Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

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

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

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

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

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

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

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

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

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

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

Quick steps for this exercise:

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

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

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

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

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

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

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

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

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

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

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

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

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

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

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

During the debrief, stress:

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

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

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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


What’s Next?

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

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An Interview About Empathy: Meet Our Founder

An Interview About Empathy: Meet Our Founder

Many of you know me (Doan) from USASBE or my blog, or my research, but you may not know Justin Wilcox, the passionate entrepreneur driving TeachingEntrepreneurship.org. With this post, we pull back the curtain and introduce our wizard!

Who Is Justin Wilcox? A Snapshot:

  • 2003: Degree in Computer Science from Cal Poly
  • 2003: Engineer/Lead at Microsoft
  • 2007: Left Microsoft to start a healthcare company
  • 2009: Realized no one wanted what the startup was building
  • 2009: Found out why after learning about Customer Development
  • 2010: Used Customer Development to turn healthcare startup around
  • 2010: Started Customer Development Labs blog about how that happened
  • 2012: Blog turned into talks at Lean Startup conferences
  • 2014: Talks turned into workshops with accelerator programs (e.g. Google for Entrepreneurs, Techstars, Startup Weekend, etc.), and Fortune 500s
  • 2015: Workshops turned into the FOCUS Framework and the “How to Find Product-Market Fit” workbook series
  • 2017: The FOCUS Framework inspired our ExEC curriculum

Let’s Dive Deeper . . .

Justin and I did a one-on-one interview so you could hear his perspective in depth.

Or if you prefer, here’s a summary of our conversation:

How did Justin come to build curriculum for university professors?

As mentioned above, Justin started a healthcare software company, but realized that he built a product nobody wanted to use. He studied what went wrong in his entrepreneurial journey, eventually finding Steve Blank’s Customer Development model, one of the precursors to The Lean Startup.

It was then that Justin realized,

He hadn’t learned how to empathize.

While he learned how to write code in school, and build innovative products at Microsoft, innovation was meaningless if it didn’t lead to impact. To create impact, he had to learn how to see the world from his customer’s perspective – to feel what they felt. To become a better innovator, he had to become a better empathizer.

At the time Justin discovered Customer Development and Lean Startup, they were largely theoretical concepts with little practical guidance on how to apply them. So Justin started developing, documenting, and teaching, ways to practice integrating empathy into the entrepreneurial process.

After helping thousands of individual entrepreneurs do just that, university professors began reaching out asking Justin for help teaching these methodologies in the classroom. That’s when it became clear:

Professors faced the same challenges turning Lean Startup theory into action that he had.

Having discovered effective ways to teach the techniques, Justin reached out to me and we began collaborating on ways to teach them to entrepreneurship professors – which is when TeachingEntrepreneurship.org was born. 🙂

Why work with academics instead of entrepreneurs?

The big draw for working with academics is the impact multiplier we enable. By collaborating with professors, Justin learned he could have a larger impact because we as professors work with hundreds of thousands of students every year.

By helping us teach our students how to understand other people’s perspectives (empathy) and how to sustainably solve their problems (via business model validation), our combined impact can be much larger than if Justin worked solely with entrepreneurs.

Our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.

Where would he like to see entrepreneurship education go?

Justin practices what he preaches, and he’s heartened by professors who act the same way.

He wants to support teachers who apply the lean principles they teach, so they can optimize their impact. To that end, Justin is most excited by professors who treat their class like a startup:

  • Creating hypotheses about their course,
  • Running experiments to optimize the course,
  • Measuring their impact with metrics.

Justin wants to see more professors treat students like their customers and engage with them to build better courses.

These principles work. The more we apply them, the better we can teach them.

What most exciting about ExEC’s Fall Pilot?

We’ve implemented a system for students to give us emotionally-driven feedback on every exercise.

Students tell us, and their professors, how they feel about each exercise.

The insight from this is super exciting for both of us. The aggregated feedback helps us know how students feel about their course, so together we can iterate and improve them.

