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Failure Resume

Failure Resume

Have you ever had a student:

  • Pretend to interview more customers than they actually had
  • Skew the results of an experiment to make their product appear more successful than it really was?
  • Misrepresent why they weren’t able to complete an assignment?

The reason we see the above is because

Students fear failure.

And who can blame them! By the time they get to college, the threat of a “failing grade” has been used as a tool to ensure their compliance for the past 12 years.

Students spend elementary through high school literally being taught to fear failure.

Entrepreneurs can’t fear failure

If there’s one entrepreneurial scale we can teach our students to help them find success no matter where their career path leads them it’s

How to fear learn from failure

This is a scale that all successful entrepreneurs have navigated and mastered, learning from the bruises, and emerging more motivated and confident. Our students can learn from failure, and can learn from those who have found tremendous success because of their unique relationship with failure.

Greatness is Forged by Failure

Start by showing your students a slide featuring the following faces they will recognize:

  • Oprah
  • Elon Musk
  • Vera Wang
  • Steve Jobs
  • You (this is the most important one!)

Entrepreneurs who have failed and eventually been successful

Ask your students:

  • “What do all of these people have in common?”
  • Answer: They were all failures before they were successes.

Tell students:

  • Oprah, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs were all fired from their jobs before they became successful.
  • Show Elon Musk’s Failure Resume, highlighting the number of failures he’s encountered on his way to success.
  • Vera Wang failed to achieve her goal of making the Olympic team in figure skating and failed to get the job as the editor in chief of Vogue (after working there for 20 years) before eventually starting her own fashion line. She’s now in the US Skating Hall of Fame for the costumes she’s designed for skaters.
  • Share one of your own failures.

Next, show a slide with this quote:

The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception and response to failure. – John Maxwell

Tell your students that if they want to find or create a job they enjoy that pays well, one of the most impactful things they can do is change their relationship to failure.

Share with them that failure is uncomfortable for all of us, but the difference between being an average and an achieving person is how they take advantage of failures when they arise.

Tell students in this class you will give them the opportunity to learn how to make the most of their failures. The first step towards doing that is to show them how valuable their failures have already been to them.

Failure Resume

You’re going to ask your students to be vulnerable and share their failures. The best way for them to engage with this exercise is for you to be vulnerable and share your failures with them. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate the failures are what we make of them.

Tell students that if an experience is too recent, or feels too sensitive to reflect on now, they’re welcome to skip that failure and move on to another one.

You want your students to create a resume, but not a typical resume where they document all of their successful accomplishments. This is going to be a failure resume.

Tell your students that using the following categories as inspiration, they should try to come up with at least their three biggest failures, they have experienced, thus far and their lives:

  • School
  • Work
  • Sports/competitions
  • Relationship

They don’t need to come up with failures in each category, they just need to try to come up with three failures in total.

To help inspire ideas, share some examples of your own failures with your students.

Here is my example I share with my students – I talk about failing classes and getting denied admission to school, and about failing at work (getting denied tenure), about getting cut from my high school basketball team, and about lying to my wife.

Example failure resume

For each of the failures that you share with your students, be sure that you have real impactful lessons that you’ve taken from them.

The reflection and lessons learned is the step you must demonstrate for your students. Don’t languish on the actual failure too long!

Tell your students you’ll give them a few minutes in silence to reflect on and identify their failures.

My Biggest Failure

Looking over their failures, ask students to identify the one that they learned from the most. In other words, the one that would change their behavior the most.

With that failure in mind, ask your students to fill in the bottom half of the failure resume, answering the questions:

  1. My Biggest Failure Taught Me…
  2. And Changed My Behavior By….

For example, I share with my students that I learned from my failures to be more thoughtful in my words and actions, which leads me to pause and slow down so I think of others before speaking and acting.

Failure resume: reflecting on failure

After students have written in their answers, pair them up, ideally with someone they don’t know. They share their biggest failure with their partner, what they learned, and how it changed the way they act now,

Once your students had a chance to share with one another, ask a few to share what they learned from their failure with the rest of the class.

Because students are being vulnerable and sharing sensitive information be sure to thank each person who shares and reflect on what positive things it reflects about them that they something helpful away from their failures.

