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Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Want to improve how you teach entrepreneurship? Steve has some ideas.


Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Before we get there though, with the fires raging along the West Coast of the US, one of which is stunningly close to Steve’s home, we wanted to send him, his family, and everyone affected by the fires, our best wishes.


Steve and I sat down, pre-pandemic, for an in-depth discussion on the state of entrepreneurship education and ways to improve it going forward.

Below I’ve written up a summary of half of our conversation: thoughts on how to teach entrepreneurship.

In an upcoming part two, I’ll summarize some of Steve’s ideas on creating a comprehensive entrepreneurship curriculum, including:

  • The skills professors should teach their students, and 
  • Four courses Steve thinks are core to a robust entrepreneurship program

First, for anyone unfamiliar: Who is Steve Blank?

Forefather of Lean Startup

Entrepreneur, author, professor, an originator of evidence-based entrepreneurship, Steve Blank has developed or made famous some of the most recognizable approaches to entrepreneurship including: 

In addition, Steve has reimagined the way entrepreneurship is taught throughout the world with his Lean LaunchPad, NSF I-Corps, and Hacking for X (e.g. Recovery, Defense, Diplomacy, Impact, Energy, etc.) programs. 

In short, Steve has dramatically improved the way we practice and teach entrepreneurship.

Why Teaching Entrepreneurship is Hard

One of the very first topics that came up during our conversation was how we all can become more effective instructors.

Roughly 75% of college faculty are adjunct or non-tenure-track professors. Steve shared that as a practitioner, one of the challenges he faced was not what to teach, but how to teach:

There is usually very little onboarding in place to train professors in the most effective way to teach entrepreneurial lessons.”

While most of us are successful entrepreneurs or successful professors, very few of us are equally great at both.

Compounding the problem, Steve mentioned that there are so many kinds of entrepreneurship – small business, high tech, corporate, social, family business, etc.

With these challenges in mind, I asked Steve for recommendations to overcome them.

Steve’s Teaching Tips

Tip #1: Accept You Don’t Know Everything

“I see my mentors and other adjuncts and coaches make this mistake, in thinking your domain expertise is the expertise of entrepreneurship rather than a very narrow slice.”

When Steve first began teaching at UC Berkeley, he was paired with professor John Freeman who recommended he sit in on other instructors’ entrepreneurship courses. Steve mentioned, “the shock to my system, the discovery…there are different types of entrepreneurship.” 

Steve was a successful entrepreneur, but he wasn’t a successful small business, high tech, corporate, social, and lifestyle entrepreneur.

Each type of entrepreneurship has different goals and to be taught most effectively, requires a different approach and expertise. To illustrate his point, Steve mentioned that in high tech entrepreneurship, the first goal is to have a seed round that raises millions of dollars. In small business entrepreneurship, however, the first goal may be to make enough to fund a lifestyle and family.

It’s this diversity in objectives that can make effectively teaching innovation difficult and it was his realization that he didn’t know everything about every type of entrepreneurship that led Steve to increase his breadth of knowledge. 

Tip #2: Get a Mentor

Luckily, Berkely had a semi-formal onboarding process in place which sped up the learning process for new faculty. For other educators who do not have access to that kind of program, Steve recommends:

  • Attending other entrepreneurship instructor’s classes
  • If you’re an entrepreneur first, get another educator to mentor you
  • If you’re an academic first, pair with an entrepreneur to teach

Like we teach our students, teams with aligned goals and diverse skills have better outcomes; the same applies to our teaching. To improve your classes, find people who have a different set of skills and experiences than you and collaborate with them.

When in Doubt: Experiences Teach Skills

“If you’ve never started a company and you’re teaching entrepreneurship, it’s like teaching a med school class and never having cracked a chest.”

Entrepreneurship is a combination of theory and practice and our students learn it best when they are offered by perspectives.

Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve further explained his point by saying, “Startups are essentially years of chaos, uncertainty, and terror. That’s not what a typical academic career is like. And so it’s kind of hard to teach tenacity, resilience, and agility and maybe curiosity, which are the key skills for early-stage entrepreneurs without having lived with that uncertainty.”

Students Learn Best By Doing

How do we teach customer empathy, customer development, and customer discovery effectively?

The answer is learning by doing. When Steve teaches his Lean LaunchPad classes, he insists his students talk to 10 customers each week. And he always follows up to ensure they actually made contact. 

For students who have difficulty performing customer interviews, he recommends students practice interviewing. Steve recommends the book, Talking to Humans: Success Starts with Understanding Your Customers.

For an engaging way to help your students understand exactly what questions they should and shouldn’t ask customers, you can also use our free experiential Customer Interviewing Cards lesson plan.

The same goes for every topic in entrepreneurship:

  • Idea generation
  • Solution ideation
  • Finance
  • Pitching

Every entrepreneurship skill must be practiced to be internalized.

The Future of Entrepreneurship Education

Key skills for early-stage entrepreneurs can be taught with the right combination of theory and experiential exercises.

In class, Steve looks to create a feeling that there is no “right” answer that can be found in a book. It is this approach that encourages students to figure things out for themselves and inspires outside-the-box thinking. The Lean LaunchPad methodology Steve created is great for stimulating the chaos of entrepreneurship. It is this chaos that identifies those students ready for the pursuit of entrepreneurship.

Steve conceptualizes his classes as the Juilliard of entrepreneurship; when the way to train artists was with an experiential, hands-on apprenticeship. With this in mind, Steve thinks successful entrepreneurship curricula should include entrepreneurial appreciation.

“These core [entrepreneurship] courses will be the new liberal arts courses of the 21st century.”


Takeaways

Here are my takeaways from the first part of our conversation:

  1. Get a mentor. If your background is in academia, find an entrepreneur to mentor you in real-world realities. If you’re an entrepreneur, find an academic mentor who can teach you about teaching. Teaching entrepreneurship requires both.
  2. Train entrepreneurs like artists. Just like are no “right” answers in art, there are no right answers in entrepreneurship. Instead of focusing on teaching answers, we should focus on teaching skills.
  3. Students learn skills by practicing them. Experiences, not textbooks, are the best way to teach skills.

Don’t Miss Part 2

Subscribe here to get notified of the second part of my interview with Steve where we discuss:

  • The necessary skills professors should teach their students, and 
  • Four courses he thinks are essential to a robust entrepreneurship program

Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!


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:


Want More Engaged Students?

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

Whether you’re teaching online, face-to-face, or a hybrid of the two, we built our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) to provide award-winning engagement and excitement for your students

  • in any course structure
  • on all major learning management system

Preview ExEC Now

We’ve taken the guesswork out of creating an engaging approach that works both online or in-person. ExEC has a comprehensive entrepreneurship syllabus template complete with 15 weeks of award-winning lesson plans that can be easily adapted to your needs.

