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Entrepreneurship Class Essentials with Steve Blank

Entrepreneurship Class Essentials with Steve Blank

Here is part 2 of our interview with entrepreneurship innovator and educator Steve Blank, where he shares his thoughts on what is essential for an entrepreneurship class and an entrepreneurship curriculum. If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.

Steve Blank is an icon in entrepreneurship education. He is known for developing the customer development method that launched the Lean Startup movement.  A serial entrepreneur turned educator, Steve continues to elevate the field of entrepreneurship and greatly influences how we teach entrepreneurship principals. 

Steve Blank on What is Essential to Teach in an Entrepreneurship Class

Increasing numbers of universities require students to take entrepreneurship courses. While Steve doesn’t believe these courses should be mandatory, he had very clear ideas on what the goal should be for entrepreneurship courses.

The truth is we will have students in our classes that are not interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Whether it’s because they’re taking the class because it’s required or whether they have a true interest in becoming an entrepreneur, we have a commitment to helping our students actualize their potential. 

“How do we make a well-rounded individual in the 21st century?”

Steve shared that, at the core, entrepreneurship courses, build skills in tenacity, resilience, and agility in hypothesis testing. These skills are valid for all students, whether they want to be an entrepreneur or not. And it is his belief that these skills should be the foundation of a liberal arts education in the 21st century. 

Particularly since the evolution of society and technology have created a shorter lifespan for most companies. By building up these skills, students will be able to access them as they go about building their careers. In addition, entrepreneurship classes will help identify future entrepreneurs.

However, these skills shouldn’t be limited to college learning.  Steve envisions these methods being taught as part of a K-12 curriculum as well. Similar to the Korda Institute for Teaching, entrepreneurship can be integrated into classroom learning to bolster student skills, knowledge, and community impact. By designing educational experiences that utilize entrepreneurship principles, students can start learning early to solve problems that impact or involve their community. 

Steve Blank’s 4 Essential Courses for Entrepreneurship Curriculum

We liked the idea of narrowing the focus of an entrepreneurship curriculum, but we also asked Steve if there were courses he deemed essential when designing a curriculum. Here are the four core entrepreneurial classes or concepts Steve believes should be included:

  1. Creativity: This course includes customer discovery and helps students isolate the problems they want to solve.
  2. Lean Launchpad Lite: This is a stripped-down version of Lean Launchpad which Steve believes can sometimes be bogged down with jargon. This class includes the framework and practical questions every entrepreneur needs to ask without a large focus on terminology.
  3. Core Skills (or as Steve likes to put it “Fucking with your head”): This is a skill-building class focused on improving student’s resilience, tenacity, and agility. Lesson plans focus on hypothesis testing and fact-checking. In this class, students become more comfortable with chaos, uncertainty, and even failure.
  4. Capstone: The capstone centers around the specific domain of expertise. For each university, it will vary with the region and the focus of the institution.

Designing Entrepreneurship Curriculum for the Students You Want to Attract

One of the questions we’re often asked is how to build a comprehensive curriculum. When put to Steve, he recommends keeping students top of mind when designing an entrepreneurship curriculum. 

If I was in a university the first question I would ask for an educator is, am I building a curriculum for the students I have, or am I building a curriculum for the students I want to attract? 

He shared the example of talking with some educators in Lincoln, Nebraska who work with farmers. The teachers were interested in putting together a class for farmers. The opportunity this presented for the university, in Steve’s words, “is they could become the Lean expert for farm entrepreneurship rather than replicating the other 7,000 versions of a general Lean Startup curriculum”. The question Steve encourages institutions and entrepreneurship professors to ask when designing curriculum are:

  • Is there a domain of expertise we can or should focus on?
  • Can we create a vertical version of Lean Startup for this area?

Teaching Minimum Viable Product 

On the topic of buzzwords and jargon found in Lean Start-up, the idea of an MVP is one of the most often misunderstood concepts taught in entrepreneurship. Particularly, it can be difficult to teach. 

One of the mistakes Steve discussed regarding the idea of a Minimum Viable Product or (MVP) is that businesses may understand finding a product to fit a certain market, but they stop there. Students and entrepreneurs alike need to understand that all components of the business model need to be tested and some of them need to be re-tested. 