Student feedback from ExEC’s Business Model Canvas intro exercise

Looking forward, what is most exciting is our ability to turn that data into engagement analytics so professors know in real time exactly how their students are feeling, and how exactly they are engaging with the material.

What’s the next step with ExEC?

Justin is busy updating much of the underlying technology for a streamlined experience for professors and students.

We are keeping our Spring cohort fairly small; there are only about five spots still available.

If you’re eager to use an experiential approach, can provide us feedback on a regular basis, and can ask your students to provide us feedback on a regular basis…

Then you’re a perfect candidate to be an ExEC Pilot, and you can shape the way entrepreneurship is taught.

Bonus Question

If you’ve read this far – thank you – you deserve a little extra. What’s one thing that very few people know about Justin?

He holds a Guiness World Record.

Want to know for what? Shoot him an email or ask him at the upcoming USASBE conference!

Want to work with Justin and I to change Entrepreneurship?

If you’re a progressive entrepreneurship professor interested in getting your hands dirty in the name of improving entrepreneurship education join us and you can play a significant role in reshaping how entrepreneurship is taught at colleges around the world.

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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The Good, Bad and Ugly of the ExEC Fall Pilot

The Good, Bad and Ugly of the ExEC Fall Pilot

ExEC is an experiment to see if we can revolutionize how entrepreneurship is taught in college classrooms.

Halfway through our first pilot semester, we wanted to share the results so far – warts and all – so the entrepreneurship education community at large can learn along with us.

The Numbers

We’re grateful to have 10 schools across the United States and Canada piloting with us this Fall:

  • Rowan University
  • Brandon University
  • East Carolina University
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)
  • University of South Alabama
  • Gulf Coast State College
  • Xavier University
  • John Carroll University
  • Susquehanna University
  • Georgia State University

Across these institutions, we have nearly 500 undergraduate students using the curriculum.

Just as ExEC challenges those 500 students to do, we’re testing the curriculum’s assumptions and iterating its design. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

The Good

Our pilot professors and students have told us ExEC stands out with respect to other curricula in a couple areas:

Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset

We want students engaging with their customers, discovering problems that can be solved instead of just thinking of new ideas to create.

One professor told us:

“More than anything, I’ve enjoyed that we have spent 4-5 weeks exploring the issue of problem solving. In previous classes, students have been convinced they had the right solution to a problem by week 2 and no matter what research they found, they wouldn’t pivot appropriately given the new evidence.”

Students are also sharing their excitement at better understanding how entrepreneurs think. One student said:

“This activity made me look at the creation of a product in a different aspect than I have before. It allowed me to think of solving a problem and not just creating a product to create one. It needs to be something that people will actually use. It made it easier for me to be creative and think more like an entrepreneur.”

Another student told us:

“The exercise was a very clear, somewhat concise explanation of the mindset needed for successful entrepreneurship. It shows the clear relationship between successful startups and outlines the key consistencies for success.”

And perhaps our favorite student feedback:

“[The Business Plans vs. Business Experiments exercise] made me think like a kindergartener again and that made me excited.”

Replacing Lectures with Experiences

ExEC provides professors with comprehensive lesson plans, and constant support, so you can create experiences like this that will excite students about experiencing entrepreneurship.

One of the exercises uses marshmallows to teach students about the danger of hidden assumptions, and why business plans lead to failure more often than not:

Pilot students have been sharing their excitement with the exercises as well. They are seeing how they can apply what they are experiencing in class:

This really showed me what it takes to develop an idea. Also helped me get more in touch with who I’m trying to target with my idea and how it can help [him/her].”

“I can use the [exercise] for all business ideas that come to mind and when analyzing other companies.”

Students have shared how the exercises have shifted their thinking:

“I feel I will perform better in the future when completing a project because now I know the value of prototyping, also, now I understand the importance of identifying the hidden assumptions which cause many times good ideas to fail.”

