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You know those people that you can feel walk into a room?  The ones that completely change the dynamic, the aura, because of their energy?

Jenn Paige Boonlorn, founder of Soul Carrier, and her CEO, Sarah, are those kind of people.  These ladies are a force.

I wanted to simply take a moment to recognize how powerful they are in the lives that they touch.  Jenn is simply (simple in concept, not simple in execution) living the life she was meant to live…following her heart and her gut…and working very hard along the way. She is an inspiration to young women in the Valley, and to people in general.  She reminds me how powerful it can be to wake up every morning with a purpose.  Days may end in laughter or they may end in tears, but they all lead with purpose.

Watch a little about her, here.  There is a whole web series to see, too, if you like this one.

This is the perfect example of my purpose.  If I could help guide even one student a year to follow her true dreams…my purpose would be fulfilled.  We’re not certain the full impact entrepreneurship education will have on our economy, on our lives…but if more of this can happen…then it is a success.

Here’s to 2014 and the new spring semester…make of it what you want.  Sky’s the limit.



The People We Meet

Tomorrow is the first day of classes at Arizona State University.  

I love the first day of classes, or really, the first day of any new chapter in life. 

The first day means a blank slate (if you want it to) and an opportunity to do things you have dreamt of doing, and meet people who will change your life.

Students starting college tomorrow or returning for another year of the adventure have the unique opportunity to make it WHATEVER they want it to be.

This could be the year you start a business.

This could be the year you discover your passion.

This could be the year you meet your partner or mentor.

Anything is possible between now and the first day of “real life.”

I, like many others graduating from college, received a copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss just after I walked across that UNM stage to receive my degree. 

One the best gifts I have ever received. 

Of course I loved it because I have a deep, undying love for books (the real paper ones) and reading, but also because reading or hearing the words just magically puts life into perspective and leaves you with a positivity and hopefulness that adults often lose.   We don’t have a lot of “first days” of hope anymore…and sometimes we forget how powerful that feeling can be.

It cannot be explained.  And Dr. Seuss’ work makes me truly reflect on it.

Today a phrase popped into my head that made me think of the book (although it is not actually a quote from the book): The People You’ll Meet.

As I think about the adventure that is in front of the 73,000+ students attending ASU this year, I think about all of the people with which they will come into contact.   And then I wonder what decisions they will make. 

Will they go meet with a professor during office hours simply to get to know him and his experiences?  Will they be bold and say hi to someone sitting next to them in a class?  Will they join a student organization that seems interesting, even if it is intimidating to go alone?

I was always quite shy, and it took me a long time to make moves to meet people who appeared interesting on some level.  Now I couldn’t imagine my life without this approach and I wish I had felt more comfortable doing it in college. 

My favorite part about entrepreneurship is the humans. These incredible people who have this unexplainable urge to take risk, change the ways things are, and actually don’t care if they spend all of their own money, time, and relationships on building something that is going to be great.

I wouldn’t get the joy and energy from interacting with these people if I did not take the time to meet them and enjoy conversation.

Almost every day I receive a request to meet with someone who wants to give back, to participate in the educational process for the young people in our community, wants to include me in what they are working on.  How awesome is that? In a world full of racism, violence, war, politics, and all kinds of ugly things, I have this oasis.

Oh, the people I meet!

Entrepreneurs. Humans. Dreamers.

Really puts life into perspective and leaves you with a positivity and hopefulness that adults often lose.

Embrace today as if it were the first day.

And remember, no one is in this alone…so take note of the people you meet.  They just might change your life.



The Heat Can’t Stop Us

Let me be honest: I’ve never loved the summer in the Phoenix Metro.  People will tell you all sorts of lies:

“It’s a dry heat.” (which in some strange way is supposed to make it feel less like 110 degrees.)

“You’ll get used to it.” (which has absolutely never happened for me…I’ve been here 6 years.)

“The rest of the year makes it all worth it.” (ok, this one is true.)

The heat stinks.  But we figure out how to deal with it. Just before sunrise is the coolest part of the day…so getting up early to enjoy this is pretty darn incredible.  (ignore the bugs on my windshield… :))  And after you catch a sunrise, you can work on your startup!