60 Minute MVP [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

60 Minute MVP [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

We’ve fast-tracked the development of new online-ready exercises which you can use individually or as a set, called the ExEC Online: Express pack, available free through June!

Our final lesson, 60 Minute MVP, is ready!

60 Minute MVP ExEC Online image Free Lesson

Based on the extremely popular in-person version of this exercise, the online version of the 60 Minute MVP will have your students designing experiments to test demand just like they would if they weren’t under lockdown. They will:

  1. Create a landing page
  2. Add an explainer video and then
  3. Start accepting pre-orders

The key to thriving in the face of high uncertainty and limited resources is efficient experimentation. With that in mind, this exercise will show your students how to quickly reduce the uncertainty of their business model by helping them launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to measure demand for their products/services.

Almost more important though…

This exercise is a ton of fun!

Students are excited because they’re doing something they didn’t know they had the skills to do, and it’s a great time for you because students are engaged in creating and sharing something with you and the rest of the class.

Get the 60 Minute MVP Lesson

Get All Four Free Lessons

The ExEC Online: Express Pack is a collection of free, interactive, online entrepreneurship lessons available through the rest of this term that you can easily plug into your class individually or as a set.

In addition to the 60 Minute MVP lesson plan, we’re releasing three other exercises that are not only engaging, but particularly relevant in this time of uncertainty:

  1. Problem-Inspired Idea Generation: We know customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems – and right now people’s problems have changed dramatically. This exercise will show your students a systematic way to identify new opportunities inspired by their customer’s real-world problems that is particularly helpful during times of disruption like we’re experiencing right now.
  2. Financial Projection Simulator: With a global recession looming, it’s essential our students understand the elements of a robust financial model, and how to develop a sustainable one. This exercise makes finance approachable by turning what would normally be an overwhelming series of numbers, into a game-like experience that enables students to experiment with many different financial models.
  3. How to Interview Customers on Lockdown: Now that business model assumptions have been flipped on their head, it’s more critical than ever that students learn how to effectively talk to customers to discover what problems they’re facing. A person with the skills to learn about how this new world will effect people individually, is a person that will thrive during this, and any future dramatic changes. This lesson will help students understand how to find customers to talk to, what questions to ask, and most importantly, why asking them will form the basis of a successful business model.

If you’re interested in using any of the exercises from the ExEC Online: Express Pack, please click here.

Due to the accelerated pace at which we’re releasing these lessons, the first iteration of the ExEC Online: Express Pack is designed for use in colleges/universities in the US and Canada. Future iterations will be accessible to students across a wider range of environments.

Regardless of who or where you teach, we welcome you to request access and we’ll notify you if, and as soon as, we’re able to bring your students on board!

Get All the ExEC Online: Express Pack Lesson Plans (Free)

Know an Entrepreneurship Instructor?

If you know anyone who these new lessons might help, please invite them to participate! You can:

Thank you for all the work you’re doing teaching and supporting young people during this challenging time – we’re grateful to have an opportunity to support you, and look forward to helping you however we can!


Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!

Interviewing Customers Remotely [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

Interviewing Customers Remotely [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

We’ve fast-tracked the development of new online-ready exercises which you can use individually or as a set, called the ExEC Online: Express pack, available free through June!

Our third lesson, Interviewing Customers Remotely, is ready!

Express Pack Entrepreneurship Lessons Online: Interviewing Customers

Teach Interviewing Customers in an Engaging Way

Based on our Customer Interviewing Cards, this exercise has been adapted to teach students how to interview customers under the unique circumstances that COVID-19 has presented. Hopefully, this lesson will only be applicable this term, but…

…it may be helpful in the Fall too!

This lesson is a fun way to teach your students:

  1. Where to find customers to interview during a quarantine
  2. How to ask those customers for an interview
  3. What to ask during the interview

Below is a quick overview. For full details, be sure to register for the ExEC Online: Express Pack.

Easy to Integrate

We’ve made this exercise as easy to integrate as possible.

Interviewing Customers Step 1


Have your students watch this video:

If you’re teaching a synchronous class, feel free to skip showing the video and simply teach the principles yourself.

Step 2

Students complete the Digital Customer Interviewing Cards spreadsheet where they learn what their “objectives” (i.e. goals) for conducting customer interviews are, as well as the best and worst questions to ask during those interviews.

Here’s a quick look at what the spreadsheet looks like:

Step 3

Students get access to a robust interview script they can use for both remote, and in-person, problem discovery videos.

Interviewing customers ExEC online script

Get the Customer Interviewing Lesson

Get All Four Free Lessons

The ExEC Online: Express Pack is a collection of free, interactive, online entrepreneurship lessons available through the rest of this term that you can easily plug into your class individually or as a set.

In addition to the Customer Interview lesson plan, we’re releasing three other exercises that are not only engaging but particularly relevant in this time of uncertainty:

  1. Problem-Inspired Idea Generation: We know customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems – and right now people’s problems have changed dramatically. This exercise will show your students a systematic way to identify new opportunities inspired by their customer’s real-world problems that are particularly helpful during times of disruption like we’re experiencing right now.
  2. Financial Projection Simulator: With a global recession looming, it’s essential our students understand the elements of a robust financial model, and how to develop a sustainable one. This exercise makes finance approachable by turning what would normally be an overwhelming series of numbers, into a game-like experience that enables students to experiment with many different financial models.
  3. 60 Minute MVP: The key to thriving in the face of high uncertainty and limited resources is efficient experimentation. This exercise will show your students how to quickly launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to measure demand for their products/services. Plus, even outside the entrepreneurial context, in a future where online, remote-enabled work will likely be in demand, this is a great opportunity for students to learn how to build websites and create animated videos.

ExEC Online Express Pack

We’ll make each lesson plan available as soon as it’s finished. So if you’re interested in using any of the exercises from the ExEC Online: Express Pack, please click here.

Due to the accelerated pace we’re releasing these lessons, the first iteration of the ExEC Online: Express Pack is designed for use in colleges/universities in the US and Canada. Future iterations will be accessible to students across a wider range of environments.

Regardless of who or where you teach, we welcome you to request access and we’ll notify you if, and as soon as, we’re able to bring your students on board!

Get All the ExEC Online: Express Pack Lesson Plans (Free)

Know an Entrepreneurship Instructor?

If you know anyone who these new lessons might help, please invite them to participate! You can:

Thank you for all the work you’re doing, teaching and supporting young people during this challenging time – we’re grateful to have an opportunity to support you, and look forward to helping you however we can!


Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!