Therefore, when teaching MVP to students, finding customers who want particular features of a product or want the product is just Step 1 of a robust class. For example, we could also design a class around MVP’s for pricing. Students can test whether a product could sell for $20,000 rather than $9.99.  

From customer discovery to learning how to pivot, an effective MVP course teaches students to run experiments across all components of commercialization.

Key Takeaway

Finishing out our discussion, Steve expressed the key takeaway he wants educators and universities alike to realize is that one-size-fits-all does not fit all for an entrepreneurship class. Whether we’re teaching tech, corporate, or social entrepreneurship, he encourages us to take our expertise and adjust our curriculums to get the right impedance match for the right students. In other words, treat our students like customers. 

Our classes are our own little start-up.


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

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

Preview ExEC Now

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


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:

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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


Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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


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

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

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

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

First, for anyone unfamiliar: Who is Steve Blank?

Forefather of Lean Startup

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

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

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

Why Teaching Entrepreneurship is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve’s Teaching Tips

Tip #1: Accept You Don’t Know Everything

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #2: Get a Mentor

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

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

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

When in Doubt: Experiences Teach Skills

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

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

Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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

Students Learn Best By Doing

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

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

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

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

The same goes for every topic in entrepreneurship:

  • Idea generation
  • Solution ideation
  • Finance
  • Pitching

Every entrepreneurship skill must be practiced to be internalized.

The Future of Entrepreneurship Education

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

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

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

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


Takeaways

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

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

Don’t Miss Part 2

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

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

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Missed Our Recent Articles?

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


Want More Engaged Students?

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

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

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

Preview ExEC Now

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

New Venture Creation Syllabus

New Venture Creation Syllabus

Starting a new venture is scary. Teaching students the skills necessary to start and grow a successful new venture is even scarier.

Students benefit when focused on a few core skills necessary to feel confident in their ability to start something, no matter how small. Introduce your students to skills like problem-solving, customer interviewing, and prototyping on their path to creating something with our New Venture Creation Syllabus. Using this syllabus, you can relate the skills students are practicing in class to their current life as a student, and show them how to leverage those skills to start a new venture that is meaningful to them. Other professors using our content have reported entrepreneurship student progress and confidence skyrocketed. new venture creation classroom in action Our New Venture Creation syllabus lays out a skills-based, experiential journey during which students develop the mindset and skillset to create value as they launch new ventures!

New Venture Creation Skills

A new venture creation course, done well, helps students learn and apply powerful frameworks and methodologies that are useful for planning and launching new ventures, and for corporate ideation and intrapreneurship. Our new venture creation syllabus is chock full of skill-building experiences to effectively prepare students for either of these paths.

The skills students learn in this course are particularly important as we know most students do not immediately start businesses out of college, but instead go to work for someone else, learn an industry, and eventually launch a venture as they develop a network and expertise. Our new venture creation syllabus has two phases. First is where students find problems worth solving. They do this through a journey of developing a growth mindset, learning to leverage failure, generating ideas they are excited to work on, finding and interviewing potential customers, and ultimately validating that they are working on a problem worth solving.

The second phase of our new venture creation syllabus focuses students on the skillset necessary to find a solution worth building. Specifically, students develop solutions based on customers’ problems, build a viable financial model, iteratively build prototypes of their product to gather validated learning about customers, and design and execute business model experiments. Students develop these skills through a series of award-winning experiences developed using theories, frameworks, and methodologies from a variety of disciplines.

Experiential Learning

Students in a new venture creation course should actively experience the highs and lows of creating and capturing value, not passively learn about others who have. Experiential learning techniques are critical to this course because they increase student engagement and excitement as students build knowledge by doing.


We built our new venture creation syllabus by leveraging the academic and entrepreneurial expertise of our community of nearly 10,000 entrepreneurship professors. Using our new venture creation syllabus gives you a way to engage and excite your students from the first through the last day with our innovative approach to experiential learning.


Get the New Venture Creation Sample Syllabus

We’ve created a detailed New Venture Creation sample syllabus that details the components of a full semester course.

Get the Sample Syllabus

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


Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

We’ve spent years testing and iterating a structured set of comprehensive exercises that we know teach entrepreneurial skills in an engaging way – online or in-person.

Why waste your time trying to tie together a set of unrelated exercises you compile from around the web? Use a set of rigorous, cohesive lessons that will engage your students.

