Lecture 5
9th October 2012

Firstly, a bit of an explanation.  This week I had a clash. Some time ago I’d committed to facilitating a workshop without realising it had been scheduled for this evening.  So I was not in the lecture room, and have written the blog on the basis of watching video material and speaking to David where I needed to plug any gaps.

This is my only foreseeable clash over the 12 week lecture cycle.  And the key learning for me?  I really love being in the room!!

Persevere, Pivot or Pack it in?

David opened the lecture by commenting on the student reflections.  It seems that there is considerable anxiety emerging as students feel they lack a clear pathway from their current position to a guaranteed successful outcome.  (Perhaps this is related to a concept raised last week – that an MBA equips one well to maintain a current asset but not necessarily to create a new?)

At this point they may consider three options : to persevere, to pivot or to pack it in.  It may be that the business model needs reshaping, or perhaps there is nothing useful to salvage and a restart is required.

Over this past week the students have focused on testing their various hypotheses against predetermined, quantifiable, pass-fail tests.  This enables a rigorous examination of the arithmetic underpinning their business models.

David reiterates the importance of failing early in order to avoid waste, and of reshaping the business model for success.  Which sounds obvious, does it not?  As I watch the video of Lecture 5, I recall what felt like a most distasteful allegory ‘killing the baby’, presented in Lecture 1.  And I wonder how many have fallen in love with their babies?

We Teach Me : A Journey of Failure?

This evening’s guest speakers are co-founders of weteachme.com, an on-line community which enables members to deliver and participate in short courses.

Kym Huynh and Demi Markogiannaki founded the enterprise over a year ago and shared something of their story with the class.  Whilst Kym and Demi have very different backgrounds  (Kym has a double degree in Commerce/Law and Demi is a writer and marketing consultant) they are both passionate about education and perceived a gap in the market.

Theirs was indeed a journey of failure.  After a year of intense effort, Kym and Demi launched what they believed to be the perfect offering.  Sadly, they had created a product that the market did not want.  The realisation was devastating and led them to period of introspection.  Their biggest learning?  Failure is fine.  And when you think things are really bad, when you are at your lowest point, inspiration comes.  Kym and Demi chose to persevere, and it seems that the period that followed was rich with learning.  As Demi explains….

With No Regrets

Kym also has gained great wisdom from his experience and maintains his passion.  His advice?  If you follow your passion and take risks from a position of strength, there is not really anything to regret…..

Kym and Demi have a very pragmatic view of competition : every competitor has something they do really well.  You need to find and focus on what it is that you do really well.  In the case of WeTeachMe, it is the automation of administrative processes for teachers. (Not so sexy, and not quite what I was expecting!)  But given this is a market place, the needs of the supplier are equally (if not more) important than those of the buyer.  And their differentiator?  The social flavour of the offering.  Dip into their website if you haven’t already done so.

Keep Listening!

Interestingly, one of Kym and Demi’s biggest learnings relates to the importance of listening to the customer.  (I wonder whether they are standing in front of the class as David’s emissaries at this point!!)  Their failure (and corresponding wastage), whilst netting valuable insights, may have been minimised had they defined and listened intently to their customer earlier in the process…

An interesting question from a student rounded out the conversation beautifully : ‘what do you see as your exit point?’.  Kym described the possible exit strategies available to them (trade sale, IPO, strategic acquisition etc). And whilst these may be well understood by the pair, they are of little interest to them at this point.  Kym went on to explain that they are ardent believers in the democratisation of education, in a model where teaching, learning and knowledge transfer are in the hands of each individual.

And as long as they retain this passion, they will continue to build their business.  Unless of course, they think others can take their vision further than they can.  Which seems to me to be a wonderfully altruistic view of the world.   Of course they want to make a dollar, but their real goal has the potential to create lasting social change.  Nice one!

Choose with Confidence

The next piece of video I watched was a bit of a surprise.  It seems that in addition to working on his MBA project, one of the students in the room, Michael Gregorevic, has been developing a business based around a smart phone/tablet application that provides a simulated view of artworks in a buyer’s own home.  A ‘try before you buy’ mechanism that would be just perfect for someone like me who struggles to visualise such things!  Take a look at Michael’s presentation…

Michael tells a little of how his business has been shaped, and how aligning the objectives of the various team members (all friends) was a difficult, but highly valuable exercise.  In the light of what he is now learning in class, Michael has circled back to articulate – and challenge – his underlying assumptions.  One of his key takeouts : see the world through your customers’ eyes!!

I’ve posted Michael’s slide deck here.

Michael’s website provides a great overview too!

A Supporting Hand for Indonesian Dairy Farmers

Like Michael, Ben Soenarto is also exploring a venture beyond that of his student project.  An Indonesian exchange student, Ben is concerned by the fact that dairy farming in Indonesia is unsustainable and farmers are becoming increasingly marginalised.

His response is to examine the possibility of taking Australian dairy management systems, underpinned by technology, to Indonesia with the aim of delivering a consistently high quality product to the milk processor.

A complex set of circumstances, but no less suited to the discipline of the Business Model Canvas.  And Ben’s current challenge?  ‘What’s the key thing I need to test that will drive my economic model?’.

What Have the Students Been Up To?

In essence, it has been an eventful week.  Take a look at the ‘Start Ups’ pages for more detail, but in summary…

Untapped Energy are revisiting their customer definition;

Blue Ocean Energy have undergone a rebrand and are now Empowered Energy.  They have confidence in their value proposition but are struggling to monetise their offering;

Green Buildings have observed a significant change in market interest and know they need to pivot.  To where?

Get Deals have been focused almost exclusively on their buyers, and have overlooked the needs of potential sellers.

IT as a Utility have discovered their failure to effectively communicate their offering.  (In fairness to them, their landscape is one of great complexity, and includes a multiplicity of components and vendors.  It’s not an easy one!)  They’ve also had an interesting insight into who the real decision maker is!

Incisive Technologies have gained a strong vote of approval from dentists and are now exploring the viability of the in-home market.  And with a proven and potentially lucrative product, they face the challenge of protecting their technology.

Drone Zone opened their presentation by announcing, regrettably, the loss of a team member.  Despite strong personal relationships, it seems they are not all passionate about the business idea.  (Watch out for a new pitch next week!)

(If you’ve been following the blog, you may notice that not all teams have presented this week.  As time has been allowed at the end of each presentation for feedback, teams will rotate.)

Collaborative Learning

A quick interactive session followed the presentations wherein teams were invited to provide consulting advice to other teams.  The students approached the task with gusto, as you can hear in the background of this clip!!

I’m impressed by the quality of their feedback and by the genuine concern they have for the success of their fellow students.  This is indeed a collaborative learning environment.

Stay Calm, Keep Testing!

In closing the session, David acknowledged that this is a difficult time for students.  They must be willing to immerse themselves in the discomfort of what’s going wrong.

He then recounted an experience that has clearly had a significant impact on him.  Whilst CEO of Moldflow, a software company which simulates injection moulding, David visited a Japanese customer. The customer showed David a series of deformed mouldings, prominently displayed in a board room.  It seems the mouldings were the physical manifestations of a willingness to learn from failure.

David’s advice to students : Be willing to stay with the discomfort of failure, even if you do not yet have a solution.  Keep calm, and continue testing!!

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