The importance of experiential learning
It was a blisteringly cold Chicago Sunday evening. I was confined to my couch due to the severity of the snow and ice that covered the streets of my usually walkable Lincoln Park neighborhood. As the intensity of my stomach’s roars heightened to a point in which I could no longer ignore it, I whipped open my laptop and began considering what and how I should order food.
I have never been more overwhelmed.
First, I had to choose the method in which I would order.
I decided on Grubhub.
Second, I had to choose a cuisine.
I couldn’t even make it out of the “A” section without feeling like I needed to pour myself a beer. But, I persisted. I went with Asian.
Third, I had to choose a type of Asian food.
I was starting to get in the mood for sushi, so I went with Japanese.
Fourth, I had to choose a specific restaurant.
Fifth, I had to choose 2 or 3 specific dishes, from over 40 selections!
Sixth, I had to choose a side.
Seventh, I had to choose dessert (Ok, maybe I didn’t HAVE to choose dessert, but it was a Sunday)!
It took me 37 minutes to submit my order.
I am fully aware that this is a first-world, “millennial”, and current problem, that has not been around for too long. But, my mind tends to support processes of simplicity, optimality, and efficiency, rather than ones that lean more toward an abundance of consumer choices.
My wheels started turning.
Business School Blues
I was sitting in a 3-hour lecture, Operations Management, which was one of those classes where to say the least, I took a few too many bathroom and water breaks.
As my eyelids neared shutting for good, I was saved from embarrassment by the topic of queue times. I know, a real barn burner.
But my professor spoke about reducing wait times, focusing on optimal experiences for consumers who were faced with a decision or wait time in any particular process. It did not directly relate to the problem I was agonizing over, but it got the gears grinding again.
Business School is a fantastic experience. The people I met, the network I created, and the caliber of case studies and general content I was exposed to are all unmatched.
However, I am an experiential learner. Information overload, and this regurgitation of information in the form of exams can only do so much for me and how I make the most of what I am being taught. With that, I knew I had to do more.
Borrowing the Idea
As I sat in that class, having heard essentially all I needed to hear in regard to minimizing wait times (sorry, teach), I thought about all of the anecdotes I had heard in regard to businesses and their creation stories.
I am a big listener to podcasts like How I Built This or This is Success which document founder stories, how they chose their niche and how they chose their product or service. I love these biographical accounts. Each one provides a different nugget of information that can be transferred over to another part of life.
I remembered a story another professor of mine told about a company that at first glance, our entire class thought was incredibly foolish.
It was an online ecommerce site that had 1 product offering per day. Visitors would get to the site and be greeted by a set of golf clubs one day, a poker set the next, an assortment of beauty products the next.
Each day, one product was offered, and the only decision the user had to make was buy or don’t buy, that was it.
This seemingly simple and silly idea sold to Ebay for hundreds of millions.
How can this be applied to food delivery I thought?
Well, if I don’t want to go through the process of making so many choices when it comes to my meal, the simplest decision I could be forced to make is meal or no meal. This was it.
I decided to offer one meal option per evening. I detailed all of the ingredients, the nutrition facts, how to best enjoy it, and I delivered it to friends, or my mates as my English buddies would call them, in the Chicago area.
Thus, Feed My Mates was born.
Real World, Real Problems
One of the primary reasons I was able to learn so much creating a real company as opposed to studying about company examples in school, was the real-life interruptions that came about in starting a business.
In school, the case studies, projects, and presentations were controlled. There was a story, there was a problem, and there was a task. It was not easy to ever figure out or complete by any means, but the process was simple in that there were no curveballs or distractions.
In starting a business, this was not the case.
Feed My Mates was a very methodical, planned out service. It was a minimum viable product that was carefully concocted so as to maximize efficiency and ease of process both for the consumer, and for myself and my team.
Meals were displayed the night before, orders were accepted until 12pm the next day, and then it was off to the grocery store and into the kitchen to fulfill all of the hungry customer’s needs!
Early on, I had about 22 orders of a brown rice, chicken and vegetable dish. All of the meals were very simple, very healthy, to attract a more health conscious customer, and also to keep costs down by ordering in bulk and using cheap ingredients.
I took a cab to the grocery store and began shopping. Without realizing, I was already down to 1% battery when I got a phone call from the team. They explained that I needed to get…
My phone died.
There I was, phoneless, transportationless, informationless. My grandpa used to tell me that he walked a mile to school every single day with a potato in his hands to keep him warm.
Well grandpa, I’m proud to say that I too walked a mile with food in my hands, except this time it was 20 pounds of chicken, rice, and vegetables, rather than your silly little potato!
When I got back, I learned that we had 3 more orders come in past the deadline. Back to the grocery store I went! Then in a crunch for time, I had to bang out 25 meals in 3 hours and deliver them around the area!
A level of pressure and intensity was added to the situation that you do not normally get when working on school assignments.
Real Customers, Real Insights
Another advantage of starting a business was real life feedback. In school, the professor is often the only person evaluating you. It is based off of her or his standards, and especially in exam-based classes, you do not get an opportunity to take the feedback and put it to practice the next time.
With Feed My Mates, we were all about the customers. Our surveys were the most important item we had in gauging interest, gathering opinions, and receiving suggestions for how to improve directly from the people to whom it mattered most.
How was the quality of your food?
How was the ordering process?
How was the timing of your delivery?
Each criticism would be warmly welcomed and implemented into our next batch of orders. This client focus was essential and is not something you often get in a business school setting.
Real Product and Service, Real Application
This is different for everybody, but in school, whenever we had a case study about the financial institutions industry, or steel manufacturing, or nanotechnology, it was difficult for me to fully wrap my head around the example because I really didn’t understand the basic nature of the business. It was much easier for me to apply principles we were learning to examples about sports, restaurants, or other areas that further piqued my interest.
But, now that I had a business, everything started to click. Every lesson being taught could somehow be transferred over to what we were doing with Feed My Mates. New accounting principles, evaluating expansion opportunities, even operational efficiency came into play.
I was fully awake, and it was all because of starting a business!
I had the luxury of tampering with the best of both worlds, school and practical application. I am here to say that you do not need both.
You are the startup founder of your own journey.
If school is for you, then be intellectually curious, soak up all that these classes have to offer, and become an expert in the information you learn.
But if experience is for you, real world problem solving, real world interactions, and real world helping other people, then create something that you can call your own. Think about it, work at it, change it a dozen times, try everything, and get going.
“You do not need to be great to get started, but you need to get started to be great.” — Les Brown
I appreciate and love my business school experience. But, there is nothing like identifying a problem, working on a solution, and owning the entire process.