Financial Projection Simulator [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

Financial Projection Simulator [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

To help with the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve fast-tracked the development of new online-ready exercises – which you can use individually or as a set – called the ExEC Online: Express pack, available free through June.

Our second lesson, Financial Projection Simulator (FPS), is ready for you to use!

Making Finance Fun

Even in the best of times, students struggle to engage with and understand the financial elements of entrepreneurship. Of course, this topic is critically important, especially during times of economic uncertainty like we’re facing now.

To help make entrepreneurial finance more accessible to all students, we designed our Financial Projection Simulator to teach financial modeling, with a fun, game-like experience.

Encourage Experimentation

The Financial Projection Simulator leads students through an experimentation process where they make different assumptions about their financial model, including their:

  • Product price
  • Cost of Customer Acquisition
  • Employee salaries (including benefits & taxes)
  • Initial capital investments
  • Etc.

And as they enter their assumptions, the simulator automatically calculates the financial sustainability of their business, giving students a Red, Yellow or Green assessment:

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

This question-based approach forces students to think through the major elements of a financial model in an approachable way. Plus, the real-time feedback encourages students to get creative, iterating their business model until they find one that’s profitable.

Engage Your Students

Like all of our lessons, the Financial Projection Simulator uses several resources to create an experiential, interactive experience for students online, including:

  • Step-by-step videos for students
  • Overview videos for you, like this:


When combined, these tools create an engaging experience for your students (even when they’re learning about finance ;).

Get the Financial Projection Simulator

Get All Four Free Lessons

The ExEC Online: Express Pack is a collection of free, interactive, online entrepreneurship lessons available through the rest of this term that you can easily plug into your class individually or as a set.

In addition to Financial Projection Simulator, we’re releasing three other exercises that are not only engaging, but particularly relevant in this time of uncertainty:

  1. Problem-Inspired Idea Generation: We know customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems – and right now people’s problems have changed dramatically. This exercise will show your students a systematic way to identify new opportunities inspired by their customer’s real-world problems that is particularly helpful during times of disruption like we’re experiencing right now.
  2. How to Interview Customers: Now that business model assumptions have been flipped on their head, it’s more critical than ever that students learn how to effectively talk to customers to discover what problems they’re facing. A person with the skills to learn about how this new world will effect people individually, is a person that will thrive during this, and any future dramatic changes. This lesson will help students understand how to find customers to talk to, what questions to ask, and most importantly, why asking them will form the basis of a successful business model.
  3. 60 Minute MVP: The key to thriving in the face of high uncertainty and limited resources is efficient experimentation. This exercise will show your students how to quickly launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to measure demand for their products/services. Plus, even outside the entrepreneurial context, in a future where online, remote-enabled work will likely be in demand, this is a great opportunity for students to learn how to build websites and create animated videos.

We’ll be making each lesson plan available as soon as it’s finished, so if you’re interested in using any of the exercises from the ExEC Online: Express Pack, please fill out the form below.

Due to the accelerated pace we’re releasing these lessons, the first iteration of the ExEC Online: Express Pack is designed for use in colleges/universities in the US and Canada. Future iterations will be accessible to students across a wider range of environments.

Regardless of who or where you teach, we welcome you to request access and we’ll notify you if, and as soon as, we’re able to bring your students on board!

Get All the ExEC Online: Express Pack Lesson Plans (Free)

Know an Entrepreneurship Instructor?

If you know anyone who these new lessons might help, please invite them to participate! You can:

Thank you for all the work you’re doing teaching, and supporting, young people during this challenging time – we’re grateful to have an opportunity to support you, and look forward to helping you however we can!


Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!

Problem-Inspired Idea Generation [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

Problem-Inspired Idea Generation [ExEC Online: Express Pack]

To help with the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve fast-tracked the development of new online-ready exercises – which you can use individually or as a set – called the ExEC Online: Express pack, available free through June.

Our first lesson, Problem-Inspired Idea Generation, is ready for you to use!

Idea Generation is a Skill

Customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems – and during this crisis, people’s problems have changed dramatically. This exercise will show your students a repeatable way to generate business ideas, inspired by their customer’s problems, that will become the foundation for opportunity identification skills they can use throughout their careers.

3 Steps to Better Ideas

Problem-Inspired Idea Generation creates an experience where students:

  1. Learn why great business ideas come from problems.
  2. Brainstorm people they’re passionate about solving problems for.
  3. Hypothesize, and prioritize, those peoples’ problems.

Those hypothesized problems kickstart your students’ customer discovery and/or solution ideation processes, resulting in more meaningful, and more feasible business ideas.

Engage Your Students

Our goal is to create highly interactive, experiential exercises. You can review this lesson to see how it can help you engage your students online with tools like:

  • Interactive Digital Worksheets your students can fill out and turn into you online
  • Video overviews for students
  • Sample slides for you to use with any live, or recorded, videos overviews you’d like to (optionally) produce for you students
  • Assessment recommendations

Get the ExEC Online: Express Pack

Get All Four Free Lessons

The ExEC Online: Express Pack is a collection of free, interactive, online entrepreneurship lessons available through the rest of this term that you can easily plug into your class individually or as a set.

In addition to Problem-Inspired Idea Generation, we’re releasing three other exercises that are not only engaging, but particularly relevant in this time of uncertainty:

  1. How to Interview Customers: Now that business model assumptions have been flipped on their head, it’s more critical than ever that students learn how to effectively talk to customers to discover what problems they’re facing. A person with the skills to learn about how this new world will effect people individually, is a person that will thrive during this, and any future dramatic changes. This lesson will help students understand how to find customers to talk to, what questions to ask, and most importantly, why asking them will form the basis of a successful business model.
  2. Financial Projection Simulator: With a global recession looming, it’s essential our students understand the elements of a robust financial model, and how to develop a sustainable one. This exercise makes finance approachable by turning what would normally be an overwhelming series of numbers, into a game-like experience that enables students to experiment with many different financial models.
  3. 60 Minute MVP: The key to thriving in the face of high uncertainty and limited resources is efficient experimentation. This exercise will show your students how to quickly launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to measure demand for their products/services. Plus, even outside the entrepreneurial context, in a future where online, remote-enabled work will likely be in demand, this is a great opportunity for students to learn how to build websites and create animated videos.

We’ll be making each lesson plan available as soon as it’s finished, so if you’re interested in using any of the exercises from the ExEC Online: Express Pack, please fill out the form below.

Due to the accelerated pace we’re releasing these lessons, the first iteration will be designed for use in colleges/universities in the US and Canada. Future iterations will be accessible to students across a wider range of environments.

Regardless of who or where you teach, we welcome you to request access and we’ll notify you if, and as soon as, we’re able to bring your students on board!

