Browsed by
Category: Exercises

How to Teach MVPs

How to Teach MVPs

MVP is arguably the worst buzzword in entrepreneurship today.

  • It is not a “product”.
  • Nobody can explain what “viable” means.
  • Nobody can explain what “minimum” means.

We hear it every semester – students jumping right to an idea of a completely functional app, or video game, or restaurant / bar. To one day achieve that dream, students need to first understand what is the first Minimum Viable Product (MVP) they should build.

In this exercise, students will design their first MVP by identifying their riskiest business model assumption. They’ll then design the simplest experiment they can to test that riskiest assumption.

Specifically, students will learn:

  • What is an MVP?
  • What is the Riskiest (Business Model) Assumption?
  • How to identify their Riskiest Assumption
  • How to design a test using their first MVP

Before they sink the resources necessary to build that app, or that video game, or open that restaurant / bar, they will understand how to iterate through quick tests to make sure they build a product customers actually want.

MVP Designer Worksheet

What are MVPs?

Provide students this definition of an MVP:

A version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers, with the least effort. – Frank Robinson

The goal here is to emphasize the 4 major components of the definition:

  • Collect the maximum amount
  • Of validated learning
  • About customers
  • With the least effort

Walk students through the components one-by-one:

  • #2 (validated learning) means to run an experiment to validate a hypothesis
  • #3 (about customers) means that when they run experiments, students need to focus those experiments on their customer/business model (not solely on product)
  • For #4 (with the least effort), ask students “Why would it be important for entrepreneurs to run experiments with the least effort possible?”

Answer: to save resources (e.g. time/money), in the event their hypotheses are wrong. That way they can maximize the number of business model iterations they can make.

After this discussion, re-phrase the definition of MVP as:

The easiest way to test your most important business model hypothesis.

Once your students understand the concept of an MVP, the next step is to identify the most important business model hypothesis!

Riskiest Assumption

Ask your students to fill in the blank:

A chain is only as strong as its ___________ link.

In that way, the “weakest” link of a chain is the most important in the chain; it will determine whether or not the chain fails.

Ask students to consider each of the components of the Business Model Canvas as links in a chain. How would they decide which component, or link, is the most important to test?

The component they should test is the one that is most likely to lead to their business model’s failure.

Tell students that there’s a special name for the component of their business model that is most likely to lead to its failure. We call this the “Riskiest Assumption.”

The riskiest assumption is always the most important to test with an MVP.

Students often ask about testing multiple hypotheses (assumptions) at once. Make a strong point that if they tested multiple hypotheses at once, they would find it very difficult to discern which hypothesis they invalidated if a particular experiment fails. In other words, by focusing one one hypothesis at a time, they can be certain whether

For example, if a company were to test their pricing, channel and value proposition assumptions at the same time and the experiment failed to generate the number of sales they expected, it wouldn’t be clear which of the three assumptions was to blame (e.g. wrong channel, wrong value proposition, or wrong price). In this scenario, they would be no closer to building product customers want!

Given the necessity of focusing on the riskiest assumption, if we go back to the definition of an MVP once again, we get the following:

The Minimum Viable Product is the easiest way to test your riskiest business model assumption.

The next step, is for your students to identify their riskiest assumptions.

Finding the Riskiest Assumption

In order to identify their riskiest assumption, students need to rate all of their Business Model Canvas (BMC) components in terms of risk.

To do that, they’ll need to consider two characteristics for each component:

  1. How critical is that hypothesis to the success of their business model?
  2. How confident is the students that hypothesis is valid?

Students can evaluate the components using the Riskiest Assumption Matrix.

riskiest assumption matrix

Students will map each BMC component into one of the four quadrants of the matrix:

  • Lower-Left: Less Critical + Low Confidence. Assumptions that students have little data on but will not drastically affect the success of their business model.
  • Lower-Right: Less Critical + High Confidence. Assumptions that have plenty of supporting data but will not greatly impact their business model.
  • Top-Right: Highly Critical + High Confidence. Business model assumptions that could significantly impact the business model that have been validated.
  • Top-Left: Highly Critical + Low Confidence. Business model assumptions that could significantly impact the business model that have yet to be validated.

The assumptions in this top-left quadrant are the riskiest to the overall business model and students should test first with their MVPs. The closer to the top-left corner of the chart, the more risky the assumption.

Walk students through scoring, and plotting, the components from their BMC by using Customer Segments as an example. Ask students to rate their “Customer Segments” (CS) assumptions based on two criteria, both on a scale from 0 to 10:

  • How critical is this assumption to the success of their BMC? (0 = not at all critical. 10 = extremely critical)

“Critical” here is defined as, “If these hypotheses were proven false, how likely would that lead to the collapse of the overall business model?”

As they think about their score, tell students that while the customer segments component of their business model will always be critical to their business model’s success, meaning it should get a relatively high score, for some business models the CS component is more critical than others.

For example, if a student has several distinct, but highly related customer segments with similar problems (e.g. they can serve dog owners, cat owners, ferret owners, etc.), they might be able to quickly pivot their CS hypothesis if their current assumption gets invalidated. In that way, they may score their CS component as slightly less critical (e.g. 7 – 8) than a business model with a single unique CS (e.g. CIOs for federal agencies) that is more difficult to pivot without changing the entire business model.

Note: the actual scores don’t matter at all so you can tell students to just give them a “gut feel” number. What matters most is how they score the components relative to one another.

Once students have written in their critical score, ask them to score…

  • How confident are they that their CS assumptions are valid? (0 = not at all confident. 10 = extremely confident).

Their Confidence levels should correspond with how much evidence students have that their hypothesis is valid.

As students conduct customer interviews they should develop a moderate to high level of confidence this is the right customer segment for them to solve a problem for.

Ask students to write in their confidence scores for their CS component.

Once they write down their scores, students should plot the Customer Segments component on their Riskiest Assumption Matrix by putting a dot at the appropriate point on the chart, and labeling it with the letters “CS” above the point.

Students need to map all their BMC hypotheses onto the Riskiest Assumption Matrix. Provide them the following guidance to help students calibrate their risks:

  • Value Proposition: highly critical, medium confidence. Arguably the most important set of assumptions in the BMC (i.e. highly critical).
  • Customer Relationships: less critical, any confidence. Relationship models can often be altered as necessary to meet the demands of customers.
  • Channels: highly critical, low confidence. Students won’t be able to sell a solution to customer problems unless they have a means of reaching their customers.
  • Revenue Streams: highly critical, low confidence. Students won’t be able to build sustainable businesses without revenue streams.
  • Cost Structure: moderately critical, medium confidence. Costs are important because they have a direct impact on the financial sustainability of a business model, but costs can often be optimized and reduced over time, moderating the critical nature of these assumptions. Students should be able to collect at least a little validating data on the costs they will incur solving the problem they want to solve.
  • Key Resources: less critical, medium confidence. Key resources are typically assets the student already has access to, or will need to get access to in order to fulfill their value proposition. These are often less risky assumptions because the same activities can be delivered with different resources, if the originally assumed resources are not available. These assumptions typically have medium confidence because the student already knows if they have some of the resources they require.
  • Key Activities: moderately critical, low to medium confidence. Key activities, while pivotal to fulfilling the value proposition, are often flexible as there are a number of ways to solve any given problem, making these assumptions less critical. These assumptions may be well known, but can also be significantly influenced by the revenue streams (high revenue streams can often lead to more quality-oriented key activities).
  • Key Partners: low to moderately critical, low confidence. Key partners represent the external organizations that help deliver on the value proposition. Sometimes they are required, often alternatives can be utilized to deliver their portion of the value proposition if some key partner assumptions are incorrect.

Once students plot their BMC components on their matrix, ask them to identify their riskiest assumptions by locating the dot that is closest to the top-left corner of the canvas.

Students should identify either their Channel or Revenue Stream hypotheses as their most risky. If they don’t, discuss with them and the rest of the class why they should re-evaluate the risk.

Many students will identify that their Value Proposition assumption is their riskiest. Convey that they, like all humans, are incredible problem solvers and that if there’s enough demand to solve a problem (as demonstrated by revenue), you’re convinced they will find a solution to the problem by learning a new skill, or using all the money they get from customers to hire the right people to solve the problem. This confidence should cause the Value Proposition assumption to be less risky than the Channel or Revenue Stream hypotheses, for which they should have very low confidence.

Tell students it’s almost always harder to get people to pay to solve a problem than it is to solve it. Even with a cure for cancer, they would have to navigate the channels and revenue streams required to monetize pharmaceutical treatments.

