Class began with our pitch. It was an enthusiastic beginning where we pointed out the successes of last week’s ideation process. Behind us as we spoke was a large poster of the Business Model Canvas filled with yellow sticky notes of venture ideas. My contribution to the pitch was pointing out the cohesive strength of the group. Partnerships provide many benefits through networking and goods, but have the potential for disaster if there is dishonesty or lack of commitment. As a collective, we decided on full consensus for our venture as part of our doability criteria. The class mission for the day was to judge our venture ideas against our criteria and get rid of the sticky notes that don’t meet the criteria. Steve Blank teaches a class on Udacity called, “How to Build a Startup.” He says the best way to take the class is to actually be creating a startup while taking the class. This is exactly what we as a class are experiencing, and I came to find out that it hurts! I have been anxiously awaiting our brainstorming and ideation process. As I mentioned above, we all left enthusiastic about the results. The next thing that I know, a fast-paced “call and response” ensues as our potential ventures are judged and ripped from the large canvas. I was so surprised at how quickly I had become attached to the ideas and wanted to pursue them all! Each time a yellow sticky note was taken from the board I second-guessed the decision. Earlier in class, we had discussed something that was coined as “founders disease”, which is when a founder or visionary is inflexible to change or to deviation from the original idea regardless of the customer response or input from partners. After one week, I was already experiencing founders disease for our potential ventures and trying to twist them every which way to fit our criteria. I realized that this process is invaluable because it will keep us focused on the potential customer. This is exactly what we want so that the potential customer becomes a customer. I felt like the process we went through was like ripping off a band-aid. It stung, but keeping things in motion and always being open for change will bring the best results.
Where were we?
After an exciting brainstorming session, our aspiring team of entrepreneurs was left with a wall of post-it notes and endless possibilities as to what our venture might be. Before we wrapped things up that week, we agreed upon a set of criteria that would be used to help narrow the plethora of ideas down to ‘the one.’
The criteria were all based upon the “Assessing opportunity ‘doability’” figure found on page 13 of Effectual Entrepreneurship. I touched on this in my last blog post, Taking the Plunge. The chart asks four primary questions:
- Is it doable?
- Is it worth doing?
- Can I do it?
- Do I want to do it?
We adapted these questions to fit the needs of our own team. Is it doable with resources available to the individuals in our class, within our budgetary confines, and on a realistic timeline? Is it something that we all feel equally passionate about? Can we create this venture with a realistic time commitment from each of us, keeping in mind that we are full time graduate students with lives, families, jobs and commitments? Do we want to do it?
The process of narrowing down the ideas was less painful than I thought it would be. We didn’t need to dive into deep discussions about why an idea was taken down. We had agreed that it was important to us that we all felt passionate about the project, so if one of us admitted that they weren’t excited about an idea…it came off the wall. No arguing, no huffiness, no tears. We were women on a mission. This allowed us to pare down the ideas significantly.
Next, Linda asked us each to anonymously write down our top three choices on a notecard. I’m usually quick to make decisions, and this exercise was no exception. I selected my top three immediately. Some struggled to narrow down their favorites. Ultimately, there was a good amount of overlap when it came to the top choices.
We closed out last week’s class session with a new level of excitement. The ideas had been reduced from nearly 40 to about 4. Four ideas that each felt like real business opportunities. Four ideas that came from our team, in classroom, with a pile of post-it notes. Are they worth doing? I’m looking forward to finding out.
Forward: As I progress in my graduate level arts entrepreneurship class, I am finding my way of thinking is changing. Although I have always been a conscious consumer, especially when it comes to spending a considerable amount of money on any one thing, I am starting to realize I apply entrepreneurial tactics when I buy products as well. The following blog is an example. To emphasize this point, I will put entrepreneurial vocabulary and themes in parenthesize.
Although not arts related, as an entrepreneur I am fascinated by Apple. As I am slowly becoming more and more an Apple-product-owner, I am beginning to understanding why. Steve Jobs is one of the first names that comes to mind when anyone mentions successful entrepreneurs, at least to me. Aside from who he might have been as a manager, his designs created amazing, user-friendly products. You do have to spend the time to learn how to use the products efficiently, but if you do and can utilize the design, they are wonderful products. Even though I know Steve Jobs is not behind the designs today, I continue to love Apple products.
Because this is how I feel, it makes sense that I am very excited about the newest version of the Iphone, the Iphone 6, and have been researching it for 6 months…ok when I say 6 months, I really mean 18 months or so, and when I say researching I mean scouring the internet for detail I can find that might have unofficially leaked. Now, this could be fueled by my necessity for purchasing a new phone, as I was no where near as excited about the unveiling of the Iphone 5, or 5C/S, but it could also fueled by my continually growing fondness over their advancing technology. Either way, when the date was announced for the keynote address, it was penciled in to every calendar I own.
It was torture not watching the video all day. I did try a couple times, in between classes and meetings, but every attempt failed due to the internet connection or the to the Apple site, so out of frustration I decided to just wait until I got home. After an almost 3 hours of keynote presentation, I was not disappointed. The new phone upgrade was going to be everything I wanted: thinner, better and easier to use camera overall (customer demand). But, there was a wrench thrown into the mix, there are now two phones to choose from (customer choice), the smalle, yet larger than the current version, Iphone 6 and the larger, 5.5 inch screen, Iphone 6 Plus (Apple following the market). In my research, I had come across the possibility of there being more than one size phone, so it was not a surprise, however because it was now a reality, choice came in to play. I never thought I would be drawn to what they are calling a “fauxablet” or faux-tablet style phone, so when I initially read about the option, I simply dismissed it…that was until I was bombarded by mass media telling me how wonderful it was. Imagine having all of your devises all in one! A phone, a tablet, a kindle, an Ipod, a camera, and a multifunctional multimedia device. The convenience of smart phone just got more convenient (pitching). But how true is this? I figured all my questions would be answered once I felt how big and bulky the larger phone was in my hand. So, I waited painstakingly for another two weeks for the phones to be delivered to retail outlets so I could get my chance to compare the two side by side in my own hands.
Finally, Friday, September 19th came and I bee-lined to Best Buy after class where I figured my best chances were to get some quality time with the phones without interruption (location scouting). The moment they were placed in my hands was a moment of glory!…but not what I was expecting. I was instantly drawn to the larger size, how nice it was to look at photos and videos on a larger screen, how easy it was to read through email and search webpages. Interestingly enough, I realized after the fact I did not try out holding the phone up to my ear, nor did I try using it with one hand, two things I will most-likely be doing with my phone more so than taking photos or reading emails.
Even though I was certain having the phones in my hands would make the decision for me, when it came to fruition I still could not determine which was the best option for me. I spent about 30 minutes swapping the phones around with the other customers who were also there to get their hands on them testing the capabilities of the new features (product testing) and surveying the other customers about which phone they were going to choose and why (research and customer surveying), hoping their reasons would help sway my decision. No such luck. I left the store, no phone in hand, still conflicted about which one to choose.
Even in writing this blog 5 days later, my mind keeps swaying back and forth. As I recall my initial reaction to holding them in my hands, I find myself wanting the larger Iphone 6 Plus. But if I think about practicality, I know I should get the smaller Iphone 6. I guess it’s a good thing I have to wait another 2 weeks to get my rebate before I can purchase a phone. Hopefully by that time the choice will be clear.
Objective: put 5 people in a room together from different walks of life, with different missions in life, and come up with ideas for a new venture we would want to start. Come up with these ideas without supervision or direction.
This was the objective set for my arts entrepreneurship class this week. The ultimate goal of the class is to start one of the ventures collectively with the 5 people in the class.
Overall, I was surprised at how simple and organic the process was. Initially, I was super excited about the idea of starting a new venture on my own. However, when I learned it was a venture that had to be started with the class as a whole, I was less enthusiastic. And yet, as our ideas were created and shared, they all seemed to fit together as though we already talked about what kinds of ventures we wanted to create.
This is how the process went: a few people came to class with lists, either in their heads or on paper, while others came to the table with general ideas and we talked through them until a venture was created around that idea. Those were then written on post-it notes and put on the wall to create a collage of new venture ideas.
Above anything else, the thing I found most fascinating was to sit back and observe the process. These were my main observations:
- There were lots of different ideas that were proposed, more than I think most of us were expecting, but many of them naturally fit into categories or were ideas that could fit into one over-all framework.
- It was a very unified process; there was not one dominating voice over all or one person who took on the role of the “instructor.” We all took turns and shared equal responsibility. One person naturally started out being the post-it note wrangler/organizer and then when she sat down or was voicing one of her ideas, another person took over in her place without being instructed to do so.
- The opportunity was not just one of creating business ideas, but also of sidebars and networking. Someone would come up with an idea and that would cause someone else to get excited in a way that was not related to the conversation. They would then have a quick 30-second to 1-minute conversation on that subject before coming back to the group to continue with the overall conversation. This also seemed to happen in groups, for instance at one point we all found ourselves in small side-bars at the same time, so that the time was never wasted waiting for one set of people to finish and rejoin the conversation.
- General themes to our business proposals that came up without us discussing them:
- The barter system
- Student related ideas
- Little to no revenue streams, or get-rich-quick ideas
Taking this information, I wonder how well a process like this would work in the real world. It cannot be overlooked that all of us in the class are women, are graduate students, and although we are in different areas of study, we are all still under the larger “arts” umbrella. I would be very interested to see if this process would have worked this well if the people participating were less like-minded.
The overall experience makes me want to sit in on more brainstorming sessions, both with like-minded and non like-minded people, to observe how they interact with one another and how creative ideas come about in the different kinds of environments. As we have been learning in this class, a more creative and wider variety of ideas typically come out of heterogenic environment. Because of this, it might be more beneficial as a process to see how non like-minded people overcome conflict and accomplish the same task.
Today was a big day for us baby entrepreneurs: ideation day. While Linda is off across the country, the 5 of us met sans “leader” to get all of the ideas that have been rolling around in our brains (and many that hadn’t) written down. We were cautioned ahead of time to just get the ideas out with no judgment, that no idea was too small or too big, no idea silly or stupid, just ideas. Quantity over quality. While we definitely got sidetracked on a few of these ideas, discussing them in more detail, we didn’t limit or discard anything that came from today’s brainstorm. And, as a group, we chose to talk about each idea instead of just writing our own fast and furious on our sticky notes. We made this decision because we felt like some ideas would snowball, or spawn other ideas. This working together to create each idea ended up instigating a lot of new, related ideas, and was also a great opportunity for us to see what each other’s interests and values are in action. Once we had created a giant sticky wall of ideas for our entrepreneurial venture (seen here a bit later, after we had organized and categorized), we got down to the tricky stuff: what criteria are we going to use to cull these nearly 50 ideas into a single project.
Our development of criteria was based on the Doability framework in Effectual Entrepreneurship by Stuart Reed, Saras Sarasvathy, Nick Drew, Robert Wiltbank and Anny-Valérie Ohlsson, which queries: Is it doable? Is it worth doing? Can I do it? And, Do I want to do it?. While our discussion on this criteria progressed, we ended up having a parallel conversation about guidelines for our interpersonal relationship as we work together on this project. In addition to setting the amount of time we were able and willing to spend building this product/project/performance/something, we talked about communicating our limits honestly to each other on a week by week basis, and respecting each other’s limits. While we discussed a major criterion, selecting a project that we are ALL excited about, we set the ground rule of honesty. It was important to all of us, especially as we thought about our continued investment in the project through the course of a semester, that we are honest about what interests us and what does not, and that expressing those opinions is respected by the rest of the group.
We talk a lot in the theater world about creating a safe space, a place where collaborators can share emotion, personal stories, and be willing to try and fail and learn and then try again. As the five of us prepare to try something new, with that same cycle of try and fail and learn and try again, that same safe space seems to have become important. What we heard over and over today was the word respect: for each other’s ideas, time, limitations, abilities, interests, and more. We are about to launch this process with a newly defined and heightened respect for each other, the whole person, and for ourselves. We started to create not just the road map for our project, but the far more important road map: how we work together. While we can be certain that our project will morph and change direction as we go, these principles we have built for collaborating will keep us on track, keep us adapting, and keep us collaborating and creating as a unified team.
In one of Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live skits he and his wife are struggling with debt, and receive some helpful tips from a financial advisor. This advisor promotes his “unique new program” called, ‘Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford.’ Steve Martin is totally perplexed by this approach. At one point the advisor talks about saving up money for things you want to buy and Steve asks “Where would you get this ‘saved’ money?” I relate with Steve in this scenario as I begin the semester. I came to class with the question, “Where does this entrepreneurship come from?” Unlike the short book offered to Steve to answer his dilemma, Linda has provided us with many lengthy readings that cover topics of theories, definitions and approaches surrounding entrepreneurship. Class meetings have involved discussion about these ideas to provide clarity and understanding along with group cohesion. That last part is very important since it is the five of us who will be doing this venture together. At times I feel like the audience member watching the SNL skit thinking, “Of course, that is obvious! That makes perfect sense.” At other times I feel like Steve Martin, totally perplexed and unsure. Thankfully, the class structure allows for all of these ebbs and flows of emotion as we make our way toward effectual entrepreneurship.
This week’s reading had us dive into the first seventy pages of “Effectual Entrepreneurship.” Some of the topics covered were found opportunities versus made opportunities and control versus risk. The idea behind found opportunities is that research gained from historical information will provide the entrepreneur with the greatest chance of success. When you find the largest unserved population within a market, that is when the venture begins. Steve Martin complains that he has tried debt consolidation companies and has even taken out loans to pay off his debt, but still finds himself in debt. This relates to the found opportunities approach in that the historically prescribed way cannot predict what the consumer will actually do. In Steve’s case, getting loans was not helping him change his destructive spending habits. When an entrepreneur approaches the venture with the idea that opportunities are made, the market is not always clear and time and interactions are what prove to bring out the best ideas. In this case, the entrepreneur will take self-inventory – using current resources in creative combinations with the ideas and assets of others creates the venture. This seems like a more risky approach. Therefore, the entrepreneur must create control. To expound on this idea, Linda lead us through a short activity. We were each given a 3×5 card and a black Sharpie. On one side of the card we were to write five things we can control, and on the other side we were to write five things we cannot control. Try it! It was more difficult than I imagined. In regards to my professional endeavors it brought clarification to my priorities and values.
Five things I can control:
- Whether or not I fix a mistake
- How I use my time
- How I care for my body
- Whether I accept or reject a given opportunity
- My personal investment
Five things I cannot control:
- The commitment and integrity of others
- The response of the audience
- Future offers
After sharing these in class we were able to brainstorm ways of creating control for what I deemed uncontrollable. We were figuring out ways of changing uncertainty to predictability. Steve Martin’s wife asked the financial advisor, “If I have the money, can I buy something?” to which the advisor responded, “Yes!” As a group we will inventory who we are and who we know. We will decide the maximum we are willing to lose and the minimum we are willing to gain. We are going to reduce the risk by making success happen rather than avoiding failure. This process will become more clear as we begin doing it. Next class is when we start our brainstorming. This is where we begin our process of making ideas and discovering effectual entrepreneurship.
“Sticking very closely to who you are, what you know, and who you know not only tells you what to do, it is also very useful in telling you what not to do.” 
I’d say the above advice heeds well in many life situations, such as taking an unfamiliar job or going on a blind date. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t take risks and maybe go out with someone who isn’t our type, per say; but having an acute sense of self-awareness can serve us well. Maybe it’s just me, but the times I’ve dated someone whose fundamental beliefs were not in line with mine never ended well. I pride myself in being a fairly self-aware person, and although a little red flag was waving around in my gut, I just didn’t listen. So that didn’t end well. Anyone else? Just me? Okay, moving past the dating metaphor: understand who you are and, to quote the rarely produced musical, The Life: “Remember to use whatcha got to get everything you want.”
Chapter 6 of Effectual Entrepreneurship stresses the importance of being means-driven versus goals-driven, an idea that perhaps hadn’t occurred to me previously. I love making personal goals for myself, maybe even thrive on it, but as this chapter explains, the problem is goals don’t inspire us to take action right now. As I read the chapter, I realized my to-do list is what makes me take action, not necessarily my lofty goals for where I’d like to be after graduation in 2 years. When I write these to-do lists, I’m being means-driven, or understanding what I can and cannot accomplish and just going for it. After all, I know I can clean the bathroom today and I know exactly how to go about accomplishing that; I’m not sure the first step towards publishing my plays and having them produced to wild, international success (uhh…). Goals can be lofty and scary. If we as entrepreneurs are means-driven, we will not wait for a blockbuster idea, or thousands of start-up cash to begin the venture; rather, we will be inspired to take action because we have a clear idea of where to begin.
So how do we know what our means are? In class on Wednesday, we worked on understanding who we are, what we know and who we know, which will add up to what we have, or the resources with which to work. First, we ranked our top five values from a list of 30+, including honesty, faith, humor, health, integrity, passion, success, work, wealth and so on. Writing our values on post-its, they were then stuck to the wall for everyone to check out. There were some definite overlaps, like humor and integrity/honesty, which is a good sign, I’d say.
As we worked our way through the chart, scribbling down our passions and hobbies and ruminating over our knowledge bases and professional networks, there was a fair amount of overlap. We are all about the same age, all studying for Master of Fine Arts degrees at the same school, so performance skills, theatre production skills and the names of faculty at ASU popped up again and again. Nevertheless, as working artists, we do have a wide network of connections across the state, and I am extremely excited to see which resources we can leverage as we begin our business venture.
Our yellow post-its will continue to be used tomorrow when we begin the ideation process. I look forward to challenging myself to remain means-driven over goals-driven and keeping in mind who I am, what I know and who I know in order to understand what I have to contribute to the group.
 Read, S., Sarasvathy, S., Dew, N., Wiltbank, R., Ohlsson, A-V. (2011) Effectual Entrepreneurship. New York: Routledge.
 Use What You Got Lyrics. http://www.metrolyrics.com/use-what-you-got-lyrics-a.html.