Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Learning Business By (Trying To) Launch A Startup


In my last semester of business school, I decided to register for the pilot of an intensive leadership development course called, “Ross Leaders Academy.” This course integrated executive coaching, reflective learning, and a practicum in launching a business using the lean startup method. To learn the lean startup method, our team of 4 met every two weeks with a demanding pair of experienced coaches, who we were to treat as our company’s “Board of Directors.” Most of the time, it felt like we were swimming with sharks.


Communicating Precisely – In the RLA pilot class, we had to give presentations every two weeks to our lean startup “board of directors.” For the first presentation, I represented my team as our “CEO.” Not knowing what to expect, I stepped up to the front of the room to share the progress we had made. After no more than 90 seconds, our coaches interrupted me and asked me piercing questions. I did my best, but our coaches rightly pointed out that I couldn’t answer specific questions simply or without using meaningless jargon. I was certainly rattled by the experience of presenting to them, the business equivalent of a firing squad, but in the end I now have a better understanding about what “communicating precisely” really means.

“I don’t know anything” – Our first exercise as a team was to interview 20 customers in two weeks and use the data we gathered to refine a business model canvas. In the first two weeks, I thought I had done good interviews and the day before our presentation we met as a team to develop our week’s presentation. When trying to articulate a value proposition, I had a stark realization that I thought I understood our customers’ most plaguing problems, but I really didn’t. In business school, however, you’re treated like you know everything so eventually you start believing it, at least a little. Talking to real people about real problems helped to remind me how much I can learn from others and that I shouldn’t become infatuated with my own cleverness, whether it’s substantiated or merely perceived. 

Building Rapport Rapidly – When starting to interview potential customers, I knew that it would be difficult to get interviewees to trust me enough to tell me anything valuable in a 30 minute session. As a result, I experimented to build rapport quickly. As it turns out, it’s not so difficult. All I did was be honest, as simple questions, listen (and laugh) sincerely, and have accommodating body language, just like we learned in our first integrative learning session. If you are a friendly, respectful curious listener, people open right up.


To be honest, this experience of trying to launch a lean startup was very frustrating to me – in no small part because of our coaches’ high standards and brash demeanor. But I’m all the better for it because I now have a better idea of what excellence looks like. I now have a better idea of what it takes to persuade a hostile audience. I now respect the challenge and responsibility of truly solving someone else’s problem. And even though we “failed” to launch a company, I now feel more confident in my ability to do something as difficult as creating a new business.

It certainly wasn’t pleasant to swim with sharks, so to speak, but I’m now much better for it.

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