The Four Essentials I Left With After Essentials

4pt0 Essentials

Going into the February 2015 Essentials weekend at 4.0 Schools in New Orleans, I thought, “Awesome, this is the weekend where I get all my questions answered about how to start my business.”

Actually, I left with a lot more questions than I’d come with. What was different was that I suddenly had tools to start answering those questions—and I noticed a lot of landmines removed that I would’ve tripped into as well.

Overall, it was a better weekend than I could’ve hoped for. Here were my four most useful takeaways:

1.The Power of “Yes, And” in Idea Generation

I’ve been told that “Yes, and” is the fundamental rule of improv. It was also the driving force behind Essentials. In both business and improv, “Yes, and” serves as a way to validate another’s ideas and allow them to move forward and develop. It’s an outstanding tool for businesses in the “idea stage”—even if it took me a bit to adjust to not hearing “Oh my goodness that’s perfect already; you’re done, and actually here’s a giant check” (probably every startup founder’s fantasy).

2.User Empathy

I knew that understanding your market was important, but now I’ve got a word for it: user empathy. What’s more, I know a lot more about how to do it. In Essentials, we talked a lot about the power of focused interviews with people in your target market. Don’t ask leading questions, or assume the truth will be what you expect (or want): let your users speak for themselves, and you’ll be amazed what comes up!

Far too many organizations aim to help a population that they only understand conceptually. Feedback and empathy can only help to better your understanding of the space you’re attempting to enter.

3.Just Ship It

I haven’t always been a risk-taker; in fact, I’ve typically done everything in my power to avoid “No,” as irrational as I know that can be. But Sheryl Sandberg said it best: We need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it.”

Through its emphasis on testing and validation, Essentials pushed me toward action. We can only sit on the sidelines observing for so long; eventually, we have to just dive in and immerse ourselves in the problem and its solution. By the time we reach implementation, our idea will have transformed to something leaner and more directed.

4.Unpack and Streamline

My interviews with students and college advisors initially led me to broaden my user and solution. I wanted to help everyone attempting to get into college, and I wanted to provide them every resource possible in order to get them there. When starting a social business, it is easy to get swept away with all of the issues impacting your user. You have to choose one. It’s perfectly fine to have big goals about how your organization could eventually solve multiple problems for a community, but it will be easier for you to gain credibility that you can solve other issues if you can solve one really well.


Where Am I Now?

Essentials gave me the boost I needed to start getting things done. Over the past few weeks I’ve held a series of workshops, have solidified partnerships with two more schools, and will be pitching at NOEW tonight. (wish me luck!)

I hope you know a bit more about what you can expect from this amazing program. If you have an education startup and get the chance to attend Essentials, I’d highly recommend it!

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