Get All the ExEC Online: Express Pack Lesson Plans (Free)

Know an Entrepreneurship Instructor?

If you know anyone who these new lessons might be help, we welcome you to invite them to participate. You can:

Thank you for all the work you’re doing teaching, and supporting, young people during this challenging time – we’re grateful to have an opportunity to support you, and look forward to helping you however we can!


Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!

Free Online Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Free Online Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

We know the transition to teaching online can be overwhelming. We want to help.

We’ve fast-tracked a subset of the ExEC Online exercises you’ll be able to use free through June 2020!

The ExEC Online: Express Pack will be a collection of free, interactive, online entrepreneurship lessons available through the rest of this term that you can easily plug into your class.

We’re specifically releasing exercises that are not only engaging, but particularly relevant in this time of dramatic uncertainty:

  1. Problem-Inspired Idea Generation: We know customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems – and right now people’s problems have changed dramatically. This exercise will show your students a systematic way to identify new opportunities inspired by their customer’s real-world problems that is particularly helpful during times of disruption like we’re experiencing right now.
  2. How to Interview Customers on Lockdown: Now that business model assumptions have been flipped on their head, it’s more critical than ever that students learn how to effectively talk to customers to discover what problems they’re facing. A person with the skills to learn about how this new world will effect people individually, is a person that will thrive during this, and any future dramatic changes. This lesson will help students understand how to find customers to talk to, what questions to ask, and most importantly, why asking them will form the basis of a successful business model.
  3. Financial Projection Simulator: With a global recession looming, it’s essential our students understand the elements of a robust financial model, and how to develop a sustainable one. This exercise makes finance approachable by turning what would normally be an overwhelming series of numbers, into a game-like experience that enables students to experiment with many different financial models.
  4. 60 Minute MVP: The key to thriving in the face of high uncertainty and limited resources is efficient experimentation. This exercise will show your students how to quickly launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to measure demand for their products/services. Plus, even outside the entrepreneurial context, in a future where online, remote-enabled work will likely be in demand, this is a great opportunity for students to learn how to build websites and create animated videos.

We’ll be making each lesson plan available as soon as it’s finished. If you’re interested in using any of the exercises from the ExEC Online: Express Pack, please fill out the form below.

Due to the accelerated pace we’re releasing these lessons, the first iteration will be designed for use in colleges/universities in the US and Canada. Future iterations will be accessible to students across a wider range of environments.

Regardless of who or where you teach, we welcome you to request access and we’ll notify you if, and as soon as, we’re able to bring your students on board!

Get the ExEC Online: Express Pack

Know a Teacher?

If you know anyone who these new lessons might be help, we welcome you to invite them to participate. You can:

Thank you for all the work you’re doing teaching, and supporting, young people during this challenging time – we’re grateful to have an opportunity to support you, and look forward to helping you however we can!


Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!

USASBE 3E Winner: Lottery Ticket Dilemma

USASBE 3E Winner: Lottery Ticket Dilemma

It is our pleasure to share with you the lesson plan that won the prestigious Experiential Entrepreneurship Exercises (3E) competition at USASBE this past January!
Entrepreneurship Education

If your students focus more on their products than their customers’ problems, this lesson plan is for you.!

Through this exercise, students will discover how important emotions are in the decision-making process, and the importance of understanding and fulfilling other people’s emotional needs.


Specifically, students will learn:

  • Why the majority of businesses that start end in failure, & how to avoid those failures
  • Customer decisions are driven by their emotions
  • To create products customers want to buy, we need to understand the emotional journey they want to take

Here’s how the lesson plan works…

Step 1: Set Context in Your Class

Use this exercise when students are beginning to think of ideas to develop – see the High Quality Idea Generation module in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) for explicit instructions to guide students to develop high quality ideas they are uniquely qualified to pursue.

Let students know there is a specific perspective that can help them develop powerful ideas that they will enjoy working on, and that today they will learn that perspective.

Step 2: Why Businesses Fail

Ask students to describe what they think the difference is between an inventor and an entrepreneur.

Inventors vs. Entrepreneurs

Walk students through the two comparisons to highlight this difference:

  • Segway vs. Razor scooters. Explain that Segway is an incredible invention, estimated to have a value of $2.5 billion, and that it was a colossal failure that reached only 1% of its market valuation. Then explain that Razor scooters (and now Bird and Lime electric scooters) are similar, but these far less “innovative” transportation options have generated far more market value – nearly $15 billion market. Point out that the Segway creator is an inventor because he focused on his emotional needs (building something technologically innovative, whereas the creator of the Razor scooter are entrepreneurs because they focused on creating products people actually decide to buy and use.
  • Google Glass vs. Warby Paker. Explain that Google Glass, like Segway, was invented as a revolutionary technology, but ended up being the butt of many jokes. Warby Parker, on the other hand, sells glasses that actually solve a problem for customers, so customers want to buy and use them.

Step 3: Setting Up the Game

Tell your students that to understand what people decide to buy, they must first understand how people make decisions. Explain they will play a game to figure that out, and the team that wins a game will get to pick their prize.

Explain that to play the game, your students will:

  • Form teams of two
  • Listen to a recording
  • Answer one question about the recording
  • The team that answers the question the best gets the prize

Let students know they will pick between a real lottery ticket worth up to $40 million, or a dime. Be sure to emphasize the potential value of the lottery ticket (e.g., a chance at $40 million) as opposed to simply describing it as a lottery ticket. Even if the jackpot is more than $40 million, tell them it’s worth $40 million to keep the math consistent for this exercise.

Tell your students that, based on the odds of winning the lottery, and the taxes they’d have to pay on any winnings, the dime is, strictly speaking, more valuable than the lottery ticket. Students should talk in their dyads and decided which prize they want.

Step 4: Lottery Ticket vs. Dime

Ask students to raise their hand if they want the dime. Then ask them to raise their hand if they want to lottery ticket.

The majority will pick the lottery ticket. Ask them

Why do you want a prize that is objectively worth less?

Probe them with questions that highlight any emotions associated with your students’ choices as you begin to hand out copies of the Emotional Palette Canvas

NOTE: Some students will indicate they want the dime instead of the lottery ticket. Be sure to dive in to understand why they want the dime. Ultimately, their preference for the dime will have an emotional component as well, even if it appears to be based entirely on logic (e.g. they want to feel confident, smart, etc.).

Step 5: Emotional Palette Canvas

Explain that this canvas is a tool to help them visualize and compare the intensity of different emotions.

Emotional Palette Canvas - Federico Mammano

Ask students to find the emotions they would feel if they won the lottery ticket. Scores should be in the +3 or +4 range. Ask your students to discuss in their dyad the following question:

Using the Emotional Palette Canvas, how can you explain why most people prefer the shot at $40 million, as opposed to an objectively more valuable dime.

