Everyone has a reason that they get up in the morning.
For some people, it’s family and friends. For some it’s faith. For some it’s art. For some, it’s a passion, or obsession.
For many of us at Mirasee, it’s about business and education.
So when Danny shared his idea to take a giant, scary, expensive risk in the name of business education – we were apprehensive – but it felt right. Giving small business owners and others solid information about strategy, marketing and all of the things that go into running a business is why we’re here – so the risk, really – seemed quite reasonable.
The Business Ignition Bootcamp was born – and did it ever come out screaming. 😉
What we wanted to do was deliver a level of education that we hadn’t approached before – a deep understanding of how the elements of business work together, and how to generate ideals, and validate them as efficiently as possible. No mean feat for a six week training – but it’s what we felt we needed to do…
Offering it for free was important for two reasons – we wanted to give something back to the community who has helped us grow so much, and we wanted to be able to take small business risks, try new things and see what we could learn as we taught.
I’d like to share with you now, some of our expectations, our errors, our successes – and how we feel now that it’s over and done…
The Application Process
We had a pretty good idea that this was going to be a popular offer – and there was a little debate around the table as to just how popular.
We all placed little bets on how many would start the application – and how many would complete it.
It was actually Nick who had the closest estimate to our eventual 2,000 started applications, and 900 completed ones. (Go Nick!)
Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
900 completed applications.
Narrowing that down to 200 Bootcampers was no mean feat, and took a total of about 35 hours – or nearly a full work week.
And it was hard. Really hard. So many people put so much of themselves into applying – and there simply wasn’t a place for every deserving applicant. The “I’m Sorry, You Didn’t Get In” email, was one of the more difficult I’ve had to write.
But, of course, the flip side of that was 200 genuinely delighted people, who formed an incredible, motivated and hard-working class.
Some of our takeaways from this process were:
- Application word limits are your friend. 😉
- Have clear criteria for entrance and disqualification – this saves both time and heartache.
- Keep in mind that there will be times when, despite someone’s intense desire, you hurt them more than help them by acceding to their requests. This was one of the hardest parts of the application review process – the fact that some people desperately wanted the opportunity – but for some reason would not get the most benefit from it, or be a good fit.
Some of what we learned from the application process can be applied to the sales process, as well as applications for a free service. When you’re offering something new or high end – it can really make a difference in how much someone wants what you’re offering, if they must make a case for why they should have access to it. This is because of the principle of commitment and consistency – which says that people are more likely to act in a way that reflects a certain behavior, if they have previously stated they agree with that behavior. In this case – saying that they want a place in your pilot or training means they will be more likely to cherish and value it when they receive it.
Onboarding, Content and Student Support
Part of the journey from successful applicant to full-fledged Bootcamper were a few tasks we needed people to complete. A student mission statement, a learning styles assessment, and an intake survey.
The Student Mission Statement was a collaborative list that students could add items to, and vote as to their importance. We wanted the Bootcampers to all participate in a collective agreement about the work they would do, the attitude with which they would approach it, and how they would work with each other. Basically – we wanted our “class” to work together on an honor code. 🙂
This was a wonderful process to be witness too – many students contributed to the list, and our final statement was as follows:
- I will complete all of my assignments and other commitments on time. This means that I will respect all deadlines, so that I do not hamper my own progress, or those of my fellow bootcamp participants.
- I will ask for help when I need it. I will do this because NOT asking for help will hurt my chances of success, and will be denying myself the full benefit of this program.
- I will seek to give and receive honest feedback graciously. Because honesty is a powerful avenue toward lasting change.
- I will be respectful in my dealings with my fellow participants, and all bootcamp staff. This means that I will always speak to and about others, as I hope they would do for me.
- I commit to myself to put in my best effort. This means I will not just do stuff to get it done, but to thoughtfully and wholeheartedly complete my work as only then will I get the most out of the program and only then will I be able to best help my fellow students.
