education: Back To Why We’re Here

So what does this have to do with education?  Education is at a crossroads, on a precipice, whatever one wants to call it, it’s a critical juncture.  We can proceed with the standard Baby Boomer model delivering education.  Or we can implement a more Millenial standard of hustling.  There are so many opportunities now being created in the educational technology space.  Technology enables educators to share resources and experiences in real-time.  The opportunities are endless to disrupt this tired, broken model of education.  Failure is inevitable, because we’re dealing with extraordinarily bureaucratic support.  Because it’s a new frontier.  Because while the possibilities are endless, it doesn’t mean all of them are good ones.  But we need to start trying them out.  We need to start hustling.  No more talking (you hear me you stodgy old academics?)  Get off your asses, forget about your conservative ways of approaching education, and start disrupting.  Be entrepreneurial.  Hustle!