Завзятість – Tenacity: How I Spent A Year One Night in Kiev

This July I thought I had set the record for tenacity in my age group. Go ahead and take a moment to read the post, it’s short. I reminded my Startup Owners Manual co-author Bob Dorf this is how entrepreneurs played the game, blah, blah, blah.

As usual Bob did one better. Here’s a guest post on what happened to him in the Ukraine.

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Usually when you teach entrepreneurship, one of the key things you teach is tenacity, a vital characteristic of great entrepreneurs.  Only rarely does the teaching itself require tenacity, as it did late last month in Kiev, Ukraine.

Following two days with a dozen startups at a brand-new incubator in Kiev called “Happy Farm,” it was time to head to my next stop: Skolkovo, the private Moscow business school formed to bring Silicon Valley-quality training to young Russian entrepreneurs.  I was headed to my second Lean LaunchPad launch, excited that the first one in June had led to four funded startups raising some $2-million from Russian VC’s.

Ukraine was magnificent. Kiev is a beautiful city and Happy Farm Training Director Elena Kalibaba led me on a walking tour. Then it was on to a series of workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions with ten terrific startup teams, plus a press conference with Forbes Ukraine and others. When it was over, Happy Farm CEO and founder (and serial entrepreneur) Anna Degtereva drove me to the airport and–for some strange reason–escorted me to the gate.

I Spent A Year One Night in Kiev
As I approached the check-in desk, a very gruff Ukrainian customs official looked at my visa to Russia and said, “You cannot travel.  Your visa to Russia has already been used.  No exceptions.” He said nothing else in English, and waved me out of the line.

A mad scramble uncovered the problem:  when I had changed planes for Kiev back in Moscow they stamped my visa as “entered” so that counted as “visiting” Russia. As far as Ukrainian customs was concerned I didn’t have a valid visa to enter Russia therefore I couldn’t get on my plane. No charm or magic worked at all with airport customs, and we were told in no uncertain terms that Bob Dorf would be living in Kiev for two weeks, absent miracles that seldom happen in government bureaucracies, at home or in Ukraine, for sure.

The problem was that I had 25 founders from all over the Russian republics expecting me to teach a Lean LaunchPad class 12 hours later in Moscow. And then I was heading to Paris and Bogota to teach as well.  Oops. Not if I had to spend two weeks in the Ukraine applying for a new Russian visa!

We dashed off from the Kiev airport to the Russian consulate in hopes of sorting it out in two hours rather than two weeks. While on the way, we called the embassy at 12:55 and found out that the Embassy closes at 13:00 on Fridays, and we were 30 minutes away. And I don’t even like borscht, a prime Ukrainian delicacy, nor did I know how the “Bob Dorf world tour” would continue.

Four entrepreneurs in a car
Was this time to give up?  Of course not. Four entrepreneurs in a car in Kiev means three cell phones buzzing in different directions in Russian and me as the non Russian-speaker on my iPad looking at travel sites for the next flight, just in case I could get a visa. We went to the consulate anyway, where two armed guards right out of your favorite spy movie (fat, grumpy, unshaven and did I say grumpy?) barred the door. After rapid-fire begging in Russian, a phone finally call got a functionary out to basically shoo us away. “Visa processing takes two weeks, and that would start Monday, since the visa office is now closed. The Professor can go home to America, but can not go from here to Russia.” Visions of stealth border crossings or—perhaps even worse—a ten-hour Skype talk with my Moscow students—played over and over again.Cossack Attack

While the thoughts of going back to the U.S. for a weekend at home with my long-lost wife Fran were lovely, the thought of disappointing 25 students the next day and 50 more two days later in Bogota weren’t fun. I immensely enjoyed my last lectures at Skolkovo and was eager to do it again. 

So we started an international incident of sorts
First, the truly entrepreneurial and unstoppable Happy Farmer, Anna, somehow in five phone calls got through to the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, told him the story, begged for his help. She did this through a friend (how everything happens in Ukraine, of course) who served as one of his deputies. “I will talk to him at four pm and he will call the Russians,” she said, which offered only nominal relief: the last flight out was at 7 pm, and there was no firm commitment that anything good would happen.

At the same time, on the Russian side of the border, Skolkovo’s equally tenacious Startups Project Director, Lawrence Wright, went to work, calling the Russian foreign office and imploring them to call the Ukrainian embassy and tell them “let Dorf out.” When they agreed to consider breaking every rule in the 40-pound Russian rulebook, the fun began.