“Knowing how feelings play a part in buying and decision making is interesting and will help with my business model. I did not really think or relate the two before this class.”

“This provides a clear understanding of what it takes to solve a problem and come up with ideas to solve those problems. It showed me some key resources that I did not know before to help start a company through problem solving.”

Getting Students Interviewing Customers

We want students having real conversations with real customers about the customer’s problems. This is the essence of entrepreneurship, and a skill we heard most professors struggle teaching.

One professor told us:

“Given the previous exercises on identifying the early adopters and clarifying the problem statement, [The How To Ask for Interviews exercise] was a very positive exercise. Students were able to quickly identify the interview channels that their early adopters might use (social media, blogs, interviews) and plan how to initiate that conversation using the strategy outlined in this exercise. By the end of today, the students felt very confident about getting out and learning about the problem.” 

Our interviewing exercises push students to think about learning from actual customers, instead of industry or product “experts”, as shared by one professor:

“I LOVE [Who Are Early Adopters?] exercise!!!  So many times, I have had conversations with my students who are going to interview their dad, friend, someone who works in the industry and this exercise really takes the time to dispel this myth that these are important.”

The students are also realizing how powerful interviews are, especially in comparison to surveys, thanks to an ExEC exercise that makes them survey and interview customers, and compare the results:

“The [Student Challenges Survey exercise] is showing how surveys do not capture the full picture from a consumer whereas an interview lets the customer give more feedback.”

After half a semester, we are confident the pilot students are engaged in their class experience. Through that engagement, we see them developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and honing their customer interviewing skills.

The Bad

We preach iteration because there’s no way to get everything right the first time around – and that’s the case with ExEC. Here are a couple areas we need to focus on going forward.

Less is More

We created too much content. We originally wanted to arm our professors with more experiences and exercises than they could ever use, so they could build a customized syllabus specifically for their class.

That strategy has started to backfire as some professors have, understandably, began feeling pressured to cover a lot of material in a limited amount of time. One told us:

“I was extremely nervous . . . to teach a class that had so many new components that I was learning day by day.”

Another shared:

“I think there are too many lessons on interviewing, although I see its utility.”

ExEC has 30+ experiential exercises, which is simply too many for one semester, especially when life readjusts the class schedule, as it did with Hurricane Irma for a couple professors.

The Fix

Based on the exercises students find most impactful, we’re streamlining ExEC’s content to focus on a subset of activities.

Restricting Access

We were so excited to share ExEC with as many schools as possible, we initially weren’t as rigorous as we should have been in restricting access.

ExEC has a lot of moving parts, several of them untested before this semester. We should have started with a slightly smaller, more targeted, pilot cohort so we could iron out ExEC’s wrinkles (details below) more efficiently.

The Fix

Having been through trial by fire this semester, we think we have a handle on the major issues. That said, we’ll be limiting access to our upcoming Spring Pilot, just to err on the side of caution.

The Ugly

There is one area we really missed the mark this semester. Because of it, we’ve already started the redesign process.

Poor Design Choices

We made some incorrect assumptions about the technical comfort of some of our students and professors – which really means we made poor design choices on our end.

Our pilot professors and their students are less familiar with technology than we anticipated. We expected more feedback like this from one professor:

“I have taken one class at a time, one new element at a time and really enjoyed exploring the new materials.”

But one professor told us:

“I like to think I’m not stupid, but working through this to get it ready for my students makes me question that.”

And one student told us:

“I’m absolutely thrilled that [I] bought a program coded by a team of incompetents.”

While our professors certainly aren’t stupid, and we (hope we) aren’t incompetent, any experience that makes even a subset of customers feel that way needs to fixed immediately.

The Fix

We’ve already begun making to several exercises, but there’s more work to do.

We’ve started redesigning both the professor and student experiences from the ground-up; while the content will largely remain the same going forward, the way professors and students interact with it will be completely revamped.

Takeaways

So far, this has been a perfect pilot!

