Tag Archives: questions

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

 

What The World Would Be Like If Entrepreneurs Didn’t Exist

NOTE: This is a group blog exercise while I attended the kickoff reception at the 99% Conference last year. I played the “why” game; I asked the first random attendee the title question, then gave the second random attendee that answer and asked why, and so on.

It wouldn’t be. Period.

Photo Credit: Nick green2012 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nick green2012 via Compfight cc

why?

Entrepreneurs imagined, developed, and built everything physical.

why?

Entrepreneurs have been responsible for some of the natural things we see and use.

why?

They create.

why?

Entrepreneurs don’t know how to do anything else.

why?

Creation is in their DNA.

why?

They’re weird.

There you have it. Next time you’re talking to an entrepreneur, say “thank you”. Yes, we’re weird at times, and we’re really intense at times. Ignore that or embrace that. Whatever. Just be sure to say “thank you” because without us, your existence would be considerably different (and much more boring!!).

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?

Questions, Not Answers: A Re-Framing of Education

I gave a talk at TEDxHeartlandCommunityCollege talk a year ago about creative disruption in education. This post is some of my thinking going into that talk. I reflected on my experiences in my educational journey – what impacted me and what didn’t – and on the broader purpose of education. Now the education system is built around answers. But that can’t continue.

Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Questions and Power

Why do teachers control the knowledge?

Why can students only “receive” an education inside a building?

Why are students only allowed to answer and not question?

Questions are powerful. In education, questions threaten the status quo. In a classroom, they challenge the information being shared by the “expert”. Some teachers even see questions as threatening. That is a good thing as far as I’m concerned; let the students threaten so they gain confidence and ownership over their educational experience. The classroom structure is backwards. Typically speaking, the teacher provides information on the topic of the day. The teacher is giving students answers to questions they haven’t asked. Questions they often don’t care about, to be honest. A simple tweak can make all the difference int he classroom:

Instead of teachers presenting information 1st and then inviting questions from students 2nd, try inviting questions about a topic 1st and present relevant information 2nd. Or even better – don’t provide any information, but guide them in finding their own answers.

Questions

Questions are power. In our current system, the teachers have all the power because they control (if not kill) the questioning. It’s time for a new dynamic.

Teachers – let your students ask questions, and don’t be afraid to said “I don’t know”

Students – take charge and ask your questions. Don’t lose the opportunity.

The Power of Voice

The Voices I Hear

VoicesWhen my son was born, before excitement overwhelmed me, I was anxious.  Until I heard his cry, I could not enjoy the moment; the voice indicated all was well.  I remember that voice distinctly to this day eight years later.

My sister died of cancer 16 years ago.  I often use pictures to remember details of her physical appearance.  She called me to say goodbye the day before she died.  I remember that voice so clearly so many years later – it haunts me.

Whether they are the voices of those who are no longer with us, voices of those still with us, voices of celebrities we easily identify, or voices of musicians that are so crucial in developing our stories, voice has immense power.  That is a power that can change the course of people, events, systems, societies, history.

Voice Can Change Education

The voices driving education have traditionally been the policy makers.  These voices probably can’t remember what it is like to be in elementary or middle school.  They don’t generally understand the power of education to transform one’s experience and life; they for the most part grew up enabled and expecting a full education experience.  What is missing is the student voice.  The reason the system exists, the souls the system should empower and enable. Students have loud voices – at young ages they are brilliantly creative and honest voices.

kidsTender and terrible all at once! As they age, these voices evolve into exploratory and challenging adolescence chaos.  And eventually these voices turn their attention to critical questions and reflective insight.  We need policy makers’ voices in the conversation, as well as administrator, teacher and parent voices.  But we cannot silence the student voices.  We need to engage the 7 and 8 year olds who are trying to decide if they like mathematics, science, art, cursive writing.  No matter what age or grade level, the students are capable of great contribution to reshaping education.  Their voice is powerful.  Ask any parent!

Voice Can Change Entrepreneurship

Is the customer always right?  Absolutely not – nobody is always right.  However, businesses should always listen to the customer.  The customer voice shapes businesses. Especially startups – it is the customer’s voice that leads successful startups to sustainable business models.

