The entrepreneurs of tomorrow…

…my first observation of this week was that school is so different from when I attended it… and my second was that in a group of 20 year 9 students there were some real shining stars, some who would only engage in their way in their time and a couple who were so far out of their comfort zone it was very obvious but even that wasn’t insurmountable…

Young Enterprise run various events in schools and I had the opportunity to take part in a Sell for Success working with a team as the Business Advisor in a Buckinghamshire school… and it was eye opening, fascinating, and challenging… and at times I did wonder who was advising who… But isn’t that always the case when you are with young people?

They were thrown into a scenario where they had developed a new games console and were selling the console and games to a supplier and would need finance to bank roll the business… they had to work out the specification which determined the cost, the bundles of products, their marketing strategy, and sale price and from all of that their business plan and how much to borrow from the bank, pitch to the supplier and the bank manager. All in just a mere 70 minutes.

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They more or less had joined the right functional groups for their particular interest and skills and organised themselves pretty well. To be honest the marketing and customer care were the biggest challenges as they didn’t grasp how visibility works for a brand and product. And unfortunately for team I was assigned to round one wasn’t as great a success as the other teams. What was interesting was that the team which one round one, based on projected sales and profit, were investing £200k in advertising whereas the our team was intending to spend less than £20k. Sound familiar?

A school project is no different to real life – having worked out the target market and given the demographics of the sales area they had to consider where their target market hung out, what combination of media was likely to get their attention and understand that keeping the business in front of people’s minds was paramount.

I missed a trick with the supplier negotiations, those who had attended the days before knew some great tips, some of which we were able to use for round two such as reduced pricing, better buy back rates and free games that could be sold on to the customer.

The teachers assisting were out of their comfort zone too as they hadn’t got any commercial experience but very quickly adapted and were able to help with students with their design and prompt them to consider other aspects to their marketing strategy.

As soon the students got the idea that they should start to consider all the things that annoy them about current products, and the things they would love to be able to do but can’t the ideas really took off… they started to see the brief from a completely different perspective. And as the product developed then so did the ideas for the shop and the customer service and slowly the ideas about marketing.

And like anything else enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm… people were feeding off each other’s ideas for the next thing and the next… and so the whole package emerged. They even surveyed their peers during the morning break about the features they were considering.

The supplier pushed back as did the bank manager on the first meeting and so the students refined even more and went back with a stronger plan and offering.

And then in round two the understanding about the marketing really hit home. They raised their game to a £111k spend, still cautious to spend more as clearly that would erode profit and potentially mean a greater bank loan.

They negotiated with the supplier on price point, bundles, using his name on the product as the manufacturer (personally I’d have haggled more on that one and how visible it would be) and so had an even stronger proposition for the bank manager. In round 1 there was a projected loss of £385k as the supplier felt they would be buying back a lot of unsold stock as people simply wouldn’t know about the brand but in round 2 using better negotiation skills, a better overall offering and much more marketing they turned it from the significant loss to a profit of over £500k. What a fantastic result!

For each of the groups but specifically the group I worked with the learnings were timing and organisation, team work and communication, using the demographics data effectively, properly utilising marketing to raise visibility, create and sustain brand awareness to the target market.

The customer service policies and ethos was second to none and it was interesting that when it came to ‘their money’ and ‘their product’ they were initially inclined to be far less lenient than other high street names as they were fully aware of the tricks people use to get money back, another product etc. but quickly considered a compromise.

Most of the high street retailers would do worse then spend time with these students to learn how they perceive customer service, what they would pay for and what they think is reasonable.

I’m hoping those learnings will help them for the rest of their education and when they too go into the world of work and business.

In essence they learnt in a few hours what people spend years if not decades learning in business and even then sometimes don’t grasp. Maybe the students didn’t always understand the context or the science behind some of the decisions they made and why things did or didn’t work but were always open to trying something different and going back to basics if necessary.

The concept of a minimum viable product was easy for them to grasp as they realised that it was too easy to get swamped in detail and not necessarily have the data to back things up. Their caution with money also admirable.

It was a reminder to me that people and businesses can get bogged down with detail, be blinkered to new ideas and concepts, can quickly move away from clear communication and team work, and that being too risk averse can stifle a business idea before its had a chance to take off. And very much that agile minds are the ones that will make a difference and succeed.

We may not always have the greatest things to say about their generation, and it’s true that spelling and grammar were interesting at times but it didn’t stop them from writing things on the board for everyone to see and asking for help to get it right… They were confident on working out their finances and understood that there would be interest to pay on any loans. They also were suggesting to me from round 1 that they would use the cash from the first large order to finance the next production batch. It may not always work that way but the understanding of that concept was brilliant.

I for one will be interested to see how these students get on in business, and sincerely hope that the business leaders they work with are as open minded as they are … for there is much to learn from them and well as much to show and teach them…

Thank you to the Year 9 students for being such great teachers…

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