- I will help my fellow participants whenever I can. This means I will participate in the student forums, and offer my feedback and advice on homework, problems and challenges as appropriate.
- I commit to using all of the materials and resources provided to me. This means that I will take full advantage of this opportunity, and try every option possible before admitting defeat.
- I share openly and honestly. I will be vulnerable and real as I share with the group so we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.
- I will cultivate relationships that will extend beyond the bootcamp. This means I will continue to give help to, and receive help from, bootcamp graduates.
The Intake Survey was pretty standard stuff – we wanted to know what people’s feelings and expectations were going into the project – and we were blown away by the enthusiastic response. It was absolutely astounding to the whole team how happy the Bootcampers were to be involved – and how willing – at the outset to work hard, and give to each other.
The Learning Styles Assessments were something totally new that we wanted to try. Because people learn in many different ways – we wanted to be able to see if having the details about how someone learns would help us give them better information and more support when they had questions about the content.
Well, the best laid plans of mice and men…
I don’t think we ever consulted the learning styles assessments (which we had paid for, for each bootcamper!) once things got going – because we simply didn’t have the bandwidth once Bootcamp got on the way. This was a theory that just didn’t pan out – a shame, but now we know. 🙂
The Content of the Bootcamp
The Content of the bootcamp is something that we were particularly proud of – Each of the Bootcamp Modules was composed of 5 videos, transcripts, audio, extra resources, and a homework assignment.
This content was more in depth than anything we’d created before. Our aim was to cover:
The 5 Business Model Components, and how they work together to make a solid idea that can be tested, innovated and grown. (Much of this was drawn from the exception business book Getting to Plan B, by Randy Komisar and John Mullins) Basically, if you have a handle on each of the business model components – your Revenue Model, your Operating Model, your Gross Margin Model, your Working Capital Model and your Finance Model – you’ll have a firm grasp on every aspect of your business – or any business.
Defining a market, and an ideal customer, and then positioning yourself within that market. Most of this material comes from the Audience Business Masterclass Curriculum, and is one of the more overlooked elements in traditional business education. Once you know how businesses work – it’s easier to figure out how yours will work – and for whom. It’s also important to see where you fit in the market, and be able to analyze not just your own idea – but how it fits into the larger economy of your community, country, or the world.
The concept of Idea Generation, Validating Assumptions and Dashboarding. This also stems largely from Getting to Plan B, and is all about how to come up with ideas, validate that there is a strong case that they will work, identifying the things you don’t know – and how to test those assumptions (and the idea!) as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
I think that, overall, and based on student responses – we did a good job teaching what we wanted to teach. This is one of the things that we pride ourselves on at Mirasee – lots of attention to instructional design.
In fact, as Danny highlighted in his birthday post – many students developed a staggeringly sophisticated level of understanding in a tiny amount of time. Seeing people discussing business topics and theory in the forums – at a level most MBAs don’t approach was, for me, and I’m confident for Danny and the rest of the team – one of the most gratifying, humbling and “this-is-all-worth-it” moments of my career.
That being said – there are still things we could have improved upon. 🙂
While we were able to condense a lot of complicated information into a compact, pretty digestible package – more examples and case studies would have helped many students grasp concepts more easily.
Another thing is that because we have such a reputation for practical, applicable instruction – we could have set expectations better about the fact that this was a much more theory-heavy program. It was very much applicable to everyone’s business – but not in the same step-by-step way that many of our Bootcampers were used to from us.
I also talk too fast. 😉
Using the Forums
Because the number of students so dramatically outnumbered the number of Mirasee Team members – and because the work was so fast-paced and complicated – we knew that we wouldn’t be able to give the one-on-one support that we do in the Audience Business Masterclass, for example.
But of course – we needed Bootcampers to be able to GET support quickly, when they needed it.
So we set up a forum. 🙂
We used a WordPress plugin called BB Press.
Good things about BB Press – it fits right into WordPress, allows for different admin levels, and is searchable.
