You Know I’m All About That Value Proposition

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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

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!

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