4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class

4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class

Experiential teaching is arguably the best way to engage entrepreneurship students. At the same time, classes without textbooks are notoriously difficult to assess:

  • No multiple choice tests means objective grades are hard to come by
  • Team & project based-grades cause stress and conflict between students
  • Grading written reflections is subjective, and doesn’t provide the “grade defensibility” more traditional assignments do
  • Grade distributions can be difficult to achieve when the focus is on skills as opposed to scores

We’ve spent the last year developing a robust assessment strategy for our textbook-replacing Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

With the new academic year upon us, we wanted to share our strategies in time for you to incorporate them.

ExEC’s Assessment Philosophy

Assess Process. Not Progress.

What that Means

  • Ensuring students understand how to create businesses that fulfill customers’ emotional needs (e.g. solve problems, achieve desires, etc.) via an iterative process consisting of devising and executing experiments to validate assumptions.
  • As teachers, we have very limited time with students – one, maybe two terms. The businesses they build during their time in school are not going to be their best/last chance at success. Students’ time with us is best spent developing a mindset that prepares them for creating future ventures.

Why We Believe it

A focus on process encourages:

  • Skill development (not syllabus gaming)
  • Meaningful learning about the market, customers, problems, etc. (not inflating/falsifying numbers/results)
  • An experimental entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial mindset they can leverage regardless of where their career takes them

How We Achieve it

Evaluating students’ understanding and implementation of the business model validation process through:

  • Out-of-class exercises
  • Written reflections
  • Presentations
  • Small-group meetings with instructors

What Not To Assess:

  • Achieving “Product-Market Fit” or “Problem Validation.” Often times the best outcomes for business model experiments is determining the model isn’t worth pursuing in its current design. Students should be rewarded, not penalized, for invalidating their assumptions, even if it means they don’t validate a problem during their interviews, or generate revenue during their demand tests.
  • Number of interviews conducted. While students conducting very few interviews (e.g. < 5) aren’t demonstrating an understanding of the business model validation process, a high number of interviews doesn’t correlate to high comprehension of the process. In fact, in many cases, not being able to find customers to interview is a great way to invalidate assumptions. Avoid assessing students on the number of interviews they conduct, and instead, focus on the process they used to try to acquire their interviews, what they learned during their interviews, and how that informed their future hypotheses.
  • Number of paying customers or revenue generated. Putting emphasis here will incentivize students to alter the results of their experiments. Instead, we want to encourage students to run objective experiments, and report out on their actual results, even, and especially, if that means their experiments “fail.” Emphasizing their process, over their progress, will decrease students’ fear of failure, and encourage a more risk-tolerant and innovative mindset.
  • The originality or innovativeness of the idea. Assessing originality and innovativeness can be extremely subjective. Moreover, the focus of ExEC is to show students a process they can use to create successful businesses that solve problems. The solutions do not necessarily have to be original or innovative to solve a problem or teach students a process.

What To Assess:

Student’s ability to:

  • Effectively recruit prospective customers for business model validation experiments.
  • Design and execute business model validation experiments like demand testing, customer interviewing, etc.
  • Conduct interviews to understand the emotional perspective of their customers.
  • Use information from business validation experiments to devise and iterate possible solutions to their customer’s problems.
  • Assess the financial viability of their solution.
  • Describe their validation journey and understanding of the process.

An overview on how we implement our philosophy is below.

Assignments and Rubrics

There are four steps to the ExEC assessment model, all of which are graded on the following scale:

  • Full Credit: means the student demonstrates a consistent and complete understanding of, and ability to apply, the validation principles underlying the assignment.
  • Partial Credit: is given when students demonstrate an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of the underlying principles, or difficulty applying the principles.
  • No Credit: is given when students demonstrate a lack of willingness to learn, or apply, the underlying principles of the exercise.

Instructors are given the freedom to implement this scale as they see fit (e.g. a points system, A-F grades, etc.). Details on the specific steps of ExEC’s assessment model below:

Step 1: Exercises

Written assignments students complete outside of class that help them design and execute their business model validation experiments.

There are 29 exercises students do outside of class during a typical 15-week ExEC course. So as to not overwhelm our instructors, we recommend they assess most exercises with a simple complete/incomplete scale, based on good faith effort. We do however call out four exercises that are worth assessing thoroughly:

  1. Business Plans vs Business Experiments: A written, or recorded, reflection on their Tower Building Challenge, where students educate a fictitious friend about the dangers of hidden assumptions and the power of experimentation and iteration.  Why we grade this thoroughly:
    1. First exercise of the class.
    2. Demonstrates students’ understanding of the pros and cons of business planning versus business model validation.
    3. Underscores the importance of experimentation, which they will be assessed on repeatedly throughout the class.
  2. Your Early Adopters: This exercise demonstrates the difference between Early Adopters, Early Majority, et al., and helps students identify who they should conduct problem interviews to increase the efficacy of their outreach. Why grade this thoroughly:
    1. Basis for student interviews. If they don’t get this right, much of the rest of their exercises will falter.
    2. Will highlight the importance of empathizing with customers, which they will be assessed over and over throughout the course.
    3. Key principle of entrepreneurship.
  3. Customer Interview Analysis & Interview Transcripts: In these exercises, students record and transcribe (via automated transcription tools) each of their customer interviews, and build affinity maps to highlight the patterns in their qualitative data. Why we grade this thoroughly:
    1. Demonstrates students’ ability to conduct customer interviews.
    2. Demonstrates students’ ability to empathize with customers.
    3. Demonstrates students’ ability to do qualitative analysis.
    4. Will determine future experiments.
  4. Experiment Design Template: This exercise asks students to design an experiment to test their Business Model’s riskiest assumption, including how they’ll execute the experiment, how long it will take to execute, what the success and failure metrics are, and what their next steps are based on the potential outcomes of the experiment. Why we grade this thoroughly:
    1. Demonstrates students’ ability to identify the riskiest assumptions of their business model.
    2. Demonstrates students’ understanding of effective success metric definition.
    3. Demonstrates students’ ability to design and execute experiments that test falsifiable hypotheses.

