I had the honor of speaking at Smith college on the topics of entrepreneurship, defining success as a female founder, and the Business Model Canvas. Smith college is a women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts that is beginning to explore an entrepreneurship angle for their students. My mission: talk about being a female founder and illustrate using the customer segment section of the Business Model Canvas.
I’ve never been to Smith College, but was excited for the opportunity to talk to aspiring female founders and share the information I wish I would have heard as an undergraduate. I was not disappointed. The Smithies in Business club let me crash their meeting on Wednesday night and truly impressed me. These young women are having discussions about best practices for incorporating personal branding and narrative into their interviews…as undergraduates!!
As I put together my presentation I tried to put myself in my audience’s seats. What do smart highly-educated women need to hear about? It came to me instantly…failure. Every speaker I ever listened to talked about their amazing successes and never talked about the big fails and messy moments that came before those successes, so I decided to be different.
I introduced myself and shared a litany of personal failures: not getting into medical school, hiding in bathrooms from security guards when I sold copiers, etc. Women never talk about failure…ever. So needless to say you could’ve heard a pin drop in the room. I felt it was necessary to be real and share my failures so when those young ladies encountered failure they weren’t devastated. I certainly wish that I had heard that message in my college years. It would have made failing to get into medical school less tragic in my young mind.
Of course I talked about how to determine who your customer segment is, and the importance of experimenting and fine-tuning your value proposition to resonate with your target market. I cautioned against putting the cart before the horse, or they business before customer development.
My favorite part of my presentation was joining a table of Smith students and helping a student with an idea figure out her customer segment. The intelligence and enthusiasm in the room inspired me. It was totally worth flying to Massachusetts to share a few stories and advice to help the future female founders of Smith soar. I dared them to do the scary things like applying for the Draper Contest, starting a company, and anything else they were afraid they might fail at. As I always say…she who dares wins.