The Ukrainian solution to all this, while we paced for two hours to see if anybody heard our cries: “lets go to lunch and have a drink.” In perhaps one of four times in my entire life, I was actually unable to eat. The thought of jumping barbed wire fences, pursued by Cossacks, was quickly looming as my only choice for an on-time performance launching the LaunchPad.  Meanwhile, something clicked. Somebody got to somebody, and suddenly the Russian Consul himself, boss of the entire place, headed back to—or was sent back to–the office himself to personally produce a visa for Bob Dorf in one hour, not two weeks.

We were given less than an hour to find wifi and download the 20-page visa application in the backseat of an SUV.  Needed to have the original, not a copy, of the new Skolkovo “invitation letter” physically in my hand. Scrambled to get a passport photo and a printer to print out the application. Done, back to the Consulate at Indy 500 speed!

Somehow it worked. If Anna and her team are as good at running over hot coals and through brick walls with their startups as they were with my visa, watch for lots of great companies emerging from the Happy Farm.  As for me, I was sure I was headed to the funny farm.  By nine I was heading to Moscow. Six hours of fun aggravation, five and a half of which had me absolutely sure we were opening a branch of K&S Ranch in Kiev.

But the best part of the adventure is that I now had a better tenacity story than Steve.  Beat this one!
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Developing a 21st Century Entrepreneurship Curriculum

In 2012, in partnership with Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley and NCIIA, Jerry Engel and I first offered the Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. The class was designed to teach educators (and the entrepreneurs that support them) the Lean LaunchPad approach (Business Model Design, Customer Development and Agile Engineering) for teaching entrepreneurship. In addition the class offers a suggested “Lean Entrepreneurship” curriculum and the details of how to teach the capstone Lean LaunchPad class.

Sidnee Peck from Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business attended the last Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. At ASU Sidnee is the Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives, and the co-facilitator for the Venture Catalyst’s Rapid Startup School. Sidnee taught her own Lean LaunchPad class a week after returning to ASU, (holding some sort of record for a curriculum Pivot.) I asked her to share what she learned in the class and what she learned when she put it to practice.  Here’s what she had to say…

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As an entrepreneurship educator, I have two goals:

Sidnee Peck

  • inspire and encourage students to spark energy around entrepreneurship and their dreams,
  • make the reality of entrepreneurship clear enough to prevent students from wasting time on a life decision that is not right for them.

I believe this is best done through experiential learning where students spend most of their time “doing.” I have spent my entire time at Arizona State University trying to find the most effective tools and methods for teaching entrepreneurship to my students in order to achieve these goals. I update my course frequently in an effort to create the optimal learning environment and before the Lean LaunchPad training course I was still searching for the perfect action-oriented learning model.

The Lean LaunchPad Educators course
I truly did not know what to expect when I arrived for the LLP educators course.  I had been referred by a colleague in the University’s incubator and did some preliminary reading as the trip approached but wasn’t familiar with the concepts of business models or customer development.

I was blown away by what I actually learn and take away from this experience – it has changed the way I teach and the way I view my time in the classroom.  It has also impacted my students’ lives in a significant way.

The biggest surprise I encountered may seem simple, but significantly changed the way I viewed the process.  Coming into the course I had been teaching the class on the basis of execution; teaching my students that they needed to be actively setting goals supported by tasks and executing on them.  My philosophy was sound (and was supported by many bright people): nothing happens on paper or in the classroom, it all happens outside via real action and interaction.

But on the first day, Steve framed it in a different way: execution of a business plan doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because executing on a business plan that has not been validated is a waste of time and energy.  Instead, we should first focus on searching for the best business model and validating our assumptions.  After we prove that the model works, then, and only then, execute on it and build a business.

I may have been the only person at the conference who was learning the methodology for the first time and would be applying it upon my return to ASU within the coming week in my fall class.  This was bold…but it was a “why wait?” mentality, and I am SO thankful that I went for it.  Luckily, I had interviewed students for the course (as I had designed it before coming to the conference) during enrollment months (before I knew I would even teach this methodology) because I knew I wanted only the most passionate and committed students and I would do my best to hold them accountable to executing on their ideas.  It took time and preparation to roll this out so quickly, but the materials I received at the conference made it possible.  I had a roadmap in front of me, and I just had to be prepared to deliver it.

