How to Catch a Mouse: Venture Design with Alex Cowan


Little known fact: despite what cartoons and general lore might have you think, mice actually prefer peanut butter to cheese.

They say that the devil is in the details, but as Alex Cowan’s recent Venture Design workshop proved, the best insights can often be found there as well. The 5x entrepreneur who now spends his time advising and working as an adjunct faculty member at Darden, among other things, spent a morning with the cohort last week walking them through the principles behind his venture design philosophy. 

The workshop gave Cowan the opportunity to probe deeper into the details and assumptions inherent in many of the cohort’s business ideas, drawing out the user process and taking the time to dive into the why behind each step.  His many years of experience and expertise have affirmed that putting a business through its paces in this way can help entrepreneurs from all genres and industries catch important details they might otherwise miss.  These nearly-overlooked small details, in many cases, can ultimately lead to huge paradigm shifts for budding businesses. 

But perhaps the biggest potential advantage is the cultivation of empathy, even in the unlikeliest of areas.  To prove how empathy can be a truly powerful tool, Cowan shared an example that veered far from the startup sphere – catching mice in an old house.  When traditional techniques proved ineffective at capturing these cunning creatures, Cowan actually asked himself the very questions he asks about the potential customer base of new ventures, and he was able to “scurry” a mile in his “target market’s” shoes, discovering, among other things, that peanut butter is actually the preferred nibble of choice for these rodents.

Through utilizing his own principles and adapting his methods accordingly, Cowan was able to solve a mouse problem through unexpected and insightful means.  With the help of his workshop, and armed with empathy, the i.Lab’s ventures are even closer to finding their own surprising means for solving customer problems and taming devilish details, both big and small.