3Founders who can draw out and really listen to customers speaking about the product, the service, the experience, the pain can gain a competitive advantage over competing firms.

How Do We Hear The Voices

Voices are power.  Listen to any great orator, whether it is the beauty of Dr. King or the ugliness of Adolf Hitler, and you can feel the power, you live the experience.  Students voices can be the power of a new frontier of education.  Customer voices have become the power of a new frontier of entrepreneurship.  How do we harness this power?

  1. Ask the right questions. We need to ask students to describe their experiences – what they do during reading time, how they feel as they’re studying geometry.  We need to ask customers to describe their experiences with the problem we’re trying to solve.  We need to figure out what they are doing, what they are thinking. For students and customers, we shouldn’t care what their proposed solution is.  We want to understand their experience, which can only truly be understood through their voice.
  2. Give ’em the mic. Find the students and customers with authentic, powerful experiences.  Don’t waste time with the vanilla ones.  Track down the crazies, search for the magic.  Talk to students until one makes you cry, or gives you goosebumps.  Give those students the platform – record their story, share their story.  Talk to customers until you feel that adrenaline rush.  Turn them into your earlyvangelists– give them every opportunity to use their voice on your behalf.
  3. Shout with them.Experiences are more powerful with multiple voices.  Create new experiences with the earlyvangelists and the student storytellers. Let them lead, but empower and enable them by adding your voice to the conversation. Bring in more experienced disruptors; create a choir of glorious disruption! Use every medium possible – shout with hashtags on Twitter, with video on YouTube or Vine, with intellect in news columns and television interviews.
  4. Listen up.When the chance presents itself to talk to students about their educational experience, we really should listen to them.  When we find customers who feel the pain we’re trying to solve, we have to listen to them.  It is really hard for most folks to listen instead of to drive the conversation according to some ridiculous script.

Voices change history. Voices change experiences. Voices evoke emotion. Voices create meaning. Listen to the voices that matter.

The Names I Get Called and Why It Matters

 

name-calling

Crazy. Risky. Insane. Nuts. Dangerous (that’s one of my personal favorites!). Foolish. Confidently ignorant (another of my personal favorites!) I hear these words flung at me, but often more in whispers or passive aggressive comments on social media or elsewhere. I embrace these words, and understand that they are borne of ignorance. Ignorance of what I’m doing and why; those who fling them often know nothing other than what I’m doing is “different”. Ignorance of the fact that the act of educating needs updating.

Innovative. Brilliant. Inspiring. Leader. Pioneer. I obviously also embrace these words. While they are spoken much louder and more publicly, they also are often borne from ignorance. Just as those who fear change condemn what I do without truly understanding the why behind it, those who embrace change support what I do without truly understanding the why behind it.

Why Am I Doing This?

Simply put, because I must. I read an unbelievable piece by Elle Luna about The Crossroads of Should and Must. It captured perfectly the answer to the question I get so often: “why are you doing this?” Not because I should. Because I must.

Should and Must

A Broader View of Me

Allow me to digress and provide a little background. I am an educator. My profession requires me to conduct research, to engage in service for the benefit of my department and institution, and to teach. I’m at a school that claims to prize the balance of those. As you can see from Doan Winkel CV, I have been more than successful in terms of research and service. I do not value research in any way (that’s a soapbox I’ll save for another time). I love service – trying to build an entrepreneurship ecosystem here at ISU, in our local community, and beyond in the field in general. But most of my colleagues don’t really value or acknowledge the service component of my profession. That leaves us with teaching, what I believe is the most (or only in some ways) valuable component of my profession (at least in my discipline – I don’t discount research in many other disciplines, but in mine it’s basically worthless in my judgment because it doesn’t at all help us be better educators, which is the yardstick I use).

The Importance of Teaching

I believe a teacher has a bigger responsibility than delivering material, than “teaching”. My job as a teacher is to use my accumulated life experience and knowledge (and my ability to accumulate, assimilate and disseminate knowledge) to open the minds and hearts and souls and spirits of younger generations (whether they sit in my classroom or not). It’s my job to inspire. To guide. To challenge. To push back. To mentor. To inspire.

Inspiring-greatness-in-others

Referring back to Elle’s article, I do not see this responsibility as a “should”, but as a “must”. What’s the difference? As Elle states:

“Should is how others want us to show up in the world – how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small”

“Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are along with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listing to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.”