As you’re early in your class. It’s important to appreciate students for sharing; it will set the tone for the rest of your course.

Failure Will Not be Penalized

Tell students in an entrepreneurship course and in their career path, they are likely to run many experiments. Some, if not most, of those experiments will fail.

We encourage you to determine students’ grades by how much effort they put into their experiments, how well they reflect on those experiments, and how much they learn from each one – successful or not. With that approach, you can tell students they will never be penalized in your class for failing.

Making the Most of Failure

Tell your students the key to making the most of any failure is reflection. Once a failure occurs, successful people take time to identify:

  • What failed
  • Why it failed
  • And understand how they can improve next time

Ask your students to complete the last portion of their Failure Resume. For my example, upon reflecting I realized I can be more successful by inviting my wife into helping me be more thoughtful.

Failure resume: planning ahead for failure

By identifying techniques they’ll use to analyze and reflect upon their failure, for example:

  • Journaling
  • Talking to someone
  • Meditating
  • Contemplating alone

Tell your students to commit to themselves that when they face a failure, they will make the most of it by trying some of these new strategies, and by reflecting on the failure.

Get the “Failure Resume” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Failure Resume” 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. Please feel free to share it.

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


What’s Next?

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

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

3 Exercises to Start Your Course

3 Exercises to Start Your Course

Each semester we ask the thousands of students using our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum a few questions to understand the challenges they face:

  • What’s the hardest part about being a student?
  • Why is that hard?

What we learn informs our curriculum development. It also helps me, as a professor, formulate a strategy to approach my first day of class so it will be memorable, engaging, and so students want to come back for the 2nd day.

The main challenges we hear are:

  1. Time management
  2. Knowing what they want out of life
  3. Staying focused
  4. Staying positive

Students struggle because they balance so many roles – student, athlete, leader, friend, child, teammate, and so on. They share with us general strategies they use to combat the stress and anxiety they face, such as scheduling their days, having an accountability buddy, asking “adults” for help, etc.

Mostly what we hear is that students don’t carve out the time to dig into what matters to them and how they can leverage their college experience to prepare for a meaningful career around what matters to them.

Understanding the challenges our students face gives us the foundation upon which we can change their path. If we build our course experience knowing they struggle with things like time management, finding meaning, and staying focused, we engage them and provide them tools to become successful.

Here we share three exercises that help students think about what is meaningful to them. Implementing these exercises gives you a chance to map your course learning objectives, modules, and assignments onto specific issues students bring up.

They will feel engaged. But more importantly, they will see your course as useful.

#3: Curiosities + Fears = Engagement

The key to engaging students is making lessons personally relevant.

To discover what matters to your students, you can ask two simple questions:

  1. “When you think of life after college, what are you curious about?
  2. “When you think of life after college, what are you afraid of?”

When you ask students to brainstorm their fears and curiosities individually, and then in small groups, your class will buzz with excited and nervous energy about the future. 

Then when you ask students to share what they came up with, you’ll instantly know how to make entrepreneurship relevant: yours is the class where they’ll get to learn about their curiosities, and allay their fears.
Launch class by focusing on students fears and curiosities

This exercise will help you discover your students’ fears and curiosities – which will likely revolve around making money and finding a job they like after they graduate. While it may not be your natural inclination to help solve those problems for your students during an entrepreneurship course, those topics are the key to fully engaging your customers (i.e. students), because those are the problems they care about most.

Students start by jotting down fears that come to mind when they think of life after graduation. You might ask a few students to share, to help create a safe environment where students can be vulnerable.

Students next jot down what they are most curious about when they think of life after college. For this part of the exercise, using a think-pair-share structure will help students connect. As students begin sharing the curiosities they identified in pairs, use a (digital) whiteboard to identify categories that are consistent across the entire class. You will likely end up with categories related to employment, financial, and social concerns.

Your goal here is to show your students how the material and skills they will learn and practice in your course map onto the things they are currently curious about.

You want to rephrase and connect their curiosities to demonstrate you’ve heard your students well and understand them. For example, “It sounds like you’re curious how to find a job you’ll like, you’re good at, and can make enough money at. Does that sound right?”