Step 2: Validation Check-Ins

Short, 10 minute meetings between our instructors and individual teams where instructors assess a team’s understanding and application of the validation process, and help them overcome specific challenges they’re facing designing/executing their experiments.

Each check-in’s assessment focuses on four elements:

Criteria
Preparedness: students completed and brought all required materials.
Empathy: students were able to understand the emotions driving their customers’ pains/gains, and utilize that understanding to effectively resolve their customers’ needs.
Experimentation: students effectively hypothesized falsifiable assumption and design, and implement experiments to test those assumptions.
Overall Process Execution: students effectively demonstrates an awareness of why they are taking a given step in the validation process, understand how it will lead to their next validation step, and execute those steps effectively

Step 3: Business Model Journal

A collection of Business Model Canvas iterations, and written reflections, detailing each student’s business model assumptions, experiments, and learnings throughout the course.

Unlike courses that produce a single Business Model Canvas at the end, ExEC students iterate their canvas upwards of 10 times throughout a course based on the experiments they run. Each iteration of their canvas is accompanied by a short reflection describing:

  1. What hypothesis the students tested this week
  2. The experiment they ran to test the hypothesis
  3. The results of that experiment
  4. How those results influence the experiment they’ll run next

Instructors can use this written history of each student’s validation journey, to assess how well the student understands and applies the validation process individually – independently of the contributions of their teammates.

Step 4: Process Pitch

A presentation of each team’s validation journey during the course, including all of their (in)validated assumptions, emphasizing their ability to execute the validation process, more than the final outcome of the business.

Students wrap up the ExEC course with a pitch, but not a traditional product-centric, Shark Tank-style pitch; this pitch is process-centric.

More important than the outcome of any single experiment, or grade on any one assignment, is helping students learn an entrepreneurial mindset – a process they can use to repeatedly use to solve problems of the people they want to serve.

This pitch not only helps instructors assess how well students understand the validation process, it will reinforcement one more time, the most important principles of that process:

  1. Empathy
  2. Experimentation

Exams

ExEC does not include any exams, choosing instead to focus student efforts on out-of-class projects. ExEC is however compatible with exams when appropriate or required by an institution.

For midterm or final exams, we recommend presenting students with a scenario and asking them to describe what should be done next. For example:

  • Illustrate the focal venture’s business model using the BMC. Students can also be asked to create different version of the BMC based on changes in a key aspect of the business model (e.g., customer segment).
  • Creating an interview guide (who to interview, where to find them, what to ask)
  • Identify the riskiest assumption of the focal venture’s business model and design an experiment to test it (what assumption to test, specifics of the experiment design, metric to track success)

For possible scenarios/cases that can be used for an exam, consider the following:

  • EcoWash: A business opportunity worth pursuing?
  • An episode of the podcast “The Pitch.” In each episode of this podcast, real entrepreneurs are pitching their ventures to real investors.
  • A news article about a newly-opened venture started by a local entrepreneur. (As an illustration, here is an article about an entrepreneur who started a shoe cleaning service). The business page of the local newspaper is a great source for possible scenarios.

Thoughts? Feedback?

That is the overview of the ExEC experiential assessment model. If you have any feedback, or suggestions on how to improve it, we’re all ears. Please leave a comment below.

We’d love to hear how you structure assessment in your experiential class.

On the other hand, if you…

Want Structured Assessment in your Class?

If you like the engaging of power of experiential teaching, and are looking for a structured approach to assessment, request your preview of ExEC today.

It only takes a couple days to get a feel for the material, and get your course set up to use it. If you’d like to try ExEC for your upcoming term, take a look today.

 

Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

Do your students struggle collecting information about problems from customer interviews?

Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

  • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
  • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

Quick steps for this exercise:

  • Organize students into groups of 4-5
  • Show this picture on the screen
  • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
  • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

  1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
  2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

During the debrief, stress:

  1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
  2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
  3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

  1. Questions they want to answer, and
  2. Themes they can look for

For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Fly On The Wall” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
How to Teach a “Walk A Mile” Exercise

How to Teach a “Walk A Mile” Exercise

This exercise highlights the relevance of understanding the customer’s thought process when they make a buying decision.

More specifically, it will help your students:

  • Understand the importance of talking to customers before creating a product
  • Gain confidence in speaking with customers
  • Understand customer pain points by ‘walking in their shoes’
  • Gain insights and new ideas from seeing things from the customers perspective.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
– Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird


Students are placed in a situation that allows them to complete a ‘walk-a-mile’ immersion in a 50-minute time frame.

The complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

Step 1: The Set Up

You will want to review Best Practices for Restaurant Website which are provided in the lesson plan. BJ Restaurant is an example that fulfills the requirements of a good site.

Step 2: Class-time

This class starts with students brainstorming, as a customer, what they would want from a restaurant website.

You can help students brainstorm ideas by asking: “what info did you look up the last time before you went to a restaurant?”

You can also suggest different scenarios, such as going alone, with friends, for dinner, for work, etc.

The goal is for students to ‘put themselves’ in a customer’s shoes. To gain an understanding of a customer’s needs and wants.

Step 3: Break out session

You will have students form teams, and give them 15 minutes to evaluate their favorite restaurant’s website, to see if it meets their list of requirements. Teams should also be on the lookout for particularly bad websites, which they will present in the next step.

China Garden – Example of a bad website.

Step 4: Debrief

After the teams had time to review websites, have each group present the worst website they found and discuss why they feel it was not a good website.

Questions to address after each team presents can include:

  1. How did they arrive at this decision?
  2. How did they feel when the website didn’t fulfill their requirements?
  3. How does a website that fulfilled their requirements improve their experience?
  4. How did they feel this exercise helped them connect with customers?

See the complete lesson plan below for more ideas and topics to cover.