Not perfect in that we got everything right – we certainly haven’t – perfect in the sense that this is what pilots are for. With the help of our amazing pilot professors, we’ve been living the Build, Measure, Learn loop.

We’re really excited about ExEC’s and while we haven’t gotten everything right so far, we’ve made some great progress on some of the hardest parts:

  1. Developing the entrepreneurial mindset
  2. Replacing lectures with experiences
  3. Getting students interviewing customers

Next up, we’ll polish our rough design edges so everyone feels confident engaging with the content!

Want to Shape Entrepreneurship?

As mentioned above, we’ll be limiting access to the Spring Pilot, but if you’re a progressive entrepreneurship professor willing to get your hands dirty in the name of improving entrepreneurship education…

Check out ExEC and schedule a preview.

We’ll accept a handful of programs into the Spring Pilot, which will not only get you early access, as you can see, you’ll also play a significant role in reshaping how entrepreneurship is taught at colleges around the world.

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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Teach your Students Why Business Plans Fail

Teach your Students Why Business Plans Fail

What if you kicked off your next semester with a flurry of activity that showed your students how to avoid the biggest mistake in entrepreneurship – by letting them experience it?

The perfect failure 🙂
Xavier University an ExEC Pilot

This exercise will turn your students’ love for competition into an active learning opportunity about entrepreneurship that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

The Marshmallow Challenge is an 18-minute chaotic construction competition that teaches entrepreneurship students why

Invalidated assumptions hinder all new initiatives.

and are ultimately the downfall of most new companies. They learn a bias towards action, and the power of resilience in the face of a challenge.

Many professors use the Marshmallow Challenge as an ice-breaker, or as a team-building exercise, with great results. But very few use it to teach its most valuable lesson . . .

Hidden Assumptions

Several of your students will fail this challenge – and it will be glorious!

George State University an ExEC Pilot

The objective of the Marshmallow Challenge is for student teams to build the tallest free-standing structure they can out of uncooked spaghetti, string, tape and a single large marshmallow.

Inevitably, your students will assume the marshmallow they need to place on top of their structure is lighter than it is, and they’ll assume uncooked spaghetti is strong than it is, leading to a pile of broken, edible, dreams.

In this way, your students will get to learn first-hand:

Just like in entrepreneurship, invalidated assumptions lead to failure.

In traditional classes, business students get trained to write comprehensive business plans – not realizing hidden assumptions will ultimately hinder their success.

On the other hand, kindergartners excel at the Marshmallow Challenge because they don’t make plans based on hidden assumptions. The first thing they do is run an experiment, putting a marshmallow on a piece of spaghetti to see what happens. From there they iterate, building the tallest structure possible.

Courtesy of Tom Wujec

This experimental mindset is what you want your students to embody throughout the rest of your course.

With this exercise, they’ll experience the dangers of hidden assumptions first hand so they’ll be primed to validate their business model assumptions in future lessons:

  • Do customers have the problem your students want to solve?
  • Will customers pay to solve it?
  • Can your students actually solve the problem?

Students Love It

400+ pilot students have done the ExEC version of the Marshmallow Challenge. So far, they’re loving it:

“This activity was not what i was expecting and i took away a lot from it. It taught me to look at a project with no previous assumptions and it make me think like a kindergartener again which made me excited.”- Hannah

“The Marshmallow experiment gave me a real life example of why experimenting is much more beneficial than planning things out.“– Morgan

“Now I know the value of prototyping, also, now I understand the importance of identifying the hidden assumptions which cause many times good ideas to fail.” – Andreina

“After the activity, I understood the importance of adapting to problems and the dangers of assumptions.”– Eric

Powerful Learning

The fast pace, excitement, and ultimate failure many teams experience during this exercise replicate the typical entrepreneurial experience, and demonstrate many of the pitfalls of traditional business plans:

  • Insufficient identification of hidden assumptions (e.g. the marshmallow is much heavier than they realize, the spaghetti is less rigid than they expect, etc.)
  • Developing plans based on those hidden/incorrect assumptions
  • Investing all their resources (e.g. time, tape, etc.) in a single, large, “launch” attempt vs. iterating on many simpler versions

After the exercise, your students can write up a reflection, incorporating essential principles of entrepreneurship:

  • Assumption identification, and assumption validation, are critical to creating successful companies
  • Iterations and experimentations are the key to validating their business assumptions

Try it Next Semester

You can easily incorporate the Marshmallow Challenge into your class, just:

Check out ExEC and request a free preview.