Use the “Best Entrepreneurship Curriculum Available”

Check out ExEC, engage your students, and give them access to the best tools available.

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.

 


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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.

 


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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?

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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.

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Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Rebeca Hwang recently introduced us to The Wish Game – an exercise she uses in her E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class at Stanford University. We all want to increase the intensity and success of teamwork in our courses. Through this exercise, Rebeca accomplished just that.

After hearing Rebeca share about this exercise, our co-founder Doan Winkel realized it could be so much more. He saw it as a transformative entrepreneurship training ground. Doan transformed his upcoming MBA class into one semester-long Wish Game. He will be sharing his journey throughout the Spring semester – follow the journey to see how it goes.

The Wish Game As An Exercise

“Every week, I was looking forward to the Wish Game. It created a sense of excitement all around.” – ENGR145 Student

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

On the first day of class, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on one piece of paper. She encourages no boundaries here; examples Rebeca shared include meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or getting a job at Google.

Throughout her E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class, Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and the rest of the class, working as one, fulfills that wish. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Paying it forward is a critical part of the Wish Game and an overall goal Rebeca has to WOW her students.

In Rebeca’s class, The Wish Game is about hyper-collaboration; if her students work together under considerable constraints, they all benefit. 

Step 2: Planning the Wish

When a wish is picked, students interview the student whose wish was picked. Their goal is to dig beneath the surface of the chosen student’s wish. Rebeca reported that often what the chosen student wants isn’t exactly what they wrote on the paper.

Through this process, students build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.

Students practice their interviewing skills each week as they work to better understand how to deliver a truly amazing experience for the chosen student. 

Through planning and executing wishes, The Wish Game:

  • pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have,
  • pushes them to share those with peers
  • enables students to build lasting relationships, and
  • enables students to positively impact on each other.

The Wish Game as a Course

“When I heard Rebeca describe The Wish Game, I sat up straight in my chair and began scribbling ideas on my notebook. I immediately understood the potential this exercise had to be the perfect playground for my entrepreneurship students.” – Doan Winkel

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

The first thing Doan will do in Day 1 of his MBA class (held for 3 hours once per week) is to ask students to imagine their three biggest wishes. He will encourage his students to write down the ones that scare them or make them a little giddy when they imagine that reality. To model this, he will share his three big wishes:

  • Have a conversation with his sister Laura, who died more than 20 years ago
  • Step foot on Saturn
  • Hit the winning shot in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game

Step 2: Planning the Wish

Doan will invite students to talk through how they would plan his wish to step foot on Saturn.

wish game example

He will push them to think creatively about how they would create that scenario. Doan will challenge them to get into an uncomfortable place in terms of what they think they can accomplish and what they think is possible. His main tool here would be “What if . . .” prompts to push the students to think bigger, or to believe they can execute their ideas.

At the end of this discussion, he will lay out the course structure, as follows, for each subsequent week:

  1. Doan will pick a piece of paper at the beginning of Week 2.
  2. Students will select a leader – a student in charge of strategy and execution.
  3. Students interview the chosen student to better understand the desire for the wish, because often what people share about their hopes and dreams is only surface-level. Doan wants his students to practice digging deep beneath that surface to understand the impetus for the wish. By perfecting their interviewing skills, the students will be more capable of delivering value to their “customer” (the student getting the wish granted in this case).
  4. Once students feel they have a good understanding of the true wish, Doan will excuse the chosen student for the week so the remaining students can plan the wish.
  5. Students plan the wish and deliver it at the beginning of the next class (one week later).
  6. Rinse and repeat; Doan chooses another student and the process begins again.
  7. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Otherwise, Doan will choose another piece of paper for the subsequent week.

Doan will encourage students to mobilize their resources each week. This could take the form of money (he will set the expectation that each student should contribute $10 to each wish). He will help students understand how to use their network. Perhaps people in their network could contribute advice, or materials, or participation.

Step 3: Assessing the Wish

Doan will assess students in two ways.

  1. Each chosen student will write a reflection one-pager, sharing his/her perspective of the experience, and grading the accuracy and the impact of the delivered wish.
  2. Each student who delivered the wish will write a reflection one-pager, sharing his/her perspective of the experience and grading their effort in that wish delivery.