MVP Storming

Next, your students will learn how to develop MVPs to test their riskiest hypothesis. To start, they’ll brainstorm potential MVPs for a hypothetical riskiest assumption that you give them. It is helpful to show students a few real example MVPs:

  • Dropbox’s “Demo” video was a combination of working code and video editing magic of features they would eventually implement if they validated their riskiest assumption – that enough people cared about the problem to make it worth solving.
  • Airbnb launched an MVP to test demand for rooms to stay at during conferences. One of their earliest MVPs was testing demand for their site at SXSW.

Channel Testing MVPs

Give your students the following scenario:

Let’s say you’ve spoken with working parents and the biggest problem they are trying to solve is that when their kids get sick, it’s stressful because getting their children care takes too long, and the parent loses their entire work day.

You’ve identified that channels are your riskiest assumptions. In particular you’re not sure if you can get enough people to click on your Facebook ads to meet your financial projections (annual reach of 45,000-people with a 5% click through rate (CTR)).

Then ask your students: What MVPs could you create to test these channel assumptions?

Remind students that an MVP is, “The easiest way to test their riskiest business model assumption.”

Discuss students’ answers, eventually letting them know that the easiest way to test this assumption would be to create a simple Facebook text ad targeted at working parents to measure how many people click on the ad.

Revenue Stream MVPs

Alternatively, propose to your students that:

You’ve identified that your riskiest assumption is your revenue stream. In particular that working parents will pay $199/month for access to 3 in-home pediatrician visits each year.

Ask your students what MVP could be created in this case?

Potential Answers:

Pre-Orders: Create a site that collects pre-orders from prospective working parents. The site should mention the price and ideally require a credit card to play the pre-order, but the credit card shouldn’t be charged until the founders are confident they can deliver on their value proposition.

Letters of Intent (LOIs): Collect Letters of Intent (LOIs) – signed, non-binding, documents indicating that the prospective customers will agree to using this service at a given price point.

While LOIs are typically used in business-to-business (B2B) scenarios, you can use this example as a way to introduce LOIs by explaining that they are non-legally binding documents that state a person/organization “intends” to take an action (e.g. buy your product once you build it). While LOIs don’t provide as much validation (i.e. increased confidence) as much as actual sales, an LOI still requires signatures and approval from stakeholders within an organization, which provides much more validation than a simple verbal agreement.

Tell students that asking their customers to sign LOIs is a great way to test their Revenue Stream assumptions if they are selling to other businesses.

Students’ MVP

With these examples in mind, and having previously identified their riskiest assumption, ask students to brainstorm their first MVP. Once they have an idea, ask a few students to present:

  • Their riskiest assumption, and
  • The MVP they’ll create to test it

Lead a discussion so the class can give them feedback to help them hone their MVP ideas.

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:


Get the “How to Teach MVPs” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “How to Teach MVPs” exercise to walk 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.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
Design Thinking 101: Design the Ideal Wallet

Design Thinking 101: Design the Ideal Wallet

Inject Design Thinking In Your Class

Whether starting a business, or working within a business to develop new products or services, understanding the design thinking process is a powerful tool to deliver and capture value in the marketplace.

design thinking process

The Wallet Project, from Stanford University’s d.school, is a fast-paced way to introduce your students to design thinking. This is a group activity (from 2 to 100+ participants) in which students rapidly do a full cycle through the design process. The project is broken down into specific steps (of a few minutes each), and students have worksheet packets that guide them. In addition, one or two facilitators (not participating in the project) prompt each step, and add verbal color and instruction. Students pair up, show and tell each other about their wallets, ideate, and make a new solution that is “useful and meaningful” to their partner.

This exercise is great because every student has an artifact (their wallet or purse) that contains so much meaning in it. You can get some really interesting information about someone just by asking about their wallet. This project also tends to yield final solution ideas that are physical, and more easily prototyped.

What Students Learn

Students get the feel of a design approach, gain some shared vocabulary, and get a taste of each design “mode” (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test). Specifically, students learn:

  • the value of engaging with real people to help them ground their design decisions,
  • that low-resolutions prototypes are useful to learn from (take an iterative approach)
  • to bias toward action (you can make a lot of progress in a little bit of time if you start doing).

Step 1: The Wrong Approach

Tell students:

“Instead of just telling you about design thinking, we want to immediately have you jump right in and experience it for yourself. We are going to do a design project for about the next hour. Ready? Let’s go!”

Give students the “Design the IDEAL Wallet” worksheet and use this timer to count down the 3 minutes.

design the ideal wallet worksheet

Don’t give students any instructions here – just tell them to draw an idea for their ideal wallet. It’s important to remind them that you are not a good artist (whether you are or are not), and that they are not going to be judged at all by their artistic ability.

The intention here is to contrast an abstract problem-centric approach to a human-centered design thinking approach.

Remind students after each minute expires. After the 3 minutes expires, ask students:

“How did that feel?”

They will likely offer some emotions that are not that positive. Highlight those, and tell them “that was a typical problem-solving approach, taking on a given problem, working using your own opinions and experience to guide you, and with a solution in mind to be designed. Let’s try something else – a human-centered design thinking approach.”

Step 2: A Better Approach

Give students the “Your New Mission” worksheet and have them pair up.

your new mission worksheet

Their job is to design something useful for their partner. Tell students the most important part of designing for someone is to gain empathy. Students will do this through having a conversation with their partner.

Tell students that Partner A will have 4 minutes to interview Partner B, then they will switch. Have Partner A walk Partner B through the contents of their wallet. Encourage Partner A to ask questions about when they carry a wallet, why they have particular things in there, and to make notes of things they find interesting or surprising.

Start playing upbeat music (I like Motown) and start the 4 minutes. Partner A asks Partner B to go through Partner B’s wallet. Then they switch and spend 4 minutes in reversed roles.

Step 3: Dig Deeper

After this first set of interviews, encourage students to follow up on things they found interesting or surprising. They should dig for stories, feelings and emotions (around pictures, artifacts, etc.) Encourage students to ask “Why?” often and to let their partner talk.

Students need to understand that the wallet is a distraction, that what is important for them to discover is what is important to their partner. Remind students to make note of any unexpected discoveries and to capture quotes.

Step 4: Reframe the Problem

Give students the “Reframe the Problem” worksheet.

Reframe the problem worksheet

Have each student individually reflect for three minutes on what they learned about their partner. Tell students to synthesize their learning into two groups:

  1. Their partner’s goals and wishes. Students should use verbs to express these. Remind students that these should be needs related to the wallet and life, that they should think about physical and emotional needs. Give them an example of maybe their partner needing to minimize the number of things he carries, or he needs to feel like he is supporting the local community and economy.
  2. Any insights they discovered. Tell them they can leverage insights when creating solutions. Give them an example that they might discover their partner values purchases more when using cash to make it. Another example could be that the partner sees the wallet as a reminder and organizing system, not a carrying device.

Step 5: Take a Stand

This is where students articulate their point-of-view around which they will build solutions. Tell them to select the most compelling need and most interesting insight they gained from their partner. This statement is going to be the foundation for their design work, so encourage them to make it actionable, and exciting. Give them an example like these:

“Janice needs a way to feel she has access to all her stuff and is ready to act. Surprisingly, carrying her purse makes her feel less ready to act, not more.”

or

“Arthur needs a way to socialize with his friends while eating healthy, but he feels he isn’t participating if he isn’t holding a drink.”

Step 6: Sketch to Ideate

Give students the “Ideate” worksheet.

Ideate worksheet

At the top, they write their problem statement. Tell them they are now creating solutions to the challenge they’ve identified. Push them that quantity is better than quality here, that they should go for volume of sketches of ideas. Remind them the goal here is idea generation, not evaluation; challenge them by saying “see if you can come up with at least 7 ideas!”

Keep telling them as each minute passes, and remind them to be visual, to not use words but to use pictures.

It is important to remind them here that they may not be designing a wallet, but that they should create solutions to the problem statement they just created.

Step 7: Share Solutions and Capture Feedback

During this step, partners share their sketches with each other for 4 minutes each. As each partner gives reactions to the sketches, the other partner should take note of any likes and dislikes, and also listen for any new insights. Remind students the goal here is not to validate their ideas, and not to explain or defend their idea. This is an opportunity to learn more about their partner’s feelings and motivations. After four minutes, students switch.

Step 8: Reflect & Generate New Solutions

Give students the “Iterate based on feedback” worksheet.

iterate worksheet

Tell students to take a moment to consider what they learned about their partner and about the solutions they generated. Using all they’ve learned, ask students to sketch a new idea. This idea can be a variation on an idea from before, or could be something entirely new. It is OK if they need to adjust their problem statement to incorporate new insights and needs they discovered in Step 7.