Sidnee Peck ASU ClassOne of the biggest (and best) surprises from actually teaching the class is the way that students bounce back from the direct and sometimes tough live feedback.  I had a major fear that we would scare students right out of the class, but after the first two weeks, they expressed how much they appreciated it, one student tell me that this was his favorite class because he had learned so much in just two weeks.  This realization made the rest of the semester easier, knowing that the feedback that is sometimes hard to give and take is the most important, and is valued by the students.  We established an environment of trust and a place where we were comfortable being uncomfortable.

What I wish I knew going into the semester is that the interview process and student selection is incredibly impactful on the success of the class.  In an effort to be inclusive, I allowed any student who had a business he/she wanted to launch enroll.  Going forward, I will be much more particular based on each student’s readiness.  I did get quite lucky, however, as the majority of my students are a good fit and truly want to work on their business models.  Some, however, are not ready.  They need to mature a bit before the LLP process will hit home with them and I should defer these students to a later year.

In the future I will also train my mentors in a more significant way.  I had an incredible pool of experienced entrepreneurs and business people to choose from – but without fully understanding the customer development process, some were steering my students way off track (asking for business plans!) and I had to pull them back when we met in class.

I also wish I could have recruited more in-class advisors to give live feedback…this was challenging because of my timeline, and while I did get a fair number to visit, more would have been welcomed.  There is an art to giving the right type of feedback in the right manner at the right time.  It takes practice, and the more experts we have in the room, the more powerful it can be.

The best part about the whole thing is, of course, the results my students have experienced from giving the process the attention it deserves.  I was blown away by how hard undergrads would work for their business idea.  I was impressed EVERY week by the outside work that was done and the number of interviews performed.  There were incredible learning points every single week and over the course of the semester multiple businesses made first sales, gained new customers, launched, and one even got hired by a competitor to roll his product into a product line through a proprietary manufacturing process.  Because of this success I have seen increased interest from other colleges and from the MBA program…spring will be an incredible class!

Lessons Learned

  • The student interview process and selection is critical
  • Undergraduates can handle the class
  • Students bounce back from the direct and sometimes tough live feedback
  • Align and train mentors to embrace customer development
  • Go for it!

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The next Lean LaunchPad class Jan 30th – Feb 1st is sold out (there is a wait list here.)  Registration is open for the June 18-20th class here.
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Customer Development in a Diagram

Customer Development in a diagram

Thanks to: Alexis Finch, Sketchnotes / UX Research Consultant @agentfin

The Future of Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Almost every large company understands it needs to build an organization that deals with the ever-increasing external forces of continuous disruption, the need for continuous innovation, globalization and regulation.

But there is no standard strategy and structure for creating corporate innovation.

We outline the strategy problem in this post and will propose some specific organizational suggestions in follow-on posts.

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I’m sitting at the ranch with Alexander OsterwalderHenry Chesbrough and Andre Marquis listening to them recount their lessons-learned consulting for some of the world’s largest corporations. I offered what I just learned from spending a day at the ranch with the R&D group of a $100 billion corporation along with the insights my Startup Owners Manual co-author Bob Dorf who has several Fortune 100 clients.Osterwalder Chesbrough Marquis

(Full disclosure. I’m recovering from a reading spree of Chandlers Strategy and Structure, Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management and The Other Side of Innovation by Trimble and Govindarajan, Henry Chesbrough’s Open Innovation, as well as The Innovator’s DNA from Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. So some or most of this post might be that I’ve overdosed on business books for the month.)

Collectively we’re beginning to see a pattern and we want to offer some concrete suggestions about Corporate Management and Innovation strategy and the structural (i.e. organizational) changes corporations need to make.

If we’re right, it will give 21st companies a way to deal with innovation – both sustaining and disruptive – as a normal course of business rather than by exception or crisis. Companies will be organized around Continuous Innovation.

Strategy and Structure in the 21st Century
While companies have existed for the last 400 years, their modern form is less than 150 years old. In the U.S. the growth of railroads, telegraph, meat packers, steel and industrial equipment forced companies to deal with the strategies of how to organize a complex organization. In turn, these new strategies drove the need for companies to be structured around functions (manufacturing, purchasing, sales, etc.)

