Lecture 3
25 September 2012

Tonight is the third lecture and I sense that this is where the rubber will hit the road.  Weeks One and Two felt preparatory.  For me the key outcome of these sessions was twofold – firstly, entrepreneurship is a journey that reflects as much ‘who you are’ as it does ‘what you do’, and secondly, start ups are about the search – and really listening to your customer is integral to this process.

As ever, the lecture starts punctually with David providing a quick run down of the evening’s agenda – a faster pace than previous weeks, accommodating multiple syndicate presentations and a guest speaker.

Getting Paid to Read Books?

The first guest speaker of the lecture series is Geoff McDonald, an unassuming, personable guy – almost at odds with my stereotypical view of an entrepreneur!  Geoff is an architect by training, has a strong sense of the visual, and loves to read.  Interestingly, his business started with a personal challenge – ‘how can I get paid to read books?’  Take a look….

Geoff has a lovely energy and described his business and its underlying model to the class.  What ensued was an interesting conversation on the topic of digital economics – ranging from the propensity of individuals to pay for digital content, to Geoff’s varying selling models, to the benefits of syndication over subscription – you get the drift!

Geoff now serves two customer types – subscribers and distributors – requiring two distinct business models…

Geoff then engaged the students, inviting them to explore additional business models for his offering.  A wonderful array of ideas emerged – partner with authors, expand subject coverage, partner with business schools…

This last suggestion triggered a fascinating discussion on the changing face of learning.  There is a sense that reading, an intrinsically private activity, is a shrinking part of learning.  It seems we learn best when we engage with people, thus the trend towards increasingly social learning.

And so Geoff’s offering is expanding by way of response to include live webcasts which facilitate discussion and collaboration…

A final question from the floor encapsulated one of my key learnings thus far… ‘Is this about the personal buzz or the business opportunity?’    A considered response indicated Geoff’s strong leaning towards personal satisfaction.

And I am reminded that our individual choices, borne out of who we are, shape the direction of our businesses, and indeed our lives.

You can browse Geoff’s website  here.

The Rubber Really Hit the Road

And now to the moment I think we had all been waiting for – the presentation of the first iteration of the student Business Model Canvases.  Each team had been asked to load their presentation onto the laptop prior to class and the pace with which we moved from one to the next was almost daunting!!

Funnily enough, if you take a look at the opportunities students presented in Lecture 1, all but one of these has fallen by the wayside.  In the space of just two weeks!!  (My guess is that what was presented in the lecture tonight may well be reshaped, if not discarded, in the coming weeks!!)

So these are they (for now!)….

  1. Blue Ocean Energy – assisting customers to manage their home energy consumption
  2. Maxmyrate – assisting customers to get the best available term deposit rate
  3. Cash Flow Management – assisting customers who run out of cash the week before payday
  4. Drone Zone – sourcing aerial footage with the use of unmanned aircraft/drones
  5. IT as a Utility – helping businesses to manage their IT spend
  6. Get Deals – helping customers make smarter white/electronic goods purchases
  7. Go Platinum – helping customers validate information they see on the internet
  8. Blue Check – providing in-home early tooth decay detection and prevention.

It was fun to watch – a mix of highly confident, somewhat tentative, well scripted, slightly humorous and highly passionate presentations.  I’ve provided a quick summary here, but from today onwards our “Start Ups” pages will come to life – take a look and be sure to return each week as the student ventures take shape.

As I listen, I realise that I’m in the very privileged position of being able to watch, to learn, and to enjoy without the overhead of the reading and assignments!  I am however trying to reflect more on what I experience in the classroom.  As I found myself drawn to the offerings of the more confident and charismatic presenters, it occurred to me that sometimes we pay more attention to the packaging than we do to the content.  Naturally the ideal is to have both, but the learning for me is to take the time to ponder all content, even that which lacks glitzy packaging!

And recalling Geoff’s presentation it occurs to me that he is, of course, delivering both!