Encourage students to provide as much detail and color around their idea as they can. They should think about how the solution fits into their partner’s life, when and how they might handle or encounter the new solution.

**NOTE: While students are working, grab the prototyping materials.**

design thinking prototyping materials

Step 9: Build!

Give students the “Build and test” worksheet.

build and test worksheet

Tell students the next step is to create a physical prototype of their solution. Explain they should not just make a scale model of their idea.

They should create an experience that their partner can react to.

They need to actually make something their partner can engage and interact with. Students who want to create a service will ask how they can create that. Talk about creating a scenario that allows the partner to experience it – they can use space, act it out, etc.

Push students to be quick, remind them they have only a few minutes.

Step 10: Share Your Solution & Get Feedback

Now one partner will share their prototype and collect feedback, then partners will switch roles. Tell students they are not interested in validating the prototype, but instead are interested in a targeted conversation around the experience, specifically focused on feelings and emotions. Remind students their prototype is not precious, that they cannot cherish it and should let go of it. What is valuable here is the feedback and new insights they will gain from their partner’s interaction with the prototype. Students need to watch how their partner uses and misuses the prototype. They should take note of what their partner liked and didn’t like, what questions and ideas emerged.

Step 11: Group Gather & Debrief

Create a space that all students can gather around – move tables together, clear chairs, etc.

Have everyone put their prototypes in the middle of the gathering space. Ask students

This step is important! A well facilitated reflection has the power to turn this exercise from simply a fun activity to a meaningful experience that could impact the way participants approach innovation in the future. Quickly pull together a few tables that everyone can gather around. Ask students:

  • “Who had a partner who created something that you really like?”
  • “Who sees something they are curious to learn more about?”

When a student is curious about a prototype, ask for the person who created the prototype and engage them in the conversation:

  • “How did talking to your partner inform your design?”
  • “How did testing and getting feedback impact your final design?”
  • “What was the most challenging part of the process for you?”

The key to leading this conversation is to relate the activity to the following takeaways:

  • Human-centered design: Empathy for the person or people you are designing for, and feedback from users, is fundamental to good design.
  • Experimentation and prototyping: Prototyping is an integral part of your innovation process. A bias towards action, toward doing and making over thinking and meeting.
  • Show don’t tell: Communicate your vision in an impactful and meaningful way by creating experiences and interactive visuals.
  • Power of iteration: Learn, try, fail, learn more, try again, fail again, learn more, and so the cycle goes. A person’s fluency with design thinking is a function of cycles, so we challenge participants to go through as many cycles as possible—interview twice, sketch twice, and test with your partner twice. Additionally, iterating solutions many times within a project is key to successful outcomes.

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:


Get the “Design the Ideal Wallet” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Design the Ideal Wallet” exercise to walk 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.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
Recommended Tools for Teaching Entrepreneurship

Recommended Tools for Teaching Entrepreneurship

“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
  • Prototyping
  • 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.

Interview Transcription Tools

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!

customer interview tools

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

Get familiar with Kahoot; watch this Kahoot demo video, and review the Kahoot questions here. Students love games, so take advantage of that and teach them interviewing through a gaming experience.

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.

Prototyping Tools

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:

  1. Tells their customers the problem they are solving,
  2. Uses a video to demonstrate how they will solve the problem and
  3. 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.

teaching video explainer tools

  • 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).

Low Fidelity

High Fidelity

  • inVision  (interactive prototyping tool)
  • Adobe XD (wireframe & design tool)
  • Proto.io (interactive prototyping tool)
  • Sketch (digital design platform)

teaching prototyping tools

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.

teaching finance tools in entrepreneurship

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.

Want More Tools To Engage Your Students?

We email new experiential entrepreneurship tools, techniques, and lesson plans regularly.

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

 

“The Best class I’ve taken”

“The Best class I’ve taken”

Kim Pichot, an entrepreneurship professor at Andrews University, watched a keenly intelligent student become disillusioned, before her eyes.

Kim Pichot
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Andrews University 

She’d taught him during his first year when he was eager to learn, quickly grasped complex topics, and had a perfect GPA. By the time Kim saw him again his senior year, everything had changed.

His demeanor had changed, he’d lost interest in learning, and he was on a quest to leave school, at one point asking her:

“What can I do to graduate? I just need out of here.”

Coincidentally, Kim had wanted to adopt a more experiential approach to her entrepreneurship class, so she decided to try the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC). Her disillusioned student reluctantly started working with ExEC’s structured, real-world experiences, and the result was nothing short of a Dead Poets Society moment:

Why Kim Adopted ExEC

Kim worked for the SBDC and SBI for over 20 years, helping guide and mentor over 300 founders and business owners. Along the way, she founded a consulting business. She brought that experience to entrepreneurship courses at Andrews University, where she was using a textbook, giving a midterm and a final exam, and using the Business Model Canvas, a strategic marketing plan and a business plan.

Kim knew the material wasn’t engaging her students. She wanted to improve her students’ takeaways, so she needed to update her course. Kim wanted to keep the Business Model Canvas and go much deeper with that kind of tool and approach. She doesn’t see the value in exams; they spread out the grading curve a bit, but she doesn’t believe they represent real learning. To her, experiential learning is the only effective method of education.

Kim met the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org team at the annual USASBE conference. She tried a few exercises with her students, and her classroom came alive! When she dug deeper into our award-winning curriculum, Kim thought to herself:

“I can have the type of classroom I really want without killing myself preparing for it.”

Kim was so happy with the experience she wanted to try the full ExEC curriculum on an elective course before using it in the university’s Interdisciplinary Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate (4 courses and a capstone ending with a demo day and real money). Next semester Kim will use ExEC in her elective course and in the Certificate!

This semester was Kim’s first using ExEC. She prepped before each class, barely staying ahead of the students. Her semester was a process of evaluating and responding based on how the students reacted to the curriculum, and the value they are getting from it. She saw students engaged in learning, developing personally meaningful concepts. At the end of each module, she thought “WOW!”

How Students Transformed

The class is a junior and senior elective, so Kim’s students are mostly taking a business minor, management major, or marketing major. The students took the course because they thought it would be an easy grade; as Kim related:

“The hardest part of this entrepreneurship class is that students are not coming in with a desire to start a business. It’s an elective.”

Students did not expect to spend time outside class working as a group, interviewing actual people, building real value. They expected the typical listen – learn – reflect/regurgitate routine. The students were in for a shock!

As Kim walked students through ExEC one step at a time, they understood the progression, the benefit they were gaining, and the skill set they were developing. Kim’s classroom became a hub of high energy every time they gathered. Music played, ideas flew around, experiments developed, feedback exchanged . . . the learning was real!

When the class got to the point of designing a landing page through the 60 Minute MVP exercise, students didn’t think they could do that in one class period. Yet at the end of the class, they all launched landing pages!

Students didn’t believe in themselves going in, and emerged having accomplished something amazing – building and launching an MVP in 60 minutes, with no technical expertise.

One group got 500 sign-ups for their concept. Another group made $300 the last week of class with a digital marketing consulting idea.

Another transformation related to financials. Kim’s previous students felt the financial lessons weren’t realistic. With ExEC, the students realized they could design pessimistic and optimistic projections based on fairly accurate assumptions. They saw how they could scale a product line or a business. Students understood how the number of clients or subscribers impacted real financial projections, and how to calculate the number of purchases necessary to cover costs given a certain percent margin.

The numbers became real! And now with our Financial Projection Simulator, we give professor’s a robust financial modeling tool that leads students through an experimentation process to find a financially sustainable business model.

Kim related that her students see how they can apply the set of entrepreneurial skills they developed in different situations. The physical therapy students commented that they can see pieces of ExEC they can use to introduce something new in the practice that will employ them. Overall, as Kim said:

“The students walk away with a much better, much deeper learning experience.”

How Kim Transformed

Kim began her journey with ExEC as an experiment. Compared to previous classes, Kim’s students using ExEC were more engaged. The business concepts her students developed were more complete, more accurately developed, and more powerfully presented. Her students walked away with more positive takeaways than previous semesters: a valuable skill set, a positive learning experience, an engaging class, and confidence in their abilities. Using ExEC, Kim provided a completely different learning experience to her students, and received a mountain of feedback about this being the best course ever!

“It’s exactly what I wanted this semester to be. I wanted it to be a higher engagement for the traditional student.”

Nothing is ever perfect, and Kim also encountered struggles. She adopted the curriculum at the last minute, so she did not have the luxury of planning in advance. (pssssst, now is the time to start planning for the fall – don’t wait, sign up now!) Many days, Kim arrived at work hours before class and used the time to familiarize herself with the lesson plan and concepts she delivered later that day. The structure of the lesson plans helped her prepare efficiently to deliver an engaging learning experience to her students:

“The way everything was laid out made it very easy for me to pick up and go.”