If you decide to use ExEC, we’ll provide you with:

  • A step-by-step lesson plan with details on how to prep, execute and discuss the exercise
  • Music to play during the challenge to get your students excited and engaged
  • A learning objective-solidifying reflection assignment
  • Free Marshmallow Challenge Kits, including all of the supplies you’ll need (e.g. spaghetti, string, marshmallows, tape measure, etc.) for each of your students!

Full Class Engagement

If you want to start your class with a bang of energy and active learning, give the Marshmallow Challenge a shot.

So far the 10 ExEC Pilot professors and their students love it. We think you, and your students,  will too 🙂

Rowan University an ExEC Pilot

For more information on the Marshmallow Challenge, be sure to check out Tom Wujec’s incredible website. He’s got a ton of great resources available there.


What’s Next?

We’ll share a fully-transparent update into the Fall Pilot Cohort of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Through faculty and student testimonials, we’ll share with you what’s going well and what we need to improve for next semester, as we practice what we preach, iterating our way to a more engaging and impactful entrepreneurship curriculum.

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

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Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

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

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

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

How do you keep your students engaged?

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

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

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

How do you keep your students engaged?

How do you turn their fear into excitement?

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

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

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

Live Customer Interviewing

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

mTurk Customer Interviewing

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

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

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

Class 1: Create a HIT on mTurk

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

Customer interviewing through mTurk

Step 1: Describe the HIT

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

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

Describe the HIT

Super Important:

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

Step 2: Pick a Price

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

Pick a price

Step 3: Write up the HIT

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

Write up the HIT

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

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

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

Step 4: Create a New Batch

Step 5: Publish the HITs


Class 2: The Call

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

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

How could you have kept the person on track?

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

Customer Interviewing Homework

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

Get the Lesson Plan

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

Get the lesson plan

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

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


What’s Next?

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

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Problem Validation: The One Topic You Must Teach

Problem Validation: The One Topic You Must Teach

You’re preparing for fall classes, staring at your syllabus, worrying:

  • Should I teach prototyping or legal formation?
  • Where do I fit in startup marketing?
  • What about IP law or valuation?!

A 16 week semester is far too short to teach everything we want in our entrepreneurship classes. This article will help you prioritize what to teach, because there’s one topic that matters more than any other:

Problem validation is the most important topic to teach in entrepreneurship. Click To Tweet

Problem validation is critically important; everything else in entrepreneurship flows from it. You can’t overlook it when prioritizing your schedule.

Why Problem Validation?

There are 3 reasons you must teach problem validation in your introduction to entrepreneurship, capstone, and your graduate entrepreneurship courses:

  1. It’s the most important aspect of entrepreneurship.

    Customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems. Your students can’t figure out what customers will buy unless they validate problems.

    entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea
    Once your students understand how to validate problems, they’ll quickly see how the rest of a business model falls into place.
    Every aspect of business models flow from problem validation, so it’s imperative we teach our students how to do it well.
  2. Problem validation cannot be read. It must be practiced.
    If they have to, students can learn other topics like valuation, IP law, legal formation, and marketing outside the classroom. There are endless blogs and videos that cover the basics of every topic in entrepreneurship…except problem validation.
    Students cannot learn how to talk to customers by reading about it. Your students have to experience asking the right customers, the right questions.

    Students learn problem validation, by doing problem validation. Click To Tweet

  3. You’re their only teacher.
    No one else in your students’ academic career will touch the subject of problem validation.
    Your accounting and finance colleagues can help them with revenue modeling. Engineering professors can help them with product development. Your business law colleagues can help them with legal formation and IP issues.

