Business & Economics

Entrepreneurs Experience — do it and learn it

Steve Blank

In 2012, in partnership with Stanford UniversityU.C. Berkeley and NCIIAJerry Engel and I first offered the Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. The class was designed to teach educators (and the adjunct entrepreneurs that support them) the Lean LaunchPad approach (Business Model Design, Customer Development and Agile Engineering) for teaching entrepreneurship. In addition the class offers a suggested “Lean Entrepreneurship” curriculum and the details of how to teach the capstone Lean LaunchPad class.

Matthew Terrell attended our latest Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. Matthew is an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware where he teaches Introduction to Entrepreneurship in course called Entrepreneurs Experience.

He’s the Founder of Vision Creations & Founders Films. Matt asked some of the toughest questions in the class.

Matthew Terrell

—–

I came to the Lean LaunchPad Educators Program 2 ½ day workshop to learn from the best in the business of entrepreneurship education. My fellow attendees were an accomplished collection of international entrepreneurs, investors, educators and in most cases, comprised all three disciplines.  I had posed many questions during the three-day workshop, but I was struggling to accept the answer Steve now provided.

During the last session of the program I raised my hand and asked Steve, “Based on what we were learning about the Customer Discovery process, would my students develop a better understanding of entrepreneurship by learning Customer Discovery methods, or by launching a business during the semester generating as much as $50K in sales.” Steve’s answer to my question made me physically and emotionally uncomfortable.

Steve replied, “You have to decide if you’re running an incubator whose goal is revenue or teaching students a methodology that will last them the rest of their lives. The students would be better served if they passed on the cash if it meant they developed a better grasp of the key skills needed to be successful entrepreneurs.” I awkwardly shifted the weight around in my chair, my body tensed up, and I could not believe my ears. Steve said I was welcome to disagree with him, but in the long term, the students would be better off in their careers learning Customer Discovery skills. (To be fair Steve did point out that he did have teams that did both in class. Krave Jerkystarted in his Berkeley class and showed up with a $500K check from Safeway in the middle of course.) Far be it from me to disagree with a legend, but I struggled to digest his advice.

Take the Money First?
I am a founder first and an adjunct professor second.  I am opportunity-obsessed, and I believe the advice I received from Babson President, Len Schlesinger: “Action Trumps Everything.” I love entrepreneurship because it is a full contact sport, requiring complete commitment. New ventures favor the hard-working hustler over the naturally gifted individual. I love teaching entrepreneurship because it sparks a fire in students. As with many educators in this field, I evaluate my success based on the number of new ventures that emerge from our class. Starting a business is a hands-on endeavor, and I am thrilled when my students take action and execute.

Admittedly I have traditionally taught my course with an emphasis on the business plan as the students’ culminating final project.  Last year in recognizing the power of the business model canvas, I changed the final project to an Entrepreneurs Action Plan that required two pages of text on each of the nine canvas blocks, and students were required to create an Advisory Board.  I felt this was an effective approach but during the Lean LaunchPad workshop, I came to accept the death of the business plan. Steve explained (smiling) that the business plan was most appropriate in a University’s English department, specifically in its creative writing courses as they were all fiction. (What he really said, was that an operating plan comes after you have some facts.)

During the break between sessions at the Lean LaunchPad workshop, I could not resist the opportunity to delve further into this topic with Steve. I explained my position: theories and models are useful learning tools, but nothing beats actual business development experience. We agreed, then, the question remains: What is the goal and desired outcome of the class?  My goal is to teach the key skills needed to become a successful founder. Steve said that if this was my goal, then indeed, the Customer Discovery approach is best.

What’s the Goal of Teaching Entrepreneurship? 
This concept has consumed me since I returned from the workshop. In trying to accept Steve’s perspective, I surmise that perhaps the customer interview process is not a theoretical feedback survey or focus group, but in fact, it is as dirty as direct sales.  I continue to grapple with the issue and will see it firsthand in my class this semester, as my students dive deeper searching during the interview process.

Steve’s second piece of advice I struggle with is the removal of guest speakers. As part of my course, I created Founders Forum, where I host entrepreneurs to come share their early work experiences, their stories building their businesses, their lessons learned, and their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. I find the firsthand accounts to be extraordinary learning tools for both my students and for me.  I discourage PowerPoints and recommend the speakers candidly share experiences from the front lines.  Additionally, meeting with speakers grants students an opportunity to develop networking skills. Furthermore, I find the Founders Forum to be a helpful tool in creating a more vibrant local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Steve said, “guest speakers are a wonderful addition to the entrepreneurship curriculum, (and ought to be part of every program as in Stanford’s ecorner speaker series) but they are a distraction inthis class. The purpose of the Lean LaunchPad class is full immersion in customer discovery – everything else is a distraction.”

Changes
Since returning from the workshop I rewrote my curriculum and started class last night.  It may best be described as Lean LaunchPad Light. We are using much of the Lean methodology for our curriculum, but I also include key career development skills.

Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation and Steve’s Udacity Lean LaunchPad Lectures are required reading/viewing.  Additionally I recommend but I do not require: Startup Owner’s ManualFounders at Work and the Founders Films clips. I also recommend students keep a personal journal for mind-mapping and brainstorming business ideas. The first exercise we do in class is Dave McClure’s Half-Baked game (but students also have to use the Value Proposition & the Customer Segment.) This exercise demonstrates the need to be flexible in business.

Additional outside readings includes a number of excellent book summaries ranging from Tina Seelig’s InGenius, Tom Kelley’s 10 Faces of Innovation, Anthony Tjan’sHearts, Smarts Guts and Luck and Dan Pink’s To Sell is Human.

Steve’s insight and inspiration during the Lean LaunchPad Educators Program was extraordinary. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to learn from the legend and exchange ideas with the best in the field. I appreciate Steve’s continued advice as I do my best to carry the Lean LaunchPad flag in Delaware.

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Comments to "Entrepreneurs Experience — do it and learn it":
    • Oliver Meek

      I took a similar class at the McCombs school called New Venture Creation. We also had to write a business plan and I felt it was an exercise in futility. I agree with the idea that one should simply try out an idea (with a decent amount of market validation) to see if it sticks. After all, you can only plan so much before you need to see if it happens. Succeed or fail, there is always a lesson to be learned. My latest venture is just that, going out there, hustling, and seeing if it works. And no business plan was written!

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