Tag Archives: startup

Entrepreneurship and the Art of the Pivot

In an entrepreneurship journey, knowing when to pivot is critical. Teaching students to know when to pivot is really hard. In this lean startup process, a pivot is “mak[ing] a structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth.”

Source: http://www.alexandercowan.com/creating-a-lean-startup-style-assumption-set/

The best way I can help my students understand the nuances of pivoting is to show them through my own example.

My original problem hypothesis:

College business students cannot find timely, actionable career preparedness advice in an easily digestible format they enjoy. I know this because for 6+ years I have been mentoring these students through career preparedness.

My early adopters: 

  1. Junior & senior College of Business (COB) females
  2. Junior & senior College of Fine Arts (CFA) females
  3. Random freshman females

I conducted problem interviews with 5 junior & 6 senior COB females, 5 junior & 5 senior CFA, and 3 freshman females. In those interviews I asked students about their behavior surrounding post-college and preparing for their career. Only 2 of the 24 I interviewed mentioned anything about these behaviors as problematic. Most just shrugged it off.

I reflected on why I was so sure this was a problem for these students. It’s because I have heard from so many former students who are 2-5 years out of college that it’s a problem. AHA!!!!! I fell into a typical entrepreneurship trap – listening to one customer group (recent graduates) and ascribing the problems they mention to another group (juniors & seniors). While I and the recent graduates know that the lack of adequate and timely career preparedness advice is problematic for current students, I did not validate that those students see it is a problem.

The Pivot

I now had a choice. I could continue working on what I know is a problem for these students. If I continued, I would have to sell students that this is a problem, then sell them my solution to this problem. That’s really hard. Or I could go back to the drawing board, not be married to my idea, listen to the interviews. That’s what I did.

I thought about another group to whom I had easy access and had some inkling of their problems. New (assistant) entrepreneurship professors. Many of them reach out to me for advice on how to teach certain topics, what resources to use, how to make their classrooms more realistic. I have found in talking to them that many do not have any practical entrepreneurship experience. They want resources, BAD!

My new problem hypothesis:

Entrepreneurship professors don’t have tools to teach experientially. I know this because for 6+ years I have been approached with requests for resources / reviews of syllabus.

My early adopters:

Assistant professors of entrepreneurship in US (ideally with no/limited practical experience)

Source: https://thefocusframework.com/

I teamed up with Justin Wilcox for this effort because he is a guru of customer interviewing (among many other things lean startup) and because I love the tools he created in FOCUS Framework. What we found in our early interviews is that there are professors who do indeed want simple tools to help them teach entrepreneurship in a more experiential way.

Next Steps

We created a blog where we share quick strategies and lesson plans around the most common problematic topics in entrepreneurship education.

Our first post was “Teaching Entrepreneurship Idea Generation” because many entrepreneurship educators struggle with helping students identify quality ideas. With each post, we include a 45-minute lesson plan so educators can quickly put our strategies to use in their classrooms.

Our second post was “Intro to Problem Validation” because many entrepreneurship educators struggle with helping students validate their problems. Again, we include a 45-minute lesson plan so educators can quickly put our strategies to use in their classrooms.

Sharing this journey with my students seems to help the learning sink in. After explaining this in class, many approached me with confidence that they had either validated or invalidated their problem hypothesis based on customer interviews. They were thinking about next steps – I suggested to many of them to start a WordPress blog or to develop an Unbounce landing page as a lead generation strategy. It’s a quick and easy next step to validate customer interest.

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.

Two Stories Every Entrepreneurship Student Should Tell

An entrepreneur needs resources from others. Financial capital. Human capital. Social capital. Political capital. The easiest path to someone’s resources is a great story.

After hammering away at discovering a problem and identifying early adopters, I turn my focus to my students’ storytelling abilities.

Entrepreneurial Story

My students “meet” Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. In particular we watch Nancy’s incredible TED talk about how great talks wiggle between what is and what could be.

I then give students a preview of a great deck: Airbnb’s redesigned deck.

The students are in no position to assemble a deck for an investor. Knowing the components necessary to tell a story successfully to an investor is a critical lesson for anyone wanting to build a scalable business. The Airbnb deck has those components. Each student must fill in a template of that deck about their idea.

They struggle with doing real research.