Bad things about BB Press – it doesn’t have the clarity and functionality of most stand-alone forums, it was not possible for students to reply directly to one another, and while it was searchable – it wasn’t easily searchable.
Overall – I think the forums were a big success. That’s where most of the really inspiring action happened – and rarely was any question left untouched. It was great for providing quick updates, and monitoring where people were having problems, and needed clarification.
Not everyone liked the forums, of course – there were some students who preferred other collaborative spaces – but we needed the learning and discussion to be happening in the member’s area – not a third party site. This caused a little strife – but overall – I think it was worth the difficulty.
Would we use forums again? Absolutely – with a big but. We would, and probably will, use forums again – but we will use a different platform – one that has all of the functionality that makes forums so useful. 🙂
The Homework Assignments
The homework is probably where I learned the most. 🙂 (Hopefully, the same is true for our Bootcampers!)
We wanted each module of content to be accompanied by an assignment that would complement the lesson – and expand it into practical application.
We also wanted it to be something that would take a lot of work and effort – but still a reasonable amount of time.
We won some, and we lost some – and we did some really fast iterations between modules!
Initially, the homework assigned was a comparison of three businesses using the 5 Business Model Components. I maintain this was a good assignment of the right size – but we made one big tactical error.
We didn’t provide a word limit, or grading rubric – so what we thought would be a heavy-but-doable amount of work – for many students ended up being a gargantuan task.
So for the following weeks, we assigned word limits, and provided a grading rubric with the assignment so that everyone know what was expected and how it would be graded. This made a lot of students very happy – and so we were happy!
We also took some great advice from one Bootcamper in between Modules 2 and 3 – to abandon a numerical grade, for a quality based one. Instead of assigned points for each aspect of the homework – we had the peer graders evaluate overall quality – on a scale of poor to excellent. This got somewhat mixed reviews – but overall – was positive. It makes sense looking back – as we were not offering any kind of certificate of achievement or credential – so a pass/fail numerical system doesn’t really make the most sense.
Our main takeaways for the homework were:
- Be very clear in your expectations – not just about the task at hand – but also length, detail needed and criteria for success, and how long you expect it to take.
- Providing examples of completed homework would take a lot of the pressure off. (But might make things too easy? Discuss in the comments!)
- Determine in advance what type of evaluation makes the most sense – pass/fail, numerical, qualitative. This was something we hadn’t really considered – but will going forward!
The Peer Grading Process
Some nights, I wake up in a cold sweat, terrified from a nightmare about the peer grading. Once I even got out of bed at 3am to check my inbox and make sure it wasn’t still happening. 😉
Which is to say, there were some issues.
Now, in theory, peer grading is fantastic! It’s efficient, scalable, and generally results in the same, or similar feedback a professor or teacher would give anyway. It also has the distinct benefit of alerting instructional designers to areas where lots of people had trouble with a concept or assignment. When one person is doing a lot of grading, individually – problem patterns can be hard to recognize. When you have many people grading – patterns are much more visible.
Let me say right off the bat – we knew we wanted a few things from the peer grading system:
- We wanted students to be able to submit work.
- We wanted to be able to deliver that work to other students to peer grade anonymously.
- We wanted to give the graded work back to the original student.
- We wanted to have a record of all grades and feedback delivered, and
- We wanted to be able to track who submitted homework, to whom, when, and with what result.
Now, this doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it?
It didn’t to us – we thought surely, there must be some software, or collections of software that could help make this work.
We searched high. We searched low. We found nothing that we could get ready-made, have access to without being a university, or learn quickly enough to be able to implement.
So we patched something together. 😉
Excel, office Autopilot and Webpage comments were, quite honestly, the best we could come up with after weeks of testing, planning, scraping ideas, testing software and in one moment of pure insanity – attempting to learn to code.
It got the job done – but not easily, and not particularly efficiently. There were a LOT of moving parts that depending on 100% of the people (including the Mirasee team!) doing things correctly and on time 100% of the time. Because that’s a thing that happens when humans are involved!
