Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Besting the Acton MBA’s

The air was electric with intentionality and seriousness.   Fifteen Acton Eagles had earned the right on Friday to prepare an Acton MBA case, and discuss it in the Acton MBA Socratic amphitheater.

Just before the launch, the Eagles learned the session was being taped and would be seen by the incoming MBA class, as a challenge to see who could have the most powerful Socratic Discussion. Game On!

Mason’s opening was crisp and on point.  Claire’s counter equally powerful.  Soon each Eagle was thoughtfully listening, responding, disagreeing or adding evidence.

The deep lessons from the Acton sims:  Robo-rush (bootstrapping); Lemonade stand (customer needs); Cha-Ching (sales funnels); Pricepoint (pricing); Fistful of Dollars (working capital and cash flow) and Galactic Zappers (assembly lines) could be heard in every comment.  So could the impact of the Acton MBA notes our Eagles had read and the entrepreneurship outings in the real world.

“My lemonade stand has a low break even and a rapid payout.”

“Should we price low or high?”

“What other substitutes would satisfy the same customer need?”

“Should we use an artisan production process or an assembly line or the Toyota cell method?”

“How do we defend against competition?”

Any class of Harvard or Acton MBA’s would have been wowed.

But the most impressive comments were those at the end of the day:

“When can we do that again?”

“That was the best adventure so far.  We should earn the right to learn like that again.”

“Can we create a makeshift Socratic amphitheater at Acton Academy?”

“We need to work harder on our own intentionality and Socratic process.  Can we start preparing cases for Civilization.”

“I’ve never had an hour and a half fly by so fast.”

“That was so much FUN!”

Stop and ponder this for a while.  Middle schoolers so excited about thinking and learning that they were begging for more work to do.

It just doesn’t get much better than that.


“Coffecake is for Closers”

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“Coffecake is for closers!”*

Why are these Eagles smiling?

First, each qualified for this week’s adventure by completing a difficult weekly Challenge Envelope; only four Eagles out of twenty four made the cut.

Secondly, each earned a treat by having the courage to peddle their Bestselling books, approaching. pitching and closing complete strangers at the local mall.**

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Reading, writing and mathematics, valuable skills in today’s world.  The ability to create, communicate, critically think and sell – priceless!

* Extra credit if you can identify the movie that inspired this quote.

** Don’t worry, Guides were keeping a watchful eye.

Profound Happenings

Progress is messy. Noisy. Full of angst.

Often you wonder if lessons about pricing; rapid prototyping; and haggling are getting through. Then you have a day of profound happenings.

Today’s Friday Adventure requires finding the most efficient and effective production process for making sandwiches for the homeless; applying lessons learned  from MBA level challenges in Pampered Pooches and Galactic Zappers.

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Those who have earned the adventure are split into two teams and armed with $30 for supplies: one team assigned to Costco; the other to Whole Foods.

The goal: Build as many “excellent sandwiches” as possible, at the lowest possible cost per sandwich.

Immediately a question: “Can we haggle to reduce the cost?”  Eagles find a way to use last week’s hard earned skill again.  A great start.

A list of ingredients.  Estimates of amounts needed for each ingredient and the expected cost per sandwich. We are ready.

Overheard on the way to Whole Foods:”At Acton we work hard all week on an impossible set of tasks, to earn the right to do something even harder where we learn even more.  But that’s OK, because  it’s so fun you can’t wait to get started.”

A profound lesson about motivation.

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Eagles split into teams in the stores.  Every minute counts because labor costs are $1 per hour, per person.  One team hasn’t planned as well and has to start over. Precious time is wasted.

We return to the studio.  The first task is for one Eagle to make sandwiches by hand.   Five sandwiches take a little over seven minutes, requiring 2.5 cents per sandwich in labor.

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Next Eagles are assigned a role in an assembly line, still paid by the hour.  Five sandwiches take one minute and forty seconds.  A much faster cycle time, but with six on a team, a cost of 3.3 cents per sandwich in labor.

Management theory is wrong.  An assembly line is not more efficient than artisan labor.

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Then one more test.  We pay Eagles by the sandwich instead of by the hour.  Workers are given the right to self organize.  Productivity doubles and the labor cost per sandwich plummets.

Lessons begin to tumble out:

“It’s better to work alone than in an assembly line, if a boss makes the assignments.”

“But if you pay people for completing a task and let each person do what they do best, working as a team is more efficient and more fun.” A profound truth; one of the bedrock lessons of entrepreneurship and a civil society.

One Eagle observes: “If you see a bottleneck, you can assign two people to relieve it.”

Another disagrees: “It’s cheaper to just add WIP in front of a station.”  (Adding Work-in-Process inventory is an insight most Harvard Business school graduates would have missed.)

A third Eagle adds: “If you put WIP in the middle of the table where everyone can use it, the process moves even faster.”

This is an  intuitive leap into cell manufacturing and the Toyota Method – never mentioned in the readings but discovered through trial and error by a twelve year old. It might have saved Detroit but eluded American auto executives for decades.

Much math is done on the board, in search of Unit Economics.  The Costco team is declared the winner, with lower cost ingredients and far higher output.  Then a voice from the crowd: “We have to inspect quality.”