The Wish Game as Entrepreneurship

What excited Doan so much about Rebeca’s Wish Game exercise was the possibility of his students practicing entrepreneurship skills while doing something impactful for others. Each week, students will practice, at minimum, the following skills that are critical elements of entrepreneurship education:

  • develop and evaluate ideas
  • interview customers
  • iteratively prototype under time constraints
  • mobilize and deploy limited resources
  • presentation
  • reflection

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

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

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Personal Business Plan

Personal Business Plan

Rebeca Hwang recently told us about an exercise she uses at Stanford University where students create a business plan about themselves. The Personal Business Plan (PBP) is an exercise created by Tom Kosnik that has helped turn Rebeca’s E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class into:

“This was by far the best course I have taken at Stanford, absolutely amazing curriculum.”

Rebeca explains the PBP is a way for students to apply the tools learned during their entrepreneurship course to something near and dear to their hearts…themselves!

To make the elements of the business model relevant, faculty force students to think of themselves as a company. Students do this assignment individually, and ultimately must figure out how they offer value to their world.

“The entrepreneurial process is at its core concerned with ‘the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources already under control.’ This process is as applicable to your career as it is to starting a company. The goal of this assignment is to identify where you want to be and how you will get there. Do not worry about your current resources. Think about this with an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Most important of all, the assignment works, and Rebeca’s students love it.

“make sure you spend a lot of time on the personal business plan, it is worth it! I wish I had spent more time on mine, and will in the future because I think it’s very valuable to think about what your plans and possibilities for life are.”

“Through the personal business plan, it really helped reevaluate what I desire and would like to pursue in life.”

Below is an overview of the Personal Business Plan assignment. For full details, check out the complete lesson plan below.

The Personal Business Plan

Students write at most five (5) pages answering questions about their future vision (such as “What are your values?” and “What personal or professional skills would you most like to develop?”) and about their present plans and passions (such as “What opportunities could help you to achieve your future vision?” and “How will you reach, connect with or influence your customers?”). The full question sets are available in the lesson plan.

In addition to answering these questions, students include at least one exhibit within their five (5) page limit, which can be “any combination of graphics or quantitative analysis [they] desire”.

Examples of exhibits professors give students are:

  • A resume (current and/or future)
  • A decision tree showing paths to a number of future career options
  • A specific “short list” of attractive jobs, company names, and key audiences
  • Segmentation of different organizations’ readiness to accept your value package using Geoffrey Moore’s adopter categories
  • A chart addressing the risks, mitigation strategies, etc. associated with your Reality Test

Faculty give students required and recommended readings/viewings to help them prepare an effective Personal Business Plan, all of which are available in the full lesson plan.

In using sources, guide students with the following:

“Failure to use at least one concept from one of the readings will lower your grade. We will reward skill and creativity in applying the concepts with higher grades. On the other hand, don’t get carried away with citing too many sources. We are less interested in having you paraphrase what other people think and more interested in seeing how you think.”

Grading the Personal Business Plan

A team of two graders reads each PBP. One grades in detail, the other reads to make sure the first grader is not too difficult or too easy a grader.

Because this assignment is about trust at its core, students choose who grades their assignment.

Students are reminded that the grade is not an evaluation of their choice of career path or current life plan, and that only they can decide if their choices will bring them happiness and success.

Professor Tom Kosnik developed a robust grading rubric for this assignment, which is included at the end of the lesson plan.

Because this assignment is worth 20% of their grade, students take it very seriously. Because this assignment is about them and their future, students invest tremendously in it, and receive incredible value from doing it.

We are grateful to Rebeca Hwang, Tom Kosnik, and the faculty who teach E145 Technology Entrepreneurship at Stanford University for sharing this amazing exercise.

Key Takeaways

Because students are applying business model components to themselves, they deeply engage in learning these components and have a very clear understanding how to apply them.

Through this assignment, students will learn to see themselves as a company, and that they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for. They will also deeply embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future. They will see that learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context.


Get the “Personal Business Plan” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Personal Business Plan” 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.

 


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Changing your Students’ Lives

Changing your Students’ Lives

Rebeca Hwang
Entrepreneurship Lecturer
Stanford University

“Take it. It’s a life changer.”

Rebeca Hwang works in one of the most competitive teaching environments, with some of the most demanding students in the country. In that context her entrepreneurship class achieves a stunningly high (96%+) positive feedback rating. Her evaluations include quotes like “one of the best classes at Stanford”. Students recommend her course to others by describing the life-long impact she’s had on them.