Just as most of my students have done, I proceeded through my K-12 educational experience with a should mindset. I never found or thought about must. Why? Because my teacher’s didn’t; they were the “experts” and I was trained to follow their example and take their direction.

I must change that experience for as many young men and women as possible. It’s unfair for me to perpetuate that when I know how absolutely destructive it is to the hearts and minds and souls and spirits of these young men and women. That’s why I push myself to create crazy experiences – for my students and for myself. That’s why I push my colleagues to do the same. That’s why I push every day, in every way I can. Because I must. Because education should be scary – it’s the only way to encourage the sort of entrepreneurial thinking that we need to encourage in younger generations.

Make It Scary

scary-backgrounds-for-photoshop

Education should be scary for the students, so they can really understand how important it is (I don’t see that they, generally speaking, believe this anymore – they take it for granted).

Education should be scary for the teachers, so they understand the huge responsibility they have to shape the hearts and minds and souls and spirits of our future (I also don’t see that they, generally speaking, believe this anymore – they take it for granted).

The best way I have found to make it scary for students is to give them control. They don’t know what to do with this; it’s very new and unknown for them. I of course offer tremendous support and guidance for those that reach out (perhaps I need to do a better job of making this bridge in the future). Uncertainty is scary for students, because they’re used to such structure and spoon-feeding and instant gratification.

The best way I have found to make it scary for me is to walk a mile in my students’ shoes. In essence, to give up the control that I offer to them. I don’t know where the experience is going, but I’m confident I can guide it no matter where it goes (or can find the best people to help me if I’m not capable). I don’t know how my students and I will learn, but I can guarantee those who seize the opportunity will emerge transformed. They may or may not learn the skills many of my colleagues think they should. I’m not concerned with that, because they can learn just about anything with a few YouTube videos these days. They will, however, learn much about their capability. Their confidence. Their drive. Their possibility. They learn this by understand and implementing entrepreneurial thinking. I do as well, because I am not only teacher, but student. Because I gave up control. Because I made it scary (stay tuned here for some exciting plans Michael Luchies and I have!)

What About You?

What is your must as an educator? What is your must as a student? How are you making your classroom experience scary?

What About You?

What can I do to make it scarier?

A Problem of Fear, Motivation, Communication, Busyness, or Laziness?

Here are Michael Luchies‘ latest reflections, in his own words

Grab HoldOpportunities take a motivated and willing participant to grab a hold of them in order to provide value. Even when presenting an obvious and valuable opportunity, there is no guarantee that an audience will bite. In MQM 224, which I am sitting in with Doan at Illinois State University, we have an awesome group of bright students, but they aren’t taking advantage of opportunities or engaging at a high level.

From the outside, I always thought teaching entrepreneurship would be a pretty easy gig. I loved my time as an entrepreneurship student and thought that my passion and interest in small business and startups would easily transition to students if I were to ever become a professor.

Sitting in on Doan’s class has helped me realize the difficulty of teaching in college, but I can’t put my finger on the core problem.

Doan is one of, if not the most interesting and engaging entrepreneurship professor I’ve ever met (not trying to stroke your ego Doan, we both know you don’t need help with that), so I don’t think the problem has to do with his teaching style, and it certainly isn’t due to lack of trying or effort. Maybe it’s different for each student, but is it possible to overcome all of the barriers and problems preventing students from actively participating in the class?

If giving students money and a chance to earn hundreds more over a couple of days in an exercise doesn’t motivate them, what will?

I don’t think there is a clear answer in site, but I like the track we are taking to find out the real answer and how to get them closer to taking advantage of these opportunities.

In this week’s class, Doan opened the floor to find out what students wanted to learn that hasn’t been covered yet. The students created a great list of things they wanted to learn. Here are the topics they want to cover:

  •        Legal help/aspects
  •        Local marketing
  •        Starting with no money
  •        Real-life cases and scenarios
  •        Development/building
  •        Creating a proper internet presence
  •        User experience
  •        Things to include in a business plan

How can we fully capture the full body of students in the class and get them to take advantage of the opportunities we’re trying to provide?

