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What's Your Most Valuable Asset? How a group of students turned $5 into $650 in just 2 hours

Imagine you're divided into groups and given an envelope with $5 as “seed funding”

You're told you can take as long as you want over the next five days to plan, but, once you open the envelope, you have two hours to generate as much money as possible.

You have from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday evening to complete the assignment and then on Monday everyone will meet and give a 3-minute presentation to the class.

You're encouraged to identify opportunities, challenge assumptions, leverage any limited resources you may have, and be creative.

Give yourself a moment to think about What you would do before you read on.....

When this challenge was originally set in 2008 at Standford University there were the usual, “Go to Las Vegas,” or “Buy a lottery ticket.” suggestions as well as the idea of using the $5 to purchase starting materials for a car wash or lemonade stand.

BUT Here's what the teams that made the most money did.

Realising that by focusing on the money they were actually stifling their creativity, they started from scratch and reframed the challenge. They decided to reinterpret the problem more broadly: What can we do to make money if we start with absolutely nothing?

So they began to use their talents and skills to identify problems other people would be willing to pay for them to solve.

Team A: identified a common problem in the university town—the frustratingly long lines at popular restaurants on Saturday night.

They decided to help those people who didn’t want to wait in line and book reservations at several restaurants.

As the time for their reservations approached, they sold each reservation for up to $20 to customers who were happy to avoid a long wait.

Team B: set up a stand in front of the student union where they offered to measure bicycle tire pressure for free. They would then charge $1 to have air added to those that needed to be filled.

Team B also realised that even though the task was easy for them to perform, and the cyclists could get their tires filled for free nearby - they were providing a convenient and valuable service.

Halfway through the two-hour period, the team stopped asking for a specific payment and requested donations (pay what you want) and found people were willing to pay more than when asked a fixed price.

At the end of the challenge, both of these teams brought in a few hundred dollars.

But the team that generated the greatest profit did something completely different.

Team C: These students determined that the most valuable asset they had wasn't the $5 or the two hours.

Instead, the most valuable resource was the 3-minute presentation time they had in front of a captivated Stanford class on Monday.

They sold their presentation slot for $650 and created a three-minute “commercial” for a company that wanted to recruit students.

The $5 challenge illustrated the importance of solving a customer problem and understanding what you think is your greatest asset, something that a lot of businesses fail to do.

It's the difference between tactics and strategy. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different concepts.

A strategy is a plan for achieving an objective while Tactics are the steps you take to implement your strategy.

Sometimes we become too fixated on a tactic ie: how to use the $5, how to write hooks that make our post go viral?

That we lose sight of the strategy - our objective,

  • how to make the most money

  • how to keep your audience engaged

  • how to build your authority on social media

  • how to gain your customer's trust

and our communication becomes hit-and-miss.

By setting our horizon on the strategy we become more creative with how we solve our customer's problems and what is our most valuable asset.

So how did your idea measure up to these students?

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