And there are lots of opportunities to do that!  For some strange reason (actually not that strange) the startup scene has gotten incredibly active here this summer.  It used to be (and still is for some) that people would jet out of here in a flash and return in September or October.  Not this year.  There are so many things going on with startups that it doesn’t even feel like summer (aside from the 3rd degree burn I got from my car door handle yesterday). 

Here are a few:

Students (and any entrepreneur, really) interested in learning more about prototyping can attend the open house being held at Ideas Squared in Phoenix on Thursday.  Tomorrow will be my first time in the building, but I hear amazing things about the prototyping tools and machines on-site, as well as the Ideas Squared community.

For those folks who are still on the mad co-founder hunt, you can join us at SeedSpot on July 16th at 6:30 pm for a CoFoundersLab CoFounders Wanted mixer and see what matches you can manage.

If you come to this mixer, check out these tips on building a relationship.

If you miss the July 16th event because you are indeed taking a break from the heat sitting on the San Diego shores, then come by the AREA48 space on Mill Ave on September 18th or 19th at 6:00 pm and we will do it all again with CoFoundersLab!  This is mostly targeting ASU grad and undergrad students, but anyone from the community looking for a co-founder is welcome to join.

If you have a co-founder (or plan to meet one soon) you can apply to take my Lean Launch class at ASU in October to accelerate your business into a phase ready for launch.

Have an idea you’re serious about but feel overwhelmed about where to start? Desarrollo, a new kind of incubator, has launched and is taking applications from hopeful and motivated entrepreneurs.  Check out the Phoenix Flight Program on their site and apply!

In addition to events, some excellent news has sprouted up this summer.

The ASU Incubator (you may know the group as Venture Catalyst and rumor has it they are now called EIG: The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group at ASU) was ranked 18th in the Top 20 US Incubators.   Come see what the group is up to at AREA48 (sign up or apply first!)

In W. P. Carey news, the new business building, McCord Hall has opened and is getting its finishing touches before classes begin in the fall and our new degree, Bachelors of Science in Business Entrepreneurship, will launch in August with its first group of students.

Summer is ridiculously hot in Phoenix, but so is our startup scene. 

Come explore it!



ASU Student Success!

It’s been nearly a full semester since I’ve blogged about my students…or about anything actually.  This past semester was busier than I could have ever imagined (yep, that’s my excuse) and a lot has been happening in entrepreneurship at ASU.  But instead of blogging, I’d like to think I got a lot of other stuff done and had the privilege of working with a great group of young entrepreneurs.  I want to make sure I start the summer off right by recognizing some really stinking impressive ASU students and grads.

 Yesterday the winners of the ASU Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative were announced.  Each year the ventures are more and more innovative and possess greater and greater potential (my personal opinion).  Much of this is thanks to Brent Sebold who runs the program and all of the folks who work to support him.

In addition to Brent, I think there are some other reasons the ventures keep getting better.  This year, 30% of the winners (out of a potential applicant pool of 73k+ students that attend ASU) have gone through one of ASU’s Lean/Customer Development classes or programs, offered through W. P. Carey or Rapid Startup School.  Yes, I am bragging a little.  These classes and programs are run and taught by my partner, Benson Garner, and/or me. 
But the reality is that this has nothing to do with Benson or me – this is simply a testament to the process of launching a new venture in a much smarter way: by asking your customers what ails them, attempting to solve it, and asking if what you’ve created truly solves it.  And doing this over and over in a rapid, iterative process until you get it right.

 The process is difficult, time consuming, and not always very fun (when your target market tells you they don’t want what you’ve built…that hurts).  So it’s not surprising that the entrepreneurs who take the time to do it, listen to what they are told, and act based on the feedback are the ones who are more successful time and time again.

So…who are these hard-working ASU entrepreneurs?  Drumroll, please…


Revolt! Distillery

Repair Report

Rarus Innovations

UP by pacr (an InnovationSpace team product)

AER by Link (an InnovationSpace team product)

I would like to congratulate these winners as well as the entire 2013-14 Edson cohort.  I know these teams will be in many headlines as the year progresses and you’ll hear these names frequently.

