Some students engage with online
communities before they have designed
anything, describing new product
and service ideas to garner support
and interest. Predictably, the online
communities ask for proof: evidence
that the product exists, does what it’s
purported to do, and has been used
successfully by other people.
• Students will learn the market lies.
When they first start, students ask
people if they would buy hypothetical
products at hypothetical prices.
They are then disappointed to
realize that hypothetical purchasing
behavior rarely translates into
actual purchasing behavior.
• Students will learn that value
forgives craftsmanship. Students often
are reluctant to offer a product or
service until it’s perfect, failing to
realize that perfection comes through
operationalizing a business over many
years. In fact, when a market observes
and understands value in an offering,
it will often overlook cosmetic or even
functional flaws—as long as the value
proposition is realized.
• Students will learn they need to ask for
things. Some students find themselves in
situations where they have delivered (or
promised to deliver) a product or service
but forgotten to have a conversation
(and negotiation) about payment. This
may be the very first time in their entire
life that they have had to ask someone
to pay for something, and they may
now find themselves in situations
where they have to either renegotiate
the terms of a deal or assume a loss
on a particular transaction.
This project is presented in
a curriculum focused on social
entrepreneurship, and students initially
question the largely capitalist undertone
to the project. In fact, the money itself
is largely irrelevant (and on our grading
since we accept students from a variety of backgrounds at Austin Center for Design, we don’t assume they will all share a common set of skills; instead, we teach
our students some broad fundamentals
(like sketching, presenting, and
storytelling) during their first quarter.
We also try to teach them another
fundamental: entrepreneurial hustle—
the idea that you can actively cause
things to happen rather than passively
have things happen to you. This is both
a mindset as well as a series of methods.
Many students have never thought of
themselves as agents of change and
have never considered that they can
set events in motion based on their
actions. For all the talk of the millennial
generation being lazy or unmotivated,
I’ve found their temperament to be
more closely aligned with helpless
inaction—many don’t truly believe they
can do, achieve, or succeed in the chaos,
complexity, and ambiguity of the world
around them, and I observe, broadly,
a generational feeling of helplessness.
Entrepreneurial hustle is the opposite
of this feeling, and it can be taught. But
to learn it, students need to overcome
some pretty large hurdles related to
their own identities—they need to
adjust how they view themselves and
their abilities. They need to start to
understand that their actions add value
to the world.
To teach this entrepreneurial hustle,
we leverage something called the
$1,000 Project, which we borrowed
from one of AC4D’s advisors, Gary
Chou. Gary, who was general manager
at Union Square Ventures (a venture
capital firm out of New York), assigns
the project to a class he teaches
because it fosters self-sufficiency and
autonomy, and helps students learn
how to build a business. The project
is misleadingly simple: Students must
earn a $1,000 profit doing something
legal. Take a second and think about
what you would do to earn a grand in
a short amount of time. Would you
perform a service? Build a product?
Leverage a skill you already have?
Try to collaborate? Go it alone?
The primary learning outcome of
this project is to help the student learn
what value actually is, how it can be
created, and to understand that both
their ideas and skills can be valuable in
the right circumstances. The quickest
way to understand this is to engage the
market: to talk to and observe people,
introduce new ideas for products and
services, and see how people react to
those ideas. More broadly, the project is
about leaving the safe and predictable
(and supportive) confines of the school
to go out and talk to real people, who
have less predictable needs and who
view value—and their money—in less
predictable and kind ways.
While the most important learning
outcome of the project is a respectful
understanding of value, there are
more nuanced learning outcomes too.
Here are a few of the most important
objectives of the project, along with
some of the emotional and tactical
barriers in the way of students achieving
• Students will learn they need to make
their own constraints. This project is so
vague that students have to reframe
it in their own terms in order to be
successful. Some students view this as
a flaw in the assignment—as if the lack
of detail is an academic defect—and
attach negative affect to the curriculum
as a result.
• Students will learn the market is
skeptical: a “good idea” is not enough.
INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG 26 interactions march–april 2014
cOLUMn bODOni, banD-saWs, anD bEER
Austin Center for Design