“What are the best tools to teach . . .?”
It’s a question we get all the time from entrepreneurship professors. So we thought we would share the tools we recommend to teach your students critical entrepreneurship skills like:
- Customer Interviewing
- Financial Projection
- General Productivity
In entrepreneurship education there are always new tools, tips, and tricks to discover and incorporate into your classroom. It’s overwhelming trying to keep up-to-date and know what is useful for your students to practice critical entrepreneurship skills.
As we prototype and refine our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we try hundreds of tools to determine what is useful as a learning opportunity, and what is a value for students on a very limited budget. Below are our choices for your students to learn critical skills they need to navigate the entrepreneurship landscape.
We sorted the list of tools we recommend below into categories so you can quickly learn what tools we recommend for different components of your course. We tested out hundreds of options to find the tools that provide the best value in terms of most engagement and provide a free option, at least for a short trial period.
If you have recommendations for tools your students love, please comment below with the tool and why they love it.
Customer Interviewing Tools
As we have discussed many times, customer interviews are the most critical element to validating a business model. Once your students have identified who to interview (early adopters), and where to find these people, motivating students to conduct real interviews can be challenging. As we heard from a professor who switched to using ExEC, students will often not get out of the building to interview customers each week because they are not comfortable interviewing real people.
Just like learning any skill, students need the proper tools to develop the confidence to interview customers so they can effectively validate their business model assumptions.
Here are our recommendations for customer interviewing tools you can incorporate into your classroom so your students feel confident conducting real interviews.
Otter.ai. Otter is a tool students can use to record (audio only), transcribe, and share interviews. With Otter, students can play, edit, organize, and share audio and notes from interviews from any device. This is a great tool for ensuring students do their interviews and enabling professors to review them and provide feedback very efficiently.
Kahoot. As we practice what we preach, our ExEC team experiments with how exactly to teach students how to interview customers. This is a very difficult skill to effectively teach, but we think we finally nailed it!
Our updated method of teaching customer interviews is using ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards with an online collaborative quiz game to show students:
- What their problem interviewing goals should and should not be, and
- What questions they should and should not ask
Lino. Like any good entrepreneurship professors, we are big fans of post-it notes. I mean, really big fans – we look for every way to use them to generate ideas and organize information. The problem we kept hearing from our professors with post-it notes is that it’s difficult (and expensive) for students to use them across many weeks of interviewing. So we discovered Lino, and we love it!
Think of Lino as an electronic post-it notes canvas. As students record and transcribe each customer interview, they can use Lino to map out their findings, to analyze their interview data, and to identify patterns in their qualitative data. Because it is all electronic, you can incorporate this into your LMS so you can monitor and assess your students’ progress.
No matter what problem your students are working on solving, they need to know how to develop and iterate a prototype. This is such an important skill that in our most recent iteration of ExEC, we encourage our professors to start the semester off with students prototyping. In today’s digital world, and for most of us who do not have a maker space and staff at our disposal, prototyping is a digital affair. We found a variety of tools for prototyping websites and apps.
Website Prototyping Tools.
As we outline in our 60 Minute MVP exercise, building a functioning website with zero technical expertise is not as hard as it seems. With the following tools, any student can build a landing page (a simple, single-page website) that:
- Tells their customers the problem they are solving,
- Uses a video to demonstrate how they will solve the problem and
- Asks for some form of “currency” from their customers to validate demand.
Landing Page Tools. To create a simple landing page, we recommend using Wix or Weebly. Both offer free options, and both require no technical expertise as they are drag-and-drop, template website builders. There are slight differences between the two, for instance Wix offers handy tools such as photo filters and animated texts.
With either option, your students will be engaging customers in no time.
Explainer Video Tools. To engage customers on their landing page, your students should include a quick video that hints how their solution will solve the problem. We found a few tools that make creating explainer videos a breeze. These tools allow students to create engaging animated videos that are professional-looking, with a large selection of media, templates, and animation effects from which to choose.
- Powtoon. The slide-based format of Powtoon allows students control over how to present information. Here is a much more in-depth review of Powtoon.
- Animaker. This tool has one of the largest animation libraries of any comparable platform out there. Here is a much more in-depth review of Animaker.