If you are an entrepreneur, ASU student or simply in the Phoenix Metro Community, there are many options for you to explore.  Check ‘em out: 

AREA48 (Tempe, Mill Ave)

Lean Launch (ASU students, fall and spring semesters, grad and undergrad, all majors)

Rapid Startup School (ASU Venture Catalyst)

I look forward to sharing more success stories as the 2013-14 year gets underway!



Hustlin’, hustlin’

I recently partnered with TK Newman on her “wed-tech” startup, Hustle Your Bustle (HYB) and have been working with her on business models and strategy. is a high-end wedding fashion resale website that enables owners of high-end wedding fashion (starting with the key ingredient, dresses) to be connected with brides who want high-end wedding fashion items at a reduced price, without having to filter through unrelated or irrelevant items.

One of the best things about it has been utilizing the Customer Development process that I teach in my classes and feeling what it is like to do it myself.  One really strong value proposition has already been identified and validated for a few of the customer segments (it is a multi-sided market: it doesn’t work without the sellers AND the buyers), so we are testing others and further testing key partners and revenue models. 

I was actually lucky enough to get to snag some time with entrepreneur Jim Hornthal last week in Berkeley after we spoke on a panel about teaching Lean Launchpad (he taught it to undergrads at Princeton…I’ll post more soon).  Jim offered nothing short of what I felt to be brilliant partner and revenue ideas…but of course, they simply need to be tested.  So I am adding them to the canvas to test!

I will post some of our learnings over the next few months and share what the process was like for me, as a co-founder, not an instructor; but for now, here are some thoughts I have about embarking on customer development with HYB: 

The good things:

  •  It was not my idea…I am not an original founder; which allows me to take the process a little less personally because the idea is not as close to me.
  • HYB already has a lot of customers to reach out to and test and having launched in October, there is already feedback that can be utilized.
  • TK and I have great mentors to guide us through the process.
  • The opportunity is growing.  The wedding industry is large (est. well over 2 million weddings per year in the US alone) and the average price paid for a dress is $1,187 (and is increasing), with 1.6 million couples using the internet to plan their weddings.

The challenges:

  • I am not the original founder – I cannot simply perform the customer development and then tell the TK…she must participate.
  • Customers are almost all virtual…and a big potential market is international (makes face-to-face a little more challenging).
  • The startup launched in October…so it is beyond idea concept (pivots become more challenging to swallow…see my last post).

I’ll keep you updated!  Until then, check out our site and if you are in one of our customer segments (bride, former bride, hopeful bride, boutique owner, indie dress designer), or another segment that sees value please reach out and give me your feedback!

I’ll also blog about the January LLP conference shortly.  It was an incredible experience…as always, and met some great entrepreneurs and educators, including this fella.

Twitter: @HYBDresses




Customer Development for the Over-Committed

The customer development process can be painful.  You can develop a business idea that you think has significant value…you can fall in love with it…only to be told by potential customers that it does not solve a problem or meet a need enough for them to pay for it.

I have seen many students handle this lack of product-market fit in a variety of ways.  I find there to be a correlation (unscientific, mind you) between the length of time he has had the idea or how many hours he has already spent developing it, and the degree to which he will rationalize, manipulate, and ignore the data received.

Students who have been working on an idea for more than a year, especially if they have invested money or significant free time into it, can really struggle with the news that their idea stinks. 

These are the ones that need to be saved the most.

These are the ones that will continue to invest money and time into a bad idea.

These are the ones who will fail…years down the road…instead of over a few weeks.

What does this tell me? Customer development is most helpful and most efficient as early in the ideation and new venture creation process as possible. To achieve this, I, we, can continue to spread the word about the value of the process and hope that more people try it sooner.


There are many entrepreneurs who will not learn about the customer development process until much farther down the line…or worse, they hear it but without a persistent teacher like me cracking a whip, they write it off as something they can do after they have a product built. (Those of you familiar with customer development are cringing as you read this I’m sure, just as I did when I typed it.)