Results

When I run this in class, students have an a-ha momentwhen realizing how a better website, a website they would use, is created when you understand the customer. By making themselves the customer, they see how they wouldn’t use a poorly built site and how it would affect their impression of the restaurant.

Students will realize the benefits of talking to customers before creating a product or business because they have discovered the importance of understanding the customer’s perspective and thought process surrounding the buying decision.

By having students go through this exercise early in the course schedule, you can draw on their experiences when they are developing ideas, and be planning out their customer development work.


This article is a collaboration with Naema Baskanderi, UX Lead & Researcher, and UX Instructor. The goal of this exercise is for students to understand a critical component of creating a product or business that fulfills a customer’s needs.


Get the “Walk A Mile” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Walk A Mile” 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.

 


Last Call for the Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us this Thursday May 10th. Jim Hart, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

For more in our continuing series of free classroom resources, subscribe below.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Free Digital Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

Free Digital Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

Are you participating in our Digital Conference on May 10? If not, this is your chance to participate for free!

If you teach entrepreneurship and want to learn engaging exercises to do with your students that demonstrate:

  • Why interviews are more powerful than surveys
  • The best business ideas come from customers
  • That failure is the fastest teacher

…then you want register for the Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference.

We’re hosting a digital conference experiment, and we’re offering free tickets to attend the event live!

Use the coupon code DigitalConferenceMVP for free access to the live session, or for $100 off a full ticket price (which also includes post-conference recordings)!

Conference Agenda (all times PDT)

9am                       Kickoff with Doan Winkel

9:15-10:30am     Julienne Shields and the Ping Pong Challenge

Join Julie live in her classroom as she gives her students piles of ping pong balls and a complex mission to accomplish with them.

Watch (and help!) her students iterate their way to a solution as they discover the benefits of small, fast experiments and embracing the failures they encounter along the way.

Use this exercise in your class to help your students learn to take calculated risks and an iterative/experimental approach to solving problems.

10:45-12:00pm     Jim Hart Creating with Customers in Mind

Jim will walk you through an interactive, partnered, exercise you can use with your students to help them understand:

  • Creativity comes from asking the right questions
  • The best ideas are inspired by customers
  • Interviewing customers isn’t as hard/scary as it seems

If you want to help your students with idea generation and motivating them to interview customers, definitely join Jim’s session.

12:15-1:30pm     Justin Wilcox Surveys vs. Interviews

Justin will show you one of the most popular exercises from the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

This exercise will show your students once and for all, why it’s better for them to use customer interviews for problem discovery, than it is to use surveys!

Our ExEC professors cite this lesson as producing “Light Bulb Moments” in helping students understand the power of customer interviews. Join us to see it in action!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

A Digital Conference

May 10th 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern


It Works In Our Curriculum, So Why Not A Conference?

After the positive impact of our ExEC entrepreneurship curriculum’s “Show, Don’t Tell” approach to experiential learning across 20 universities, we decided to apply that approach to the conference experience.

We know you enjoy learning by doing. We enjoy showing, not telling. It’s a perfect match!

See you there – be sure to grab your ticket here! Remember, register even if you can’t join us live because we’ll have recordings available.

Last Chance for Free Tickets

Remember to use the coupon code DigitalConferenceMVP for free access to the live session, or for $100 off a full ticket price (which also includes post-conference recordings)!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

A Digital Conference

May 10th 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern

Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Click play above for the customer interviewing tutorial outlined in this post.

You want your students to “get out of the building” and talk to customers, but that idea can be anxiety producing, for both you, and your students.

They’re anxious because they have to talk to strangers in a way they’ve never had to before, and you’re anxious because you know customer interviewing is the point in the course when students are most likely to check out.

How do you keep your students engaged?

You’re hearing every excuse imaginable from your students about why they haven’t interviewed customers:

  • They don’t want to ask the wrong questions.
  • They aren’t sure who the “right” people are to interview.
  • They just broke up with their girlfriend. Or they have the swine flu. Or both.

Bottom line is your students are terrified about this critical step in the entrepreneurship process. They are afraid of the unknown. When the time comes for them to step outside the classroom and validate their assumptions with actual customers, they are likely to check out.

How do you keep your students engaged?

How do you turn their fear into excitement?

You show them what customer interviewing looks and feels like. You do a live customer interview in class.

Making yourself vulnerable in front of your students will give them the confidence they need to succeed! Click To Tweet

Below, and in our lesson plan, we lead you through the 5 simple steps to conduct a real customer interview call during your class.

Live Customer Interviewing

mTurk is short for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. What you need for live customer interviewing is a human being who has a problem. The mTurk marketplace is the perfect place to find a stranger who experiences a particular problem.

mTurk Customer Interviewing

Note: Do not stage this interview by having a colleague or friend or business partner call in. It is imperative you create the situation your students are so nervous about – interviewing a stranger about a real problem they experience.

You need to feel a little nervous about this process, and share those feelings with  your students so they know it is normal to feel that way. You are the role model;

If you want your students to engage, you need to show them how Click To Tweet

Class 1: Create a HIT on mTurk

A HIT is short for a human intelligence task. Create a new HIT here. In this example, we want to talk to parents who have children in day care.

Customer interviewing through mTurk

Step 1: Describe the HIT

Here you want to provide enough details so the people looking for tasks on mTurk can decide if they fit the criteria.

Keywords are an important way for people to find your HIT.

Describe the HIT

Super Important:

You must turn off “Master Turkers.” Master Turkers are a pre-screened, and very small, subset of the MTurk population. You want any folks on MTurk to be able to contact you, as long as they meet your qualifications. Here’s how to do that:

Step 2: Pick a Price

We recommend you offer between $.50 and $2.00 so it is attractive (but not too attractive!) to workers.

Pick a price

Step 3: Write up the HIT

Provide quick, clear criteria and instructions for the workers looking for tasks to connect with you for an interview. Include the date and time when you would like them to call you during your next class session.