This is a critical part of this lesson, you’re asking for your students’ buy-in. The better job you do listening to your students’ curiosities and incorporating them into your description of how you’ll resolve them, the more engaged your students will be throughout the course.

Thank your students for any input to clarify, and tell them that their curiosities align well with your objectives for the course. Tell your students how your course is designed to teach them exactly what they’re most curious about:

Tell them if they are curious about finding a job they’ll like, they will test out several jobs in this class, such as:

    • Sales
    • Marketing
    • Product Design
    • Finance
    • Graphic/web design
    • Being your own boss/CEO

If your students are curious about what it takes to get a good job, you can tell them the vast majority of people get their job based on personal recommendations from someone in their network, and that in this class, they’ll learn the skills they need to grow their network, so they can find better job opportunities.

To maximize student buy-in, this exercise allows you to frame the course for your students in a way that will fulfill their curiosities.

Your Course in Students’ Context

Return next class session with the fear and curiosity categories mapped onto the content/lessons/modules/skills you cover in the course. For instance, if you lay out each week in your syllabus with the topics you will cover, add one column for “Fears” and one for “Curiosities”. List in each column the fear and curiosity categories to which each particular topic relates.

This last step is the most critical. It is your chance to reinforce the connection between the course material and the things your students are currently thinking about. Show them how you will give them the tools to address each one of their fears, and each one of their curiosities.

Students Now Have the Context to Launch

After this activity, your students will understand the value of what they are about to learn. They will be more engaged because the learning is now very real for them.

Click here for the complete lesson plan of the Student Fears and Curiosities exercise.


Want 30+ Lessons Like These?

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

Check out ExEC.


#2: High-Functioning Teams on Day 1

Your students will work in teams, but they’re not looking forward to it. Helping them form functional teams will increase both their motivation throughout your course. 

The Skills Scavenger Hunt is not only a fun way for students to get to meet one another, it’ll help them discover who in the class can help them build a diverse team with aligned goals.

Launch class with a skills scavenger hunt to create high-performance teams

During this quick exercise, students go on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills in the following categories:

  1. Graphics
  2. Technology
  3. Social Media
  4. Design
  5. Sales
  6. Marketing

Students progress through each section, checking any boxes for skills they possess so they find students with complementary skills. Split students into groups, in which students go through each box, and if they possess that skill they share, in 30 seconds or less, details about how/why they achieved that experience.

As this process evolves, each student writes down names and quick notes about any students who possess skills they don’t possess. We suggest shuffling groups at least 1 or 2 more times, to allow students to learn about as many of their classmates as possible.

After the class session, students should post in a discussion board on your LMS what skills they possess and a quick sentence about that particular skill. Students with gaps in their worksheet can identify other students to fill those gaps on this discussion board.

As students meet each other and learn more about their classmates, they set themselves up to execute better, and conflict less, by successfully assembling their own high-performing teams.

Click here for the complete Skills Scavenger Hunt exercise!

#1: Uncover Their Passions

Students who come into our classes passionate about entrepreneurship are easy to engage. 

How do we engage students who aren’t passionate about launching a company? Help them discover what they are passionate about…and help them launch that!

Launch class with the Pilot Your Purpose Exercise

The Pilot Your Purpose exercise help students explore areas that motivate them:

  1. Interests that spark their curiosity
  2. Skills they want to develop
  3. People they want to impact

The combination of these three elements defines a purpose for your students – a personal mission statement that taps into their passions to help others.

Once students have a purpose, you can ground each class session in that purpose. You don’t have to talk abstractly about difficult or stressful topics like customer interviewing or entrepreneurial finance. Instead, your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!

Your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!

Interests + Skills = Passion

The easiest on-ramp to identifying passion is interests. Students think about:

  1. What friends say they always talk about
  2. What they would spend time doing if money was no object
  3. What they were learning about the last time they lost track of time watching Youtube or scrolling on social media

The next step is identifying skills students think about. Similar to interests, students do this by thinking about:

  1. What friends say they are good at
  2. What they would like to get better at doing
  3. What they think they are above average at doing

To identify their passion, students:

  1. Look back at their interests sheet and jot down what excites them
  2. Look back at their skills sheet and jot down what they are interested in getting better at
  3. Think of ways to combine interests and skills