We wanted to learn how Rebeca creates such a transformative and highly regarded course. My colleague Justin Wilcox reached out for a conversation, and Rebeca graciously agreed to share some of her secrets.

During the conversation, we discovered several things Rebeca does differently in her ENGR 145 Technology Entrepreneurship class than most of us entrepreneurship instructors. Below we lay out four Rebeca-inspired-techniques to create a more engaging, challenging and life-changing learning environment:

    1. Treat your students like customers (WOW! them),
    2. Practice reciprocity culture
    3. Normalize failure
    4. Provide in-depth feedback with objective rubrics

WOW’ing Student-Customers

Most of us strive to create memorable experiences for our students. Few of us can actually WOW our students. Rebeca is one of those amazing few. She tells her course assistants

“We are not teaching a class, we are serving a customer.”

and that their goal is “to wow our customer, to understand and empathize with them, and how the content of what we are delivering to them is going to affect their lives.”

This principle of WOWing customers is the foundation upon which every other principle she adds to the class is built. Treating her students like she would treat customers creates a significantly higher quality learning experience for her students.

What is so impactful is that Rebeca models for her students how to treat the customers in their lives – namely, future employers, coworkers, friends, family members, partners, etc.  

The Wish Game

“the Wish Game was amazing because our professor really went out of her ways to complete them, even though they were completely out of her job criteria.” – ENGR145 Student

“Every week, I was looking forward to the Wish Game. It created a sense of excitement all around.” – ENGR145 Student

One way she WOWs her students is through The Wish Game, which Rebeca uses as a path to teamwork and hyper-collaboration. On the first day, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on a piece of paper.

These can be anything at all. They have ranged from the mundane to the fascinating to the unreal. Examples are getting a job at Google, meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or meeting Steve Jobs (a real student request after he passed away!).

Every week Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and one of their wishes gets fulfilled. The entire class as a whole works to fulfill the wish. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Paying it forward is a critical part of WOWing the students.

The Wish Game isn’t about competition, it’s about hyper-collaboration because if her students help each other, they all benefit.

After picking a wish, students start interviewing the student whose wish was picked. They want to find out what their wish really is, as often it isn’t exactly what is written on the paper. Through this process, students get to know each other, build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.

This also helps students practice their interviewing skills, which are a critical skill they work to develop in the course. The Wish Game is fun, but it’s a powerful learning and growth opportunity as well.

The Wish Game pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have, and pushes them to share those with peers. It enables students to build lasting relationships, and to make a positive impact on each other.

Teaching & Modeling Reciprocity Culture

“Before this class, I never thought about how important being able to socialize and make friends is to being an entrepreneur, and mostly just focused on developing my technical skills in the hopes that one day I could use them to start a business. But as we learned in class, in order to get investors, employees, partners, and customers, being able to make friends is one of the most important skills of a successful entrepreneur” – ENGR145 Student

As a veteran of Silicon Valley and of entrepreneurial ecosystems, Rebeca understands that “networking and telling stories are such important components of entrepreneurship.” A big focus of her class is teaching students the fundamentals of what makes a working relationship last.

From day one, students are networking – they have to find team members during the first class session, they learn to talk about their skills and experiences, but also their failures and dreams.

Rebeca shares with her students the tactics to approach someone who is senior to them, and tactics to write an email so people will respond. She focuses intensely on very tactical networking skills that will help student succeed in their Silicon Valley surroundings and beyond.

The most valuable skill Rebeca teaches her students is the principle of reciprocity, which is

“the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another.”

She urges her students to think, before meeting a person, what can they provide that person. In building a relationship it is important to have a strong willingness to learn, but it is equally important to listen well and to desire to give back.

Through a consistent message of reciprocity, Rebeca teaches her students that “those who succeed are valuable to the network.” She has found it is quite contagious in her students once she plants the seeds of this mindset.

Normalizing Failure

“[this course] taught me that successful people are the ones who actually get out and try – and don’t even consider failure.” – ENGR145 Student

“I used to often not got to events or apply for opportunities because I thought I would fail anyway. But not trying is already a failure and if I try and fail, I may learn something in the process.” – ENGR145 Student

When Rebeca and her course assistants introduce themselves to students on day one, they start with “My name is ______, and I’m going to share a failure with you.” From the first moment, Rebeca works to make failure a part of her class’ culture, to normalize it for her students so when it happens they can navigate it as a learning experience.