NOTE: The correct answer is that while the objective value of the dime is higher than the lottery ticket, the emotional value (e.g. hope, excitement, fun, etc.) of the ticket is much higher than the dime. Teams should use the Emotional Palette Canvas to illustrate that the lottery ticket emotions “score” higher than the dime emotions.

Step 6: The Man Who Couldn’t Feel

Switch now to the questions that will determine the winning dyad. Tell students to listen carefully to the podcast you will play and think about this question:

What role do emotions play in decision making?

Play this podcast listed in the lesson plan.

Step 7: How Humans Make Decisions

After the podcast, have students answer the following to determine the prize winner:

  • They must link all of the concepts covered today:
    • The difference between inventors and entrepreneurs
    • The majority of the class wants the objectively less valuable, but emotionally more valuable, lottery ticket as a prize
    • What you learned from the podcast
  • To describe:
    • What role do emotions play in decision making?
    • Why did we, like most entrepreneurs, failed in our first experiment?
    • What we should do different next time to avoid repeating our mistakes?

For a sample answer, download the lesson plan!

It may take a few attempts for teams to get all the elements of this answer correct. After a team guesses, provide them feedback and then let another team answer. Continue until all of the elements above have been spoken to.

NOTE: So many people, including the majority of our students, think our decisions are based on logic, reason, and rational thinking. This is an opportunity to highlight that’s not the case. Drive this point home, especially if you’re teaching a large number of logically-oriented students, like engineers or scientists.

Step 8: Recap

This is your chance to drive home the main points of this lesson.

  • There’s no such thing as a human making a purely logical decision. Without emotions, we can’t make decisions.
  • Emotions influence every decision we make including what products are successful and who gets what jobs.
  • Whether one become an entrepreneur, or get a job, how much money one makes depends on how well they understand and fulfill other people’s emotional needs.

Get the “Lottery Ticket Dilemma” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Lottery Ticket Dilemma” lesson plan. This exercise walks you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

This lesson is part of our fully experiential curriculum. If you’d like to see the entire curriculum, click to learn more.

 

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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!
  • Improving Student Idea Generation. Help students build ideas around the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems they are most excited to help them resolve.
  • Teachers Need Tools.  Our curriculum makes prepping your entrepreneurship classes a breeze, and makes teaching the classes a powerful experience for students.
Technology Tools to Increase Engagement

Technology Tools to Increase Engagement

It’s no question: technology is shaping how or students engage (or don’t) with us.

From the apps nagging our students for attention during class to the learning management systems (Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, etc.) we and our students are asked to wrestle with, technology is absolutely altering how we interact with our students.

That said, when leveraged the right way,

Technology can be a way to increase engagement in the classroom.

In this post, we share some of our favorite tech tools you can use to flip the script on technology and use it to re-engage your students.

Active Learning vs Passive Listening

The first thing to know is that lectures are the antithesis of engagement. If your class is full of:

  • Glazed eyes
  • Distracted fidgeting
  • Lethargic discussions

Remember that it’s not that disengaged students don’t like to learn, the truth is most students love learning. They just hate listening.

Ask yourself, what do Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Netflix all have in common? They are all visual-based technologies that our students have grown up with and spend far more time “learning from” than they do lectures.

Now ask yourself, are your bullet points genuinely more compelling than their latest Instagram story?

If the answer is no, the next question to answer is:

How do you create an active learning experience for your students?

If you’re looking to shift from a “sage on the stage” class to an active learning environment, Kahoot! is a great tool to use.

How to Leverage Kahoot! In Your Entrepreneurship Lesson

Gamification is a great way to increase engagement in class. Using technology like Kahoot! you can create multiple-choice competitions that foster engagement or as an assessment tool. 

Here’s what we love about Kahoot! in the classroom:

  • Produces real-time competition 
  • Encourages instant collaboration
  • Boosts energy with a real-time leader board that students love seeing their names on
  • Inspires discussion among all students

Kahoot! works by showing students a series of multiple-choice questions on your projector and each student (or team of students) uses their smartphone to quickly answer each question. Teams are awarded points for correct answers, and the faster they answer, the more points they get and after each question, they can see how well their team is doing compared to other teams in the class.

If you want to easily try Kahoot!, we’ve actually integrated it into our free Customer Interviewing Cards Exercise. This lesson plan was presented at USASBE 2020 and teaches valuable customer discovery skills.

Give it a shot and you’ll not only teach your students what questions to ask (and questions avoid) during customer interviews, you’ll do it in an engaging way with full class participation.

Nothing Compares to Learning by Doing

Another way to engage students is to have them teach themselves by creating a “learn by doing” experience. For example, if you want to teach students about the power of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), why not use Wix and Powtoon to have your students create their own during class?

Wix: Launch Websites (No Student Experience Required)

Wix is a free and user-friendly website creator. Some of the features we’ve found helpful when using in our lesson plans include:

  • Drag and drop editing
  • Pre-built templates
  • No technical skills required

Powtoon: Your Students Can Create Explainer Videos

Powtoon is an incredibly useful tool to make simple explainer videos fast. Here are some of the features that make Powtoon a useful teaching tool:

  • Wide-variety of templates
  • Change elements with a simple click
  • Animate a video in minutes

While you can plan an entrepreneurial lesson using Wix and Powtoon, we’ve found they can be combined for a powerful lesson. You can try our 60-Minute MVP this semester to introduce your students to Wix and Powtoon so they can see how quickly and easily they can start testing demand for new products, even if they have no tech or video editing skills.

This lesson plan was a finalist in the USASBE 3E competition, and it’s one of the most popular on our site. We hope you give it a shot – not only will it use technology to teach your students new skills, they’ll be completely engaged while they do it.

Design an App Prototype Without Technical Skills

So many of our students want to build apps, but most of them will lack the technical skills to even prototype their apps. Marvel changes that. 

Marvel is an easy to use app that lets your students quickly prototype their app designs by first drawing them on paper, and then simply taking pictures of their designs with their phone, but that’s not all!

Here are some of the exciting features you can leverage in the classroom:

  • Design easily with Marvel’s UI builder
  • Perform usability testing with a simple link
  • Get customer/usability feedback immediately

Marvel is free to use and is perfect to encourage design thinking and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. We created our Marvel App Lesson Plan below to introduce you to this new entrepreneurial teaching tool.