Pilot Your Purpose: Passion

Passion + Impact = Purpose

With a passion identified, students now turn to the impact they want to have on the world. To do that, students think about:

  1. Groups of people they’re excited to help
  2. Problems in their community they’re interested in solving
  3. Global problems they’re interested in solving

Students are now ready to identify their purpose:

  1. Look back at their Passion sheet and jot down what stands out
  2. Look back at their Impact sheet and jot down what stands out
  3. Think of ways to combine passion and impact (which is their purpose)

Pilot Your Purpose: Purpose

When your students identify a specific purpose, they can weave it throughout the rest of the course, as they are developing their entrepreneurial mindset and skill set.

As you begin each module of your course, students will stay motivated as they see the direct application of the particular material to their purpose!

Get your copy of the Pilot Your Purpose Worksheet here!


Want 30+ Lessons Like These?

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

Check out ExEC.


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we’ll share a new exercise for helping to normalize failure so students fear it less.

Subscribe here to get our next exercise in your inbox.

2020 Top Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans & Tools

2020 Top Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans & Tools

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

Based on the popularity of our 2019 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, here is the list of our 2020 top entrepreneurship lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.

We designed the following exercises and lesson plans to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to stay engaged online, interview customers, and form teams.

5. Gamify Your Lectures

We all struggled during this year of online learning to keep our students engaged. One surefire way to inject excitement into your class is to gamify your lectures. In this lesson, we explain how to use our favorite gamification tools (Slido and Kahoot!) to minimize Zoom zombie syndrome in your students.

These tools allow you to convert concepts you need to cover into questions your students explore one at a time. With this formative assessment approach, you discover what your students already know and what they need help with. Additionally, this approach activates passive students and invites students to teach each other.

Be careful using gamification; don’t overdo it. This gamification technique is great, but if you use it too often its benefits will wear off. Instead, mix this approach up with a number of experiential exercises (like those in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum).

View Directions to Gamify Your Class with Slido and Kahoot!

4. Skills Scavenger Hunt

Students in high-performance teams learn better and perform better. But how do we move students beyond forming teams with friends and teammates? Students matched on aligned goals and diverse skills give them their best chance at boosting their learning capability.

We developed our Skills Scavenger Hunt to facilitate that process and thus mitigate the biggest drawbacks of student team projects. In this exercise, students go on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills.

skills scavenger hunt online ice breaker team building animation

With this unique exercise, students form high-performing teams by going on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills in the following categories:

  1. Graphics
  2. Technology
  3. Social Media
  4. Design
  5. Sales
  6. Marketing

If your students are in teams that are dysfunctional, or just sleepy, their learning can come to a screeching halt as they disengage. Empower them to successfully assemble their own high-performing teams so they execute better and conflict less.

View The Skills Scavenger Hunt Exercise

3. Steve Blank Discusses How to Teach Entrepreneurship

At the USASBE 2020 annual conference, we had the privilege of interviewing entrepreneurship education guru Steve Blank. In the first of two posts, he shared his perspective on how to teach entrepreneurship. Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

In a post loaded with great advice for any novice or expert entrepreneurship educator, Steve opened up about his many decades of experience as an entrepreneur, educator, and mentor. Read the full post for a wealth of invaluable information, but the quick takeaways are:

  1. Educators need a mentor. Effective entrepreneurship educators need expertise in the domains of education and entrepreneurship. Steve advises us to find a mentor in the domain in which we lack experience and expertise.
  2. Educators should train entrepreneurs like artists. Steve encourages us to forget about teaching answers, and instead design learning experiences so students can practice skill-building.
  3. Students learn skills by practicing them. Steve encourages us to learn to design effective learning experiences, as those are the best way to teach our students skills.

Read An Overview of the 1st Half of Our Interview Here

(and Read the 2nd Half Here)

2. 10 Free Tools to Increase Student Engagement

During the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Virtual Conference, we presented 10 tools to increase online student engagement. Learn about these free quiz, video, digital whiteboard, and presentation tools like Gimkit, Note.ly, Mural, and Loom.

You can sprinkle these tools throughout your entrepreneurship syllabus, or stack them like building blocks, to create a deeper face-to-face or online student engagement. Below is a video recap of the conference presentation.