Write up the HIT

Feel free to copy and paste (and customize) this HTML for writing up the HIT:

<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you are a parent who picks your kids at day care at least once/week, please call us for a 5-10 minute phone survey.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Please dial the following number:</span></p>
<ul>
<li><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>*67&nbsp; [your google voice number]</span></li>
</ul>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Note: dialing *67 before the actual phone number will protect the privacy of your phone number. &nbsp;</span><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you reach voicemail again, please wait 10 minutes.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>&nbsp;<b>Required after Calling</b>&nbsp;- after we finish the survey, we will give you a password to confirm you successfully completed it. Please enter it below:</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”><b>Password:</b>&nbsp;<textarea rows=”1″ cols=”80″ name=”answer”></textarea></span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Thank you very much! &nbsp;We really appreciate your help! &nbsp;</span></p>

Note: the “password” is a word you tell your interviewee to type in once the interview is complete.  You’ll see what they type in before you approve the HIT (i.e. pay them) so you can ensure only the people who successfully completed the interview get paid.

Step 4: Create a New Batch

Step 5: Publish the HITs


Class 2: The Call

Remind your students of the context of your call so they understand what problem you’re trying to solve, and who the customer is you’ll be talking to. After your call, debrief the call by asking your students to critique it.

What went right? What went wrong? Why did it go wrong?

How could you have kept the person on track?

What were some stronger questions to ask? What questions should you not have asked?

Customer Interviewing Homework

Give your students homework of critiquing another real customer interview. The more real interviews they see and hear, the more comfortable they are conducting them, the more engaged they are in your class. Here is a sample interview you can use for a homework assignment.

Get the Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Modeling Customer Interviewing Lesson Plan to help you excite your students about customer interviewing! It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In a future article, we will provide a checklist for you to plan an experiential entrepreneurship class! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Teaching Failure Through Currency Testing

Teaching Failure Through Currency Testing

Learning from failure is one of the most important skills our entrepreneurial students need to learn. It’s also one of the most difficult to teach.

We can talk all day about running experiments and testing assumptions, but ultimately they’re a waste of time if our students can’t successfully extract learning from failed experiments and invalidated hypotheses.

The trick to teaching failure is that our students have grown up in an environment where they are taught to avoid failure at all costs. They are taught to fear failure.

In fact, many of your students’ previous teachers leveraged a fear of failure to compel your students to behave a certain way: do busy-work, memorize lists, etc.

In entrepreneurship education, we need to change the perception of failure. Click To Tweet

As entrepreneurship educators, we need to create safe places for our students to engage with failures, so they can practice extracting knowledge from them.

As our students develop their failure analysis skills, they will:

  • Fear failure less – they will realize on a personal level that they can learn more from failure than from success.
  • Increase their confidence – entrepreneurship is less scary when you know even if one experiment fails, you’ll succeed in creating the foundation for the next.
  • Take calculated risks – which are prerequisites to thriving in an innovation economy.

Failure Always Invite Learning

Fast Forward Their First Failure

The Currency Testing lesson plan below will guide you through creating a constructive experience for your students to learn from their first entrepreneurship failure.

In our last exercise, your students launched an MVP, without a line of code. (If you haven’t read that exercise, you’ll want to now. Not only is it a blast, you’ll need to know it for this Currency Testing exercise).

Once they’ve learned that they too can launch a product, you’re ready to show them…

Launching the product is easy. It’s selling the product that’s hard.

In fact, it’s so hard, your students will likely fail their first time around, just like most entrepreneurs, which is the point of this exercise.

By fast-forwarding their first failure, you’re going to turn your students from first-time founders, into “serial entrepreneurs” 🙂 After satiating their drive to “build something” your students will realize…

The only thing more fun than building something, is building something people want. Click To Tweet

As your students begin to focus less on what they want to build, and more on what other people want to buy, they’ll be eager for you to teach them problem validation.

The Currency Test

At the heart of this exercise is something called a “Currency Test.” A currency test is simply an experiment where entrepreneurs test if customers are willing to pay some form of currency (e.g. cash, attention, data, etc.) in exchange for a product.

A currency test is a much more powerful experiment than asking customers, “Would you use this?” or “How much would you pay for this?” because it’s forces them to put their money where their mouth is. Where it’s easy for a customer to say, “I’d definitely use that” to a hypothetical product, entrepreneurs will learn how customers really feel, when they’re asked to break out their wallets.

Best of all, the results of a currency test are always helpful.Either the test succeeds and the entrepreneur validates demand for their product, or it fails and the entrepreneur gets to ask what’s preventing their customers from buying, so they can improve their next iteration.

Your students will conduct their currency test using the MVPs they built.

When they struggle to get currency (which they will, because like most first-time entrepreneurs their MVPs were more product-focused than customer- and problem-focused), their experiment will fail. They’ll be wondering why they couldn’t find customers for a product they thought was such a good idea, and at this point they’re primed.

Having experienced their first entrepreneurial failure, they’re now ready to hear:

  1. Why being problem-focused is essential in entrepreneurship.
  2. Why talking to customers before building is the key to success.
  3. The value of identifying marketing channels.
  4. How important marketing copy is.

And most importantly, they’ll learn from personal experience…

We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. Click To Tweet

The Failure Postmortem

After their failures, the lesson plan will show you how to walk your students through the most powerful part of this exercise: “The Currency Test Postmortem.”

In the postmortem, students answer questions related to what they learned about their customers and problems, and about marketing and selling their product. They’ll also begin to see first-hand the value of problem validation and testing their business model assumptions.

The postmortem also will model an approach to analyzing failures they can use in your class, as well as throughout their careers to overcome failures they and their products, teams, and companies will encounter in the future.

Increase their Grit

If you want to change your students’ relationship toward failure, if you want to instill in them the skills they need to not just recover from failure, but thrive because of it, give the Currency Test Lesson Plan a shot.