 

Click Here for Our Marvel App Lesson Plan

 

 

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 

 

 

Incorporate Technology in Your Entrepreneurship Class

When used well, technology can transform your classroom into an experiential, fully-engaged experience for your students. If you’d like to learn more about the technologies we use in our entrepreneurship lesson plans, click to learn more. We hope that it supports the work you do in the classroom, and if you and your students enjoy, check out the full Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

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2019 Most Popular Lesson Plans

2019 Most Popular Lesson Plans

“This approach to learning is just what students need.” – Eric Liguori, Rowan University

From enabling students to discover ideas that are meaningful to them to improving customer interviews, we design lesson plans to enhance engagement and improve skill-building. The following are our 5 most popular lesson plans from 2019 to transform your students’ experience as they practice generating ideas, interviewing customers, identifying early adopters, and validating assumptions.

5. Increase the Quality of Your Student’s Ideas

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurship professors tell us is inspiring students to come up with ideas that are impactful or solution-centered. 

How do you get your students to focus on problems, not products?

So often, students are attracted to low-impact products without a clear idea of who their customer is, much less why they would want to buy into the idea. We want them to understand that customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to their problems.

Student Idea Generation Lesson

The Student Idea Generation lesson plan sparks your student’s idea generation so they can identify what problems they want to solve. 

Rather than leading a brainstorming session in which students develop business ideas on their own (which can result in unactionable ideas), the Student Idea Generation lesson plan:

  • Instructs students how to pinpoint the customers they’re passionate about helping
  • Leads the students to identify the biggest challenges or problems they want to solve for these groups

In this lesson plan, students first discover the customers they are passionate about helping and the problems/emotions they want to help them with. Students then determine solutions they can use to create a successful business.

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

  • More focused because they’ve identified the specific group they want to help
  • More practical because they’ll be solution-focused
  • More innovative because they’re inspired to solve problems

View Idea Generation Lesson Plan

4. Transform Your Student’s Customer Interviews

Nothing can make some students more uncomfortable than not knowing what to ask during customer interviews.

A number of factors make a student wary of conducting customer interviews, including:

  • Talking to strangers gives them anxiety
  • They’re nervous because they’ve never conducted an interview and want to get it right
  • They don’t understand the benefit of interviews in the first place

Because customer interviewing is so critical to building solutions people want, customer interviews are an integral part of the entrepreneurship curriculum. We designed the Customer Interview lesson plan to eliminate the barriers students have around performing customer interviews.

This comprehensive lesson plan includes materials to prep before class, and step-by-step instructions for leading the lesson. After the lesson, students will walk away understanding:

  • Their role in the interview
  • What makes a successful interview
  • Preparation for real customer interviews
  • Specific interview questions

The benefits of this lesson plan are two-fold:

  • Takes the guesswork out of customer interviews for the students 
  • Minimizes preparation for the instructor

Get the “How to Interview Customers” Lesson Plan

3. Experiential Exercise for Teaching About Early Adopters

Another problem professors shared is teaching students how to identify early adopters. Early adopters are vital for the success of any product or service, but students often struggle in understanding the concept of an early adopter.

Students understand the definition of Early Adopters easier if they’re led through this experiential exercise.
Identifying Early Adopters Experiential Exercise

The Finding Early Adopters lesson plan features a mechanical pencil challenge that introduces the concept of an early adopter and contrasts it with early majority and late majority customers. This exercise also demonstrates where and how to find early adopters.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAcSLvRGb-o&feature=youtu.be

This exercise was a finalist in the prestigious 2019 USASBE 3E Competition, which recognizes the best experiential entrepreneurship exercises at the USASBE Annual Conference.

After this lesson plan, students will be able to answer:

  • Who is the target for customer interviews?
  • How and where to find the best prospects for customer interviews?

View the Finding Early Adopters Lesson Plan

2. Coaching for Entrepreneurship Students

While valuable, team projects can be a source of great anxiety for students. Many students working in teams:

  • Worry about their final grade
  • Fall behind with the coursework or understanding of the content
  • Are bored because their team has surpassed other teams’ progress

Team projects can be problematic for professors to successfully meet students’ diverse needs. The How to Coach Your Students lesson plan provides a differentiated learning experience using individual team coaching sessions that provides a positive and productive team experience for all students.

Popular Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans
Individual coaching sessions allow students to quantify the skills they’ve built and identify next steps.

Similar to a daily stand-up approach to scrum meetings, this lesson walks you step-by-step through a process to perform a Stand-Up Coaching session in 1 of 2 ways and discusses the pros and cons of each technique:

  • Coaching through simulation
  • Private team coaching

After this lesson, students will:

  • Shift from searching for the right answer to asking the right questions
  • Focus on learning rather than earning a specific grade
  • Feel better equipped to prepare for their final presentation

View the “Coach Your Students” Lesson Plan

1. The True Meaning of Minimum Viable Product

The 60 Minute MVP remains one of our most popular lesson plans. During this hour-long experience, students launch an MVP website, with an animated video and a way to take pre-orders, without any prior coding experience. 

“One student described it as like a Navy Seal mental training exercise. Not sure it was that intense, but they were amazed and proud that they got it done.” –  ExEC Curriculum Professor
Minimum Viable Product Experiential Exercise

This class is the ultimate combination of engagement and skill-building as the students navigate each task. On the lesson plan page, you can view an example of a video students created based on actual customer problems in about 20 minutes.

After this class, your students will understand:

  • The true meaning of Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  • It’s easier to launch a product than they assume
  • Launching a product lays the foundation for their entire business

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

Bonus: The Power of Customer Observations

In addition to teaching customer interviewing techniques, we developed a Teaching Customer Observations lesson plan because it helps solidify the student’s understanding of the importance of understanding their customer’s problems. In this lesson plan, students experience first-hand the value of seeing how their customers experience problems rather than just imagining certain scenarios.

Customer Observations Lesson Plan

The goal of this lesson is to teach students to have a clear picture of their customer’s problems before they try to come up with a solution. 

After this class, students will understand

  • The value of observing customer behavior rather than trying to predict it
  • How to listen with their eyes to improve empathy for what their customers value and care about

In addition to the positive feedback we’ve received from the community using this exercise,

this lesson won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2019 Annual Conference!

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

Want an Experiential + Structured Curriculum?

If you’re looking for a comprehensive, tested, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum to use next semester, that fully engages your students, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum and we’ll get you set up!

Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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Subscribe here to get our next lesson plan in your inbox!

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Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

If your students are struggling conducting high-quality interviews with customers, or you’re not sure how to get them started, this lesson plan is for you.

With this lesson plan, your students will learn exactly what to ask during a customer interview, and how to ask it.

When students first see they will be interviewing customers, they feel nervous, overwhelmed, and worried. Why?

  • They’re nervous about talking to strangers.
  • They don’t learn this technique somewhere else.
  • They’ve never seen or heard sample interviews.
  • It feels like too much work.
  • They’re worried about looking and feeling stupid.

In this lesson plan, students will practice customer interviewing with their classmates to expose to interviewing techniques, and to deepen connections between them.