Driving in Really Bad Fog

This course this semester is like driving in really bad fog. I think I know where I’m going (based on a mix of memory and experience), but can’t be sure. I can’t see where the next turn is. I can’t see what’s coming toward me. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

Fog

Heart pumps a little faster. Palms are a little sweatier. Mind is a little sharper. I like it.

Interruptions

I had to deal with the inevitable wintertime flu nonsense, so I had to cancel class on Tuesday. Aside from that, I’ve made myself quite busy with a variety of projects. I have a much better understanding of how students can slack off in this class; because I have no overt accountability built into this experience, it’s easily the first thing to let slide. When other projects and illness take over, starting my business in this class goes on the shelf. I’ve still been talking to students, and working a bit on the business, but by no stretch have I devoted as much time and energy to it as I should have.

Forward Progress

I keep talking to students, but am not sure they are the right ones (foggy!) I talked to 14 business students, 8 IT students, 4 technology students, and 5 communication students. I have previously validated that a problem exists with students wanting to more easily connect with each other. Next I worked on channels – how do they want to connect? I hypothesized that Facebook and Reggienet (our learning management system that everyone loves to hate) would be the channels they indicated. I asked them:

1. How they communicated with students in their own courses. 90% (28/31) indicated Facebook and Reggienet.

2. How they communicated with students in their discipline but not in their courses. 74% (23/31) indicated Facebook and Reggienet. The other popular answer here was student clubs/organizations.

3. How they communicated with students outside their discipline in their own courses. 77% (24/31) said they only had majors in their courses (juniors and seniors so that’s typical). Note to self: interview freshman and sophomores about this

4. How they communicate with students outside their discipline and not in their courses. 68% (21/31) said they didn’t. When pushed further they indicated the need to do so at various points in their college careers. They also indicated they didn’t know who “the good students” were in other disciplines, how to verify that/vet them, and how to go about connecting. Note to self: you’re on the right track!

Findings

I’m fairly confident that Facebook and Reggienet are good channels to use. But it doesn’t feel complete (foggy!) Just a gut instinct, but I’m going to trust it, and keep digging. Next steps – talk to more freshman and sophomores to get their perspective. And talk to more students about the tools they use to communicate. Once I nail this one, then I’ll have problem, customer, and channel validated. I will begin working on what sort of traction plan I want to roll out once I start working on the solution.

Understanding

I am getting a much better sense of how this course feels for my students. I feel almost guilty that I haven’t done more, but I know I’m doing what I can given other constraints. Or at least that’s what I tell myself! I think I know next steps I can take, but I get how the students might feel lost and stuck, not knowing what to do next. I don’t like giving them structure, and I offer them every opportunity to reach out to me. But maybe I need to be a little more proactive in staying connected with their progress. Maybe that will make it less foggy for them.

 

You Know I’m All About That Value Proposition

And Now a Word From Our Sponsors

We started class with 2 minutes of questions. Nothing of substance. I think I would be a little brave and ask some borderline questions if I were in their shoes. But maybe not (it’s hard for me to remember back 20 years!!) I hope by the end of the semester they’re comfortable and curious enough to really dig into me. While it did kill the cat, it also helps us figure out and be amazed by our environment.

Photo Credit: Fuddled via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Fuddled via Compfight cc

We also had a brief presentation from the folks behind the Illinois Business Concierge – a small business support system offering business intelligence and connections. This is an awesome service coming from the Stevenson Center at ISU to help entrepreneurs and small business owners with market research. For FREE!!!!!!!! they provide things such as consumer mailing lists, demographic profiles, competitor’s sales figures, financial benchmarking metrics, and so much more. Basically, if an entrepreneur or small business owner needs market research within Illinois, they knock it out. I wanted the students to hear this for when they get a little further down the road, because this sort of service and this sort of information can really propel them once they get a little traction. For those interested, contact these good folks at IllinoisBusinessConcierge@ilstu.edu.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

We are still reading Diana Kander’s book All In StartupThe chunk we read for this week (chapters 15-25) had to do with searching for facts and testing them in the real world (“successful entrepreneurs are detectives, not fortunetellers” as Diana notes).

