Browsed by
Category: Lesson Plans

Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, in this lesson plan, students will learn:

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

Customer interviewing scriptBefore Class

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

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

During Class

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

teaching entrepreneurship

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

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

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

Step 1

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

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

 Step 2: Warm Up

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

What to ask warmup questions

Here are some examples:

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

Step 3: Understand the Role

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

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

With that in mind, your first question here is:

How would you describe your role as a __________?

what to ask: role definition

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

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

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

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

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

Use their words to talk about their job and problems.

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

Step 4: Define Success

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

What does success look like for you?

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

what to ask: define success

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

Their success is your students’ success.

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

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

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

Step 5: Identify the Problem

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

what to ask: b2b problem

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

What is the hardest part about achieving that success?

what to ask: b2c problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empathize, empathize, empathize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 6: The Last Time

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

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

what to ask: last time

This question is key.

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

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

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

The answer is easy to interpret:

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

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

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

or

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

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

Step 7: Specific Problem Scenario

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

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

what to ask: problem scenario

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

This strategy is important for both B2B and B2C.

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

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

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

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

Step 8: Marketing Copy

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

Why is it a problem for you?

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

what to ask: marketing copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 9: Current Solutions

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

How did you find your current solution?

what to ask: current solution

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

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

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

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

What’s not ideal about this solution?

what to ask: what is wrong with the solution

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

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

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

Step 11: Rinse and Repeat

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

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

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

Alternate Questions

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

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

what to ask: alternate questions

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

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

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

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

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

Step 12: Wrap It Up

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

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

what to ask - wrap it up

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

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

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

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

what to ask: wrapping it up

For B2B, your students will also want to ask:

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

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

Step 13: Ask for Other Interviewees

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

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

what to ask: Wrap it up

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

Step 14: Say Thank You!

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

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

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


Get the “How to Interview Customers” Lesson Plan

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

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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

High Functioning Innovation Teams in 10 Steps

High Functioning Innovation Teams in 10 Steps

Student teams formed randomly erode the student (and professor!) experience through internal conflict and apathy.

This lesson plan will help your students form high-performing innovation teams by creating more alignment around interests, and more diversity of skills.

Successful entrepreneurship teams have aligned goals and diverse skills. Students looking to gain entrepreneurial skills need to practice teamwork and collaboration around common goals. 

To help students mitigate some of the biggest drawbacks of group work, during this exercise they form the entrepreneurial teams based on the other people in the class whose goals and motivations most align with theirs. 

Help students execute better, and conflict less, by empowering them to successfully assemble their own teams.

For this post we will be using the Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills worksheet from the Lesson Plan below.

Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills WorksheetThis exercise will enable students to:

  1. Identify their goals for the course.
  2. Self-form teams based on shared goals.

In an entrepreneurship course, students spend time asking people for interviews, conducting interviews, analyzing the interviews, building MVPs, and pitching their solution. They will need to work with teammates to tackle this tremendous workload.

By the time they’re done with this exercise, they will be in teams that give them a greater likelihood of enjoying the course while developing ideas that are meaningful to them.

Aligned Goals

You want to optimize the positive aspects of teamwork for your students, while mitigating the negative aspects. To accomplish this, don’t assign students to teams. Instead, teach them the keys to creating a successful team and let them practice those skills to interview and choose teammates.

The first key is aligned goals. Successful innovation teams, or founder teams, need to be aligned in terms of revenue and impact goals, as well as a number of other criteria (culture, company size, etc.) Ask students to brainstorm some goals that might be helpful for members of their course team to be aligned on. They might mention:

  • Grades
  • Business outcomes (start a company, pass the class, etc)
  • Customers to serve

Let students know this exercise will enable them to identify classmates that align with them along these three goals.

Diverse Skills

The second key to creating a successful team is the diversity of team member skill sets. Imagine a sports team where all the players are excellent at one component, for instance, soccer players all being excellent goalies. This team will fail in their ultimate goal of winning because they are all good at one small portion of the larger plan.