As with any good professor, Kim thought this group of students had endless potential. During the semester, she realized some were struggling to see the value of some experiences. To tackle this challenge, Kim began spending time each class session intentionally relating each assignment and activity to students’ career paths. This opened students to the possibility of the skills helping them create value in their specific career path, even if that path didn’t include entrepreneurship. As Kim related, students realized they mastered a lot of tools and skills they can use in their future to stand out.

“I don’t think there is a single student walking out of that classroom feeling like they wasted their time.”

Which brings us back to Kim’s intelligent, disillusioned student, and her Dead Poets moment.

When she adopted ExEC, Kim saw him perk up and get excited about learning again. At the end of the semester, she asked for written feedback, and this student asked Kim if he could provide his feedback orally (btw, tons teachers dream of a student doing this – we are all totally jealous!) He stood in front of the class and said:

“This one is by far the best class I’ve ever taken at this University!”

The rest of the class chimed in agreeing with the sentiment. Our goal is to ignite classrooms around the world with the same excitement and joy of learning!

If you have problems with students

  • Not engaging, just going through the motions of another class
  • Not understanding financial projections
  • Not believing in their potential to learn applicable skills

request a preview of our ExEC curriculum here.

teaching entrepreneurship

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:

  • 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.
  • Student Engagement Workshop. In this hour-long session, you will learn 4 techniques to engage all your students – those who are there to learn, and those who are there to pass!

Want More Tools To Engage Your Students?

We email new experiential entrepreneurship tools, techniques, and lesson plans regularly.

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

 

Pivoting the Wish Game: The Reality of Entrepreneurship

Pivoting the Wish Game: The Reality of Entrepreneurship

“Can I take this class again?”

The student wasn’t asking because she enjoyed the class so much. She was asking because she realized she missed the opportunity. This is confirmation that I am creating a powerful experience for my students. And confirmation that I need to do a better job introducing it.

As we near the end of the semester, I see changes in my Wish Game course experiment. It began as a grand vision, with a ton of anxious excitement from me and my students.

It is morphing into a transformational experience for students.

Let’s catch up on the wishes and experience over the past month. I learned a few valuable lessons over these weeks:

  • I can give student too much agency (I need to provide closer guidance)
  • Singular focus on granting wishes all semester is probably too much; balance is better
  • Students prefer safety
  • Maybe wishes for others would be a better learning experience than personal wishes

Granting Wishes

A few weeks back, as is our pattern, we were granting two wishes per week. This particular week the two wishes were:

  • Take the money that would be spent on a wish to a casino and let it ride on blackjack.
  • Be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami.

The first was extremely straightforward. As students interviewed the grantee for this one, they tried to encourage her to pick a more challenging wish, but she stood her ground. She loves the energy and excitement of the casino. The group granting her wish handed her $150 cash the night of class and she and two classmates headed to the casino. She reported back that she taught her classmates about blackjack and roulette, and ended up winning a few bucks along the way.

Image result for blackjack creative commons

This wish presented no problem in terms of execution. It did, however, present problems within the group. There was some conflict about whether to grant the wish the grantee asked for, or to go bigger and get creative. I have been encouraging the students to think big, to take a risk. But in this case, because the grantee so adamantly stated she just wanted cash to go to the casino, the group delivered the wish. Through customer interviewing, the students understood the grantee’s desire for the emotional experience of a casino trip, and they granted it.

The other wish that week was for a student to be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. This wish was technically possible because that festival was happening in the future from the week they were granting this wish. The students got right to work interviewing the grantee to understand why he wanted this wish.

As I always do, I encouraged students to use their network to actually accomplish this wish.

I pointed out that one John Carroll alum, who was just on campus speaking not long ago, was a very successful DJ – Mick Batyske. I gave the students his cell number and encouraged them to reach out as he would likely have some connections to the festival organizers and/or Skrillex and Marshmello. They did not reach out!

The group decided pretty quickly it was too expensive – airfare, lodging, festival tickets, etc. As far as I could tell from conversations I overheard and from reflections I read, they did not consider or act on the possibility of asking for donations or hustling up some alternative solutions. They quickly moved from the big plan (deliver the actual wish) to a skeleton of the wish. This group ended up putting on a Marshmello “show” at one student’s house – they created some ambiance with music, lights, had pizza to eat. They also got the grantee a Marshmello hat.

Image result for marshmello creative commons

What Went Wrong

I pound at students that their network is much larger and easier to activate than they think. Coworkers, John Carroll alum, high school friends, family connections, hometown connections, and the list goes on. I get disappointed watching students spend 30 minutes in class brainstorming how to execute delivering a wish. They don’t spend much time strategizing how to activate their network.

This week I realized (duh!!) I should model that for them.

I committed that during the last group of wishes I would pick one wish and grant it myself, showing them how it could be done. I hope this lights a fire as they realize what could have been, and encourages them to take the risk, to dive in the next time an opportunity presents itself.

Next Wishes

The next wishes proved some interesting lessons for myself and the students.

  • Travel to Ireland.
  • Have Chipotle for life.

For the trip to Ireland, the group quickly learned that the grantee doesn’t have a passport, and is very anxious about flying (having never flown before). They quickly ruled out actually sending him to Ireland that week 🙂

Related image

Through their interviews, they learned about his connection to Ireland, his dreams of what a trip there would entail, and highlights that would be meaningful to him. After a week of planning, they did their best to recreate the feel of Ireland in a room through decorations, music, and scenery. They also provided the grantee some gifts to commemorate his “trip” – a wool blanket, some Guinness, an Irish stone. The grantee was beaming as they showed a Photoshopped slideshow in class of his “trip” to the magical Irish destinations he dreamed of going.

The next wish was considerably more difficult – the student wanted Chipotle for life! Some students discussed what “for life” means – I can’t blame them for looking for the easy path. Eventually, the group coalesced around trying to actually grant the wish. They asked me about approaching the President of John Carroll to send a letter to the CEO of Chipotle. I advised them that would not be very realistic, especially within a week.

The students did reach out to another member of the leadership team at John Carroll to send a note to the Chipotle CEO. The response was a fantastic learning lesson for us all:

Thanks for reaching out.  I am not inclined to get involved in this activity as I don’t see any realistic role that I could play.  I don’t know the full context of your assignment but I would offer the following observations.
  1. The Ignatian characteristic of men and women with and for others, is meant to be directed at the poor and marginalized in our society, so not applicable in this context.
  2. Asking Chipotle executives for free food for an MBA student doesn’t appear to be a very compelling rationale on the face of it.  What is in it for them or their company?  If you are going to make this pitch, you’d better be creating value for them.  Would you make this a viral video, etc.?
During debrief, we had a rich discussion about Jesuit values, about privilege and philanthropy, about right and wrong, and many other related topics. It opened my eyes to the potential danger in this exercise, in terms of encouraging students to be very selfish and to expend resources on seemingly frivolous gifts.
We as a class decided after much discussion that the exercise was not about the selfishness of wishes, but about the generosity of granting wishes.

Related image

I encouraged students to think small to go big with this wish. I often hold myself back from offering suggestions. As my frustration with their inability to go big grew, I couldn’t hold back this time.

I encouraged them to figure out the Chipotle meal the grantee likes (let’s say it costs $6), and how many weeks he will be alive (let’s say 2,500). I then suggested each member of the group ask 10 people to each buy one $6 Chipotle gift card, and to ask those people to each ask 10 people to buy one, and so on. If they each started with 10, that would immediately be 140, and if each of those got 10 more people, that would be 1,400, and so on. Ultimately, they reported it didn’t work because their friends didn’t want to contribute money. Ultimately, they didn’t sell it. Instead, they bought him a $150 Chipotle gift card.

This wish provided a great learning opportunity on a much deeper level, but also a reminder that the students are still struggling to get uncomfortable and really push their boundaries of what is possible.

Adjusting the Pace

Students brought up that if they had two weeks to do wishes, they could deliver more impactful experiences. In their minds, time was the most valuable resource, which they were lacking. After some very rich discussion about evaluating and leveraging resources, we decided that each of the two groups (14 students in each) would deliver wishes every other week. The caveat was that each group had to deliver two wishes every other week so that each student got a wish during the semester.

Fun Note: Students argues that since wishes were due every other week, they should only have to turn in reflection papers every other week. When I told them those papers every other week would be worth double (so the total course points stayed the same) they balked. I explained that everyone benefited under this because they had to write 1/2 as much for the same grade and I had to grade 1/2 as much. But they chose to keep writing the reflection papers each week.