And remember the entrepreneurship proverb…

Teach a student how to fish; she’ll eat for a lifetime. Teach a student how to fail; she’ll innovate global food distribution... providing sustainable food sources for half the world’s population at a fraction of the cost while employing thousands of previously unemployed and under-employed. You should do this one.

😉

Get the Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Teaching Failure Lesson Plan to help you prepare your students to learn from failure. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above plus a few surprises!

Get the lesson plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In a future article, we will provide a checklist for you to plan an experiential entrepreneurship class! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Exercise: Post-It Note Problems

Exercise: Post-It Note Problems

Click play above for the video version of this post.

Engaging students is an uphill battle; one of the most demoralizing experiences as a teacher is to teach apathetic students. Students who are bored and disengaged.

In this article we’ll show you an easy exercise that gets students bought-in and motivated to participate in class.

Engaging Students Right Away

engaging students as customersThe secret to engaging students is to get them students bought in to what we’re teaching. To get them bought in,

It’s most effective to treat our students, like our customers.

At the end of the day, you want your students to leave your class with a new set of skills. To accomplish that you can either:

  1. Take an authoritarian approach where, “I-am-the-teacher-and-you-are-the-student-and-therefore-you-listen-to-me” power dynamic.
    This is where most of us start because a) it’s the way we were taught and b) its not obvious how to change this paradigm and still accomplish our goals.

    The authoritarian approach is great for generating compliance and obedience from students, but its abysmal at garnering the enthusiasm, energy and participation you need in an experiential entrepreneurship class.

  2. Alternatively, you and your students can collaborate in defining the nature of your class, just like companies and their customers collaborate to define mutually beneficial solutions.
    The key is to recognize…

    We teachers are selling a set of skills and ideas that we want our students to buy-into.

    The most effective way to get our students to buy what we’re selling, is to use the same techniques we teach them to get their customers to buy-in. Which leads us to the tried and true principle of entrepreneurship:

    Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

Practice What You Teach: Solve Their Problems

Customers don't buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.If our goal is engaging students, we need to use the exact same principles we’re teaching to our students in class. If we follow these principles with our students to get their buy-in, we recognize that we can’t sell them “products.”

We can’t sell them “products” like:

  • What they’ll learn
  • Experiences they’ll have
  • Projects they’ll do
  • Grading structure of the class

They won’t buy it, because those are the products of teachers.

If we want our students’ buy-in, we need to solve their problems.

Exercise: Problem Post-Its

Exercise: Problem Post-ItsA fast, and fun, way to discover the problems of your students is called the Problem Post-Its.

This exercise is inspired by Laura Klein, the author of UX for Lean Startups and you’ll find that it’s a fantastic brainstorming exercise in general. We’ll use it for brainstorming problems here, but you can also teach it to your students as a way for them to brainstorm any kind of ideas. This technique balances the energy of extroverts on a team, with the great insights the introverts on a team, so all voices are heard.

DARE to Solve Their Problems

This exercise can be broken down into four steps. We use the acronym DARE to outline each step. DARE to ask students their problems

  • Discover – discover your students’ problems.
  • Analyze – analyze and categorize them.
  • Reflect – reflect their problems back to them to get their buy-in.
  • Emphasize – emphasize the solutions to their problems that you’re going to offer throughout the course.

We’ll take these one at a time starting with…

Step 1: Discover Their Problems

To discover your students’ problems you’re going to arm them with a set of post-it notes. Give each student roughly ten post-it notes and a Sharpie or some other kind of marker. Ask them to write down one problem they have per post-it note. 1 Problem Per Post It

It’s a good idea to emphasize this one-problem-per-note bit. If you don’t, you’ll find that at least one person in your class is going to end up writing down all their problems on a single post-it note.

So it’s one problem per post-it note. Then, give them two minutes to write down all of the problems they have related to:

  • Jobs that they want
  • Financial problems they have
  • Career problems
  • Business related problems

When you focus your students’ attention to problems in these categories, it will constrain the problem set to ones you can actually help them solve during your course.

During their two minute silent brainstorming, ask them to aim for at least ten problems – so at least ten post-it notes.

After the two minutes is over, move to…

Step 2: Analyze Their Problems

Have your students take their 10-ish Post-It notes and pick out their top three problems. Then ask your students to stand up and meet you at a wall in your class with their top 3 Post-It notes.

Creating problem Post-It cloudsNow that you have all of your students standing with you at a wall in your classroom, you’ll start grouping their problems into “problem clouds”, where similar problems are posted next to one another.

To do that, ask a student to volunteer a problem. They will say something like,

“I’m about to graduate and I don’t know what kind of job I want.”

To which you’ll reply, “Okay, great, who else has a Post-It that says ‘I don’t know what kind of job I want after school?’”

Everyone who has that problem will raise their hand and you’ll collect all those notes and put them up on your wall together to make a cloud for that problem. engaging students analyze problemsNow ask another student for a problem they have.

They might say something like,

“I’m broke.”

You say, “Okay, who else has a post-it note that says ‘I got no money?’”

Collect all those post-it notes and make another problem cloud on your wall. Ask for another problem and maybe someone will say,

“I know what job I want but I’m not sure how to get it.”

You’ll collect all those and create another problem cloud kind of close to the original “I don’t know what job I want” cloud because they’re both related.

Keep going until you’ve got everyone’s problem post-it notes on the wall, after which you’ll move on to…

Step 3: Reflect Their Problems

Now that you have all these problem clouds, you’ve analyzed your students’ (i.e. customers’) problems.

You can see what problems your students have, and what are the most common problems. You’ll now know the most prevalent, the most pressing problems of your customers, in their own words.

You’re now ready to reflect the problems you’ve heard back to them. Not only do you want to make sure you’ve heard them right, but when you reflect your students’ problems back to them in their own words, you will get their buy-in.

When you 1) reflect your student’s problems back to them and 2) help them take steps towards solving them, they will buy in.

You can say to your students, “I hear you that you’re broke. I totally get that. In fact, you can actually fund your next semester’s tuition with the techniques you learn in this class!”