A Little Candid Feedback

Following the presentations, David asked the students to assume the role of coach.  ‘What did you learn that you could teach everyone in the room?’  A simple question which elicited some quite thoughtful responses….

  • With the tight time constraints (5 minutes per team), some presentations felt rushed and lacked passion;
  • We need to communicate with precision;
  • We cannot simply demand trust – we need to provide proof;
  • We are spending too much time at the desk – we need to get out and talk to people;
  • The importance of identifying our hypotheses cannot be understated – this is the basis of our pass/fail test and of what we will learn.

As you might expect, they are a pretty perceptive lot!

And I have some feedback of my own.  (Audacious perhaps?) I recall in the first two lectures David stressing the importance of deeply understanding the customer’s problem, as this is essentially the source of the business opportunity.  Why then does the Business Model Canvas jump in at the Value Proposition stage?  Surely this is of limited value in isolation of a well articulated customer problem?  I think I’d find it really helpful if the Business Model Canvas included one simple statement as its heading : ‘The customer problem we are solving is…..’

What’s Your Problem?

With a quick change of pace, David asked each student to write down a problem with which they are currently grappling and to ask others for guidance.  With one clear rule – this is a listening exercise!  You will listen to the advice offered and respond with two words only : thank you.

Thinking this might be a bit of fun I chose to play, wrote my dilemma down and approached the group.  I’m quietly spoken and had to raise my voice to beat the din!!  The roar of conversation was overwhelming – and the wisdom in the room exceptional.

After several minutes and a number of failed attempts at restoring order, David turned the lights out.  The roar subsided and students resumed their seats.  So what was this about?  At a practical level, it seems the students have been made aware of their ability to coach.  After next week they are going to provide peer review to fellow students on their weekly reflections.  My guess is that they are more than up to the task.

At a broader level the students have experienced the emergence of their entrepreneurial leadership skills through coaching.  Not a bad take away from a ten minute exercise!

I think for me (and perhaps for others) there was an additional learning : being connected to a community is a powerfully enriching experience.

Own Your Own

Next a reflection on the reflections, and a few pointers to the students in preparation for providing feedback to others.

It seems that more than half of the students have raised issues of risk and fear.  David reassures the class that this is normal – and is a function of ‘owning the full blast of the outcome’.

How often are we taught to follow someone else’s procedure, to buy into someone else’s vision?

David’s advice is uncomplicated : believe you are up to the task, lead your own life, not someone else’s.

And this is the essence of entrepreneurship : the willingness to own the outcome.

Agree The Rules

Now that the students are in syndicate teams, David provides a little advice, perhaps borne out of experience?  It seems that not all teams are functioning well yet which he suspects is because not all students have surfaced their real motivations yet.  (It hadn’t actually occurred to me that there could be competing motivations.)

It seems that some want the best academic score, some want to launch a business, some simply want to learn about entrepreneurship and so on.  And it is in times of conflict that our true motivations surface.

David cites some interesting research : apparently ventures which invest the time in making agreements up front make 2.3 times more profit than those that don’t.  So does an agreement solve problems or are the people who create such agreements less conflict averse by nature?  Apparently we don’t know the answer to this one, but the lesson is clear : unarticulated disparate motivations can impact the success of a business.

(Not) Winding Down

And like most nights it seems the lecture is just the beginning!  The buzz of conversation continued on (almost an hour on!!) with energy levels remaining high.

And I wonder whether unfettered energy is one of the hallmarks of a successful entrepreneur?



Geoff is now sitting in on the course each week, sharing his wisdom and participating actively in the collaborative learning process.  Let Geoff explain…


3 Responses to “Lecture 03”

  1. 1 bookrapper September 27, 2012 at 3:10 am

    Thanks everyone for opportunity to share where I’m at with Book Rapper and I appreciate all the feedback and responses. My head has been spinning with possibilities since.

  2. 2 thushara (@excda) September 29, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I have started #MBSentrepreneurs on Twitter, use # for any postings related to the class.

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