A New Pace of Wishes

We jumped into this new pace of granting four wishes every other week. The next wishes were:

  • Dive with great white sharks
  • Meet Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns quarterback and 1st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft)
  • Play a round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods
  • Drive a Jaguar F-Type 2016

These wishes seemed to me to be quite challenging. The students seemed invigorated because they had more time to plan and execute – I hoped that meant they would be able to deliver a more impactful wish experience.

Each group of ~14 split into two groups of ~7 and started interviewing grantees and planning for wish granting. For the shark diving wish, the group found out that the grantee had a trip planned with her husband to Thailand in the summer. They found a company near where they would be in Thailand that offered swim-with-the-sharks package, although not with Great Whites.

Related image

The group gave the grantee enough cash for her and her husband to purchase a package, and gave it to her in a bag that included suntan lotion, a snorkeling mask, and an underwater disposable camera. It was a very thoughtful presentation, and the grantee expressed sincere gratitude about their thoughtfulness to enhance her trip with her husband. She promised to send pictures with the sharks!

Meeting Baker Mayfield was going to be tough, because since it is the football off-season, he is not in Cleveland at the time. However, two students had connections to Baker through friends, so I was excited that they may be able to pull something off.

Image result for baker mayfield

I’m always doing what I can to create a safe space for them to go big. In this case, I would wander by the group brainstorming and say things like “he could use a private jet to come back” or “maybe the Browns will fly [the wish grantee] out as a PR stunt”. Ultimately, the students didn’t reach out to Baker, but just handed the grantee an authentic Baker Mayfield jersey. I was disappointed that they seemingly mailed it in.

During the debrief we discussed how they could have been more persistent with their network, and how it’s OK to do that as long as it’s respectful and transparent.

The next wish to be granted was to play round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods. This wish approached the realm of impossible more than any other, and the students quickly knew it. This is one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, and this is the most exclusive golf course in the world. And the Master’s was fast approaching.

Image result for amen corner augusta

The students quickly decided it wasn’t going to happen, so they set about with Plan B. In interviewing the grantee, they discovered his passion for playing golf, and for learning from people he plays with, from watching videos and live golf. They realized the two elements of this desire were to play an exclusive golf course and to play with someone who was really, really, really good.

Their Plan B wasn’t half bad. They purchased a framed picture of a famous hole at Augusta National Golf Club, and gave the grantee a t-shirt with Tiger Woods’ mugshot printed on it. They used their connections to get him and a friend a round of golf at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

The last wish from this batch was to drive a Jaguar F-Type 2016. The team tried contacting rental agencies, but could not find any in the area that had this particular car.

They next contacted Jaguar dealerships, but they won’t allow test drives of this car without a hefty fee. One student found this car for rent about an hour away on Turo.com (I never heard of this site, but it’s an incredible marketplace!). After much discussion with the owner, they realized he required at least a 2-day rental, and with all the fees it would have been close to $700. Additionally, they discovered the driver needed to be 25 (for insurance purposes) which the grantee wasn’t. One student offered to drive to rent it and chauffeur the grantee around, but the expense was just too high. When it came time to present the grantee’s wish in class, the group had nothing. They explained their process and apologized for failing. It was awkward, and a shame the grantee left without anything.

This experience enabled a deep discussion about failing. The students didn’t feel good about being the only group to not deliver some form of the wish. The grantee was gracious, but I could tell he was disappointed. We discussed how failure happens all the time, and is a learning opportunity. The group learned that part of their failure was waiting until the last minute; they iterated through many plans, but because they waited until the last minute, they ran out of time and were unable to do anything.

Another Batch of Wishes

The next batch of four wishes were

  • Visit the Amalfi coast in Italy
  • Get $3,000 for a Jeep for job in Uganda (this grantee had raised $6,000 already and needed $3,000 more to purchase the Jeep)
  • Play a round of golf with Charles Howell III
  • To learn to ski and own a cafè

The groups attacked the wishes with their usual gusto. They sat down to interview the grantees to understand the motivation for the wish. The class seemed energized – perhaps it was better to give them longer to grant the wish!

For the Amalfi coast the group discovered the grantee was going to be in Italy this summer with family. Taking a creative approach, they planned out a few days in the Amalfi coast region for the grantee and a guest and presented her with a detailed agenda and enough cash to cover the cost of all the activities.

They planned all the details based on the information they gathered from interviewing the grantee – job well done!

The group granting the wish to get $3,000 for a Jeep for the grantee’s job in Uganda faced an uphill battle. $3,000 in two weeks isn’t easy. They immediately decided on doing a GoFundMe campaign – check it out here. They interviewed the grantee, but realized as they started building the campaign that they needed more information and a video. The group struggled with communication issues – they couldn’t get all the information they needed, and had difficulty producing a high quality video. Eventually they launched the campaign, but not until right before the class when they were to present it. They explained that they started the GoFundMe, and would keep it open through the semester, hoping to generate $3,000.

I did not hear much about promotion. The group focused on execution and getting the campaign live, but neglected planning promotion efforts to drive interest in and traffic to the campaign. They could have utilized campus media to spread the opportunity to students, faculty and staff. Social media provides another valuable outlet to share the goal with their network, as well as with JCU alum and other parties who might be interested in supporting. The group shared how surprised they were at how complicated this effort was. We discussed how people see the “skin” of an effort – the website, the landing page, etc. but we don’t realize the work it takes to create that “skin”. The students now understand how much effort goes into designing, launching, and promoting a crowdfunding campaign. Lesson learned!

The next wish was to play a round of golf with golf professional Charles Howell III. Another golf wish! One student in the group working on this wish had a few contacts that he thought could help make introductions to Charles. I did not hear much in the way of interviewing this grantee, as I think this group focused almost immediately on executing actually getting a round of golf set up with Charles.

Image result for charles howell iiiUnfortunately, the group didn’t pull this off – instead, they gave the grantee two rounds of golf at a local exclusive club. I was disappointed in this effort, or lack thereof, and at this group honing in on one idea almost instantly and not being willing to budge from that idea, or developing alternative plans.

I need to do a better job of motivating students to challenge themselves.

For the last wish of this bunch, the group granting the wish wanted to try to grant two. The first was the grantee (who is from the Middle East) wanted to learn to ski. Since the weather turned to spring, this wish wasn’t physically possible at the time, so the group wanted to add a second wish to the docket. The group purchased two passes to ski lessons at a local ski resort for next season and checked off that wish. The second wish was the grantee wanted to own a cafè. The day they granted the wish, in a room next to our classroom, they set up a mock cafe for the grantee to provide coffee and pastries to the students in class. In this way, the grantee got to “run” a cafe for an evening. The grantee was overwhelmed at the generosity of receiving two wishes – this feeling is what the experience is all about!

Last Batch of Wishes

As we near the end of the semester, we have one last batch of wishes to be granted:

  • Visit New York City
  • Do goat yoga
  • Get a Brooks Brothers custom suit
  • Be a billionaire

I am personally taking the wish of visiting New York City, and have challenged the class to outdo me this time! I want to show them how I, as one person who is nobody special, can use creativity and my network to actually grant the reality of a wish.

Image result for new york city

I acknowledge that traveling to New York City from Cleveland is easier to manage than traveling to Ireland or the Amalfi coast of Italy. But the lesson here is the process of ideation, leveraging resources, and iterating. I’m already off and running with activating my network to make this dream come true – this student is from Tanzania and has some very personal and deep reasons for wanting to visit some places in New York City. While interviewing this grantee, I became so motivated to create this impact for her – I can’t wait to report back on how it all went. And on whether the class took my challenge!

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run one last blog post wrapping up Doan’s journey through his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

Get updates delivered directly to your inbox.

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

2019’s Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

2019’s Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

“Your posts help me keep my students engaged – they and I thank you!” – ExEC Curriculum Professor

Based on the popularity of our 2018 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, we’ve update our list based on feedback from our fast growing community of now 4,600-strong entrepreneurship instructors.

The following are all lesson plans we’ve designed to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to generate ideas, interview customers, prototype and validate solutions.

5. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Many of our students believe an idea is the heart of entrepreneurship. In this lesson, we shatter that assumption, and replace it with an appropriate focus on customer problems.

We want your students to develop ideas that are more feasible, impactful, and creative.

This is the toughest challenges entrepreneurship professors face. Student ideas tend to be a repetition of low-impact or infeasible mediocrity. You want more from them. We can help! We focus your students on problems in this lesson, because the best business ideas come from problems.entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

  • More feasible because they’re focusing on serving people they care about.
  • More impactful because they’re paying more attention to problems than they are products.
  • More creative because they’ll use those problems as inspiration.

View Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation Lesson Plan

4. Personal Business Plan

In this exercise, shared with us by Rebeca Hwang from Stanford University, students create a business plan about themselves. Students approach themselves as a company, and apply the tools they learned during their entrepreneurship course to understand how they add value to the world.

Students answer questions about their future vision and about their present plans and passions. One of our professor’s favorite components of this exercise is that students choose who grades their personal business plan (and that our colleagues at Stanford provide a very robust rubric)!

teaching entrepreneurship personal business plan

Through this exercise, students:

  • Learn to see themselves as a company,
  • Learn they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for their future,
  • Embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future,
  • Understand learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Teaching Customer Interviewing

We consistently hear from faculty that teaching customer interviewing is their biggest challenge. In this lesson plan students use a combination of ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards, with an online collaborative quiz game (Kahoot), to learn:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be
  • What questions they should and should not ask

customer interviewing teaching entrepreneurship

Students then get an interview script template they can use as the basis for their problem discovery interviews.

This exercise teaches your students:

  • What objectives they should and should not attempt to accomplish during a problem discovery interview and why,
  • What questions they should and shouldn’t ask during a customer discovery interview and why,
  • What a comprehensive interview script book looks like

View Customer Interviewing Cards Lesson Plan

2. 60 Minute MVP

One of our most popular lesson plans is the 60 Minute MVP. During this class, students launch an MVP website, with an animated video and a way to take pre-orders, in an hour with no prior coding experience. One of our professors told us after running this exercise:

“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.”

Your students will love this class period; they progress from the anxiety of the challenge confronting them (build a website in 60 minutes) to the elation of their journey (launching a website they built in 60 minutes). This exercise creates tremendous energy in your classroom. Students create something real.

On the lesson plan page you can view an example video students created in about 20 minutes, built around actual customer problem interviews:

You can also view a great example of a website built in just 60 minutes:

Your students will create landing pages like thisUpscale dining at its finest!

Some critical learnings for your students are the true meaning of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), that it’s easier to launch a product than they thought, and that the easiest thing about building a business is launching that product.

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

1. Teaching Customer Observations

During our years of research on what topics entrepreneurship professors struggle to teach, we heard “customer interviewing” over and over again. Our ExEC curriculum includes a robust method of customer interviewing, but customer observation is another great way to gather customer information. So we developed our Teaching Customer Observations lesson plan to help students learn learn the value of seeing how their customers experience problems, as opposed to imagining their customers’ problems.

In addition to our community thinking this is a powerful experience in the classroom, this exercise also won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2019 Annual Conference!

This exercise positions your students to observe customers in their natural settings. This allows them to discover new business opportunities and increase their empathy and behavioral analysis skills.

Our goal with this exercise is to teach students to have an empathy picture/analysis that frames the problem they are trying to solve before they jump to a solution. Having this clear picture will allow them to come up with better creative solutions.

During this two-class exercise, your students will experience customer empathy and how to plan and translate an observation experience into ideas for products and services. This will provide the following benefits:

  • Introduce students to a powerful tool to gather information on customer experience in real life situations. This allows students to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it.
  • Students practice how to listen with their eyes in order to understand what people value and care about, & what they don’t.
  • Provide a common reference experience for expanding on topics later in the course.

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

If you are looking for a fully structured, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum, with a semesters worth of lesson plans that students love, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

We’ve done the work for you.

Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

 

Toothbrush Design Challenge

Toothbrush Design Challenge

Invalid assumptions are the root of most business failures. It’s important our students understand how easy it is for everyone, including them, to make them.

In just 15 minutes, this interactive exercise will help your students understand why they need to validate their business assumptions.

Winner of the 2019 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Exercises Competition

We introduced this exercise to our community here as part of a larger series of exercises. You all helped us tweak the exercise into a format that won the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Competition at USASBE 2019!

Given the success of this exercise, we wanted to provide an overview so you know how and why you might engage your students with this exercise.

Overview

We have two goals with the Toothbrush Design Challenge exercise:

  1. Give your students the experience of making hidden assumptions
  2. Help your students learn why it’s so important to validate assumptions

For more details on this exercise, check out this lesson plan.

The Exercise

Form teams of 3 or 4 students. Give each team an adult toothbrush.

Their assignment is to design a child’s toothbrush. The design must include at least the following elements:

  1. Color scheme
  2. Dimensions

The color scheme element is really a red herring. The colors they choose are irrelevant. We include the color scheme requirement to ensure students are not solely focused on the dimensions element. The dimensions are where students will unearth hidden assumptions, and create an ineffective product based on those hidden assumptions.

Hidden assumptions will likely cause students to design a toothbrush with the wrong dimensions for children. They will assume a smaller hand needs a smaller toothbrush.

Display the slide below that contains hand size data. Give students 3 minutes to design a child’s toothbrush.

The Debrief

After 3 minutes, ask teams whether their child’s toothbrush was larger or smaller than an adult’s. Most teams will end up making a smaller toothbrush. This is a very natural and logical assumption based on the hand size data we presented them. It is the assumption very experienced product designers at toothbrush manufacturers made, so your students are in good company!

Your students likely designed a child’s toothbrush that would fail in the market based on hidden assumptions. Show this video, where IDEO partner Tom Kelley drives home the importance of acknowledging and testing hidden assumptions:

Reflect on what hidden assumptions they made, and why they made them. Point out that many toothbrush manufacturers made the same invalid assumptions many of them made in terms of a smaller hand needs a smaller toothbrush.

Discuss how students could test their assumptions to determine their validity. Steer them toward observing customers using a product or service, and toward prototyping the product or service.

This exercise is fast, fun, and engaging for students. We designed it as a flexible experience that you can use to introduce various topics, such as:

  1. Why companies fail
  2. Planning vs. experimenting
  3. Business model canvas

If you want to introduce your students to a curriculum of these kind of award-winning experiential exercises, request a preview of our ExEC curriculum here.


Get the “Toothbrush Design Challenge” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Toothbrush Design Challenge” exercise to walk 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.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, why educators are adopting this curriculum, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
Practicing Entrepreneurship By Granting Wishes

Practicing Entrepreneurship By Granting Wishes

“An entrepreneurship class should be alive.”

“An entrepreneurship class should be scary.”

“An entrepreneurship class should be a new experience.”

As I was reimagining my MBA entrepreneurship course, I kept these thoughts top-of-mind. I wanted to set an example with my class – to create an experience that solved my customers’ problem.

My customer? Students.

My customers’ problem? Disengaged learning.

I stumbled across Rebeca Hwang and her Wish Game idea. My students were in for an experience unlike anything they’d ever had in a classroom.

Because the experience is so different from their typical learning environment, it has been painful at time to watch them struggle to grasp the concept of learning entrepreneurship through granting each other’s wishes.

Wishes To Date

My students have granted 12 wishes so far. I’ve written about 7 of them already:

  • See the Mona Lisa
  • Pitching in a Chicago Cubs game
  • Repelling down the John Carroll University clock tower
  • To make homemade wine
  • To own a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year bourbon
  • Play in a room full of puppies (especially golden retrievers)
  • Visit Greece

During these wishes, students have struggled with thinking big, with practicing entrepreneurial skills of ideating, customer interviewing, prototyping, and mobilizing resources. They deliver wishes, but I push them to keep aiming higher, dreaming bigger, failing faster.

As with most skills, with practice, they are getting better not just at execution, but at creating experiences.

The new wishes are:

  • An American baby shower
  • Tickets to the Ellen show, play a game & win a prize (2nd wish is 2 tickets to Disneyland)
  • A male, black & tan miniature Dachshund puppy
  • Be driven in a Rolls Royce Phantom

The first two showed my students’ execution capability. One Kuwaiti student is about 7 months pregnant, with her 4th child, and wanted an American baby shower. In her culture, I discovered, they do not have a celebration prior to the baby’s arrival. Given she’s in America, and I gave permission to dream big, this is her dream. Her fellow students attacked the wish with their now typical gusto.

I couldn’t stop smiling as they interviewed the wish grantee to understand her culture & her reasoning for wanting an American baby shower. The students are beginning to master customer interviewing! They asked about celebrating her previous children and about her expectations. This wish brought a new level of excitement to the class. As one student mentioned,

“I get it. I can deliver joy to someone while practicing entrepreneurship. How cool is that? What other subject offers that kind of opportunity?”

To be honest, this wish wasn’t a difficult one to execute – buy cake, flowers, decorations, presents. Play Pregnancy Price is Right. The students didn’t need to do much in terms of ideation for this one because the wish was to deliver something typical. Typical is what the grantee wanted, typical is what she got, but feedback from her confirmed that my students nailed it:

“This was my first and best baby shower. I was really needing this feeling to overcome my homesickness. It’s something beautiful to remember during my studies.”