Any Bootcamper can tell you how much fun that was. (Compounded of course, by some delightful tech issues that sent some of our poor Bootcampers into perpetual getting-logged-out-and-re-directed loops!)
(Fun side note: I told a developer friend of mine how we organized the peer grading. He laughed for a full 5 minutes, and then bought me a beer.)
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that it was all terrible. I’d say that for more than half of the Bootcampers, the system worked just fine, they got great results, and had an overall really positive experience, and peer grading really does work, for the most part.
Looking back at what worked and what didn’t about the peer grading, a few things stick out in my mind:
- We should have started testing WAY earlier than we did.
- We should have prioritized our needs about peer grading earlier, and admitted we couldn’t do everything we wanted to.
- Those of us who worked most directly on the issue should also have stepped back and evaluated things a little more frequently – this was a project that often led to frustration, and project-blindness – getting too close to the issue to be able to see things clearly.
- In a perfect world – we should have just built our own system!
Of course, having this much difficulty on a project was incredibly valuable as a learning experience – I think we all have a better understanding of how to evaluate scope, plan testing schedules, setting criteria for success and a host of other things. Readers, take note – your most challenging, difficult, seemingly impossible tasks have benefits far in excess of the outcome – whatever it may be.
The Wrap Up Graduation Project
After finishing the three modules of the Bootcamp, we assigned students a “graduation project” where they were to use their new skills and understanding to advice non-profit organizations on business and growth problems.
This, like every other aspect of the Bootcamp, had its ups and downs.
On the up side – the majority of students were really excited to get the chance to both practice their new skills and help a worthy cause – and the organizations we selected got the tremendous benefit of some collective brainstorming and strategizing.
These are the Non-Profits that our Bootcampers advised:
- Fund it Forward – Fund it Forward is a non-profit organization whose goal is to ease the burdens of families with special needs children by raising money for adaptive equipment. What makes them extraordinary is the lengths to which they go to get whole communities involved in raising money, awareness and community – not merely handing out much-needed donations – but getting the recipients involved in organising events for still more families. They are looking for ways to raise awareness in the communities they work in, and increase engagement with the people they interact with.
- One Light Thread – One Light Thread is an organization that micro-funds a wide variety of activities therapies and events for kids with Autism. They seek to banish stereotypes about the condition, and create fun, safe spaces for people to connect with each other, end see the lighter side of a sometimes heavy situation. They fund these activities by selling t-shirts on their website. One Light Thread wants to dramatically increase its visibility in the community, the scope of its work, and become financially sustainable.
- The Reading Writing Connection – The Reading Writing Connection provides specialized instruction to children and adults with Dyslexia – a very common, and highly misunderstood condition. People with Dyslexia are disadvantaged in a variety of ways unless they can get the extra help they need to navigate a word-heavy world. Through personal, one-on-one instruction, the Reading Writing Connection is bridging this gap. It’s expensive to do so, however, and so the organization is looking for ways to raise funds and awareness in their community so that they can offer the classes at a reduced rate for families who have financial hardships.
- SAGE – SAGE, or Studies Abroad For Global Education wants to open the doors to the whole world for the students in its programs. When young people get the chance to see other countries, ways of life and different living conditions- as well as work closely with organizations with a myriad of different charitable goals – they come away richer, more well-rounded, and more inclined to work for the betterment of their fellow man. They need to generate more demand for their travel programs so they can extend their reach.
- The Arts and Enrichment Conservatoire (No Website Currently) – The Arts and Enrichment Conservatoire is striving to provide poor, low and moderate income children and families with access to the same life-enriching experiences available to middle and upper-class children and families. The Conservatoire provides affordable music lessons to low and moderate income children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about the subject, or develop their skills in it. They want to be able to provide more lessons for more students sustainably by attracting musicians and teachers who are willing to give of their time and experience. They want to become self-sustaining, and need advice on how.