90 years ago companies faced new strategic pressures as physical distances in the United States limited the reach of day-to-day hands-on management. In addition, firms found themselves now managing diverse product lines. In response, another structural shift in corporate organization occurred. In the 1920’s companies restructured from monolithic functional organizations (sales, marketing, manufacturing, purchasing, etc.) and reorganized into operating divisions (by product, territory, brand, etc.) each with its own profit and loss responsibility. This strategy-to-structure shift from functional organizations to operating divisions was led by DuPont and popularized by General Motors and quickly followed by Standard Oil and Sears.

GM 1925 org chart

General Motors Organization Chart ~1925

In each case, whether it was organizing by functions or organizing by operating divisions, the diagram we drew for management was an organization chart. Invented in 1854 by Daniel McCallum, superintendent of the New York and Erie railroad, the org chart became the organizing tool for how to think about strategy and structure.   It allowed companies to visually show command and control hierarchies – who’s responsible, what they are responsible for and who they manage underneath them, and report to above them.  (The irony is that while the org chart may have been new for companies, the hierarchies it described paralleled military organization and had been around since the Roman Legion.)

While org charts provided the “who” of a business, companies were missing a way to visualize the “how” of a business. In the 1990’s Strategy Maps provided the “How.” Evolved from Balanced Scorecards by Kaplan and Norton, Strategy Maps are a visual representation of an organization’s strategy. Strategy Maps are a tool to translate the strategy into specific actions and objectives to measure the progress of how the strategy gets implemented (but offer no help on how to create new strategies.).

Strategy Maps from Robert Kaplan

Strategy Maps from Robert Kaplan

By the 21st century, organizations still lacked a tool to create and formulate new strategies.  Enter the Business Model Canvas. The canvas describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value (economic, social, or other forms of value). The canvas ties together the “who and how” and provides the “why”. External to the canvas are the environmental influences (industry forces, market forces, key trends and macro-economic forces.)  With the business model canvas in hand, we can now approach rethinking corporate innovation strategy and structure.

Business Model Canvas

Management Innovation in the 21st Corporation
Existing companies and their operating divisions implement known business models. Using the business model canvas, they can draw how their organization is creating, delivering, and capturing value. A business model for an existing company or division is not filled with hypotheses, it is filled with a series of facts. Operating divisions execute the known business model. Plans and processes are in place, and rules, job specifications, revenue, profit and margin goals have been set. Forecasts can be based on a series of known conditions.

BusinessModel Innovation in existing companies

Inside existing companies and divisions, the business model canvas is used as a tool to implement and continuously improve existing business models incrementally. This might include new products, markets or acquisitions.

A New Strategy for Entrepreneurship in the 21st Corporation

Yet, simply focusing on improving existing business models is not enough anymore. To assure their survival and produce satisfying growth, corporations need to invent new business models. This challenge requires entirely new organizational structures and skills.

This is not unlike the challenges corporations were facing in the 1920′s. Companies then found that their existing strategy and structures (organizations) were inadequate to respond to a changing world. We believe that the solution for companies today is to realize that what they are facing is a strategy and structure problem, common to all companies.

The video below (from Strategyzer.com) emphasizes that companies will need to have an organization that can do two things at the same time:  executing and improving existing models and inventing  - new and disruptive – business models.

We propose that corporations equipped for the challenges of the 21st century think of innovation as a sliding scale between execution and search.

  1. For companies to survive in the 21st century they need to continually create a new set of businesses, by inventing new business models.
  2. Most of these new businesses need to be created outside of the existing business units.
  3. The exact form of the new business models is not known at the beginning. It only emerges after an intense business model design and search activity based on the customer development process.
  4. Companies will have to maintain a portfolio of new business model initiatives, not unlike a venture capital firm, and they will have to accept that maybe only 1 out 10 initiatives might succeed.
  5. To develop this new portfolio, companies need to provide a stable innovation funding mechanism for new business creation, one that is simply thought of as a cost of doing business
  6. Many of the operating divisions can and should provide resources to the new businesses inside the company
  7. We need a new organizational structure to manage the creation of new businesses and to coordinate the sharing of business model resources.
  8. Some of these new businesses might become new resources to the existing operating units in the company or they could grow into becoming the new profit generating business units of the company’s future.

In future blog posts we’ll propose a specific structure for Entrepreneurship and Continuous Innovation in the 21st Corporation.

Lessons Learned

  • Continuous disruption will be the norm for corporations in the 21st century
  • Continuous innovation – in the form of new businesses-  will be the path for long term corporate survival
  • Current corporate organizational models are inadequate for the task
  • We will propose some alternatives

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