I&E 352 – Innovation and Entrepreneurship Keystone
The innovation and entrepreneurship keystone, in a nutshell, is aiming to help students understand all the aspects of what being an entrepreneur is like.
It doesn’t go into the weeds and the very deep aspects of every step of founding a business but goes in pretty deep detail of the main aspects of entrepreneurship. the four main areas in where we focus our time on is Customer Value Proposition — What does it look like to make a product that people want and need? Go-to-Market strategy — How does an idea one has work as a business? Should it? What are all the things you need to consider for it to work as such? Technology and Operations Management — How is the company going to operate? What are the operational systems in place for this to work? and Profit Formula — Is the company worth your time? Will it be profitable?
Although, these are the core concepts we focus on, there are much more things we go into that are adjacent to these topics using various different learning methods including case analysis, Harvard Business School articles, etc.
In this class we cover a lot of things that make a business tick from management, to branding and marketing, to financial statements and employment. Many of us describe the class as a condensed miniature master of business administration (MBA).
Many times, entrepreneurs will come up with an amazing idea, receive validation from peers and general consumers, pursue their venture, and receive funding but without doing their due diligence in really understanding the problem their solving and if it is even worth solving. The three main things I learned in terms of finding out if the unmet need your meeting is worth your time and money are honestly things that were hard to really learn and integrate into my thinking. This was mainly because many of them are traps I often fall into and go against the grain of my natural proclivities and thought patterns. The first thing that was beneficial for me to learn was test, test, test, and then test some more. But don’t allow it to be a hinderance to action. Maybe a better mantra is test, analyze, act, and repeat. I love analyzing data and immersing myself into a product in order to critically see how one uses the product, what things can be improved and made more efficient, what the perceptions are of the product from others, etc. However, it is very easy when testing and gaining market research to become overwhelmed by information overload and choice paralysis. An example of two women who I believe did testing very well was the two Jennifers from Rent the Runway. In this example, they tested it on college campuses gathered results from there, analyzed them, and then allowed those results to inform their next decision. They slightly altered their tests and then made decisions based on those results. They didn’t get stuck in one area trying to suck dry all the data possible. Instead, they were nimble while also being smart, adopted the lean startup model, and moved forward to apply the data they collected.
Another lesson I learned in terms of gaining confidence that your product will be received well in terms of customer validation is that your minimum viable product is vital. There is a time for perfection and detail. In this stage, this is not one of those times. So easily in creating a potential venture of mine for the future, I poured my heart into every detail in hopes of providing the best pitch to potential customers and investors. However, in the process not realizing that this time may be wasted if the minimum viable product is not well received. I also think Rent the Runway did this well.
This idea relates to my third point which is don’t get married to ideas. Be flexible and open to things changing based on what the customer need is in whatever form that comes in. Like Scott Berkun said — “dedicate yourself to problem solving” — not dedicate yourself to coming up with ideas. This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn in terms of finding out customers’ needs. I’m sure there are so many entrepreneurs who are like me and are sometimes more interested in exploring an idea they are passionate about than solving the problem necessarily. This is a hard trap to avoid for those like me because pursuing a venture you love for a problem you care about can so easily feel like you’re solving a problem when in reality you may not be.
In terms of teamwork, this semester I truly saw the importance of the saying “nothing worth doing is ever easy”. In many of my teams this semester in this course many of the hard decisions and conversations that were had were so worth it for the betterment of the team despite being difficult. Two things in particular that were hard but that were worth doing in my teams this semester was involved leadership and communication. In many groups I generally assume the position of the main leader. And many times, for the sake of convenience and because it sometimes feels like the other members don’t have a desire to be as involved, I take a fairly secluded and individualistic leadership role doing many things on my own accord. However, in the case slide groups I intentionally wanted to become more of an involved leader mainly because of what I saw in the Florida Air case. In this case, the two main leaders were individualistic leaders and then once they wanted involvement and initiative from the one who was not involved (regardless of whose fault it was that they were not involved) the two parties were bitter at each other. The slacker resented the leaders for not involving him and not setting expectation and the leaders resented the slacker for his lack of initiative. When everyone is involved (to a great extent) there is more assumed responsibility and stake in the success of the project which then in turn breeds a better final product and overall high group morale.
The second thing that was worth having was communication. This came in handy particularly in the case slides where each of the group members generally take a certain burden of the work despite all working on each part together as whole. This was particularly helpful in my second group where we didn’t assume anything and specifically laid out expectations for each other in the beginning and openly communicated if we wanted those expectations to change. Because we had set up a precedence of people being open to communicate it wasn’t awkward or resentful when someone felt as if they were carrying too much of the quantitative burden week after week which is what happened. Due to this open communication others were able to share a larger part of the quantitative burden without any pent-up feelings arising in the meantime.
One example from this course that represents the positive and ethical culture we collectively aim to achieve in I&E is how we keep each other accountable by using the Duke community standard in our case slides. Many classes take the community standard seriously but by putting it on our slides each week it goes the extra mile to remind us of the gravity of the standard when working on assignments and keeping each other accountable in order to contribute equal amounts of work to the case slides.
Overall, I think this course will have a positive impact on my life particularly if I decide to go into product management or even user experience design in the future. Delving into the intricacies of product and business building will be important knowledge that I will need to have. This course will be instrumental in continuing in the I&E capstone as well as my future career.
Below is case slide deck my group and I did for medicines company. It consist of both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the company and the things they are doing well and need to change.