What’s a girl to do?

I am still learning the right way to help transform the mindset of hopeful entrepreneurs who are in love with their ideas, who consider their concepts to be their “baby”.  Who knows, I may resort to shouting “Your baby is UGLY!” at them until they listen. 

There are different approaches I’ve used with different personalities, but at the end of the day, it is up to the entrepreneur.  At some point, they will see that what they are doing is not working.  They will notice that they are not getting positive feedback…while their classmates are evolving and getting mere excitement…maybe even earning revenue!

The good news is that even the worst-case scenarios end up in a moment of enlightenment at the end of the Lean Launchpad process (it brought a tear to my eye when it happened last year).  This is why I strongly believe in the Lean Launch class I teach at ASU.  While an entrepreneur may have visions of grandeur as she builds a business in her garage, when she is placed in a room with others going through the same process…it can force a much-needed gut-check.  It can highlight that she sure as heck better start listening to her customers if she wants to build something that people will buy.

Even if she’s been working on it for a year.  Even if she has already sunk her savings into it. 

If she can start listening, she can launch a company that matters.

Do you think you might be over-committed? Admitting it is the first step. 

Check out and start exploring the process.  Get others to join you, support you, mentor you.  And if you live in Arizona, take my class



Happy New Year, Arizona!

If you have not yet taken notice of Infusionsoft, you sure as heck better.  Yesterday it was made public that the company raised $54 million from Goldman Sachs (via Tech Crunch) to bring total venture money raised to $71 million.  

In Arizona, we are building a lot of HGPS (high growth potential startups) and even more GLC (Great Little Companies), and Infusionsoft is a shining rockstar example of what can be done in a rich environment of brilliant, collaborative, hard-working people.  

Infusionsoft has built and grown a company that revolves around its customer: seeking significant feedback and input as new products and services are created.  I had the luxury of getting 30 minutes with Richard Tripp, the company’s Chief Product Officer (formerly of Intuit), a few weeks ago, and listening to his passion about the product development process they use was spellbinding and fascinating.  This is a killer example of the power of putting your customer in the driver’s seat every, single day.  The company builds things that people need and want, and that produce results…it’s as simple as that.  Oh, and by the way, they create jobs and wealth along the way, too.

Beyond what the company has done for the Valley (not to be confused with that other valley…), the leadership is committed to its Arizona community.  I get to see this first hand as I have been fortunate to have the Chief Marketing Officer, Greg Head, in my ASU MGT 360 entrepreneurship and value creation class every semester for the past few years.  He shares his brilliance with the students, giving them his version of what it takes to launch a successful business (he’s had some experience with that…) and openly conversing with them as though they are the most important part of his day.  It is impressive.  It is companies and leadership like this that will continue to help us build a strong entrepreneurial community…starting with education and awareness, and continuing through venture-funded companies like Infusionsoft that make the decision to build and grow right here in Arizona.

I’m pretty pumped for 2013. 



If You’re Not Scared…

You’re not trying hard enough.

This is what I assured Jamison and Chelsea as they prepared to take the stage at Gangplank’s Extreme Pitch Night…the perfect conclusion to a killer GEW. 

GEW (Global Entrepreneurship Week) is celebrated by entrepreneurs far and wide, and we made sure to make the most of it here in Arizona. 

On Tuesday of GEW we were lucky to host Don Valentine (he was incredible!), Wednesday local incubator, MAC6, officially launched, Thursday ASU SkySong held Techiepalooza, and Friday Furnace announced the first cohort of winners and Gangplank hosted Extreme Pitch.  An exhilarating week highlighting all that is good and growing in Arizona.

At Extreme Pitch Chelsea was first to take the stage and was a ball of nerves as she prepared to present her cake company, Iced for Life.  She got up in front of the crowd and gave a confident presentation of her business and why she is going to be successful.  She still has room for improvement in the pitch category (she admittedly left out a few key points), but where she really shined was in the Q&A session.  Every single question that was asked was followed by a strong and educated answer - she demonstrated that she knows her business inside and out and her passion was obvious. This is where the Lean LaunchPad work really paid off.