Entrepreneurship team members also need diverse experiences. These teams are smarter at analyzing facts, which applies directly to the students’ need to analyze interview and experiment data.

The Exercise

Step 1Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills Step 1: Minimum successful grade

Students should first write down the lowest grade they could get in the class and still consider their performance in the class a success. Stress to students this is not about their ideal grade.

Step 2

Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills Step 2: minimum successful business outcomeYour students will choose the option that they most want to achieve during this course. If appropriate, they can check multiple boxes.

Steps 3 and 4

Aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet: Step 3, customer uniquely suited to servePrior to this exercise, students should have worked to identify customer segments who they either are a part of or have been a part of in the past. From this list, students choose the top two they want to pursue.

aligned goals and diverse skills step 4: student's majorStudent next fill in their academic major.

Step 5

aligned goals and diverse skills step 5: student kills and experienceStudents will brainstorm the skills and experience they possess that could be helpful in serving customers and/or validating a business model. Here are some ideas to help your students think of their skills:

  • They are a member of the customer segment
  • Any relevant job experience
  • Know someone who is influential within their customer segments
  • Have a large reach within this customer segment (e.g. large social media following, know a bunch of them, etc.)
  • They an artist, designer, software developer, good with tech, good with numbers, good writer, good at creating videos, etc.
  • Experience leading teams before
  • Previous entrepreneurial experience
  • Bi-lingual (i.e. can speak the customers’ native language)

Leave the room so your students feel comfortable sharing their minimum successful grades. Instruct students to form groups based on their minimum successful grades, and within groups, to share their minimum successful business outcomes, the customers they are uniquely suited to serve, their major, and the skills and experiences they have. Read this example:

“Hi, my name is Jennifer. My minimum successful business outcome is to try starting one. I can uniquely serve roboticists and florists. My major is Computer Engineering and I have skills and experience building websites, and launching an app in the Apple App store.”

Step 6

aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet step 6: potential teammate notesStudents now turn to finding teammates by finding students with similar goals, and different skills.

As students interview each other, they take notes of who seems like a good fit with them, and why.

Steps 7 – 8

aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet step 7: team name and team minimum successful grade

Students will next imagine a team name (encourage them to be creative and develop a name that reflects what value they are trying to create, and for whom). They should agree on the minimum successful grade for the general team.

Step 9

Aligned goals and diverse skills step 9: minimum successful business outcomeEach student will bring their own dreams to the group. Give students ~5 minutes to identify shared business outcomes and jot those dow.

Step 10

The last step is for all students, in their individual teams, to narrow down the customers they are uniquely suited to serve, either because they were members of that group, are members of that group or have an intentional purpose to work with that group.

Summary

Your students just identified the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems/emotions they’re most excited to help them resolve. In doing so, your students identified several potential paths that could lead them toward creating a profitable business. By focusing on the people and using them as inspiration for business ideas, your students have an infinite source of potentially successful businesses to choose from now, or in the future.


Get the “Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills” 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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

Improving Student Idea Generation

Improving Student Idea Generation

This lesson plan will help you increase the quality and creativity of the ideas your students work on.

As we’ve talked about before, we know that most successful entrepreneurs don’t focus on products, they focus on problems. So idea generation should really start with identifying the problems we can solve.

Successful business ideas solve problems by addressing the emotional needs of their customers.

Whether by solving problems, or offering pleasurable experiences, all successful business ideas resolve an emotional desire of customers.

Knowing that, one way to come up with business ideas would be to brainstorm lots of different options, and then hope that one of them will resolve an emotional need of your customers. Of course that means your students spend a lot of time coming up with ideas – most of which will have no substantial emotional impact on their customers. Instead, they will go the other way around.

Your students start by understanding the emotional needs of potential customers, and then use their needs to come up with ideas on ways to resolve them.

For this post we will be using the Your Ideal Customers worksheet from the Lesson Plan below.