They struggle with estimating market size.

They struggle with explaining a simple business model.

OK, ok. They basically struggle with every slide except the first one (and some even struggle there!) They understand why they need to tell a powerful story, and how hard it is to tell a powerful story.

Personal Story

I then shock my students.

I have them fill out a second deck. They are the product.

Students need to see themselves as a product with value. They need to understand how to position that value in the marketplace. They need to get comfortable selling themselves to potential employers. They struggle even more with this deck, but past students have told me this is one of the most valuable experiences in their college tenure.

Selling Through a Story

I want my students to understand that they need to always be selling. As an employee, they are selling a product or service, to internal or external customers. As an entrepreneur, they are selling product or service, selling value, selling equity. They are selling possibility, they are selling reality (hopefully!), they are selling solutions to problems.

Talk to your students about storytelling.

Make your students tell their entrepreneurial story.

Make your students tell their personal story.

It will hurt, but it is a powerful exploration they need to take.

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?

My Mess Got In The Way

Service Bell with Check in  Sign at Hotel Desk

Checking In

This experiment this semester is a mess. Sometimes it’s a glorious mess. Sometimes it’s a nasty mess. For each student it is different, depending for the most part on how they engage with me and the experience.

I offered 30 minute calls over the past few weeks to each student, to touch base about where they are, what problem they’re solving, who they’re solving it for, and what solution they are thinking of developing. Many students took me up on that offer. Many did not. Those who did let me know they got a ton of direction and motivation out of it, because they had a much clearer direction and purpose and more belief and confidence that they could do this. Learning lesson: next semester I’ll force a 30 minute meeting with each student very early in the semester. I waited too long this semester to do this. I didn’t push them enough.

Many students are cranking away on their “businesses”. Some have something to sell already. Nothing that’s going to change the world. Some have jewelry. Some have a minor product. But it’s something! Some have a website where they are gathering emails or other information about potential customers’ intent to engage (purchase, share, etc). Again, nothing too significant, but it’s something they have put into the world having done a little bit of research. Many students have seemingly checked out. They still show up to class (a victory in and of itself since it is totally voluntary). But they don’t engage, in class or outside class. I think some of them are working on their business idea. I’m sure some are  not. This is one of my eternal battles with my approach and this class – how intrusive do I get into their experience?

“No Dad, What About You?”

I’ve been validating. I previously 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, and that students would want to spend 15 minutes talking to a professional about a job they’re interested in. I have been working on validating my assumption that students will be willing to pay for this connection. I have talked to 50 random students across ISU’s campus – some at the student center, some on the quad, some in random buildings. Some looked young, some looked older. Some looked like athletes, some looked like nerds. Some were white, some were black. Etcetera – I got a somewhat random cross-section of our student population. I asked them three questions:

  1. If they knew what job they wanted to do after college, would they have questions they want to ask someone who currently does that job?
  2. If they could spend 15 minutes on the phone or Skype asking someone who currently does that job those questions, would they pay $5?
  3. If they wouldn’t pay $5, would they pay $2?

Out of the 50 students I asked, 46 said they knew what they wanted to do after college. Of those 46, 100% said if the opportunity presented itself, they would develop questions to ask someone. Of those 46, 12 (26%) said they would pay $5 – most had some qualifier on their answer like “if they were really qualified” or “if they had a lot of experience”. For the 34 who said they wouldn’t pay $5, 20 (58%) said they would pay $2, but most again had some sort of qualifier.

What this leads me to believe is that students will be a little leery of this – not necessarily trusting that if they’re paying, the person on the other end of the phone/camera is qualified and should be trusted. This makes sense. So part of what I need to do is be able to somehow legitimize the professional. Maybe include a short bio, or a link to a LinkedIn page.

I wanted to have set up a preorder landing page to run this experiment by now. With a vacation to Disneyworld, TEDxNormal and a Legacy Out Loud launch event in New York City in the works, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. That’s the next step – getting a landing page to test it out.

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).

Time to Launch

This week got a lot more serious. We did Justin Wilcox’ 60 Minutes to Launch as a class on Monday, and got goin on the Online Venture Challenge on Wednesday.