- Moovly. This tool contains one of the largest stock media libraries online. Here is a much more in-depth review of Moovly.
App Prototyping Tools.
Our students love ideas for apps, because they are products students constantly use throughout the day. As with websites, tools to build apps seem to be endless. We identified a few tools that students can use to develop interactive app prototypes to test our customer demand and usability. We recommend two categories – low fidelity (wireframing) and high fidelity (polished).
- inVision (interactive prototyping tool)
- Adobe XD (wireframe & design tool)
- Proto.io (interactive prototyping tool)
- Sketch (digital design platform)
We also recommend a few User Interface (UI) Design and User Experience (UX) Design tools.
With all these tools, students can create mockups of what they want their app idea to look and feel like, so potential customers can view and interact with it on mobile devices. Generally speaking, students may find it more difficult to work with Origami and Sketch unless they have more technical expertise.
One other useful tool is Overflow.io, which is slightly different in that it is a design tool focused on enabling user flow diagrams. User flow is the path taken by a prototypical user. Your students can map out screen-by-screen a customer journey from the entry point through a set of steps towards a successful outcome and final action, such as purchasing a product.
Financial Projection Tools
One of the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship to teach effectively and engagingly is financials. Because students often struggle with the application of financial concepts, professors need a tool that makes financial modeling approachable and creates confidence in students. We could not find such a tool, so we built the Financial Projection Simulator to solve our problem.
This tool allows students to quickly iterate and identify a potentially viable revenue model in a rigorous way that doesn’t overwhelm them. We incorporated default values in drop down menus and instructions for researching more detailed estimates to create a more approachable way for students to experiment with assumptions in their financial models.
General Productivity Tools
We are champions of experiential education, especially in entrepreneurship. In an experiential course where students must practice idea generation, customer interviewing, prototyping, financial and business modeling, pitching, and selling, students can easily be overwhelmed and lose focus.
As we practice what we preach in building ExEC, we discovered a variety of tools that can keep students organized and engaged.
Customer interviews are the lifeblood of an entrepreneurial endeavor.
It is critical students keep every nuance and nugget of information from their interviews. Reviewing notes is an important way for them to improve their interviewing skills. And past interviews are a treasure trove of validation and potential marketing copy, so being able to capture and transcribe them is essential.
Capturing Interviews. To enhance their learning, students can record video of interviews – or meetings with cofounders, partners, investors, and other stakeholders – using Zoom. Zoom integrates with Otter, so students can very easily create transcripts of any video recordings.
When students watch videos of their interviews, they learn how to decode nonverbal reactions from customers, and also become more self-aware regarding their own nonverbal reactions. This is important because their reactions may sometimes influence the customer’s reactions, so increasing their self-awareness is very important.
Taking Notes. Students should also take notes (or have a friend take notes) while interviewing, to record their thoughts and reactions real-time. We find that taking notes on a computer creates the chatter of typing, which is a big distraction. So, we recommend going (sort of!) old school and writing notes.
One great tool for taking and sharing notes is Rocketbook, which are reusable smart notebooks. These notebooks connect to all the students’ cloud services (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) so they can easily send and organize their notes (if you get the Wave version, you microwave it to reuse it – how cool is that?!?!?)
Providing Context and/or Feedback. If your students (or you) need to provide feedback, Loom or Vidyard are a great way to record short video screen captures so the recipient can follow along, and can replay/revisit to fully digest the feedback. These tools is also great for students to provide context when asking for feedback.
In many situations, it is beneficial for students to be able to quickly set the stage for someone to provide feedback. For instance, when sharing documents, worksheets, notes, or assignments with professors, teammates, or customers, if a student can give some background and also make a clear and specific ask, it makes the feedback process much more efficient. A student can record a screen capture of a document, explain where they’d like feedback, why, and explain the context of the information. This context helps the reviewer provide very targeted and richer feedback.
Missed Our Recent Articles?
Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:
- “The best class I’ve taken!” We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
- Textbooks Don’t Work. Textbooks are not an effective way to teach entrepreneurship. Experiences are. Students don’t want to read. They want to do. Engage students with the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.
- Teaching Finance in Entrepreneurship. Finance is a difficult subject to teach in entrepreneurship. Our financial projection simulator is the best way to teach financial projections without overwhelming students.
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