Click to download the worksheet.
This exercise will show your students how to develop meaningful ideas that solve problems by helping them…

  1. Identify the customers they are ideally suited to serve.
  2. Hypothesize the emotional needs of those customers.

By the time they’re done with this exercise, they will have a set of potential customers they can serve, and some ideas about problems they can solve for them.

Step 1

Groups of people you belong to filled inYour students will make a list of the groups of people they currently belong to, and all the groups they used to belong to. Each is a group of people whose problems your students understand better than the average person. If they serve members of this group, your students have a competitive advantage because they know them better than other people. The more segments they come up with, the more problems (i.e. ideas) they can come up with.  Tell your students to come up with at least 10.

Step 2

Groups of people you want to serve filled inYour students will list the groups of people they are not part of, but are excited to help.  In this list, the passion your students have for helping these people will be their unique advantage.

Your students don’t have to know these segments intimately, they just have to want to serve them.

Step 3

Groups you are most excited to work for filled inFrom all the groups of people brainstormed in steps 1-2, students pick the three they would be most interested in helping solve a problem they are facing. Next, it’s time to brainstorm what problems, or emotional needs, your students might be able to help them resolve.

Step 4

Biggest challenges for a group filled inStudents will brainstorm the biggest challenges members of the first group face. Once your students have a couple problems written down, imagine “A Day in the Life” of one of these people. What’s it like when they wake up? What do they do after that? Think about how the rest of their day is affected by being a member of this group. Once your students have a rough sense of their average day, ask them to try to identify the hardest part of their day. This process may help your students identify even more challenges they can help them solve.

Steps 5-6

Students will repeat that process for step the second and third potential customers “segments.” In this scenario, we’re using the word “segments” to describe a group of people with a common set of problems that might ultimately become your students’ customers.

Step 7

Customer emotions filled inGo to the second page of the worksheet, and list they three potential segments again. For each segment, use the questions to identify emotional situations that either cause members of the group pain or pleasure. These situations are additional scenarios that your students might be able to build a business around resolving for the particular customers – which they can test in future exercises.

Steps 8-9

Most interesting customer emotions selectedLooking at all of the challenges on the first page of the exercise, and the emotional situations on the second page of the exercise, students should identify:

  • The situations they hypothesize are the most emotionally intense for their potential customers. Circle the two most intense situations.
  • The problems or emotions they are most excited to resolve for their customers. Put stars next to two of those.

Step 10

Looking at the problems or emotional situations circled and starred, students should choose three combinations of customers and problems/emotional situations they would like to explore going forward. These will serve as their first “Customer” and “Value Proposition” hypotheses, and they will use them as the basis for their first set of business model experiments! If their assumptions are right, they may have just identified their ideal customers, and how they’re going to serve them!

Summary

Your students just identified the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems/emotions they’re most excited to help them resolve. In doing so, your students identified several potentials paths that could lead them toward creating a profitable business. By focusing on the people and them as inspiration for business ideas, your students have an infinite source of potentially successful businesses to choose from now, or in the future.


Get the “Your Ideal Customers” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Your Ideal Customers” 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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

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 6,000+ 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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
Teaching Finance in Entrepreneurship

Teaching Finance in Entrepreneurship

“When the P&L’s come out, students check out.” – Doan Winkel

We all face this problem when teaching the financial aspect of entrepreneurship. Students aren’t comfortable with the unknown, and often struggle with understanding the application of math or financial topics. This is a huge problem because financial modeling is such a crucial part of identifying and validating the business models students are working on.

So how do we balance creating a robust financial projection for a business model without overwhelming students?

Introducing the first version of ExEC’s Financial Projection Simulator (imagine fireworks going off in the background with AC/DC playing bagpipes and shooting flaming confetti!!!)

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

Incorporating feedback as we develop engaging lesson plans, we’ve added a fun way for students to experiment with their financial model to our comprehensive curriculum.

The Financial Projection Simulator leads students through an experimentation process so they can find a financially sustainable business model. Along the way, they discover the most important elements of a rigorous financial projection:

  • Customer Lifetime Value
  • Cost of Customer Acquisition
  • Cost of employee salaries (including benefits & taxes)
  • Initial capital investments
  • Unit costs
  • Legal fees
  • Etc.