Chelsea could site specific evidence and resources for all of her answers

She had done the work and it showed.

Next was Jamison…and while he was much less visibly anxious, he admitted to me that he was quite nervous just before he pitched.  Jamison delivered one of the most polished and poised pitches I have ever seen.  He is excellent at telling the user’s story…making you feel the pain…and explaining how his product, Repair Report, solves the problem.

His slides were clean and his message was clear.  And then he was confronted with a Q&A session that was much more challenging: One of the judges did not believe that shops (one if his customer segments in a multi-sided model) would post repairs - a key aspect of the value proposition.

Jamison confidently reasoned his way through the Q&A and presented well-supported answers to the challenges - again…the customer development work provided specific answers and plenty of data to show that he had done the work and had tested his model.

In the end, Jamison won 3rd place and Chelsea was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” and was able to make two potential partnership connections and at least a handful of new cake customers.  All in all, a big win for two new entrepreneurs. I was very proud of them for getting up in front of a crowd and putting themselves and their businesses out for critique.  After all, you should feel scared and uncomfortable on a regular basis as an entrepreneur, right?

Key Learning Points

1.  Pitches are important, but an average, concise pitch (you still need to communicate well) followed by questions answered well, with conviction, and with supporting data can be even more valuable.  If you give a well-rehearsed and polished pitch, but fall short in Q&A, nothing you said in your pitch matters any longer.  The Q&A is where the cream rises…

2.  Customer Development truly makes you a better investment.  Watching these two explain with confidence why and how they had validated an assumption was magical.  First-hand data is really powerful…empowering for the entrepreneur to use in a presentation and powerful for the potential investor to hear and gain confidence.

3.  The age-old rule is true: Practice Makes Perfect. Pitch constantly…pitch at every competition or event possible.  Put yourself out there when the stakes are low, and then when the stakes are high you will dominate.

My MGT 494 class (minus Sharon and Edgar)



Piece of Cake

This may look like a business card to you. Something you see and exchange on a regular basis that often ends up at the bottom of your purse or in your car cup holder.  This, however, this is not a business card. This is a symbol of a true success story out of Semester to Launch at ASU.

Chelsea Mellor demonstrated her passion for baking cakes in my Entrepreneurship and Value Creation class in the fall of 2011.  She was passionate to the point of being emotional when she would discuss it and even struggled a little to make it through her in-class pitch.  Her passion was obvious, and as she brought in cupcakes during finals, her skills were obvious.  She is an artist. She is self-trained, motivated, and confident.  

Unfortunately, she left my first class seeming to have let go of her dream for the time being; perhaps having decided she should wait and work for a while.  

I couldn’t have been more pleased when she showed up in my office a semester later saying she wanted to take my Semester to Launch class and was ready to get her cake business off the ground.

When the class began in late August, she was a bit timid and unsure of what she could actually accomplish…unsure of when she could realistically launch.  She never downplayed her abilities: she is skilled and she knows that.  The intimidation came from actually taking the risks to launch her business.  

Week after week she went through the business model canvas and the customer development process…earning mentors and customers as she moved along.  There were days when she was overwhelmed with the steps it takes to launch and days when she seemed downright exhausted.

And then there was today.

Today Chelsea marched into class and gave her final business model canvas presentation.  She summarized her progress from the last 14 days:

She made and delivered two specialty cakes (at full price)

Her LLC had been processed

Her website was up and had over 700 visits

She received her commercial kitchen license

She filed her trademark

She set up her liability insurance

She created her operating agreement with her partner 

And she got her business cards in the mail.

Chelsea has gone from enjoying a hobby and a passion to creating a viable business.  She has preorders lined up for birthdays and weddings and will be announcing her official launch on November 16th at Gangplank Chandler.

Entrepreneurship is not easy.  It is not pretty most of the time.  And it can be the most emotional experience of your life.  But on days like today, when a bright, passionate woman has put in the blood, sweat, and tears to build something and launches her first business…it is all worth it.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to help guide Chelsea and be a part of her journey.  I look forward to watching her business take off.  She is going to be beyond successful…and because she is pursuing her passion, she will never work a day in her life.