    But problem validation, this thing that is so important to entrepreneurship, will only be covered by you.

    If you have to cut something from your schedule, cut anything but problem validation. Make sure you’re teaching this because nobody else is, and because it is the most important aspect of entrepreneurship!

    No one will teach problem validation, except you. Click To Tweet

Workshop: How to Teach Problem Validation

It’s critical we don’t just talk about problem validation. We must teach our students how to do it, and to do it the right way.

(Note: surveys are not the right way 🙂 )

If you want help with that, we’re hosting our first free, 1-hour, online workshop on June 22nd, 2017. We’ll talk about the three phases of problem validation:

  1. Problem hypothesis
  2. Problem discovery
  3. Problem confirmation

We will teach you these three phases, and we’ll show you engaging exercises you can run in your class to teach them.

Teaching Problem Validation teaches business model validation

Join us if you want to learn how to teach this subject that every entrepreneurship teacher needs to teach, and teach well!

We will send a video recording of the workshop to anyone who registers, but you don’t want the video. You want to show up live, because it will be an interactive workshop. To see and experience the exercises, you’ll want to be present.


What’s Next?

We will be sharing more exercises to teach customer interviewing soon! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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Experiential Curriculum Launch

Experiential Curriculum Launch

We all struggle teaching idea generation, problem validation and customer interviewing in a way that fully engages our students.

Not only are we competing for our students’ attention, our methods for teaching business model validation are uninspired – especially when many of our students don’t want to be entrepreneurs.

Building an Experiential Curriculum

So what can our 1,100-strong community of teachers do about it?

Build our own experiential curriculum.

We need a curriculum that motivates our students to learn skills like:

  1. Quality idea generation
  2. Customer interviewing
  3. Problem validation

With immersive exercises, experience labs, and relevant case studies our students connect with.

We’ve drafted the ideal curriculum and a comprehensive resource guide we’d like to see for our community. Now the question is, should we build it?

We invite you to preview our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum and let us know if you would use it in your classroom, and if not, why not.

We are practicing what we preach, validating demand for a solution to our struggle of teaching idea generation, problem validation and customer interviewing in a way that fully engages our students.

Teaching Failure Through Currency Testing

Teaching Failure Through Currency Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure Always Invite Learning

Fast Forward Their First Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Currency Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Failure Postmortem

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

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

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

Increase their Grit

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

And remember the entrepreneurship proverb…

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

😉

Get the Lesson Plan

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

Get the lesson plan


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

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


What’s Next?

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

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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!

If 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 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 get 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!

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

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Build your Syllabus with your Students

Build your Syllabus with your Students

You want your students to be engaged. Your students want you to be engaging.

This exercise will show you how to do both.

Best of all, it will create engagement from the first day of class until the last.

The Syllabus Post-It Cloud

Creating problem Post-It cloudsIn our last post we described the basics of getting your students bought-into your course using the Problem Post-Its Cloud.

Now we’re going to show you the advanced version, where you’ll use the final Problem Post-It cloud to modify your course syllabus in real-time.

Note: if you’ve already read the last post on Problem Post-It clouds, you can skip to Step 4.

Step 1:

Give each student a pack of post-it notes. Ask each student to write down their top 5 problems or fears in each category below – remind them to only write one problem/fear per post-it note.

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Money

Don’t give them too long for this step, you want instinctual thoughts here, 2-minutes per subject should be enough.

Step 2:

Ask your students to review their 25 post-it notes and pick out the 5 that are the scariest, most concerning, to them.

With their top 5 problems, ask them all to join you at a wall in your classroom. Tell your students that collectively you’re going to create problem clouds, so you can see the most common problems among your customers students.

When everyone is standing with you at the wall, ask for someone to volunteer one of their problems. They might say:

I don’t know how to build a network.

To which you can reply, “Okay, great, who else has a post-it that says something about building a network?”