Wish Game Baby Shower

The other wish that week took an interesting turn. The grantee had two wishes that fit well together:

  1. She is a HUGE fan of Ellen Degeneres, so wants to attend the Ellen Show, play a game on the show and win a prize.
  2. She is from Tanzania and wants to visit Disneyland before returning home.

Students in the group delivering this wish again nailed the customer interviewing, understanding her motivation for these particular wishes. I’ve encouraged the students to drill into the emotions driving the desire for a particular wish. Because if they cannot deliver the specifics of a wish, they can develop a plan b, or c, or d, or q.

They can prototype, like entrepreneurs.

This group contacted Ellen with our story as much as they could over the week – multiple form submissions, emails, and calls every day from everyone in class and from lots of other students and friends. They also worked on getting Disneyland tickets, airplane tickets, and hotel reservations donated. None of this happened, so their plan b was to buy a $300 Disney gift card, recreate the Ellen Show in the classroom (complete with a dude in a wig playing Ellen), and played Blindfolded Musical Chairs. Of course they fixed the game so the grantee won, and her prize was the gift card.

Debriefing the Wishes

Both groups felt so energized after these wishes. They nailed the interviewing. They felt they delivered a good idea, but also acknowledged they weren’t taking a risk with their ideas yet.

I push, and push, and push some more to get them beyond their fear and lead them into the uncertainty of big ideas.

We talked about how far they had come from the first wishes, and how far they had to go to deliver true awesome. I often forget what it is like to be ~20 years old. Stumbling through an uncertain present and staring into an uncertain future. Wanting to show confidence, but not feeling confident. It’s my job to build that confidence, by guiding them into uncertainty, supporting them while they struggle with it, and giving them the tools to reflect on it powerfully.

The Next Wishes

One of the wish grantees wanted a male, black & tan miniature Dachshund puppy. Her other wishes were to pay off her student debt, or to have a year’s rent in a nice apartment in downtown Cleveland. The group went with the puppy. As with the baby shower, this wish is really all about execution. The group got right to work to find a puppy – apparently this isn’t the most common kind of puppy to find. But they did it!

wish game puppy

One member of the group negotiated the price down to $300 – they are finally figuring out they can mobilize their financial resources to make wishes come true. The grantee met her puppy (she named him Morty) but she won’t be able to take him home for a couple weeks, until he is at least 8 weeks old.

The other wish in this class was the grantee wants to be driven in a Rolls Royce Phantom. His other wishes were to meet “the” Michael Jordan (I particularly liked how he intentionally included “the” so nobody could play games with just any Michael Jordan) and to call an offensive play for the Cleveland Browns. The group decided to go with the Phantom. I hadn’t heard of this car, but after looking at pictures and videos, I understood where his wish came from.

wish game rolls royce phantom

The group delivering this wish ignited their network to find Cleveland folks who owned this car. Unfortunately, they did not find any during the week. They did, however, realize they knew someone who worked at the local Rolls Royce dealership, so when the weather improves, they will work to get the grantee a test drive. They did buy the grantee tickets to the auto show in Cleveland over the weekend, where he can go see this car.

Future Wishes

The next two wishes on deck are:

  • Take the money that would be spent on a wish to a casino and let it ride on blackjack
  • Be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami

One will challenge the group to actually deliver it, and that other will challenge the group to enhance the wish beyond the obvious to deliver a memorable experience.

 

PS – here is an updated picture of Morty at home with Katie!

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will continue to run blog posts highlighting Doan’s journey throughout his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

Get updates delivered directly to your inbox.

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

Customer Interviewing Card Game

Customer Interviewing Card Game

Students don’t like customer interviews, but they do like games!

So we combined the two to make customer interviews more fun and approachable.

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

Fully Engaged Class

When you run this exercise, your students will be fully immersed in the lesson as they hurriedly sort cards into different piles and compete with one another using their phones to see who can correctly answer the most questions, the fastest.

Here’s what it looked like when we presented it at USASBE:

And here’s what one of the professors who tested this lesson part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) reported back:

Big hit tonight! Lots of competition!

Really got through on true purpose of problem discovery and what questions to ask / not ask. They are in much better shape going into interviews than my prior students.

– Jen Daniels, Georgia State University
Give the Customer Interview Cards lesson plan a shot. It’ll add a boost of energy to your course and your students will love it.

Step 1: Prepwork

To set students up for success, they need to do a little prework. Have your students watch this video on what to ask during customer interviews.

You need to do a little prework yourself:

  • Print and cut one set of Customer Discovery Interview Cards for every two students.
  • Get familiar with Kahoot; watch this Kahoot demo video, and review the Kahoot questions here.
  • Review the answers to the Interview and the Objective cards here and print a copy for your reference.
  • Print out one copy of the final interviewing script for each student.

Step 2: The Setup

Prior to this class session, familiarize your students with the purpose and he value of customer interviewing.

Pair students up, give each pair a set of the gray “Problem Interviews Objective” cards, and give them a few minutes to find the six objectives they should achieve during customer discovery interviews from the 12 objective cards.

Customer interview cards

You also need to set up Kahoot and project that on the screen. Turn all the game options off except for the following, which should be turned on:

  • Enable Answer Streak Bonus
  • Podium
  • Display Game PIN throughout

customer interview

Find detailed instructions for setting up Kahoot in the full lesson plan.

Step 3: Play the Warm-Up Game

Project Kahoot on the screen and read the first objective question aloud. Students use their phones to indicate if it’s a good or bad objective for a customer discovery interview based on how they categorized their cards.

After all students record their answer, you have an opportunity to discuss why a particular objective is good or bad for a customer discovery interview. Students will generally have different opinions for each of the 12 objectives.

This warm-up game is an opportunity for rich dialogue to help students deeply understand the purpose of customer interviews.

Progress through all 12 objectives, discussing each one as you go. Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through 12 objectives, but let everyone know this was just a warm-up game. The real game is next – to determine what are good and bad interviewing questions.

Step 4: Play the Real Game

Students now know what their customer interviewing objectives should be. Hand out the 24 Customer Interviewing Question cards, and students should identify which 9 questions are ideal to ask.

customer interview cards

Now start the Questions Kahoot game and have students join. Lead students through the same process you did with the Objectives Kahoot.

Students record their answer in Kahoot about what are good and bad Problem Interview questions. This is another powerful opportunity to discuss why a particular question is good or bad for a customer discovery interview.

Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through all the questions.

Crown the Customer Interviewing Champions! Reward them with some prize. Make a big deal of this to let students know how important customer interviewing is to entrepreneurs.

Step 5: The Interview Template

Your students now have a strong understanding of customer problem interviewing objectives and good questions to ask. It is time to give them an interview template they can use to connects all of the dots.

If you use this exercise as a part of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we provide an interview template for your students to use. Otherwise, you can create your own.

After playing the warm-up and the real game, students understand why they should ask the “good” questions.

Students also understand why they should not ask many of the questions they would intuitively think to ask.

Review each question to ensure they understand:

  • How to ask the question, and
  • Why they should ask the question

Now is your chance to answer any questions or fears your students have before sending them out into the field to interview actual customers! But have no fear, your students are well-prepared with solid questions that will help guide their ideation.

If you want to help your students deeply understand why and how to interview customers, get the full lesson plan by clicking below!


Get the “Customer Interviewing Cards” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Customer Interviewing Cards” 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.

 


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share a companion exercise to the “60 Minute MVP” exercise. This will help students understand why it is critical to engage customers prior to launching!

Subscribe here to get our next classroom resource in your inbox.

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge

Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge

Entrepreneurship students often struggle getting their first customers interviews because they lack a functional definition of Early Adopters.

This exercise uses mechanical pencils, and a 10-minute competition between students, to introduce Early Adopters in a way that not only contrasts them with Early Majority and Late Majority customers, but also demonstrates where and how to find a business model’s Early Adopters.

We are very proud that this exercise was a finalist in the prestigious USASBE 3E Competition, which recognizes the best experiential entrepreneurship exercises at the USASBE 2019 Conference!