Here is a quick overview of the simulator in action:

With a combination of default values in drop down menus and instructions for researching more detailed estimates, pilot students have reported this is a more approachable way to experiment with assumptions in their financial models. The simulator, “feels more like a game than a spreadsheet”, where they can quickly see the impact of their assumptions on the success of their business.

At each step along the way, we provide short, easy-to-understand tutorial videos so students understand what to input.

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

The format invites them to more deeply engage in learning about financial models.

No TAM-Based Estimates

ExEC’s financial simulator is also unique because it takes a strictly bottom-up approach to financial projections. Instead of largely inaccurate top-down/TAM estimates (e.g. “This industry is X billions of dollars and if we get Y% of it we’ll be rich”), which don’t take into account real-world difficulties and costs of customer acquisition, ExEC’s financial modeling is purely bottom-up (e.g. “Which channels will you use to acquire customers, what do you hypothesize your conversion rates will be, and how much will that cost?”) to give students a reality check on how viable their business model is.

Here’s more detail on how we approach this, and other areas of financial projections.

Revenue

As mentioned above, instead of wildly inaccurate revenue numbers based on a TAM / SAM approach, ExEC students estimate revenue based on the product price and how many times per year a customer will purchase that product. This leads to much more accurate evaluation of a business model, and an approachable way for students to get started. As we heard from a pilot  student:

“Even though it’s difficult to make our business profitable, this tool gave us ideas of concrete changes we could make in order to make it possible.” – UC Berkeley Student

Expenses

We offer an extensive set of expenses for students to consider, all of which have suggested default values, as well as instructions on how to calculate more detailed estimates to tailor those values to their business model. We’ve found this combination of default values, with pointers for more information, to make financial modeling much more approachable – allowing students to ease their way in and experiment with different combinations, without overwhelming them.

We’ve tried to make the simulator as comprehensive as possible without becoming anxiety-producing, so your students can feel confident their projections are sound.

Cost of Customer Acquisition

Students are often unsure the best channels to acquire customers, and how costly those channels are. They will want to default to social media channels, but they often do not understand the investment it requires to effectively leverage these platforms. We provide significant guidance so they understand what CAC is and the costs of various channels.

We have done extensive research to offer accurate estimates for CAC from the most likely channels students will choose. These drop-down menus offer students two benefits:

  • They don’t get overwhelmed having to calculate complicated customer acquisition costs
  • They work with realistic estimates so the conclusions about viability are more realistic

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

Of course students can also calculate and enter their own Cost of Customer acquisition estimates into the tool to get a more accurate sense of their marketing expenses.

Employee Salaries

Here we offer an expandable menu that includes accurate salary estimates for a wide variety of the most necessary jobs for a startup.

The tool also automatically calculates benefits and tax information, which are two very important aspects students often forget that have tremendous impact on a financial model.

Real Estate Costs

As with every section, the simulator  provides considerable guidance students can use to research particular markets and categories. Our goal is for students to understand the variety of financial inputs but also to understand where those estimates come from.

In every section of the simulator, we provide suggestions for ballpark costs, and also expandable menus with more detailed information and links to resources in case students want to dive deeper into a particular area.

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

The ExEC financial simulator gives students additional information in a variety of expandable menus, so they learn as they input their assumptions. One student mentioned:

“It makes it extremely easy to calculate various things. Helps you remember things that you may have forgotten.” – Northeastern Student

The power of this simulator is in the simplicity with which students interact with it, and the simplicity of the results. The ExEC Financial Simulator assesses the viability of a student’s business model as either red, yellow, or green. Students can very quickly see where they need to focus! In the example below, the simulator tells us the business model is not viable.

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

After working hard to provide what they think are accurate assumptions, most students will see red the first time they use this. Literally!

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

Students will feel disappointed that their business model is not viable.

