Nearly all classes focus far too much on the concept of startup investment, high tech products, and fancy startup ideas.
You don't need a patent, nobody should be signing an NDA, and your startup idea means nothing unless it's backed up by serious customer research, yet all of misconceptions are highly promoted even in an educational setting.
This is a theoretical exploration into what I believe entrepreneurial education should be.
First, throw aside the limitations of curriculum and standardization.
Let’s assume I’m teaching.
The class holds 40 kids. Different backgrounds, different majors, different ages. No prerequisites for the course. Everyone gets an A.
The goal is to collectively build a company before the semester is over.
The first three classes would be stories. Nothing about big startups, nothing about silicon valley, nothing about venture capital or angel investment or funding. Just small product-based lifestyle businesses. Here’s an example I often use:
A man talked to 50 dry cleaners. He asked what problems they dealt with, but he couldn’t find anything serious, so he moved on to dentists. Dentists were hard to reach, so he moved on to LASIK care groups.
He interviewed a few, asked what problems they were dealing with, and heard a few of them complain about their email lists. They had hundreds of potential customers, but couldn’t convert them to get the surgery. The man asked why nobody would come in, and they told him their subscribers were scared. Shooting a laser into your eye is terrifying.
The man spent a weekend building an email course. One email every day for seven days. He compiled statistics on how safe the surgery is, and on how many people undergo it per year. He included graphs on value, to show customers how much money they were saving long term. He added testimonials to express how happy all the customers that underwent LASIK were. He went deep on the science behind the LASIK technology to alleviate any fear of injury or scarring.
The man went back to the LASIK groups and tested his email course on their email lists. After a few changes, the email course had converted 10% of the lists into paying customers. That was a profit of tens of thousands for the LASIK groups. He sold the email course to other LASIK groups for $2,000 a pop and created a 10k per month business out of it.
We would talk about how startup ideas mean nothing, and how customer discovery is the way to finding a real problem. We would talk about how you should discuss your process with everyone you can in the field to get feedback.
By the fourth class, everyone gets the point, and everyone’s schedules are solidified for the rest of the semester.
The fourth class is crowd-sourcing industries of intrigue. We talk about cool businesses we like, fun careers, things we find interesting and stuff we want to learn. I lead a discussion and start the class off to get the ball rolling. We compile a big list of 30 possible jobs, hobbies, activities and industries to investigate. The whole class votes. Whatever concept gets the most votes, we pick for the rest of the semester.
Next class, we discuss customer discovery. I create a list prior to class of questions we want to ask. I talk about how we don’t want to find a problem, we want to find a pain. We want our customers to absolutely hate something they do every day at their jobs, or in their hobbies. The more serious the pain, the more likely we are to get paid to fix it.
We brainstorm different ideas on questions we need to ask based on what we know about the industry. If we chose security guards, we need to know all about their shifts, responsibilities, work hours, management, and equipment. If we interview flower shops, we need to know how they source flowers, price flowers, and how and if they do marketing. We need to know how they keep their flowers fresh, and what they consider to be their advantage in the flower market.
I would compile a full list of questions we need answers to and send it to every student. Everyone’s first homework assignment: Interview one customer.
Next class, we use LinkedIn, Google, and whatever other resources we need to find emails of these potential customers. I give every student a series of email templates I’ve pre-written and have them email their assigned customers for an interview.
No class for the next two scheduled time slots. The students get extra time to conduct their customer discovery interviews. I have each student submit their answers, and I compile them into a comprehensive sheet. Next class, we go over it all. We identify common problems and isolate the ones we think make the most sense.
Now we know how the industry functions. Now we have some idea of how things work.
Next class, we come up with a set of new questions, these one are designed for deeper investigation into the problems we’ve isolated. I send the questions to the students and the next two classes are off again to interview the second set of customers. This time, the students find and contact the customers themselves.
I compile the next set of feedback, and we discuss again. By now, we’ve done around 80 interviews, and we should have a defined problem we want to tackle.
Next class, it’s time to start building. We discuss no-code tools, look through resources like MakerPad.co and NuCode.co to find tools and tutorials that are able to solve our problem statement. We decide on a few tools, and everyone’s homework is to look up tutorials on how to use them before the next class.
For the next five or so classes, it’s building the product, live, during class time. If I find tedious tasks I do them outside of class. If there are tasks everyone should participate in, we spread the responsibility to every student as homework.
Whether it’s a website, an app, a platform, a database, or anything else, we prototype it. There’s almost nothing you can’t make with a few integrations and tools online. The class participates the entire time. We share ideas, and all have access to the building components so we can all make changes. We use no code or tech with a barrier to entry, and we learn on the fly.
Once we’re done, the rest of the available class time is trying to sell it. We start with the list of customers we interviewed. I have every student send an email explaining how they built a product in class, and how it can help solve the problems they discussed in the last few weeks.
If I make money selling our product, it’s spread to the students. Everyone already gets an A as long as they showed up, but how much equity stake you have in the company we’ve built depends on your participation in the class. If you have more equity, you get paid more per sale I make.
If there is more time in the semester it’s dedicated to growth. We sell as many products as we can, and if you sell the product yourself, you get to keep the sale profit. If we want, we set up a website for our company. We run ads or hire freelancers. We form an LLC online and write up an operating agreement. We get creative and mess around.
The class finishes, and I create an online Facebook group or Slack channel to keep everyone in touch. Students have the option to continue to help me build the company part-time after the semester ends.
That’s how you teach entrepreneurship, but there are reasons this hasn’t been done in the academic environment.
A lot can go wrong. Maybe we pick the wrong industry, and we can’t find a problem fast enough. Maybe we build the wrong product, and we don’t have enough time to complete something robust enough to fix the real issue. Maybe we pick the wrong problem and build something nobody wants.
But even if everything goes wrong, it’s still going to be the best education into entrepreneurship possible, and unlike almost every other class in the world, it lets students put real experience on their resumes. They participated in building a product - that’s more experience than most students ever get in their entire college careers.
It’s unlikely this will ever occur in a university setting, but if anyone is interested in making it a part of their curriculum, shoot me an email.
I’ll help you build it out, and develop the course for your institution.
I plan on conducting online, live classes like this to students who apply, so if you’re interested, sign up for my newsletter on my homepage, and you’ll get any future announcements on it there.