Real Entrepreneurs Marry Impact, Not Ideas
Iterate, pilot, iterate, pilot, iterate, pilot. Every great entrepreneur and innovator knows that this is the process to creating something of true value. In this context, iterate means to collect feedback and improve your existing service or product and pilot means to sell or try out again.
It is very easy to imagine the most successful entrepreneurs as having a monopoly on the right answer. Bill Gates woke up one morning and imagined Windows 8, Steve Jobs was in his garage when he imagined the iPhone 6, and Mark Zuckerberg was strolling down the streets of Palo Alto one morning when he imagined the most recent iteration of Facebook. Right? Wrong.
The most successful entrepreneurs don’t start with the end product or service in mind; they start with the solution to the problem they are trying to solve or the desired impact. They have an idea of how to start achieving that desired impact whether it is a nicely designed phone or a social network, but they don’t have the final product fully sketched out. And that is a good thing. It allows them to be fluid with their product and their service.
The real question we should be asking ourselves is: how do you get to our final product or service? The answer is simple. We need to monitor and evaluate how the end users respond to the latest iteration of our product. This is done through observations, surveys, focus groups, informational interviews, calls, etc. As the entrepreneurs we need to decide at what junctures we’re going to stop to process the results and iterate to release the next version of our product or service. For us at Practice Makes Perfect (PMP), we do this once a year at the end of the summer. For Apple’s iPhone it tends to be closer to every two years when a new design is released.
Ultimately, evaluating and collecting information to improve our product/service is only worthwhile if we’re ready to change our approach. When my co-founders and I came up with the original model for PMP, we decided to pair academically struggling students 2:1 with higher achieving near-peer mentors. It was not until the end of our second summer that we noticed how arbitrarily we picked the pairings. I remember talking to one of our advisors and suggesting a one-on-one ratio and his response was “one-on-one is awkward” so we decided to go with a two-on-one approach.
During the summer of 2013, we threw all of our arbitrary assumptions out of the window and paired kids in groups that ranged from one-on-one to six-on-one to decide what the optimal group size. We were more interested in having the maximum impact on the lives of the students we served. We were not concerned about whether or not we had the right answers initially and who would get the credit for the idea.
To our surprise, we found that four-on-one was the optimal group size, and that three-on-one and five-on-one was better than one-on-one. This was strictly for our program. We gave the students assessments in the beginning of the summer and at the end of the summer to measure growth.
Once we knew that those larger group sizes drove better outcomes, the next step was to figure out why that was the case. Especially since it did not make sense intuitively at first. In order to do that, we spoke to the teachers and asked for their reflections. To them, it made absolute sense, and now it does to us as well. When there were smaller group sizes, there were more mentors in the classes and they would talk to one another once their scholars finished their work, which made classroom management tougher for our teachers. When the group sizes were a little larger, the mentors felt like teacher’s assistants and the kids would compete amongst their group to get their work done.
Every summer since then, we have paid close attention to the feedback we received from our beneficiaries. As a result, we have changed the number of college students in the classes, we have modified the role of the teacher, manipulated the duration of our programs, and revised our content. This year we are rolling out a home visit and a merit-pay program. We will continue to monitor the progress of our summer solution and iterate. That is because we are married to the impact and not the idea.
This post was inspired by the workshop I am co-hosting tomorrow at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference that the Clinton Foundation is hosting at Miami University this year on “Monitoring And Evaluating Your Results.” We hope our thought process continues to inspire more entrepreneurs to critically evaluate their businesses and their desired impact.