The key questions this lesson plan answers are:

  1. Who is the target for our customer interviews?
  2. How and where do we find people for our customer interviews?

Prepare Finding Early Adopters Exercise

You’ll need to bring four mechanical pencils to class – one to represent each of the four sections of the Diffusion of Innovations curve:

You’ll need to bring four mechanical pencils to class – one to represent each of the four sections of the Diffusion of Innovations curve:

  1. One with several full sized pieces of led in the body of the pencil (Laggard)
  2. One with a single piece of led inside (Late Majority)
  3. One with several small (½”) pieces of led (Early Majority)
  4. One with a single piece of led that is just barely too short to be usable. Here’s a quick video on how to prepare it. (Early Adopter)

Introducing Early Adopters

Introduce and define each of the following Diffusion of Innovation adopter categories to students: 

  • Early Adopters: the first people willing to try your product or service. There are a few of these people, but they are vitally important to the success of your business. These people are so hungry for a solution to their problem they’re willing to try anything…including an unproven product like yours.
  • Early Majority: this is the larger influx of people who will make your product a success. These people have a problem you can solve, but they’re not desperate for a solution like the Early Adopters. They’ll need some convincing (by an Early Adopter) before they’re willing to try your product.
  • Late Majority: just behind the Early Majority, the next wave of customers will sustain your business over time.These people have a problem, but they don’t know it. They need to be educated that they have a problem before they’ll become your customer.
  • Laggards: this group is generally not interested in your offering, or may join the party very, very late in the game. Typically they don’t even have a problem, so they’ll only reluctantly become your customer.

Next it’s good to walk through the worksheet below, so students better understand how to identify and find early adopters.

Finding Early Adopters

First hypothesize a problem, such as “I’m afraid of losing my dog”, and the customer segment would be new dog owners. (Note: when working through this worksheet, remind students that their success will come from winning over their early majority as customers, but to get there, first they need to acquire their early adopters.)

Early Adopter Behaviors

Next, hypothesize early adopter behaviors, which are actions someone would take to solve the hypothesized problem. Ask your students for examples of Early Adopter behaviors for the hypothesized problem “I’m afraid of losing my dog”. Potential answers:

  • Get dog obedience training
  • Buy “invisible fence” dog collars
  • Get chip implanted in dog
  • Buys engraved dog collar with contact info
  • Searches google for ways to keep dog from running away

Confirm behaviors offered by students are related to the hypothesized problem. For example, “Goes to the pound to look for their dog” is more likely the behavior of someone who has already lost their dog, not someone who is “worried about losing it” in the future.

Externally Observable Early Adopter Behaviors

To validate there are Early Adopters for their problems, students will actually talk to people trying to solve the problem. In other words, they’ll need to actually find these people and ask them about their problems.

In order to do that, they will need to find people already trying to solve their hypothesized problem. To find people trying to solve the their hypothesized problem, your students will need to come up with Externally Observable Behaviors for their Early Adopters.

Externally Observable Behaviors are similar to the Early Adopter behaviors they’ve already written up. The difference being that an Early Adopter Behavior could be an action that someone takes alone at home that your students would never know about, so they won’t be able to find them taking that action to talk to them.

Externally Observable Behaviors on the other hand are actions people take that your students, personally, can observe so they’ll know where to find those people to talk to them.

For example…

  • Having trouble controlling dog at a dog park
  • Buying invisible fence dog collars or engraved dog tags at pet store
  • Asking on Reddit how to keep dog from running away

Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge

Note: You will need four volunteers for this exercise.

Have the four students come to the front of the room where you have a desk setup for each of them. On each desk, place a piece of paper, and one of the mechanical pencils you prepared before class. Note: Place the “Early Adopter” pencil in one of the middle seats that everyone can easily observe.

Ask your volunteers not to touch their pencils until you’ve told them to do so (you may need to remind them of this several times 🙂 

Ask your volunteers to sit down, and ask the rest of the class to stand up and join you around the four volunteers.

Now ask the class to imagine you were starting a company serving “students who take tests” and the problem you hypothesize they face is,

“I love mechanical pencils because I can erase my mistakes, but they always break or run out of led in the worst possible moments.”

To solve this problem, tell your students you’ve created a new, more reliable, high capacity pencil that holds 4x as much lead as a normal mechanical pencil.

Now tell your standing students that before them are four potential customers for your new product:  

  • A laggard,
  • a late majority,
  • an early majority, and
  • an early adopter

Have the standing students form groups of 2 or 3 and ask them, “If you were a new company selling this new high capacity pencil, and you only had enough marketing resources to advertise your pencil to one of the four people, how would you figure out which one to advertise to?”

Give them 30 seconds to figure out a strategy to determine which of the four is the Early Adopter. Ask several of the groups to offer their strategies. Then ask the standing students, can you tell which one is the early adopter right now?

Answer: No, because you’re observing your customers sitting there, you’re not observing them in a situation where they would encounter or attempt to fix the hypothesized problem.

Ask your standing students, how might we be able to tell which one is the Early Adopter?

Answer: By asking them to write something, particularly something in a high stress situation.

Tell your volunteer students that you’re going tell them a letter of the alphabet and you’ll give each of them extra credit if, and only if, they can write down 20 words in 30 seconds that start with the letter of the alphabet you’ve assigned them. When you say “go”, using only the paper and pencil you have provided them, they must write down at least 10 words that start with the letter “S.”

“Go!”

At this point all four of your volunteers should start feverishly writing, or at least trying to. The early adopter student should start behaving in a way that is clear their pencil is malfunctioning. This is exactly what we want. In fact, at one point the student may even extract the led, ditch the pencil body entirely, and try and complete the task while pinching the led between his/her fingers.

If the “Early Adopter” student asks for a new pencil, or complains theirs is broken, encourage them to try and fix the problem and complete the task.

No matter what happens, even if the Early Adopter student doesn’t get all 10 words written, consider giving them extra credit for participating.

Advanced Version:

You can add extra layers of sophistication to this exercise by trying to “sell” a solution to the Early Adopter’s problem by offering a working pencil in exchange for some percentage of their reward. For example, if you’re offering them 10 extra credit points, you can “sell” them a working pencil in exchange for one or two fewer extra credit points.

To see this modified version in action, watch this video:

Debrief the Finding Early Adopters Demo

With your class still standing around the volunteer students, ask them if they wanted to talk to someone about the emotions related to malfunctioning mechanical pencils which student should they talk to?

Answer: The “Early Adopter” student. The one who just experienced and tried to fix the problem.

Tell your class that there are early adopters all around us all the time; we just need to observe them in the contexts where they are experiencing, and trying to fix, problems.

Now ask your class, what do they think would happen if you had built your new pencil solution and tried to sell it to one of the other three students who weren’t Early Adopters?

Answer: None of them would have bought your pencil. We don’t buy products that don’t resolve an emotional need for us.

Use this example to emphasize why it’s so important to identify the right customers to target. If you can’t find the people who are trying to fix a hypothesized problem, you can’t find people to buy a solution for it.

Now ask your students what would happen if you sold your fancy pencil solution to the early adopter, and the next time one of the other three people’s pencils broke, our early adopter let them borrow their new fancy pencil solution?

Answer: The person with the broken pencil would now be experiencing the problem, and may be emotionally motivated to buy a solution to it, likely becoming your customer.

Emphasize to your students that this is how successful companies become successful. They don’t start by trying to sell fancy pencils to everyone. Instead, they sell to a small group of people experiencing an intense emotion – their Early Adopters. Then the company’s early adopters help the company sell their solution to members of the Early Majority, Late Majority, and the Laggards through referrals and social proof.

Ask your students, what if after several attempts of observing students using mechanical pencils, you never saw someone trying to solve problems with their pencils running out of led?

Answer: The time might not be right for a new “high capacity mechanical pencil.” Maybe pencils hold enough led as it is. Maybe students have other problems that are more pressing and deserve more attention than a high capacity pencil. This might not be the best business to build at this time – and it’s better to find that out before designing and manufacturing the new pencil, than it is after.

Drive home for students that just because you fail to find people trying to solve a problem doesn’t mean you fail. In fact, failing to find people trying to solve a problem is a faster way to succeed, because you won’t waste time trying to solve a problem that no one cares about. Instead, you can “pivot” to solving a more pressing problem, one that people will pay to solve.

Continue Defining Early Adopter Externally Observable Behaviors

Have your students return to their desks and continue with the Your Early Adopters worksheet.

Ask them where you might find people actively seeking a solution to their fear of losing their dog. What are the externally observable behaviors for your early adopters?

Potential Externally Observable Behaviors:

    • Attending dog training classes in the park
    • Buying invisible pet fence at pet store
    • Taking dogs to the vet for chip implantations
    • Getting dog collars engraved at pet store
    • Asking for advice on how to not lose your dog on Reddit

Note for your students how every externally observable behavior has a location where you might be able to find these early adopters.

If you want to help your students find the right people to interview, use an exercise that was a finalist in the prestigious USASBE 3E Competition by clicking below!


Get the “Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge” 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.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

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

Join 5,250+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.