Zuck is learning Mandarin–are you?

I read this morning that Mark Zuckerberg spends an hour a day studying Mandarin. I’m very impressed.

What a great investment of his time!

I’ve been considering doing this for several years now. Imagine how fluency in this language and familiarity with the Chinese culture might impact Facebook’s value and reach in the coming years. It has the potential to help Facebook open some doors to government or business relationships that may be extremely important down the road. I think this is a brilliant move by Mark.

I got a university degree in Russian a million years ago, and studied Spanish for 3 years also, but my skills in both languages have really declined. Inspired by Google Translate for iPhone, which I use daily, and with access to such interesting and timely content as President Dmitry Medvedev’s video blog, I am trying to study Russian daily. My current plan is to get my Russian and Spanish groove back, and then find a way to learn Mandarin. I’m almost 20 years older than Zuck, so I’ll have a lot less time to get a return on investment from learning Mandarin, but I still really, really want to do this.

I just hope my entrepreneurial life settles down to the point where I’ll be able to make this investment of time. That basically means  after FamilyLink gets solidly profitable.

Being from Utah where many entrepreneurs served a church mission to a foreign country when they were young, learning another language and culture really well, I have seen how beneficial this has been in many careers. What is your experience as an entrepreneur? What languages do you know and how has that helped you succeed in your business?

“That was the coolest assignment I have ever done”

Alex Lawrence (CMO of FundingUniverse.com) teaches an internet marketing class at Weber State University. (Marketing 4200). It’s currently in its second semester. In addition to teaching himself, Alex brings guest lecturers in to address topics such as online analytics, social media, and search engine marketing. His guest lecturers include entrepreneurs and marketers like Cydni Tetro (Women Tech Council), Patrick Bennett (Showroom Logic), Jerry Ropelato (TopTenReviews), Chris Bennett (97th Floor) and Dave Bascom (SEO.com).

When I taught internet marketing at BYU, I used a similar approach, bringing in experts to share their real-world knowledge about internet marketing subjects. I’ll never forget some of the presentations. One that stands out occurred shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit. A “local entrepreneur wondered what he could do to help out all these victims. His wife encourage him to put his web design skills to work, so he did. In just a couple of marathon days, he built KatrinaHousing.org, which within a week had attracted listings for something like 114,000 available rooms in homes all across the country.” (See 2009 blog post on Citizen 20 percent time)

My assignment both semesters was to cover PPC, email marketing, and affiliate marketing in 3 hours. Of course, that is impossible. It would be easy to teach an entire 16-week course on each of those three topics. Last fall when I taught the class, I assigned a few chapters from Seth Godin’s classic book Permission Marketing, 21 pages about using Google Adwords, and then we focused class time on dividing into 10 teams of 3 students each, assigned each team a domain name, and gave out $100 visa debit cards so each team could run their own Google Adwords campaign.

Two weeks ago I tried to cover some key points about email marketing and affiliate marketing in class, including a demo of Commission Junction’s amazing tools, as well as Google pay-per-click marketing. But this semester I decided to have the students run their first Facebook ad campaign using the $100 visa debit cards we got from Zions Bank.

The 10-day class project is now completed. I am reading reports from the 19 students who ran their first targeted ad campaigns on Facebook. I have been extremely impressed with how creative the students were with their ad copy and use of images and how quickly they learned from their assignment. Each student team tested multiple ads, so they were all able to say “this worked better than that.” Many were surprised at what worked best.

Today one student emailed me his report. He also said, “that was the coolest assignment I have ever done.” More than half of the students have expressed something similar. There is nothing like hands-on learning.

We recently hired the top student in Alex’s marketing class from last fall, even though he has an hour commute every day from Farmington.  He proved himself in that single class project that he has the creative and analytical skills to be a major contributor at FamilyLink. We couldn’t be more excited to work with him.

What classes do you know of at universities or even at high schools where the best assignments are hands-on real-world assignments that really make a difference in the lives and careers of the students?

My favorite example is the experimental computer science course BJ Fogg and Dave McClure taught at Stanford in the fall of 2007 called “Create Engaging Web Applications Using Metrics and Learning on Facebook” (Course number CS 377W.)

BJ is a good friend, and if it wasn’t for him and my small investment in his startup company, I never would have attended the Facebook Platform launch back in May 2007.

During the semester 65 students created and launched 80+ Facebook apps, many of which went viral. Collectively these apps  got more than 10 million installs and made nearly $1 million for the students during the semester. At the semester end presentation, more than 500 people showed up to see what the students had learned that semester. (Click here to view the slide show prepared by Dave McClure and Rob Fan.)

Please share any hands-on educational experience that made a difference in your life or career.