You can tell them, “If you’re unsure what kind of job is right for you, you can use the same techniques I’m going to teach you in this class to identify the right kind of business for you, to identify the right kind of job for you!”

And you can encourage them by saying, “The same techniques you’re going to use to interview customers, you can use to interview potential bosses – increasing the likelihood that you’ll get the job you want. You can find your dream job using the skills you’ll learn in this course!”

When you connect the dots for your students between the problems they have and the skills you’re going to teach them, they will buy in. Reflect their problems and your students will engageIn fact, they’ll do more than that.

They will engage.

With a young or old, undergraduate or postgraduate, MBA or freshman, when you understand the problems of your customers, connect the dots, and show them how what you’re going to teach them is going to help them solve those problems, you will engage your students!

Step 4: Emphasize Their Problems

Now that you’ve reflected their problems back to your students, you want to emphasize that you’re going to solve those problems throughout their course.

What that looks like is simply reminding them for each exercise you do, or each day of your course, how this is going to help solve one the problems in their original problem clouds. engaging students emphasize solutions

For instance, when it’s time to reach out and interview customers, you can say, “the same skills you guys are going to use today to reach out to your customers are the skills you can use to reach out to potential employers.”

You are always emphasizing how elements of this course tie back to the problems they are actually experiencing.

That is how you DARE your students to tell you their problems:

  • Discover
  • Analyze
  • Reflect
  • Emphasize

Bonus: You’re Modeling a Problem-Centric Mindset

In addition to discovering the keys to engaging with your students, by running this exercise, you’re modeling the behavior you want your students to exhibit. Namely…

Focusing on their customers’s problems.

By genuinely engaging with your students’ problems, you’re showing them what it looks like to be empathetic. They will take the same sincerity you apply to this exercise with them when they conduct problem interviews with their customers.

Summary

That is the secret to engaging entrepreneurship students is:

  1. Getting our students to buy-in, by treating them like customers.
  2. Customers don’t want to buy products. engaging students by solving problemsThey don’t care about the organization of the class, the syllabus, or the textbook, or the lectures or anything like that.

They care about solving their problems.

  1. DARE to solve their problems.

When you show your students how your course will solve their problems, they will engage with your class like never before.

Problem Post-Its Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Problem Post-It Lesson Plan to help you engage your students in the DARE process. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In a future article, we will explore in more detail how to use the DARE exercise to co-create a syllabus with your students! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Which Customers Should Students Interview?

Which Customers Should Students Interview?

Click play above for the video version of this post.

Helping Your Students With Customer Interviews

In our last article, we used the business model canvas to describe why students should interview their customers. We also talked about how to motivate your students to actually conduct those interviews.

If you haven’t read that article yet, please do that now.

If you have, let’s talk about some of the common problems your students will experience when they get out of the building to talk to customers.

  • customer interviewingThey’ll have trouble getting people to agree to interviews
  • They won’t find a pattern among the problems they’re hearing from people they interview
  • They won’t hear anything about the problems they want to solve

All of these problems are common and are…

The consequence of simply interviewing the wrong customers.

Which Customers To Interview?

Effective entrepreneurs interview their early adopters, so we need to teach our students who early adopters are and how they can find theirs.

To define early adopters, we’ll leverage definitions by Rogers, Moore, and Steve Blank, but with a twist to make the definition more actionable. You can start by reminding your students that…

Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

Your students shouldn’t think about early adopters in terms of their relationship to a product. We want them to think about Early Adopters in relationship to a problem.

early adopter problemsEarly adopters are people who have the problem that your students want to try and solve, know they have that problem, and. . .

Early Adopters are actively seeking a solution to their problem.

These customers, who are seeking a solution to their problem, are the ones you want your students to interviews.

Focus Customer Interviews on Early Adopters

If your students can find, and interview, their early adopters, they will have accomplished the single-most important aspect of finding Product-Market Fit.

Customer interviews validate almost half of a business model canvasThat’s because during their interviews with early adopters, your students are going to validate their:

  1. Customer segments
  2. Value proposition
  3. Customer relationships and
  4. Channels

All told, interviewing early adopters will validate almost half of your students’ business models.

Plus, these interviews will form the basis of their experiments for the rest of the business model canvas.

On the other hand, if your students can’t find early adopters, they won’t have anyone to provide social proof to the early majority. That means they’re not going to find anyone who’s going to bring on the late majority or the laggards.

If they can’t find early adopters, it is very unlikely your students are going to find Product-Market Fit.

Can't find Early Adopters? Can't find Product-Market Fit.If your students can’t find people seeking a solution to a problem, it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t need solving. It doesn’t mean that the business idea is bad. It means the time isn’t right to solve the problem.

If your students can’t find anyone seeking a solution to this problem, now is not the opportune time to try solving that problem. Your students could be too early to solve this problem, or they could be too late. We know that now is not the right time.

Early Adopters are the Product-Market Fit litmus test

By trying to interview early adopters, your students can form the basis of their business model if they find them. If your students don’t find them, that’s helpful news as well, because they can pivot with confidence. If your students can’t find people seeking a solution to the problem, it’s better to know now than later, so they can another problem to solve that’s more likely to lead to their success.

Finding Early Adopters

When you teach your students how to find early adopters, you may find it easiest to contrast early adopters with the early majority, late majority, and laggards, especially if you can a case study to do it, like Airbnb.

Laggards don't have the problem you're trying to solveStart by describing the problem your case study company solves. In this case, the problem Airbnb was trying to solve when it got started was that it was too hard to find cheap hotel rooms during a conference.

Next, describe the concept of laggards, people who literally don’t have the problem the entrepreneurs are trying to solve. Because they don’t have the problem, they don’t know they have the problem, and they’re not seeking a solution for that problem.

An example laggard for Airbnb’s early days might be someone attending a conference but their company pays for their room. Or someone who can expense any hotel costs they have, so they don’t worry about the cost.