All In StartupThe students are still digging the book, being able to put the learning into context, to absorb some important lessons and ways of thinking and doing through a different medium that is fun and engaging. Again, if you’re teaching entrepreneurship and don’t incorporate this book into your class, you’re missing the boat. Your students will thank you for it, I promise!

I wanted to continue to focus on pushing the students to identify a problem to solve. But at the last minute, realized that beating that dead horse would not help those who had, and would likely not help those who hadn’t. So what to do? AHA!!! Value proposition. I can put problems in a different context. This would 1) give those who had identified a problem a way to progress and 2) help those who hadn’t identified a problem a different perspective to uncover one.

Ask 100 people what a value proposition is, and you’ll get a ton of different answers. For this class/discussion I tell the students that a value proposition is simply the bundle of benefits/outcomes a customer receives from using a product/service. Keep it simple, stupid! I borrowed the class exercise from Alex Osterwalder’s book Value Proposition Design.

Value Proposition Design

Copyright Business Model Foundry AG The makers of Business Model Generation and Strategyzer

In this vein, the value proposition can be comprised of six elements, 3 from the value side and 3 from the customer side. Miraculously, the 3 match up from each side (go figure!) The customer elements are Customer Pains (what bothers them when trying to get a job done), Customer Gains (what benefits they want), and Jobs (what they’re trying to do). On the flip side, the value elements are Gain Creators (how the product/service will create gains), Pain Relievers (how the product/service will alleviate specific pains), and Products/Services (the stuff). Part of why I really enjoy Alex’s work is because he presents it in such a simple way, it’s so powerful and so easy to pick up. I gave the students his Ab-Lib Value Proposition Template to fill out – had them pair up and gave them 5 minutes to collaborate on one student’s and then had them switch for 5 minutes on the other student’s. They turn these in, Mike and I give them feedback, and they are then all off and running with a value proposition. The template basically has them fill in the blanks:

“Our ______________ (products and services) help(s) __________________ (customer segment) who want to ________________ (Customer Jobs to be done) by ___________________ (verb, i.e., reducing, avoiding) ______________________ (customer pain) and ______________________ (verb, i.e., increasing, enabling) ________________________ (customer gain). (unlike _______________________ (competing value propositions))”

The students who had something already made quick work of this. Although, in walking around and talking to some, I helped them realize they were missing some key elements and had just been focusing on the solution already. The students who didn’t have something already left with something. The lightbulb went on, and the excitement (or maybe relief!) was visible. It was a good day of class. With a value proposition in hand (I’m sending them feedback from Mike and I this morning) they will be able to really crank things up because they have some direction in mind, and they have the beginnings of a story to tell.

Challenge #2

Not many (in fact only 1) of the students took me up on the $1 Challenge from a few weeks back. I decided to try again, but this time raise the stakes. I stumbled across my friend John Liddy’s post about his students doing a challenge. I would give my students this challenge and see if we can’t outdo John’s class. The basics:

  • I split the class into 5 groups
  • Each team gets $10
  • Each team has 7 days to make a profit, any legal way they want
  • Next Tuesday, the team that makes the most profit wins all the money

John’s students returned a 340% net profit in only 2 days. My students will work on this for one week. This week includes Valentine’s Day – not a fact lost on me when I decided to do this.

Photo Credit: floralapp® user via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: floralapp® user via Compfight cc

Guys are notoriously and stereotypically horrible with this day, and with finding the right gift, doing the right thing, etc. for the special someone in their life. Plus, we often wait until the last minute so we’re desperate. Let’s see if any groups figure that out and capitalize. The groups immediately got to planning, figuring out their idea, their strategy, their location. Do they all work together with $10 or do they each take $2 and work independently? Do they do one single big event or do they try to stretch it out? Lots of variables at play here. One student asked on the way out what dollar I expect would be necessary to win. I hadn’t thought of it, but replied it will definitely need to be something in the 3 digits. If a group can’t turn $10 into at least $100 over the course of one week, they screwed up.

I’m going to keep up this challenge theme and give them some more throughout the semester. Things like Jim Hart’s marble game.

Next week I planned on talking more about the problem from the customer point of view. I’m not sure now what direction I’ll head – I’ll probably figure it out Sunday or Monday night and run with it, based on feedback I get from students between now and then. Stay tuned!

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.