Through a variety of experiences, Rebeca brings the realities of entrepreneurship into her course, including failure. She brings in a litany of speakers to share stories with her students.

These speakers are not typical entrepreneurs, but have all done amazing things outside entrepreneurship. Things like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Or running ultramarathons. Rebeca carefully chooses speakers who can teach her students that in anything in life, extremes aren’t necessarily bad in terms of dreaming and aiming high.

She wants her students to hear realistic stories of small failures and struggling to achieve big goals. Rebeca introduces them to the depression and founder suicide problems in Silicon Valley. She wants them to know about grinding it out, about sleepless nights, about not getting the meeting, or not getting the next meeting.

Failure is a major aspect of entrepreneurship, and Rebeca doesn’t shy away from this in her course. She wants her students to embrace failure as a reality and a chance to learn and grow.

In-Depth Feedback With Objective Rubrics

Assessment is something we all struggle with. How can we be effective and efficient? Rebeca found her magic combination in well-defined rubrics that students get ahead of time and personal in-depth feedback.

Rebeca gives her students all the rubrics on the first day of class. They therefore feel comfortable because they know their grade won’t be an arbitrary decision. They can see their pathway to the grade they want or need for graduate school, for a scholarship, or to keep mom and dad happy.

Rebeca spends roughly three (3) hours per day outside class working with students. This includes personal interactions, office hours, and always providing in-depth feedback on student progress and projects.

What Can You Do?

Rebeca Hwang’s formula for success in her course is WOWing customers, modeling reciprocity, normalizing failure, and using a very clear and personal feedback system.

We each approach our courses differently, due to our own backgrounds and experiences, and due to our institutional context and culture. Rebeca shows us that within the walls of our classroom, and within the minds of our students, we can achieve extraordinary results.

We can inspire our students, we can change their career trajectory, we can teach them skills to decipher their world. The list of gifts we can offer our students is endless.

Rebeca found a formula that has proven extremely successful; as one of Rebeca’s students said:

“If you are considering a future as an entrepreneur and don’t know where to start from, take this course. If you have an idea but are looking to explore how it can work in the silicon valley, take this course. If you just want to learn how to be a team player, take THIS Course!”

What is your formula?

The Nitty Gritty of Rebeca’s Class

Rebeca’s students are mostly upperclass undergraduate students, and roughly 1/3 are international students. Most of Rebeca’s these desire to start a company at some point, and they are a solid interdisciplinary mix of designers, creatives, engineers, and business experts.

Because some students have started companies and some have not, Rebeca’s students have different relationships with entrepreneurship; they have some exposure to it and are very interested in learning more about it, but they come to the course with different levels of expertise.

Rebeca doesn’t focus on building expertise in the usual conceptualization. Her students learn about the spirit of entrepreneurship; she approaches her class as giving students tools, methodologies, and strategies they can use in life. Students experience an emphasis on acquiring a skill set to decide what career to pursue and to solve problems in all aspects of their life.

Here is the full interview with Rebeca in case you would like to dive deeper on any aspects.

Who is Rebeca Hwang?

Prior to co-founding Rivet Ventures a venture capital firm that invests in male and female founders that target women-led markets, Rebeca Hwang co-founded YouNoodle, Cleantech Open, and Startup Malaysia. Rebeca was educated at MIT and Stanford and has been recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and as one of the top 35 under 35 Global Innovators by MIT Tech Review.

Rebeca serves on the Global Board of Kauffman’s Global Entrepreneurship Network. She was born in Seoul, raised in Argentina and educated in the US, and has worked closely with several countries on their national startup programs, including Malaysia, South Korea, Spain, Iceland, Chile and Mexico, and was a member of the Board of Advisors of the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council.

Recently listed by Forbes as one of their 20 inspiring young female founders to follow on Twitter, Rebeca is a frequent speaker at global conferences on entrepreneurship. Her TED talk on the power of diversity within yourself has been viewed nearly 1.5 million times.

Want More from Rebeca and Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Program?

We’re running a series of blog posts highlighting Rebeca’s outstanding class, including a number of exercises she runs in her class. Subscribe below to ensure you get those.

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