How to WOW! Your Students

Bring a student up to the front of the class. Pull up his/her simulator on the projected screen. Walk through this example, live, in a couple minutes to turn a non-viable business model into a viable business model. Show your students in real-time how they can turn their business model from from red to green!

teaching finance in entrepreneurshipteaching finance in entrepreneurship

Students can quickly experiment by changing inputs to figure out how to achieve a viable business model. This leads to a powerful discussion in class about why they changed certain assumptions, and whether the assumptions are accurate.

Within minutes students understand how a variety of factors impact their financial, and therefore business, model! And it is fun!

This simulation lets students experiment with different revenue models very easily. This is important because it allows them to quickly iterate and identify a potentially viable revenue model in a rigorous way that doesn’t overwhelm them.

If you would like to play with the financial projection simulator, request a preview of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) today!


You Told Us You Want More Student Engagement

We’ve been listening!

Join us for our “4 Ways to Increase Student Engagement” webinar, where you will learn tips and techniques to engage all your students in a rich learning environment that excites and inspires them.

Register now for this webinar on 4 tips to double student engagement in your class next fall!


Want More Tools Like the Financial Simulator?

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

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

Join 6,000+ 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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.

 

Entrepreneurship Syllabus: Experiential Learning Across the Curriculum

Entrepreneurship Syllabus: Experiential Learning Across the Curriculum

The nerve center of any entrepreneurship course is the syllabus.

The syllabus creates a student’s first impression. It sets a tone for the course, and for the relationship between professor and student. A syllabus conveys information about expectations. It is a contract between professor and student.

We would love to see your syllabus built in an entrepreneurial way. But we know that’s not always possible. We asked our community of over 4,000 entrepreneurship educators to share their syllabi, and based on the common courses we saw, we developed a few syllabus templates you can use. Each syllabus injects experiential learning into your course from the first day until the last.

Your students will be engaged from the first experience in your classroom!

Each sample syllabus outlined below focuses on a variety of readings, examples, discussions, and experiential exercises students can use to explore and apply the principles of entrepreneurship in a variety of courses. 

Creativity & Innovation Sample Syllabus

Creativity is one foundation of successful businesses. Whether in the for-profit, not-for-profit, or public sector, organizations need employees who are creative thinkers and can thrive in an organizational climate that fosters innovation.

DOWNLOAD YOUR SAMPLE SYLLABUS

Introduction to Entrepreneurship Sample Syllabus

Entrepreneurship can be considered a process of economic or social value creation, rather than the single event of opening a business. This course focuses on opportunity recognition, assembly of the financial and human resources needed to develop the idea, and launching the new venture.

DOWNLOAD YOUR SAMPLE SYLLABUS

New Venture Creation Sample Syllabus

Creating a venture is one manifestation of entrepreneurship. Students in this course will have the opportunity to develop an entrepreneurial toolkit that allows them to successfully innovate in whatever professional life they choose to lead. This course focuses on problem identification and solving, customer interviewing, and prototyping.

DOWNLOAD YOUR SAMPLE SYLLABUS

Social Entrepreneurship Sample Syllabus

Social entrepreneurship can be explained as the practice of identifying, starting and growing successful mission-driven for-profit and nonprofit ventures. These organizations strive to advance social change through developing innovative solutions to problems that plague communities, cities, countries, and systems.

Through experiential exercises, guest speakers, and classroom dialogue, students will learn to think and act opportunistically with a socially-conscious business mindset. Topics will include problem identification, customer interviewing, prototyping, financial projections, business modeling, and storytelling.

DOWNLOAD YOUR SAMPLE SYLLABUS

MBA Entrepreneurship & Innovation Sample Syllabus

In this experiential, hands-on course, students will learn the customer-development approach to building products and services. More specifically, students will learn how to systematically identify and test assumptions to make decisions to pivot, proceed, or restart based on customer insights and evidence gathered.

DOWNLOAD YOUR SAMPLE SYLLABUS


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about financial projections, and how to enable your students to tell a story people will remember!

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

Join 6,000+ 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 6,000+ 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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.