Late Majority don't know they have the problem you want to solveContrast that to the late majority. This is someone who has the problem the entrepreneurs want to solve, but doesn’t know it; they are not aware they have the problem. If your students are ever trying to convince someone they have a problem, they are likely talking to someone in the late majority. These are some of the worst people sell to, because they are not aware they have the problem. Someone who doesn’t know they have a problem is rarely willing to talk about solving that problem, and if someone won’t talk about solving a problem, they certainly won’t pay to solve it. It’s important that you educate your students about the late majority, otherwise they’ll try to “educate” all their customers to convince them they have a problem, and won’t make any traction.

In AirBnb’s example, a member of the late majority might be someone who charges the hotel room to a credit card, even though it’s too expensive for their budget. They may simply think this is the cost of doing business and not even realize they’re getting charged exorbitant fees for a room in high-demand.

Early Majority aren't actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solveCompare the late majority to the early majority. These are customers who know they have the problem, but are not seeking a solution to it. Maybe they have experienced the problem, and acknowledged it’s an annoyance, but they haven’t been so disturbed by it that they sought a solution. Or maybe they did seek a solution, and either found one that was good enough, or they didn’t, and assumed the problem wasn’t solvable. No matter what, a member of the early majority isn’t actively seeking a solution now (but will jump on one if they hear about it from an early adopter).

In the Airbnb example, a member of the early majority might be someone who skips the conference because they can’t find a cheap hotel room. They know rooms are too expensive. They searched for cheaper rooms online, but they couldn’t find something to fit their budget. They had other problems to solve so maybe they gave up and simply decided not to attend the conference.

Early adopters are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solveThe last, and most important, group is our early adopters. These customers not only know they have the problem the entrepreneurs want to solve, but are seeking a solution to that problem.

In the Airbnb example, an early adopter might be someone posting on the conference discussion group asking to share a room to lower their costs. Or maybe they’re searching the hostels in the area to find an affordable room.

To find these all-important early adopters, your students should brainstorm behaviors that indicate someone is seeking a solution to the problem. In the Airbnb example, the behavior would be “posting on a forum for a room share”, so to find those early adopters, the founders would simply look on the design forum.

Only Interview Early Adopters

Interviewing non-early adopters is worse than a waste of timeYour students should avoid interviewing anyone who is not an early adopter for the problem they want to solve.

That’s because if your students interview non-early adopters, they will discover problems entirely unrelated to the problem they are trying to solve – and problems few people actively seeking solutions for.

Imagine your students asking a late majority, laggard, or early majority the hardest part about going to a conference in the Airbnb example. Because these non-early adopters customers are not aware of, or seeking a solution to the problem the founders want to solve, the customers will describe completely unrelated problems like…

  • The food isn’t very good
  • The presentations are boring
  • The tickets to the conference are too expensive

We don’t want your students getting distracted by these other problems – we want them to validate, or invalidate their current problem hypothesis.

To do that, your students’ best bet is to focus their attention on their early adopters. Your students can use their customers’ solution-seeking behavior to tell them where their early adopters are.

In the Class

finding early adopter customersAnother case study that’s fun to use is Uber. Have your students think about the early days of Uber. The problem they were solving was the difficulty finding a cab in a big city like San Francisco.

Ask your students to describe a laggard in the Uber example. Maybe it’s someone who doesn’t take cabs at all – maybe they ride their bike everywhere.

Next, ask your students to describe an member of Uber’s original late majority. An example example could be someone who takes cabs but is often late. This segment, the late majority, take it for granted and don’t think cabs could be faster. To them, it’s part of their daily routine and they don’t think it’s a problem.

Now ask your students to identify behaviors exhibited by an early majority customer. Remind them this is someone who knows they have the problem. Maybe they have a black cab service on speed dial. They don’t want to use regular cabs because they’re too slow, so they’ll pay the extra price for a black cab service. The early majority is someone who has a solution that’s good enough for now.

Finally ask your students to identify behaviors exhibited by an early adopter. Remind them that early adopters are seeking a solution. They could be reading reviews on Yelp to find the fastest cab service in San Francisco, or they could be leaving reviews complaining about the slow response time for certain cab companies.

Remember: students should use early adopters’ solution-seeking behavior to find them for interviews.

For more details, take a look at the complete lesson plan we’ve provided below.

Get the Who are Early Adopters Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Who are Early Adopters Lesson Plan to help you teach your students who to interview. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


Better Customer Interviews

better customer interviewsIn this article we described who early adopters are and how to find them. That will help your students conduct better interviews.

  • They will get more interviews.
  • Your students will find consistent problem patterns because they’re talking to people who are trying to solve that problem.
  • And Your students will find problems they want to solve because they’re not talking to late majority or laggards.

If they interview their early adopters, your students will form the basis of their business model. If they can’t find early adopters to interview, they’ll know isn’t the right time to solve the problem they hypothesized and they will have the confidence to pivot (to a backup idea they generated through their problem generation process).

What’s Next?

In future articles, we’ll talk about who your students should target for interviews, and what to ask during them. If you’d like those lesson plans, subscribe here to get them in your inbox.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Motivating Your Students to Interview Customers

Motivating Your Students to Interview Customers

Click play above for the video version of this post.

The Power of Customer Interviews

Most entrepreneurship teachers are familiar with how powerful customer interviews are in validating a business model. But how do we motivate our students to leverage that power?

So often our students resist conducting customer interviews.

motivating students to interview customer

Their push back makes sense:

  • They’re nervous about talking to strangers.
  • No one’s shown them how to do this interviewing thing.
  • They don’t learn this technique somewhere else.
  • They’ve never seen or heard sample interviews.
  • They are overwhelmed; it feels like too much work.
  • Students have to find people to interview, ask them for the interview, and conduct and analyze the interview.
  • All the while, they’re worried about looking and feeling stupid.