May Chelsea inspire you as she has inspired me.



Let Your Mind Wander

We are getting to that point in the semester where students (and sometimes instructors…) are losing a little steam…and as a result losing the ability to creatively solve problems or perform work.  They’ve been pushing hard for ten weeks straight and now the road blocks or dead ends are creating a much stronger impact mentally and emotionally than they did in the beginning.

This is where some give up; but even more important, this is where some get stronger. 

The past two weeks in Semester to Launch have demonstrated the proverbial “roller coaster ride” of entrepreneurship in an overwhelming way.  Class two weeks ago brought a day of incredible victory:

·      Speak Toomey, a social media service company earned 2 new clients while performing customer discovery and was faced with the opportunity to create a strategic partnership or joint venture.

·      Repair Report, an online tool to get multiple quotes for auto repairs, gained its first tow truck company partnership.

·      All Societies United, a clothing company aimed at increasing awareness and action with non-profits FINALLY nailed its value proposition!

·      MOCA Spot, an off-campus housing company for community colleges, got its first lease signed!

·      Iced for Life, a specialty cake company, secured a retail partner to sell cakes from its pastry counter.

·      Little Black Dress, a clothing design and manufacturing company, secured a meeting with an idol…a very motivational milestone.

There were other small victories as well; safe to say I couldn’t have been more proud and I was thrilled for how much progress had materialized in eight short weeks. Customer Development was working! I was on cloud 9…they were on cloud 9…it was magical.

Until it wasn’t.

I had my greatest number of absent students during class last week.  It was one short week from the Day of Victory and they had dropped like flies.  One needed a mental break, three were late with looks of sheer exhaustion on their faces, and two more were just MIA.

The lack of energy and excitement in the room could almost be felt.  The weather had started to cool down and the demands on the students to get outstanding work completed for other classes or put in a few more hours at work before the holidays had grown.  Not to mention that the process of customer development was getting more challenging…they needed more substantial validation to make it to the next level.   And getting to these points of validation requires energy and truly commands creativity. 

Steve Blank’s guidance and handbook have provided a lot of helpful information for getting through some of the struggles that students in these classes face.  Exhaustion is not necessarily one of them.  It happens to all of us in various facets of our lives…we push and push until there is nothing left to propel us forward.  Putting in those extra hours and dedicating our lives to our startup is what separates from those who “just hold day jobs,” but at some point at this speed, a crash is inevitable.

So how do we pull from within and make it past the point of no return to the place where we do actually get stronger…get better…and make it back to that euphoric entrepreneurial ecstasy once again?

Honestly? I think you go for a walk.

I think you give your body and your mind what each needs. 

We are no good to our business, or to anyone else’s, if we are sick and exhausted. 

If we are angry at our customers or disenchanted with the process. 

If we are over it.

If we give up.

While it is harder than it sounds to stop working (especially when you feel like your to-do list will never be eliminated) I personally find that when there is a proven scientific reason behind something, I can buy into it much easier.  As such, there are multiple articles and interviews that support the biological impact of exercise such as walking on a person’s creativity and on the brain overall.  I have linked a few at the end of this post for you to explore for yourself.  And there are tons more.

In general, walking helps your mind wander, and as your mind wanders it can connect seemingly unconnected things (things you won’t allow it to connect when you’re thinking so darn hard!), and lead to “ah-ha” or innovation moments (check out Where Good Ideas Come From video or book).  These can be big “ah-has” or teeny tiny “ah-has” that you need to merely make it past that task staring you in the face.

Some entrepreneurs think that if they are awake, they should be working.  I like to think of exercise as a part of the entire process.  More blood and oxygen to the brain, more innovation, more sanity.  Simple enough.

Recently I’ve been making sure to get a good hike in once a week (ASU’s A Mountain at sunset, above and Albuquerque’s La Luz trail, below) and I try to get a 2 mile walk in on a (somewhat) daily basis.  I can’t speak for you…but for me, it works.