Tag Archives: traction


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 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 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.


Now For The Fun Part

Wait For It . . .

In my classes, I’m always telling students to hold off on thinking about solutions. They want to immediately jump to describing the features they want to build into a website or an app.

Building it

They are answering the “what” question before they answer the “why” question. Big mistake. Huge. I push them to discover
1) the problem

2) who has the problem

3) what they’re currently doing to solve the problem, and

4) what isn’t working about that solution. Then build it. I’ve gone through those steps for my business, and am ready to get to building it. Here is what I have learned to get to this point.

The Problem. ISU students cannot easily find and connect with students in other disciplines.

Who Has the Problem. ISU students. Mostly I heard this from students in the College of Business, the School of IT, the Department of Technology (renewable energy, robotics, manufacturing, etc.), and the School of Communication (journalism, PR, etc.)

What They’re Currently Doing to Solve the Problem. They rely on word-of-mouth referrals from friends, other students, faculty and staff. They try connecting through Registered Student Organizations and Facebook groups. Of course, they don’t for the most part try actually visiting those schools or departments and talking face-to-face to strangers (would have been my first move).

What Isn’t Working. They generally speaking don’t get any response, or only get a response from students who don’t have much skill in the area they’re searching for it in. For instance, lots of students mentioned something along the lines of they heard back from a freshman without a developed skill set when they wanted to hear back from a junior or senior who knew how to ________ (fill in the blank skill).


Before working on a solution, I encouraged my students to think about a traction plan. How will they get traction once they start building a solution. I borrow this from Traction, an excellent resource for any entrepreneur, manager, or anyone looking to gain traction (and if you’re in business and not looking to gain traction, you’re an idiot). There are 19 channels that Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares lay out as possible avenues to gain traction. I did some research, both via customer development conversations, and also through Internet research, on the college demographic and methods of communication they rely on, etc. to help me identify some strong potential avenues for traction. I settled on viral marketing and email marketing. Because my target customers are all ISU students, I can utilize the email system to which I have access to very specifically target groups of students. And I can make the email marketing campaign look very legit and they will very likely respond as it will look like more official ISU communication. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d use this traction channel with this group.

And Here It Is

So the solution. The time is finally here. I can now finally dive into the features and the “what”. It’s nothing exciting at this point; I purposely try very hard to hold myself back from thinking big and fancy. I want cheap and dirty at this point. A true MVP (minimum viable product). With basic features. Duct taped together. Barely working. But outwardly looking fantastic. That’s easy enough to do nowadays with wordpress sites (like this one!!) and the like.

The Plan

I need a basic site where students can indicate their interest in connecting with other students. All I need is some very basic information to try to connect them. That’s the first step. Will they provide this basic info, and can I make a meaningful connection with just that? I want to collect: 1) their name

2) their email address

3) their major

4) the concept they’re working on (or thinking about), and

5) exactly what sort of skill set they’re looking for connecting with.

I may also ask them something about whether they’re looking for a partner sort of relationship, or a contract/worker sort of relationship. With this information I will also find their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. I hypothesize with this information, I can make more meaningful, productive, and lasting connections between ISU students looking for each other. I’m not sure what I will call this yet, how it will be branded, or any of that. Probably Redbird something-or-other (that’s our mascot here at ISU). But that isn’t that important at this point – I’ll just slap a picture of Reggie on the site to make it look legit to these students.

ReggieI will see if I can make 10 meaningful connections between students from different disciplines. By “meaningful” I mean that the students actually follow through and meet up, that they talk about the project and either get to work on it, or refer another friend who would be more appropriate for the desired goal. Basically, I am looking for

1) the connection to actually happen, and

2) some progress to be made beyond just the basic connection

If I can get close to that with my first 10 attempts, I’ll feel good. If I can accomplish that 7 out of the 10 times, I’ll feel really good. That’s my goal. 7 out of 10.


Missed Opportunities

RolledTenDollarBill-289x300The Big Challenge

Two weeks ago I presented my students a $10 challenge modeled after an exercise John Liddy conducted at Syracuse University. The challenge was I gave each group $10 and instructed them to make as much money (legally) as they could – whichever group made the most would get all the money from all the groups. John’s students turned $50 into $170 in 2 days. I gave my students one week (but it turned into two as I missed one class with the flu). My students missed the opportunity, unfortunately. One group made $64, one group made $26, and the other four groups didn’t do anything (gain or lose). My students turned $50 into $130 in 2 weeks.


The $26 group tried selling hot dogs outside a bar on Valentine’s Day. Due to poor planning, that didn’t happen, so Plan B was selling them at a house party. The $64 group did their own individual projects – one student provided massages, one student tried selling advertising through selfies, one student gambled. The groups that didn’t make any progress reported that the problem was poor (or non-existent) communication. I wonder why the students didn’t seize this opportunity? Lack of confidence? Lack of motivation? Lack of understanding? I’m not sure, but I’ve got to figure out how to get them motivated and believing they can accomplish these sort of challenges. These are such rich learning opportunities – they practice skills necessary to be entrepreneurs, they learn about their abilities, their shortcomings, and the list goes on.


Looking toward spring break coming up, I want the students to begin thinking about solutions. I talked to them a bit about traction, which generally comes from a great book by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. As they cite:

“Traction is basically quantitative evidence of customer demand. So if you’re in enterprise software, [initial traction] may be two or three early customers who are paying a bit; if you’re in consumer software, the bar might be as high as hundreds of thousands of users . . . It’s the Supreme Court definition of porn. You’ll know it when you see it”
– Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList

I asked students to review the links below that provide information about the basic traction channels for a startup and to send me their thoughts on which channels they will use for their business and why. In addition, we will have an Idea Fair in class on March 5 – as this is the day before Spring Break, this will set the stage for beginning to work on solutions when the return from break.

Traction Channels

1. Viral Marketing: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/viral-marketing
2. Public Relations (PR): http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/public-relations-pr
3. Unconventional PR: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/unconventional-pr
4. Search Engine Marketing (SEM): http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/search-engine-marketing-sem
5. Social and Display Ads: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/social-and-display-ads
6. Offline Ads: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/offline-ads
7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/search-engine-optimization-seo
8. Content Marketing: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/content-marketing
9. Email Marketing: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/email-marketing
10. Engineering as Marketing: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/engineering-as-marketing
11. Target Market Blogs: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/targeting-blogs
12. Business Development (BD): http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/business-development
13. Sales: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/sales
14. Affiliate Programs: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/affiliate-programs
15. Existing Platforms: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/existing-platforms
16. Trade Shows: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/trade-shows
17. Offline Events: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/offline-events
18. Speaking Engagements: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/speaking-engagements
19. Community Building: http://discuss.tractionbook.com/c/community-building

We’ve covered problem, we’ve covered customer, we’ve covered value proposition. We’re now turning to generating traction for a solution to that problem for those customers. Now the fun really begins! I don’t have the level of engagement I would like with this cohort of students. I’ll keep working on that and hopefully it gets a little stronger as we move into solutions (where they all want to go naturally).