Another agrees: “We can’t ask the homeless to eat anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves, just because they don’t have a choice.”

Half of the Costco sandwiches fail inspection; most Whole Foods sandwiches pass.  The Unit Economic results are reversed – the Whole Foods team has won.

One last insight: “Increasing volume doesn’t count if you can’t keep quality high too.”

Profound insights.  Lessons for a lifetime, deeply imbedded by authentic discovery. Plus forty homeless in Austin who won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

Could you run a real factory? Some of our Eagles could.

This week’s entrepreneurship focus is on operations – breaking down and sequencing a series of tasks in a cost effective way.

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Above, Eagles record their scores on the Pampered Pooch exercise.  Think it’s easy?

Then try your hand by clicking the link below :

Feeling especially good about your operational skills?  Then give Galactic Zappers a try at

Pay careful attention to the relationships between revenue, variable, fixed period costs, primary sunk investments and profits if you want to progress.

A few of our Eagles made it past Level 21, which would be considered a feat for a Harvard or Stanford MBA.

“Is that the best you can do?”

Entrepreneurship is one of our themes this session, part of the Quest to write and peddle a “Bestselling Book.”

Today many of our Eagles learned how to haggle – the art of buying something at a discount – as a Friday Adventure earned by delivering their “best work” on a week’s worth of difficult challenges.  Many were successful; some failed; but all learned to overcome the fear of asking for a discount.

So what prepared our Eagles to haggle?

First a series of readings and on-line experiences on Unit Economics, learning to set price and to calculate revenues, variable costs, contribution, fixed period expenses and primary sunk investments – and more importantly – break even; payout and total profits.

Then playing the Acton MBA PricePoint game, a difficult online simulation where Eagles battled each other as they learned to start, avoid and survive price wars, honing the skill of setting marginal prices in that slippery region between maximizing profits and encouraging competitors to enter.

Next, Eagles read Everyone Needs a Little RLC – a note that describes the “rat-like-cunning” that entrepreneurs develop in the marketplace: enjoying the art of selling; reading people; haggling; not paying cash; protecting your downside and collecting free options.

Finally, Eagles prepared for battle with role plays, asking: “Is that the best you can do?” after a price was quoted and sitting in silence, for as long as it takes, to receive a discount.  And then it was off to used bookstores; used sporting goods stores and other retail outlets and bazaars to work on haggling in the real world!

Does haggling work?  It does for Eagles.  Simply by politely asking and tolerating silence, many Eagles received discounts of 40%; 50% and in one case 71% off list price.  Some Eagles even received major discounts at a popular sandwich shop for lunch.

Today’s lesson?  That simply by having the courage to ask politely and take advantage of the motivating power of marginal economics, you can  reduce you average daily cost of living by 50% or more.

Not a bad lesson for young heroes, preparing to take the real world by storm.





Young Entrepreneurs: Our Hope for the Future

The Seventh Annual Acton Children’s Business Fair: more than one hundred and twenty five new businesses; nearly two hundred young entrepreneurs between ages six and fourteen; over sixteen hundred eager customers.

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Observing adults in America can leave you with a cynical bent.  But even the hardest of hearts would have melted today in the face of the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of our young entrepreneurs.

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Alexis de Tocqueville wrote movingly of civil society in America, those voluntary gatherings of free citizens intent on bettering the community.  Score one today for the power of civil society and hope for the future.

A Hero who disrupted the world of publishing

A real treat today.  Clint Greenleaf, an entrepreneur who disrupted the publishing industry by launching Greenleaf Publishing, shared his Hero Story.

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Here’s Clint’s tale: As a 22 year old accountant he was working sixteen hours a day, successful but not fulfilled.  Then Clint wrote a book about shining shoes; a simple, somewhat crude book, but to his surprise customers bought hundreds of copies each day.  This led to new editions.  Finally to launching a highly successful self-publishing company that changed the world.

The message to our Eagles?  You can do it.  It takes hard work and passion.  Start small. Fail early, cheaply and often.

A powerful message for young entrepreneurs, hard at work disrupting education at Acton Academy; hard at work this session, dedicated to writing and marketing a bestselling book.

Thirty minutes of one man’s generosity that may have launched several budding authors and publishers.  Not a bad morning’s work.

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Last session seems so far ago.  Creating a Learning Community; researching Motivation Heroes; conducting a crisp debate; constructing a Personal Learning Plan for the year.

At times it felt like an all out sprint; at other times frustratingly slow.  Some days the community hummed with intensity; other days Lord of the Flies seemed just around the corner.  And yet, the Eagles owned it; all of it.

Perhaps it’s fitting we saw the movie Gravity the last day of the session, because looking back, it seemed an out-of-this-world experience.

Now it’s time for Session Two.  The overarching question remains the same: “What motivates a Hero?”  As a civilization, it seems we know so little about motivation, despite dozens of theories.

This session we tackle Entrepreneurship and Writing a Bestselling Book.

What motivates an entrepreneur to create and innovate? How do you motivate a team?  Is it really money that drives the world or the love of using your gifts?

Middle schoolers writing a bestselling book?  In nine weeks? Is that really possible?

Most people would say “no.”  What a ridiculous idea. But they haven’t met our Eagles.