Every student who has that problem will raise their hand. Collect all those notes and put them up on your wall together to make a cloud for the “Build a Network” problem.

Repeat Step 2 until you have everyone’s post-it notes on the wall, grouped into problem clouds.

Step 3: Connect the Dots

Look at the wall. You now know your students’ most common problems and fears. Most importantly, you know them in their own words.

Now is your chance to connect the dots for your students between their problems and fears and the skills you’re going to teach them.

If you can paint this picture, your students will engage!

Your opportunity here is to reflect your students’ problems and say, “During this class, we’re going to solve these problems” using your students’ actual words and problems.

You can tell them, “If you’re unsure how to find and talk to people to build a network, you can use the same techniques I’m going to teach you in this class to identify the people you want in your network!”

Encourage them further by saying, “The same techniques you’re going to use to interview customers, you can use to interview potential mentors and bosses – increasing the size and quality of your network. You can build your dream network using the skills you’ll learn in this course!”

Step 4: Beginning a New Syllabus

Now you can take your students’ engagement to a whole new level!

You can begin to update your syllabus on the fly in front of them to match the goals of the class with their problems and fears.

  1. Pull up your syllabus on the screen and scroll to the place where you list your schedule of topics and deliverables by date or class session.
  2. Add a column where you can add their problem / fear that corresponds with the topic.
  3. Pick the two problem clouds with the most post-it notes. Type in those two problems in the new column corresponding to the appropriate course topic.

    For instance, next to the Customer Interviewing topic, in the new column, type “Build a Network.” Reiterate to your students that the techniques they will learn to interview customers will help them build a strong network.
    Or if they’re low on cash, you can describe how the techniques you’ll show them when they generate pre-sales for their product can help them discover a profitable business during this semester.
    If they’re having relationship challenges, you can describe how empathetic interviewing techniques can help them connect with family, friends and significant others.

That’s the great thing about teaching entrepreneurial skills…

Entrepreneurial skills = life skills. Click To Tweet

Virtually any challenge your students face can be aided in some way via the lessons you teach in your experiential entrepreneurship class.

Step 5: Delivering a New Syllabus

engaging students through reflectionOvernight, finish adding the problems and fears from the post-it problem clouds into your syllabus where they match the course content. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the next class to introduce the new syllabus. Point out exactly how and when they will acquire the skills to address their biggest problems and fears during your course.

You have co-created a syllabus with your students!

Takeaways

There are five reasons we love this exercise:

  1. Students have never experienced anything like it…and they love it. They’re having fun, brainstorming, moving around the class, creating big messy Post-It clouds on the wall, making connections with classmates, and they’re getting to talk about their challenges with someone who genuinely cares (you).
  2. Your class will stand out. How many professors take the time to listen to their students, and adapt their course to ensure it’s relevant to the people sitting in the room? You’ll let your students know from the get-go, that this class is going to be special, impactful and helpful.
  3. Increasing engagement. Not on will they love this exercise, you’ll know exactly what to say to engage your students in future exercises. You’ll simply refer to the problems you outlined together and describe how they exercise you’re about to do will help them solve the problems you brainstormed together.
  4. It will change the way you relate to your students. By understanding their challenges, you’ll empathize and connect on a more substantive level than you would otherwise. That connection will magnify your impact.
  5. You’re modeling a problem-oriented approach with your students; the same kind of relationship you want them to have with their customers. They’ll see you practicing what you preach, and how empowering it is for both the “entrepreneur” (you) and the “customers” (them).
Engage entrepreneurship students by turning their problems into your syllabus. Click To Tweet

Co-Create your Syllabus Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute lesson plan to help you co-create your entrepreneurship syllabus with your syllabus. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above, in a handy editable document.

Get the lesson plan


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

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


Free Workshop

We’re hosting free, online, workshops for entrepreneurship teachers. Please vote to help us pick our next topic:

What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share an exercise that will give your students an opportunity to launch a product in 60 minutes!  Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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