In the article below, we’re going to offer you a two-step approach to motivate your students to take advantage of…

The most powerful business model validation tool we have at our disposal: customer interviews.

The first step of this approach is to provide the underlying business model theory so they understand why customer interviews are a critical step in their validation journey. We’ll show you how to use the business model canvas to help you do that. But that’s not enough to get your students talking to customers.

You’ll also need the second step, which is to invite them to experience the transformative power of customer interviews by observing a real interview during an experiential exercise.

Be sure to download the Lesson Plan below for full-details.

Customer Interviews and the Canvas

Customer interviews validate almost half of a business model canvasHow do you communicate to your students that customer interviews are the critical component of business model validation? If you use the Business Model Canvas or the Lean Canvas, use them to illustrate this point.

Show a canvas to your students and pose this question:

“Which business model components will customer interviews help you validate?”

Most students point to the Customer Segments or Value Proposition components. Those are both correct, customer interviews will help them directly validate those components.

Customer interviews will also help them validate the Customer Relationships and Channels assumptions. It turns out, when done effectively…

Customer interviews will help your students validate assumptions for almost half of their business models.

The business model assumptions that interviews don’t validate directly will be validated indirectly because everything is derived from the top right corner of the business model canvas.

For this reason, customer interviews are not just a powerful tool,

Customer interviews are the most powerful tool we have for validating business models.

Well-executed customer interviews are far more useful than surveys, focus groups, market research or observations. Every hypothesis your students make can be validated with them, or as a direct result of what they learn during them.

Experiencing Customer Interviews

Once you’ve described why these interviews are so important, it’s time to let your students experience the power of customer interviews first hand. To do that, we invite you to run an exercise with them.

First, ask your students to create a product for parents of children with ADHD. You can do this individually or in teams, whatever fits your class best. The assignment is to design a product for this customer segment.

Note: many of of your students will have no clue how to serve this customer segment and will find this step of the exercise challenging…which is exactly what you want.

customer interview

Next, ask them to design a Facebook ad to market their new product. The Facebook ad should include several components, including:

  1. A compelling headline
  2. An image and
  3. A description that motivates their customer to take an action (e.g. Click here to learn more, Buy now, etc.).

Once your students have completed both steps, discuss how confident they are they’ve got a product customers will buy, and a compelling ad for that product. During this discussion, highlight the difficulties they encountered coming up with a product in a vacuum, and how difficult it is to come up with a compelling marketing strategy (or even one ad) without speaking to customers.

Make Customer Interviews Real

Next is the really fun part. In the lesson plan below, we’ve included a recording of a sample customer interview with the parent of a child who has ADHD. Play that interview for your students.

During the recording, your students will hear:

  1. Two very real problems this mother has encountered,
  2. The emotions the mother feels associated with those problems,
  3. The solutions the mother has tried to solve those problems.

These three things – the problems, the emotions invoked by those problems, and the attempted solutions to the problems – are customer interviewing gold. Those are aspects on which we build all the components of a business model going forward.

Have your students listen to the interview so they can hear how informative these conversations can be. The first seven minutes of the recording is the interview itself. It’s worth noting that although this was an interview with a real potential customer, it was conducted as a demonstration. Most interviews your students will conduct will be 30-60 minutes long.

The following ten minutes of the recording are a group of students and I discussing what they heard during the interview. Consider listening to this section of the recording if you think it will help prepare you to answer questions your students may have.

Iterate

After listening to the interview, invite your students to redesign their product.

This time they get to leverage the fact that at least one mother of a child with ADHD has a problem getting that child to sleep. They also know that mother is worried about what sort of coping mechanisms her child will need once she’s an adult.

Your students should use the problem they heard during the interview as inspiration for their new products.

Customer Interview Exercise

For any company they start, your students can leverage the conversations they have with their potential customers to design their company and the product.

Once they’ve designed their product, have them redesign their Facebook ad. During this phase, make sure your students leverage the guilt and frustration they heard from the mother.

Entrepreneurs use emotional language to connect with their customers and demonstrate they understand the customers’ problems. When a customer sees or hears language that resonates with them on an emotional level, they know “this person understands me.”

When your students create an ad that addresses the guilt of being a mother of a child with ADHD that has been undiagnosed, their potential customer perceives that ad more positively because “finally, someone understands my experience.”

Your students can also reference the competitive solutions the mother has tried to solve her problems. Using the problems, emotions, and solutions the mother evoked during the interview is a way for your students to tell customers like her,

“We understand your problem. And because we understand it, we are uniquely suited to solve your problem.”

After they’ve built their new ad, open a second discussion comparing and contrasting what it was like building a product in a vacuum without speaking to customers versus building a product and ad inspired by customer interviews.

Talk about the benefits of collaborating with customers to create a product, and how doing so can help them market that product as well. Talk about how willing the customer was to talk about her problems, and how she seemed to enjoy the experience (i.e. people enjoy being genuinely asked about their problems so they shouldn’t feel like they are imposing on their interviewees).

Also be sure to talk about how it may feel like extra, and sometimes uncomfortable, work to talk with customers before creating a product, but how…

Nothing accelerates the creation of a successful product more than talking to your customers about their problems.

Now that you know how to help your students feel what it’s like to use customer interviews as the inspiration for a new product, and can explain their relationship to the Business Model Canvas, you have the tools to motivate your students to do their own customer interviews.

For more details, take a look at the complete lesson plan we’ve provided below, including the link to the sample interview recording.

Get the Experiencing Customer Interviews Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Experiencing Customer Interviews Lesson Plan to help you motivate your students to talk to their customers. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan

Use it as a basis to motivate your students to interview customers.

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


Interviews, Not Guesses

You want students to develop powerful solutions that solve real problems for real customers. To do that,

They need to become comfortable interviewing customers.

If you want your students to interview customers so their solutions are more powerful, try this technique in your next course.

In future articles, we’ll talk about who your students should target for interviews, and what to ask during them. If you’d like those lesson plans, subscribe here to get them in your inbox.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.