Tag Archives: problem

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?

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.

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?

Weeks 3 and 4 Recap

Here is Michael Luchies’ week 2 recap, in his own words

Week 3&4 Recap: I Disagree

My brain’s been scrambled lately, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my Tuesday’s in Doan’s class. I missed the recap for the third week, so I’m cramming weeks three and four together.

We’ve been covering asking the right questions, which is probably the most under-appreciated and underestimated aspect of testing an idea. Just one set of bad questions can taint the entire process and lead a future venture down the completely wrong path. Asking the right questions is a different type of boring skill that most creative entrepreneurially minded students don’t come hardwired with. It took me dozens of painfully bad interviews on Under30CEO to learn how to ask good questions.

Photo Credit: winzor2007 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: winzor2007 via Compfight cc

Let’s jump into my review for the past two weeks.

The Good:

The Topic: As mentioned above, this is a very important topic that isn’t discussed enough. Data doesn’t mean sh*t if it’s coming from the wrong place or addressing the wrong problem. By going over how questions shape the answers we receive, students can work to improve their researching process, which will greatly improve their results when trying to come up with a problem worth solving.

Problem Solvers: The majority of the class have their problems selected.

Challenges:

Still Jumping the Gun: I love their enthusiasm, and I was the exact same way; but jumping past the problem stage to a solution without properly determining if it’s worth solving is becoming a trend, and I’m a little concerned of the potential results.

Photo Credit: DaveAustria.com via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DaveAustria.com via Compfight cc

Why Doesn’t the Problem Matter? So here is my beef with Doan. Maybe I’m being petty, but this is something I’m very passionate about, and I feel that this exact issue is what prohibited my entrepreneurship experience from being all it could’ve been years ago in a different entrepreneurship program.

When explaining that each student needs to have a problem to solve in the next week or so, Doan mentioned several times “I don’t care what the problem is – that doesn’t matter at all.”

I strongly disagree.

I understand the importance of not over-thinking it and just using an example to make sure the student will be able to go through the process, but how valuable is the process if it’s not carried out in a way that imitates what would happen outside of the classroom?

The problem that the student chooses to find a solution to influences every single aspect of the process from then on. It should be something they care deeply about and will be at least mildly entertaining to work on for the next 10 or so weeks.

If I’m working on a way to clean cat hair out of carpets and I don’t have any cats, how motivated am I going to be to find the real solution? Even if I try hard to keep myself motivated and respect the process – my results won’t come close to those of someone who is passionate about the problem and the time I spend solving it will also be significantly less. The end result is a half-assed completed process that could’ve been better if it aligned with something the student enjoyed or cared about.

Thoughts?

My Goals for Next Week

Get involved more!

Connect with students and force them to interact with me. I want to help, but they aren’t asking for it yet.