Specifically, in this lesson plan, students will learn:

  • Basics of customer interviewing techniques
  • What questions to ask during customer interviews
  • How to create rapport with interviewees
  • What it’s like to be interviewed
  • Differences between interviewing and surveying customers

Customer interviewing scriptBefore Class

Print out at least one Interview Script Template, for each student. Generate a B2C script where the:

  • Interview Type = B2C
  • Role = student
  • Problem = having too much work to do and too little time
  • Context = during midterms

During Class

Use this exercise when students are preparing to start validating their first Business Model Canvas assumptions. They will validate these assumptions by interviewing Early Adopters – see the Finding your Early Adopters module in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) for explicit instructions to prepare students to interview their Early Adopters.

teaching entrepreneurship

Let students know there are techniques that can help them interview customers in a way that helps them test their assumptions, but it takes some practice to get good at, and comfortable with, these techniques.

Let them know it’s normal to feel awkward or nervous interviewing at first, everyone does, but that after a while, it becomes as natural as having a conversation with a close friend.

Tell them they’re going to get their first chance to interview today, and they’re going to start off, by interviewing their teammate(s).

Step 1

Tell students their one and only goal with customer interviewing is to understand the problems their customer is actively trying to solve.

Show students this intro video on interviewing customers to give them a broad sense of the objectives:

 Step 2: Warm Up

Start out with a few warm-up, rapport-building questions. These are questions that make your students and their interviewees feel comfortable so that your students can get into a flow of conversation before diving into problems or difficulties.

What to ask warmup questions

Here are some examples:

  • Ask about the weather – students might even do a quick web search to find out what it’s been like where they are: “How’ve you been faring with all the rain recently?”
  • Comment on sports – again, a web search is helpful: “49ers are the team no one wants to play again this year.”
  • Simply ask how their week has been.

Step 3: Understand the Role

B2B (business-to-business) Script: Your students want to understand the challenges their early adopters are facing, so they should focus on that person’s role, be it a student, or a hiring manager, etc. They want to focus on how that person defines their role, what success looks like for them, and, ultimately, the challenges they face in achieving that success.

By focusing on their role, as opposed to the entire company, you students have a much more sincere and open conversation.

With that in mind, your first question here is:

How would you describe your role as a __________?

what to ask: role definition

This is a nice, easy first question to get the person starting to talk about the ins and outs of their job. Let the interviewee describe in their own words what it’s like to have her job.

It is really important that your students understand how this person views their roles and responsibilities. They will be referring to their words over and over during the rest of the conversation. This will also help them to create a mental framework of what their job is like.

As the interviewee responds, be sure to write down the words and jargon they use.

If it’s the first time your students have heard the word or something described in a specific way, they need to ask about it. Don’t be shy! This is their chance to hear the definition of a term directly from their customer – it’s also a chance for their customer to demonstrate their expertise (a good thing).

Going forward, the best way to build rapport is to…

Use their words to talk about their job and problems.

Using their words and phrasings will help your students build trust as they get into the more vulnerable part of the conversation around problems and difficulties.

Step 4: Define Success

Now that your students understand their potential early adopter’s job description, the next step is to understand how they define success. The question here is

What does success look like for you?

This question is meant to be aspirational. What are they looking to achieve? How does their performance get measured? What expectations does this person’s boss have of them? What expectations do their customers have? What expectations do they have of themselves?

what to ask: define success

The answer to this question will help guide your students’ conversation. At the end of the day, they will be helping your students solve their problems so, ultimately, they can achieve the success that they have just named for your students!

Their success is your students’ success.

Your students will be successful when they help their customer be successful – this question will help them figure out how to do that.

One tip is to circle here, saying something like, “If I understand you correctly, if we were to solve this problem, we can help you achieve [your success].”

Reflecting back their success will also help build rapport. It’s a way for your students to remind them that they are here to help them solve a problem and achieve their goals.

Step 5: Identify the Problem

Your students now dive into the problems their interviewee is facing.

what to ask: b2b problem

For B2B interviewees, by asking about their customer’s role and goals, your students have created a sufficiently safe context to ask about their challenges:

What is the hardest part about achieving that success?

what to ask: b2c problem

For B2C interviewees, this is your students’ starting point. Their customer doesn’t have a job description or larger company vision, so they can start with the personal challenges. After their initial warm up questions, ask:

What is the biggest challenge you are facing as a [customer role]?

Both: In this question, your students are listening for the challenges that are preventing the customer from achieving their success or living their life as they would like.

Again, students should listen for the words they use to describe their difficulties. Ask a lot of questions to clarify and fully understand what they are telling them.

The answer to this question will get to the heart of what their customer is looking for.

Below this question your students will notice there are 3 columns. That’s because parts of this script are designed to be repeated so they can discover all of the problems your customer is trying to solve. More on that below.

Empathize, empathize, empathize.

At this point in the script is a reminder that your students should be empathizing with their interviewee throughout the conversation. They don’t need to go into their own stories, but do acknowledge if they’ve experienced a similar difficulty or if they can understand where they are coming from.

Phrases such as the following can be helpful for students letting someone know they’re on their team.

  • I’ve been there.
  • That makes complete sense.
  • I can see how that would be frustrating.

When empathizing, be genuine. If your students can’t put themselves in their shoes, ask for more information. They want to understand their customer as thoroughly as possible.

Many of us are used to putting forth a front of having “it all figured out”.

If someone is sharing their problems, they are taking a risk to be vulnerable.

This is especially true for B2B, where your students are asking someone to admit that they are having difficulties in their role with the company. Validating their experience will help them feel safe and comfortable so they will continue to open up.

Step 6: The Last Time

Your students now want to know whether their customer is actively “paying” to solve the problem they just mentioned. To do that, they should ask

When was the last time you tried to solve this problem?

what to ask: last time

This question is key.

The answer will tell your students if they are an Early Adopter or an Early Majority. They are looking for Early Adopters – customers who are already “paying” to solve the problem.

For B2B, listen for evidence they’ve “paid” to solve the problem within the last 12 months – the typical business budget cycle.

For B2C, listen for evidence they’ve “paid” to solve this problem within the last 6 months.

The answer is easy to interpret:

If they’ve “paid” to solve this problem recently, with a currency that will lead to your students’ victory, they’re an Early Adopter for a solution. If they haven’t, they’re not.

If they’re an Early Adopter, continue with the questions below. If they are not, start again from the previous question:

“What else is hard about achieving your success?” for B2B

or

“What else is challenging about [customer role]?” for B2C.

This is why there are multiple columns for notes under this question. Most of the time your students will have to go through the series of questions a few times before striking gold. Use the second and third columns of the script to dive into alternative problems.

