Six weeks ago, I turned off the the Rally Software hose of work, and turned on a 24 hour by 7 day per week fire-hose called the Unreasonable Institute 2011. Now I am back to tell about the sabbatical that I introduced to this blog back in June.

 

Fellow on stage at The Unreasonable Climax - George Bernard Shaw looking on

I am NOT leaving Rally to start a social venture, though many people asked me that question over the last six weeks. Instead, I am investing with other Rally employees at creating a social enterprise inside of Rally.

Wow – that was fantastic experience with 26 entrepreneurs from 11 countries who all have the potential to change the lives of 1 million or more people.  There was so much energy at that place, I did not get recharged; I got energized. I was brought into a great family and I feel great about helping on so many levels, but I do not long for the lonely start-up days again. Given the success we have all had at Rally and the culture for give-back and entrepreneurship, I feel like I/we will have a huge impact on the world by intrapreneuring on the Rally Foundation.

What most people do not realize is that the Unreasonable Institute was the perfect place to incubate our new social venture, the Rally Foundation.  The Rally Foundation is our own social venture that we are developing to help social enterprises around the world use agility to amplify their impact. My sabbatical just put more fuel behind that fire and taking time to talk again with Suzanne DiBianca from the Salesforce Foundation and Brian Breckenridge from LinkedIn really stoked the fire with successful social enterprise case studies.

By immersing myself into the world of the Unreasonable Institute, I was able to gain empathy for these social entrepreneurs, engineers and funders. As such, I created an empathy map to help understand and share the pains and true needs of these organizations. With these early hunches articulated, our Foundation team is now running the customer development process to help us make this initial launch of the foundation very successful.

Now I was not just on a research mission to help our Foundation; I was there primarily to mentor the 2011 Fellows and to help them create successful social ventures. I was also a member of “the team” of the Unreasonable Institute as a recitation leader. No matter which these perspectives you look at, the sabbatical was a huge bonfire of success.

Mentoring fellows

As a mentor, I focused my attention on teaching the Steve Blank’s tools of customer development and the Burt Decker techniques of public speaking. On the first Tuesday of the Institute, Ben Carey and I taught a morning session focused on customer development and business model generation. In the afternoon, we did 1:1 sessions with fellows on their models. That satisfied most people’s needs, except for Anne at Afroes.  I had the good fortune to work with Anne for the next four weeks on the shape of her business model and canvas.  The business model canvas and the basic four steps of customer development allowed these fellows to tease apart their businesses and tell a story using very simple business language. As I wrote in the Unreasonable Blog, most of these business models are very complicated by multiple customer segments, value propositions and revenue/impact drivers. Before these models, it was very hard for these entrepreneurs to tell simple stories about their ventures.

 

The first pass at a business model canvas by one fellow

As the pressure built on the fellows toward their funding trip to San Francisco, I got more and more requests for presentation feedback and coaching.  I turned to my Decker training and grid to help these folks. With the help of another mentor, we focused the grid by locking in the three points on:

  1. 50,000 feet to tell the story of problem/solution
  2. 30,000 feet to tell the story of product/market fit
  3. 3 feet to tell the managerial economics story of why the venture works and scales

As some of the 20 Rallyers who attended community pitches and the Unreasonable Climax, they could see the Decker grids emerging. I used my Ipad to film and review pitches 1:1 with the fellows. It was a powerful and rapid feedback cycle. It was not the 9 video sessions I did at Decker training, but it was fast learning.

Running a recitation

As a member of the 2nd-year Unreasonable team with Daniel, Teju, Tyler, Ceasar, Megah and Lindsey, I was just a part-timer.  My title was Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR), and I ran a recitation and facilitate the final group retrospective. I did not live next door to the mansion or run the 24X7 full emersion like this team. I lived four miles away with my family, and friends. My role as a member of the team was to run one of the five weekly recitation groups – mine included Maria, Cynthia, Luis, Jamie and Myskin.

The recitation process was new this year and worked well, but not great. Given the fully packed schedule of the Institute, the opportunity to take meetings while in the US, and the fact that most of these entrepreneurs were still running ventures; it was hard to keep the rhythm of Saturday recitations from 3:30 to 6:30 PM. I tried to structure our group around the highly successful Entrepreneur’s Organizations forum groups. These peer-to-peer forums allow young leaders to get coaching and mentoring from their peers. Because we could not hold the meeting times, the forum structure did not hold either.  However, given the 24X7 live-in format of the Unreasonable Institute, there was no shortage of peer support. This group formed into a family very quickly. We saw birthday parties, engagement parties, family picnics, late-night club dancing and some very sad good-byes. I enjoyed our recitation. It got me a closer look at the real lives of these young social entrepreneurs.  As I am not much of an executer, I believe we could have done better and that other groups were more successful in this structure.

Researching problems for our Foundation

Though I stopped my flow of work, I did not stop my flow of non-profit work. As the Institute ran, I continued to run the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado and be an active member of the Rally Foundation team. I even had both these teams meet at the Unreasonable Mansion to help experience the place and people up close, including the lack of air conditioning. After Ben and I did the customer development class, I became convinced that our Foundation team needed to follow that model too. As part of my time at the Unreasonable Institute, our team did interviews with the Salesforce.com Foundation, Linked-In Foundation, Unicef, IDEO.org, Engineers without Borders and Engineering for Developing Communities as well as a number of the fellows. It was a target-rich environment and we sized the moment to kick-off our problem/solution discovery process.

I am very happy with the time I gave to the Unreasonable Institute this summer. I would encourage other Rally sabbatical takers to follow a similar approach and get into the context of their future while on sabbatical. I was able to give, learn and grow by jumping in with this very unique situation. As a result, I helped build the wave of momentum behind the launch of the Rally Foundation – our social enterprise.

Finally, I am wrote this on a plane headed toward Tofino BC, Canada for a real vacation.  My sabbatical was not what most people think of as a break. It was a fantastic opportunity afforded me by 7 fun years at Rally; but I did catch Coho salmon and surf Canada on a real vacation.   I hope everyone is having a great time at Agile 2011 with the illustrations and the great announcements this week on Kanban, reporting, idea management and portfolio management partners.

If you want more details on the Unreasonable Institute, the fellows or my blow-by-blow account, you can:

Ryan Martens is CTO/Founder of Rally Software, a recovering Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Unreasonable Institute and chief promoter of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, you can follow him on Twitter @RallyOn

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