We consistently experiment with a wide variety of tools to help our community of entrepreneurship educators provide engaging experiences for their students. For this post, we curated the 10 tools we feel provide the greatest chance of deeply engaging learning experiences for your students, whether you’re teaching face-to-face or online.

View 10 Free Tools to Increase Student Engagement

1. Lottery Ticket Dilemma

We urge our faculty to focus students on their customers’ emotional needs, which leads to more valuable customer interviews. During this exercise, students discover how important emotions are in the decision-making process and the importance of understanding and fulfilling other people’s emotional needs.

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

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

View Lottery Ticket Dilemma Lesson Plan
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 2020 Annual Conference!

Entrepreneurship Education

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

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

We’ve done the work for you.

Motivated Students in 3 Steps

Motivated Students in 3 Steps

We all want to teach motivated students, but this is a particularly challenging time for them:

  • Classes are virtual. You and I are experiencing Zoom fatigue, but imagine being a student and being asked to sit through hours of lectures each week.
  • Experiential learning is scary. Getting out of the classroom, engaging with strangers, sharing rough experiments with the world – these can all cause students significant anxiety.
  • “I’m not an entrepreneur.” Some students may just be filling credits. Others may have a misconception about what it means to be an entrepreneur.

We’ve found the key to keeping students motivated is to…

Help Students Discover Their Intrinsic Motivators

How do you guide students to their intrinsic motivators? Focus on the intersection of three elements:

  1. The skills they have and want to develop further.
  2. Their interests that spark their curiosity.
  3. Where they want to make an impact in the world.

Get Motivated Students with the Pilot Your Purpose Exercise

Purpose lies at the intersection of these three elements. If you guide your students through the exercise below early in the semester, they spend the semester working on their purpose.

Students pursuing their purpose = motivated students.

If you did not see us present this exercise at our Summer Summit, we will be presenting it again at the 2021 USASBE Annual Conference on January 5

Pilot Your Purpose = Motivated Students

Once students have a purpose, you can ground each class session in that purpose. You don’t have to talk abstractly about difficult or stressful topics like customer interviewing or entrepreneurial finance. Instead, talk with students about how to interview customers for the idea they are most passionate about pursuing, or how to finance their passion project.

Your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!

Interests + Skills = Passion

The easiest on-ramp to identifying passion is interests. Have students think about:

  1. What friends say they always talk about
  2. What they would spend time doing if money was no object
  3. What they were learning about the last time they lost track of time watching Youtube or scrolling on social media

I talk to my friends and colleagues, who say I’m always talking about mentoring programs, curriculum, and big town & gown ideas. I think about what I would do if money was no object, and some things I thought about are building mentoring programs, adopting old dogs, and teaching entrepreneurship to prisoners (I’ve never engaged with prisoners, but think teaching them entrepreneurship would be deeply meaningful). I then think back to the last time I lost a couple of hours staring on my phone, and it was watching others teach Adobe Illustrator.

I now see my interests mapped out, according to what my friends say, what I dream about, and what holds my attention.

Step 1 of Pilot Your Purpose Exercise is identifying interests The next step is identifying skills students think about. Similar to interests, students do this by thinking about:

  1. What friends say they are good at
  2. What they would like to get better at doing
  3. What they think they are above average at doing

I again talk to my friends, who say I am good at being coaching teachers, giving honest feedback, and at being sarcastic. I think about things I do that I want to be better at. I love, for instance, trying to create engaging content on social media, but know I have a lot to learn! Last, I think hard about what I am really good at, and land on creating curriculum, presenting, coaching/mentoring and connecting others.

I now see my skills mapped out, according to what my friends say, areas I want to improve, and what I’m already good at.

Step 2 of Pilot Your Purpose Exercise is identifying skills

Here is the exercise to motivate your students!

To download the full Pilot Your Purpose exercise enter your email below!


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.

Exercise: 60 Minute MVP

Exercise: 60 Minute MVP

Imagine looking out at your classroom, and every student is talking and typing furiously. It’s noisy. Students are learning together and teaching each other.

There’s a buzz of nervousness and excitement!

Exercise: Students launch landing pages in < 60 Minutes

This is by far, one of Justin and my favorite in-class experiences because “60 Minute MVP” is engaging, fun, and fully-immersive, while teaching critical aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset.