Each team did a great job providing actionable steps for the non-profits – who are thrilled and excited by the results.
Good job everyone!
On the downside – again, we were hampered by technology – we’re none of us programmers or developers – so when something out of the box for group collaboration wasn’t available – we had to make do with what we had.
This time, a combination of the forums and googledocs were how the information was collected and organized. Functional – but problematic, and we could have done a significantly better job in explaining how the process was going to work – where people should go when, and how they needed to work together.
It’s important to remember, in collaborative projects, in teaching and while leading in general – what seems clear to you, and what you know, is not necessarily the same as what is clear for others – and what they understand. It’s always a good idea to step back and evaluate, or better yet – have someone objective step in and take a look at your plan to help point out any weaknesses.
What People Said, and Final Notes
The Bootcamp was exhausting. At times challenging. At times disheartening.
But it was worthwhile for so many reasons.
Despite our technological, and logistical mis-steps we taught a lot of people some really valuable skills.
We achieved our goal of providing a new level of education for us, about a more complex subject matter than we’d approached before.
We gained a lot of insight into online business education that we will be able to take forward into many new things.
I got a few of the Firpeole Team Members to give me their impressions of the bootcamp – here is what they had to say:
“The day that we initially opened the doors was so exciting for me; to see people flood in, introduce themselves and begin to interact from day one. Hearing people talk about their business is absolutely energizing for me.” ~Amanda
“It was so great to see how much effort and commitment the students dedicated to getting as much as they could out of the bootcamp. It was also great to see how well the students applied everything they learned to help some non-profits improve their business plans – you could really tell how much everyone cared about helping out.” ~Robyn
“I was involved with preparing the graduation assignment that the participants took on at the end of the bootcamp. I was impressed with their ability to self-organize in groups, as well as with the quality of recommendations they were able to put together in a very short period of time.” ~Bhoomi
Now I’ll leave you with some of the feedback – good and bad – that we received from students after the fact. 🙂
“I thought the lesson content was excellent, in that you provided both a video of the entire module’s lesson, as well as a written transcript. There was no margin for missing or misunderstanding, as I could go over and over the content until I understood it.”
“Lesson content was good. It could stand to be longer though. The principles you lay out are very foundational and so it is really important to understand them right. A couple of solid examples for each point would be really good.”
“The single best thing was Five Business Model Components – so simple, but but so helpful. Honestly, I’m struggling to think of a worst – it was all helpful.”
“The ability to apply the concepts directly to my own business and use that as my homework was fantastic. After the changes made for module 2, I feel the homework was well constructed.”
“The peer grading was pretty useless. I didn’t really learn much from my grading or in grading others. I did enjoy reading others’s homework though.”
“I liked the peer grading of the course! I had fun reading the comments of others – it was quite insightful. I loved it!”
“The Forum was excellent – on of the most valuable aspects of the whole course.”
“The forum was brilliant. People were so willing to help and share their expertise. A fantastic resource!”
“As the bootcamp went on, I spent less time on the forum and more time with my study group. I think that is a natural part of the experience.”
“Yes, it [the graduation project] did make a difference. It was a shift from thinking in terms of what I would do if I were my business, to what would be best for the other business owner, given their strengths, weaknesses, goals and circumstances. Very educational experience.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! This has been so valuable!”
“This may have been a first run for both sides. I think we all learned a lot. I’ll be there for the next run!”
“Thank you for this amazing opportunity. I learned a TON about business that I had never heard before and I really believe this whole experience has given me a leg up on creating a viable business. Really. Thanks for the whole thing!”
So, we’ve said what we had to say – told you what we thought and what we learned – and I’d like to hear from you!
If you were in Bootcamp – what did you think? If you weren’t – how does all of this strike you? Can you see any glaring errors we missed? Or awesome benefits we haven’t mentioned? Have you ever done or participated in anything similar – and if so, what did that experience teach you? Les us know in the comments!