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Just Launch

I have been a big fan of Justin Wilcox’ work for some time. He and I keep circling some of the same goals, connecting here and there, brainstorming here and there. I have been impatiently waiting to try his 60 Minutes to Launch exercise in my class. Since my class is 75 minutes long, it is perfect! He recommends splitting into three teams:

  1. Landing Page
  2. Video
  3. Payments

I struggled all week with how to implement this in class. I could have the entire class work on one project, or split students into many small groups to work on their own projects. I went with the class working on one project. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure why – as is my nature, I made the decision as I was walking into class. I think I was hoping that way we could all talk about a common context. As I do frequently, I chose wrong! 5 or 6 students wanted to be on the landing page team. Too many. 7 or 8 students wanted to be on the video team. Too many. The remaining 20 or so students wanted to be on the payments team. WAAAAY too many.

In debriefing with Justin after the class, he explained to me his strategy when he uses this exercise in workshops and events. He has people form teams of 3 (maybe 4 at most). And he encourages/forces people to do the thing they don’t want to. So the creative mind who is good with video needs to work on landing page or payments. The more technical folk who want to work on landing page or payments need to work on the creative video piece. Why? This way, people understand just how painless it can be to put on another hat. From now on, anytime I use this (which I plan on doing at the upcoming NACCE conference and also at the upcoming USASBE conference) I will use this approach.

The Big (Bad) Idea

I also gave my students the idea. For many semesters I’ve heard complaints from male and female students about male gift-giving behavior (or lack thereof!) in relationships. Very generally speaking, the feedback I hear when I push further is that

  1. The men don’t enjoy gift giving and aren’t sure what to get
  2. The women don’t appreciate men putting it off to the last minute, which often results in lame gifts
  3. The women even more so don’t appreciate the men forgetting important dates (birthday, anniversary, etc)

I explained the idea and rationale to the class. They mostly agreed it was a problem, although a few questioned how big a problem it was. We proceeded with this idea – a service where young men could go to reserve and/or purchase a customized gift basket for their significant other.

147 (1)

Students got to work on http://www.gifttotherescue.com/ (it didn’t last long – don’t bother trying to find it). They created a landing page, a video (Mission Impossible style – very clever!) and payment capability. As Justin implores and reminds, it was done but certainly not perfect.

  1. We had a functioning landing page with payment system for pre-orders before class ended. But many students missed a big part of the learning opportunity. Very small teams next time will encourage the engagement I was seeking.
  2. Students understood that done is better than perfect
  3. Students saw how “easy” it can be to put something into the world

Mission (mostly) accomplished! Thanks for the great exercise Justin.

The Next Challenge

Next class I introduced the students to the Online Venture Challenge. This is a fantastic program that costs students very little, can be a short module in a class, and engages them in powerful learning as they start, run and liquidate a “business”. I am using the next month for this activity in my class. Geoff Archer shared some great resources with me that he has developed and uses with this – master grading sheet, slide deck, etc. I gave students the context, gave them the basic structure, gave them the basic grading buckets (design of site, power of the site, performance overall – with lots of ways to triangulate within those buckets per the master grading sheet). I told them they needed to

  1. Identify a local charity to support (after this exercise is done, the teams have to donate all proceeds to the charity). I let students choose to pay themselves back their initial investment if they’d like ($25) – let’s see who is greedy and who is not!
  2. Identify something they can sell through their Shopify store that aligns with that charity’s mission.

All groups emerged from this class with a team in place, with a charity to work with, and a basic idea to begin with. I was a little baffled by a couple ideas, and very impressed with two ideas in particular.

One tweak I put on Geoff’s process was to inject myself into the competition (at the end of the day, students see this as a competition where they have to beat the other teams). On Monday, the students have the chance to pitch me on why I should join their team. If one pitch strikes me more than any other, I will join that team. I told them it is not guaranteed I will join a team, so they really needed to move me with a pitch.

Wrap-up and Looking Forward

It was a great week, for me and for the students. They experience the pain, confusion, and excitement of creating something and putting it into the world with the 60 Minutes to Launch exercise. They got moving on their first big challenge with the Online Venture Challenge (OVC).

Next week, we will officially start the OVC, and will also begin reading Diana Kander’s All In Startup, which will provide some guidance and background to what they need to do to succeed in the OVC and in their eventual individual leap into starting a business.

I’m interested to see the pitches on Monday to see what students think will move me.

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 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.