Written by Madeline Kardos MBA ’22
I’m a hands-on learner. Always have been. Always will be. So, imagine my delight when I joined the New Ventures Development course offered by Duke’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Here was a class that would take the theories I was learning in Fuqua’s Daytime MBA program and directly test them in the market. Despite the graphs and charts that I saw in my marketing, strategy, and finance classes, there really was nothing like putting a product into the world and seeing how the world responded to it.
In full transparency, I was more surprised by how I responded to taking this course, and how it challenged my previous world view, than the business acumen I would gain. Here, I had entered the Fuqua Daytime MBA program as a type A perfectionist, someone who would rather work hard than smart, and would spend weeks thinking through a plan before putting it into action. The three biggest personal insights I gained from the course are as follows:
I don’t have to be perfect and neither does my product. In my previous life as a marketing and communications manager for a tech nonprofit, I would obsess over each marketing campaign detail, making sure it was perfect for the world to see and understand. But as I realized through this course, nothing needs to be perfect to prove its worth. You can create a quick wix website and a fake landing page and WALA you have an excellent test for your product’s value proposition. You can throw together a statement of cash flows based off assumptions, just to get some grounding of what type of sales you may need in the future to keep the business afloat. And finally, and most importantly, I personally did not need to feel perfect about every plan. Which leads me to my next insight.
Failing is fine. Taking risks, especially as someone coming from the nonprofit sector, was (and still is) scary. We had limited funds, limited resources, and of course, minimal time. So, when I joined New Ventures Development and heard the motto “fail fast, fail often” on repeat, it took a while for me to take it to heart. But the more we worked on our product, the more I realized that if we don’t fail, we’ll never learn. If we stay stuck on one idea, we’ll never be able to see what other opportunities are out there. This I learned from my peers—classmates who changed their business ideas each week, trying out new angles, finding new target markets. I was impressed to say the least and inspired by how much they were learning. I’m not ready to say that failing is fantastic and the anxiety coiled around my heart at the very thought of it is gone, but for now I’ll say it’s fine … and necessary.
And lastly, learning to listen is most important. To truly listen, not just to what interviewees are saying about their day-to-day lives, but to identify what the general market needs, what the market lacks, THAT is what will push forward a product. To go beyond mere words and to seek out feelings, motivations, aspirations that people have in common—that is what makes a product successful. Even listening to my own teammates, understanding their incentives, their stories, to form a more cohesive team, has opened my eyes and ears. I’m extremely grateful for my experience in this class and am looking forward to what I’ll learn next!