Step 7: Specific Problem Scenario

Once your students know they have an Early Adopter, they can start to gather information specifically about their customer’s attempts at solutions. Ask:

Can you tell me about the last time that problem occurred?

what to ask: problem scenario

Here, your students are looking for a more detailed description of the actual problem. They are hoping to get beyond generalizations or broad descriptions of their customer’s struggles, and dial down into a specific instance where they had this problem and tried to find a solution.

This strategy is important for both B2B and B2C.

Why is this important? In this response, your students are listening for more specific words, jargon and emotions that help to understand the problem. This will help them understand how their customers describe the heart of the issue.

Again, ask a lot of questions. There are no stupid questions – the more information your students can get, the better.

Take special note of the words they use, the jargon they use, and the emotions they describe. This will form the foundation of the marketing strategy.

The scenario the customer describes can also serve as a case study later on. If they give your students a very concrete example, they can use it to help develop a solution when they’re back inside the building, brainstorming.

Step 8: Marketing Copy

This question will answer all of your students’ marketing copy questions for both B2B and B2C. Ask:

Why is it a problem for you?

Warning: this question may feel awkward to ask – but your students must ask it.

what to ask: marketing copy

It will probably feel obvious why it is a problem and your students will be tempted to skip this question. However, the way they describe why it’s a problem is likely to be different than how your students would describe it.

Your students are not psychic, so they shouldn’t pretend to be. Let the customers speak for themselves.

Above all else, your students want to know the words their customer uses to describe their experience, and the emotions they feel when encountering this problem.

In the marketing copy, when your students can use a customer’s exact phrasings and identify the exact emotions they are feeling when faced with a problem, they will resonate with the customer on a profound level.

The better your students understand their customer, without making any assumptions of their own, the better they will be able to serve them, and the better – and more successful – your students’ solution will be.

If your students don’t hear any emotions mentioned the first time they ask this question, keep trying. Say something like, “Interesting. And why is that a problem?”

Keep going, asking why up to five times, until they get to the emotional core of their customer’s experience of the problem.

Step 9: Current Solutions

Now it’s time to for your students to figure out where they should do their marketing. To do that, ask:

How did you find your current solution?

what to ask: current solution

The answer to this question is key because it will help your students figure out how to find more people like the interviewee, with similar problems. This is just as true for B2B as B2C.

Eventually, the answers your students collect to this question will drive their marketing channel definitions. If one customer has gone there to find a solution, it’s likely others have gone there as well.

Step 10: What Isn’t Ideal About Their Solution?

Presumably, the current solution for this customer isn’t working – that’s why they mentioned it as a problem earlier in the interview. At this point, your students are in a perfect position to ask:

What’s not ideal about this solution?

what to ask: what is wrong with the solution

Here, your students will discover how they’re going to differentiate their solution from their competition.

Your student’s solution will be superior, because their understanding of the problem is superior.

The information your students gather from this question will feed into their solution ideation process – ensuring they solve the problem better than their competitors.

Step 11: Rinse and Repeat

Even if your students hit on something good the first time around, there may be more value available in this interview. At this point, your students should go back to the Hardest Part question to find out what other problems are at the top of the customer’s list.

Remember: use the additional columns of the script to take notes for additional question iterations.

After that, validate they are an Early Adopter for the new problem they mention by asking when was the last time they tried to solve it. If they are, continue with the rest of the interview questions, including a possible third iteration.

Alternate Questions

If your students make it through the second round of questions and there’s still no mention of the problem they’ve hypothesized, here is another question they can ask to both businesses and consumers:

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing as a [customer’s role] with respect to [problem scenario]?

what to ask: alternate questions

In this question, your students will spoon feed the customer a situation where they are likely to experience the problem that they’ve hypothesized. This will focus your students in on the specific area of their customer’s job or life context that aligns with their own interests.

From there, circle back to the “when was the last time you tried to solve this problem?” question and continue the exercise as before. In this scenario, your students need to pay extra close attention to their interviewee’s answer.

Important: If your students spoon feed their customers a scenario where they are confident they will feel the problem your students hypothesize and either they don’t cite the problem you hypothesized or they aren’t actively looking for a solution – they aren’t Early Adopters!

If this happens, it’s clear something has to change:

  • If this happens just a few times, no big deal. Not everyone in your students’ interview channels is going to be an Early Adopter.
  • If this is happening frequently, but your students are discovering a different problem the customers are Early Adopters for, no big deal – they can pivot to solve the new problem they’re reporting.
  • If it’s happening frequently, and your students are not discovering problems customers are Early Adopters for, no big deal – they can pivot their interviewing channels or their entire target customer segment (refer to your the ExEC curriculum for exercises for alternative segments to interview.)

Step 12: Wrap It Up

When your students wrap up an interview, they want to be sure they are leaving the door open for future conversations, even if this person is not an Early Adopter. To do that, say:

I’m actively exploring a solution to [their problem]. Can I contact you if I find a viable solution?

what to ask - wrap it up

Regardless of your students’ hypothesized problem, they should use their customer’s words to describe their problem in this closing…even if it’s not the problem your students are currently focused on solving!

Use their words to describe a problem your students hope to solve.

It is true your students may not pursue a solution to their problem now, but if enough other customers present the same difficulties, they’ve discovered a viable place to pivot. In fact, their interview may end up being one of the data points that convinces your students to pivot!

By your students asking them if they can contact them if they discover a solution to their problem, they’ve left the door open for further communication should they fall into their Early Adopter category now, or ever.

what to ask: wrapping it up

For B2B, your students will also want to ask:

If we wanted to put a solution to this problem into place, who else would we need buy-in from?

In a B2B situation, there are often multiple stakeholders in the adoption of a new solution. This question will prime your students’ interviewee to give them permission, and an intro, or just let them know who else they would need to contact to get buy-in for a solution.

Step 13: Ask for Other Interviewees

So your students can quickly talk to other similar customers, ask the interviewee if they know other people trying to solve this problem. Say something like:

I’m trying to understand this problem from a wide range of perspectives. Do you know one or two other people within your organization who are struggling with [the problem they are actively trying to solve in their words]?

what to ask: Wrap it up

This will help your students knock out their interviews even faster, and from a group of highly related customers!

Step 14: Say Thank You!

Finally, no matter who your students are interviewing, they should thank them for their generosity and their time. Tell them that the interview has been helpful – because, I guarantee, it will have been. Your students may also share that their will bring their information back to their team to help inform the development of their solution.

People enjoy being helpful. Make sure you let them know they have been!

Congratulations, your students now know exactly what to ask during their customer interviews – and what to listen for!


Get the “How to Interview Customers” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “How to Interview Customers” lesson plan. This exercise walks you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

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