A few weeks ago I spoke to a middle school class about entrepreneurship and investing and I learned a bunch of stuff and got some awesome comments from those students. Thursday, I went back to work with a few of the students on their specific business ideas that they were doing.
First off, kudos to the school and to the teacher (Mr Feiger) for being awesome. I’m a huge fan of experiential learning and I think what they’re doing is very innovative. They’ve got these kids taking micro-loans and building real businesses. And it’s clearly working – you can tell that many of them are incredibly interested and engaged with their projects.
I met with several groups, and there were two common threads that I noticed and wanted to point out.
First and foremost, the one piece of advice that I seemed to constantly provide to these students was to make sure they understood their market. There were a surprising number of “cart before the horse” questions that they asked me. Examples were “how should I price the product?” and “What tactics should I use to market or sell the product?” and “Should I have a blog or use social media to promote the product?” I continually answered “Who is your customer?” – “What will they pay?” – “Do they read blogs?”. The lesson from middle school – know your customer.
The second thing was that the students with the more interesting businesses were the ones who increased the value of the core product they were selling by focusing on branding, marketing, and perception. Everyone had a reasonable product, but some just weren’t differentiated enough. There was no reason for me to buy their thing vs some other thing that was similar. Many of the products were simple things such as cupcakes and bookmarks. One student amazed me with her very advanced thinking and exploration around how to make a bookmark not just a bookmark. She was including other value added services with the bookmark, and was branding it heavily. Part of the branding was tying it in with a strongly related charity in order to increase the perception of value and differentiation. The lesson from middle school – people buy because of how a product makes them feel as much as for what it does for them.
These kids continue to blow me away. I literally cannot wait to go back and do more of this. Mr. Feiger should get a serious raise. But since we all know that’s not likely, maybe he should get some equity participation in the future of his students. I have a feeling that will be worth more.
I can tell that he is quite literally making future entrepreneurs simply by exposing them to the joys of entrepreneurship early in life. I am truly honored to help people like Mr Feiger and these students accomplish this.