Your students are going to build, and launch, an MVP in 60 minutes…with no technical expertise!

In fact, during this hour, your students will build…

A Landing Page

A simple website that describes the problem they’re solving to the customers they want to serve.

Your students will create landing pages like this

An Explainer Video

A quick video that hints how their solution will solve the problem.

And a Currency Test…

…to validate demand for their product!

Your students will learn how to use a service called Celery to take pre-orders for their products to demonstrate real demand, without them actually having to charge money/store credit card information/etc.

For example:

currency testing sample

And they’ll do it all, in an hour.

What are Landing Page MVPs?

Over the course of an hour, your students will create a landing page (a simple, single-page website) that:

  1. Tells their customers the problem their team is solving,
  2. Uses a video to demonstrate how the team will solve the problem and
  3. Asks for some form of “currency” from their customers to validate demand.

You can incorporate this exercise into one class period in your syllabus; push your students to complete every step within an hour. They can tweak things later, the important thing is that they don’t spend a ton of time trying to get everything perfect the first time around. As they will find later on, doing that for every experiment wastes a lot of time.

It’s important to note, for this exercise:

They’ll Learn More in 60 Minutes

…than they will in 6 hours of lectures:

  1. The true meaning of MVP. They will learn exactly how “minimum” a minimum viable product should be. MVP doesn’t mean “beta” – it means making the least amount of investment possible, to test a business model’s riskiest assumption.
  2. How much they can accomplish when they work as a team. By dividing and conquering, your students will be astounded at how much they can collectively accomplish in one hour.
  3. How many great, free tools exist for entrepreneurs. The internet is a crowded place, so we want to show them that there are free tools out there to help them develop skills they don’t yet possess.
  4. The upside of deadlines. Our students don’t usually work under tight deadlines, but they will soon! We want to show them how tight deadlines push them to get everything done and give them a positive experience executing under tight deadlines.
  5. It is easier to launch a product than they thought. Most of our students are overwhelmed at the idea of launching a product because their assumptions are wrong. We want to correct those assumptions so they believe in their ability to launch.
  6. That the easiest thing about building a business is launching the product. In a future post, we will explain that the most difficult part of launching is actually the testing and validation. Getting something into the world is quite easy, which your students will understand after this experience.

Most importantly, they will learn…

When it comes to MVPs, done is better than perfect.

Your Job in the Class

You have an important role during this exercise. While we’ve documented all of the instructions your students need to follow (see the lesson plan for details), you’ll need to be the chief cheerleader, time-keeper, and discussion leader.

Here’s what that entails:

  1. Give your students the instructional videos. We’ve recorded step-by-step videos for your student teams to follow when creating their MVPs. Links to the videos and instructions are provided in the lesson plan below.
  2. Play music. Ask them what music gets them pumped, and then play that. Create an energetic, intense, exciting environment for the students.
  3. Keep shouting how little time they have left. Create a sense of urgency; don’t write time on the board. Don’t announce it in your normal tone. Shout it, wave your hands; stress how important it is that something gets launched, even if it’s not the perfect something. It is likely your students will want to focus on minor technical or design details. Because the goal is to execute in 60 minutes, you need to refocus your students on that goal and steer them away from their inclination toward perfection. Remind them that:

“Done is better than perfect.”

  1. Celebrate the hell out of each MVP as it launches. Show each team’s MVP on the screen, and congratulate them on the incredible things they accomplished in 60 minutes.
  2. Host a discussion with your students about what it was like to build an MVP in 60 minutes. You’ll find your students reflect most, if not all, of the learning objectives listed above.

Note: when they step out of their comfort zone, they’ll get the most out of this exercise.

Full Class Engagement

If you’re looking for an immersive exercise that activates your class, complete with a chaotic, noisy, high-pressure environment, that teaches real entrepreneurial principles, give “60 Minute MVP” a shot.

Justin and I both love it. We think you, and your students, will will too 🙂

Complete details, including all the instructions for you, and videos for your students are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “60 Minute MVP” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “60 Minute MVP” exercise walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

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 in the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

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

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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

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.

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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.

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.

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


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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.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

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


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: