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Start an entrepreneurship program at your High School and Middle School.

Part 1 of 3

Three years ago I came across Steve Blank’s Four Steps To The Epiphany and his innovative curriculum the Lean LaunchPad. I was in the middle of my first year teaching at Dunn School and exploring ways to combine my passion for education and entrepreneurship. The more I learned about customer development and lean startup methodologies, the more I realized it could and should be taught at the high school and middle school level. I ran three experiments to prove my hypothesis while building our program at the same time.

Here is my first experiment

Dunn is a place where students can share their ideas. They reach out to faculty when they are searching for a way to make their idea a reality. More often than not, students would end up in my class room asking where to start. In the beginning this was very informal. A student might come by during a free period or break, and I would share the idea of customer development with them. Soon I realized I had an opportunity to test my hypothesis and teach entrepreneurship to high school students. I printed out a few large sheets of Alexander Osterwalder’sBusiness Model Canvas and found three passionate student entrepreneurs who were willing to give up a free period to learn how to develop their BIG IDEA.

I walked them through the best practices for using the BMC and had them watch Steve’s first lecture on Udacity. Then they got out of the building and conducted ten interviews focusing on searching for customer pain. All of this took about two 45 minute sessions with the students taking one day to “get out of the building” for interviews. Most of their ideas focused on products that other High Schoolers might want, so finding customers wasn’t that difficult on campus.

Finally, went over what they learned. In just one session of interviews they realized many of the flaws in their original hypotheses. The excitement and learning was clear. (Dollars spent = 0, Time Spent 1 hr 30 minutes)

My next post will be about my second experiment. A crash course in customer development using the Lean Launchpad at Dunn Middle School over a 7 day period with a single 55 minute session each day.

Follow me on Twitter @afkehaya or on Medium. Please share this article if you found it valuable!

How to Form A Startup Team

Undress the hard issues.

Startups are hard. You need a great Team.

A student recently came to me with a problem. He was having trouble with some of his team dynamics and asked me for strategies and best practices around maintaining a positive and productive group dynamic. This is an important question for early stage startups. Here’s a “how to form a startup team”!

When you’re bootstrapping, starting your own company can be especially difficult because you and your team all have jobs that put food on your table and a roof over your head. Essentially, you work one full time job and another more than full time job. This is the main reason that startups rarely get off the ground with just one person. You need a team of passionate people who have complementary strengths and skills. These co-founders and early employees comprise the core of your business and should be selected with great caution. Many startups have failed due to a break down in team dynamics. In order to avoid this pitfall, you need to get your team together and undress all the hard issues from the beginning.

Here’s how I built a great team dynamic in my startup, NextMover, from day one.

Expectations and Commitment

It’s very important to get everyone’s expectations and level of commitment out on the table from the start. The early days are the most exciting. You’ve got a BIG IDEA and you and your co-founder(s) want to take over the world. The problem is that many people don’t realize how much time they can really commit to the company or exactly what they expect as far as compensation or equity. Getting everyone’s commitment out on the table lets you know how much value each person can really add to the company. You need to know that everyone on your early team is in it for the long haul.

Answering questions about equity at this stage might seem premature. But putting it out there makes everyone’s intentions clear when it comes time to sign your first term sheet and raise your millions. If you wait to cover this topic it can become a huge distraction later on. When you’re working with reasonable people it can be as easy as asking, “hat do you expect to get out of this project?”.

I’ve found that those who intend to work on your startup full time as a second job will rightfully expect a lot of equity. I’ve also found that people who can’t commit a lot of time may have unrealistic expectations of what they should receive in terms of equity. A great book to read about raising money through venture capitol is Venture Deals by Brad Feld. After reading it you will realize how important every percentage point of equity is to you and your company’s future. Be careful giving it away to people who aren’t fully committed in the early days.

Core Values

I have a strong sense of values. These values guide me in everything that I do in both my personal and professional life. It is important to develop a set of values that guide your company. It is critical that your team share your company values. NextMover’s values are a direct reflection of my own personal values. These values drive our business forward; they are the foundation of the company’s culture. A great exercise for determining company values is to do a “Brain Dump”. Gather your team for about one hour and do the following:

The Brain Dump:

  1. Get a large sheet of paper or a white board.
  2. Ask your team to list out their core values.
  3. Write everything down, grouping the words into lists by similarity.
  4. Narrow your list down to 4-5 values.

This simple exercise will show you what your co-founders’ values are and if these values are a good fit for your company. Once you can agree on a simple set of values, you can hold each other accountable to these values and refer to the m when making important decisions.

Strengths and Weaknesses

In a startup, there are no real roles; no CEO, no VP of Sales— just a lot of jobs and tasks that need to get done. Everyone on your team will wear a lot of different hats and take on a lot of responsibility. When you’re strapped for time and trying to execute your business model with limited resources, it is extremely important to stay focused on what you’re good at. Diversity of strengths and weaknesses is a good thing because you want people that can complement your skill set. Identifying your teams strengths and weaknesses is essential to empowering your team to make decisions. Here’s how my co-founder and I figured out our strengths and weaknesses. A word of warning: it’s important to set expectations for this exercise. Start by emphasizing to your team the importance of being open and honest with each other.

Time to undress:

  1. Be honest.
  2. Make a list of your personal strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Make a list of each of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Set the example and read your personal first.
  5. Now listen your team’s lists about you.
  6. Repeat with each person.

Now you can have an open conversation around who owns what tasks. It sounds like it might be a tough exercise but it’s not as hard as it seems. After you’ve identified your team strengths and weaknesses you can easily decide what tasks are best suited to each person. For example, I’m not a designer but my co-founder is really great at design, therefor, it’s up to him to make decisions about design. We work collaboratively but at the end of the day the final decision on issues related to design fall to him. I trust in his ability and give him the freedom to work within his strengths. By the end of this exercise you should have a list (or a venn diagram) of who’s in charge of what tasks. Where there is clear overlap, you can agree to decide as a group.

Customer Development Team

Practicing evidence-based entrepreneurship is critical to your team’s success. If you don’t know about customer development read, Steve Blank’sblog or check out Patrick Vlaskovits book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development. Talking and listening to your customers is at the core of building any successful startup. When you incorporate customer development into your team philosophy, you will increase your chances of success greatly. Make sure that everyone on your team buys in to this process.

If anyone doesn’t buy in, then they may not be a good fit for your team.

The process involves a lot of hard work and the realization that your BIG IDEA is just a hypothesis that needs to be validated or invalidated. You are searching for a repeatable and scalable business model and your team needs to be mentally prepared to pivot.

If a team member is unfamiliar with this philosophy have them watch Steve Blank’s course, “How to Build a Startup” on and read Patrick Vlaskovits’ book. It’s time well spent to make sure you are all on the same page.

Respect Your Time

Time is highly valuable. Be respectful of both your personal time and that of your team. It is just as important to make time for your friends and family as it is for you to dedicate time to growing your business. Here are few ways to find the balance.

  1. Schedule one day a week just for family and friends—be present. This is a time to avoid anything work related. Just enjoy being together.
  2. Set a schedule for working on your startup and stick to it. I meet with my team twice a week in person for an hour. We also commit to completing a minimum of ten customer interviews together a week.
  3. Define objectives for each meeting with your team. This ensures that everyone is prepared and knows why your are meeting.
  4. Come prepared. Don’t show up to a meeting with your team without your work completed.
  5. Bring energy and enthusiasm, even if you fake it, because positivity is infectious. Startups are hard and your attitude directly affects your team. Everyone on your team at this point has agreed to be in the trenches with you so make it as positive as possible.

Launching a startup is a long and draining process. Establishing core values, building the right team, and keeping the balance are three ways to help you stay on track to success.

I hope that this article adds value to your process as you’re getting your team and startup off the ground. I’d love to hear your thoughts so either leave a comment follow me on twitter @afkehaya or find the article on Medium and leave a comment in the margin.

Teaching my students how to build an elevator pitch.

How I taught my students to nail their elevator pitches!

Me giving my final pitch at Startup Weekend Santa Barbara

Me giving my final pitch at Startup Weekend Santa Barbara

Sixty seconds. That’s all the time you have to catch the attention of a potential investor. A friend of mine who is a professional presentation coach gave me this exercise to help prepare for Startup Weekend Santa Barbara.


won the event with one of my students… and believe this exercise really helped.

Carl Guess at Elevator Speech reached out to me with this exercise that helped my students and I master the elevator pitch! Using his method is fun and it really helps me when I’m teaching my students how to build an elevator pitch.

Enter Carl:

Here are three ways to get ready for your pitch.

Newsroom Exercise

Ask the students imagine they are reporters covering the startup conference — and have them write a headline that summarizes their entire pitch. Something between five and eight words. For example, you can bring in local newspapers or have them go online and see how different papers write different headlines (i.e., the New York Times is more formal than Re/code).

Getting them to summarize their pitch will force them to really understand it. It will also help them avoid what I call the IKEA syndrome: presentations where someone says first I did to do this, then that, then the other thing. The trap is that they think people are interested in all this process-driven information, but they’re not. They want a presenter to get to the point. Quickly. Once the students have a headline, tell them to look for the paragraph at the beginning of the article that summarizes the piece. Because that’s what they’re trying to do — summarize everything at the beginning of their presentation.

Essentially I’m suggesting an inverted pyramid exercise. Nail the headline. Craft the opening sentence that summarizes everything — and, importantly, becomes the organization for their pitch. Maybe drop a great statistic in that opening. Then repeat the process, blending and smoothing until you have something that sings.

Rehearse On Camera.

Everyone should do their pitch several times on camera in front of the class. It will get them comfortable with being on stage. You can even create a game where you tell them that you or some other staff member might walk up to them on campus and ask “So what’s your pitch?” to see how well they’re beginning to incorporate it into their muscle memory. Note from Alex: Rehearsing on camera helped me a ton! This is a must.

Limit Your Time

Your kids have only a minute — so give them only 45 seconds to make their complete pitches to you. That will give them plenty of time to pause between major ideas when they’re on stage. It will also compensate for their naturally occurring adrenaline and anxiety. As I tell my workshop folks all the time, no one will boot you out of a pitch or a meeting if you get to the point more quickly.

Oh, and if there’s a way to get them to see the stage and stand on it before the startup — maybe prevail on the organizers to give you a tour — that will get them even more comfortable.

Here is another great place to get some more tips on how to master the Elevator Pitch!

Enter Alex: Follow me @afkehaya and on my blog TeachingTrep. My goal is to spread entrepreneurship education at High Schools and Middle Schools across America.

How do you think students can benefit from entrepreneurship in their education?

Teaching Entrepreneurship at High Schools

The Lean Startup Education at Dunn School

Dunn School

Dunn School is a college-prep boarding school just north of Santa Barbara, California.

As an educator I’m challenged to prepare my students for the challenges they will face when they graduate. I first began teaching in 2011 and I quickly gained a reputation for being the “Idea Guy” on campus. At the time I was using the Business Model Canvas and Steve Blank’ customer development to test my ideas. When students came to their mentors on campus and said “I want to start a business” or “I have this BIG IDEA” they would eventually end up in my classroom asking the question “Where do I start? Soon I had ten eager young entrepreneurs ready for the Lean Launchpad.

Through the Lean Launchpad my students have learned customer development, leadership, and ultimately how to take their big idea and make it into a reality. Entrepreneurship and lean startup methodologies are important to teach our youth. When students learn how to validate their ideas they are inspired to build them. This in turn motivates them to study the Science and Math that many of them will need to succeed. Most importantly it teaches them to TAKE ACTION and FAIL FAST. I will be posting a blog about my class each week for the next six weeks. The posts will be on my blog TeachingTrep. My intention is to build an online resource that helps expand entrepreneurship education at High Schools and Middles Schools.

What are your thoughts?

Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Educator and Entrepreneur. Founder and CEO NextMover, Inc Educator at Dunn School

Educator and Entrepreneur. Founder and CEO NextMover, Inc
Educator at Dunn School

Dunn School is a small boarding school with a long history of successful entrepreneurs. A colleague of mine and I started an entrepreneurship program here last year.  We called our program Earwig Inc., named for the school’s mascot, and our mission is to inspire a spirit of entrepreneurship throughout the curriculum at Dunn.

We define entrepreneurship as taking a leadership roll in society through problem discovery and solution creation. To me this is the essence of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs see solutions where others see only problems.  They take their vision and create something that never existed before. In doing so they make the world a better place. Teaching our youth to search for problems and test solutions is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable skills we can provide them with in preparation for a life of responsible leadership in society.

Earwig Inc. uses Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad to guide our curriculum and teach our students a repeatable process to test and validate their ideas. I’d like to see more High Schools and Middle Schools adapting the Lean Launchpad to their curriculum.

What are your thoughts?

If you’d like to build an entrepreneurship program at your school contact me below!

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