Throughout this masters program, in the design thinking for start-ups module precisely, it had purposefully directed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to comprehend new boundaries of my abilities as well as highlighting significant weakness which I must recuperate. With the academic year coming to an end, this opportunity emerges as a perfect moment to look back and reflect on the good, bad and the ugly of a roller-coaster of a year. According to Porter (2017) the capability to pause, think of the past and evaluate it allows leaders to undertake more mindful decisions in the future. Moreover, Di Stefano et al., (2014) suggests that reflections enhances on-job performance by 23%.
Primarily, to construct a beneficiary reflection on my experience over the course of the past eight months, I must be truthful and accept that my journey has not been as successful as I have desired it to be. Nevertheless, the ability to work with a dynamic team on our first ever start-up expedition has ultimately been a mind-opening and insightful occasion. These points of learning that have been picked up along the journey, mostly acquired through the practical side of the module, set basis to a new chapter of my life subsequent to the previous learning-curve.
My fundamental aim of this reflection is to understand the mistakes I encountered, critically evaluate how I can avoid them in the future and further develop my interpersonal competencies in the aim of establishing my own startup in the near future.
Figure 1: Reflecting on the past from the seaside with an open mind: The future is looking bright!
The Starting Point: What is Design Thinking?
When I have arrived at the first lecture of design thinking, it was nothing like what I have imagined it to be, keeping in mind that I was a late arrival to this course due to visa problems; most people gained a head start while I was completely lost. My presumptions were mainly guided by front-end business element, restricted solely on product design attributes. Let me tell you I was far off.
Design thinking is a tool that allows us ‘designers’ to view problems from another perspective through reframing it into a human-centred approach (Dam and Siang, 2019). This process is challenging business practice norms and the status quo that traditional firms follow from systematically establishing products purely from research and development labs (Ursrey, 2014).
Nowadays, design thinking is not just a buzz word in the corporate environment, rather a method of practice which is widely embraced due to the evidential benefits it generates, in other words; creating a product or a service that serves a realistic need not just based on presumptions, eventually creating value through customer validation (McKinsey & Company, 2016).
Figure 2:Value Proposition Canvas Illustration.
The value proposition canvas which was developed by Dr Alexander Osterwalder is a helpful tool that had been introduced to us through the bright ideas competition sprint. I personally found it extremely helpful as it aided the progression in route to understand lead-users by mainly understanding what customers are facing and creating a valid solution (McGill, 2018). Alongside creativity and rapid prototyping, this model works significantly well with design thinking explicitly leading us towards empathy.
Figure 3: Process of Design Thinking (Eppig, 2017).
Therefore, once we familiarising ourselves with the concept of design thinking, team Odyssey went on forward by adopting taught material into practical use. This is how we did it:
- Empathize: We have attempted to understand the challenges faced by our classmates.
- Define: Charging electronic devices is what we wanted to solve.
- Ideate: We had an active meeting, where all members were standing up with sticky notes and marker to infiltrate innovative ideas.
- Prototype: we then rapidly went to build a three-dimensional object from cardboard which was a derivative of our potential product.
- Test: we took it out to trade fairs for people to observe, touch and offer feedback.
Figure 4: First Prototype – photo credits to Ghalia.
‘No market need’ is regarded as the prime rational to failure of start-ups (CB Insights, 2018). As I set sights to inaugurate an innovative-led start-up following my graduation, the skills attained through the teachings of design thinking as well as the practical implication of it through the Young Enterprise program, has significantly built up my ability to understand empathy which will aid me in the future in initiating a sought for lucrative product or service, by asking the question ‘how might we’ these three word according to Tim Brown provisions sparking creative thinking (Berger, 2012).
However, I must originally discover ‘who’ am I attempting to serve; this was a noteworthy mistake which we have misunderstood; therefore, our final outcome did not match our projections. By precisely identifying my target market ahead of empathising, this will help me amend the mistake I fell for previously.
“We don’t want to push our ideas on to customers, we simply want to make what they want.” – Laura Ashley (Bern, 2018).
Team Building and Work Set Up:
Across the year, the start-up project had been the major highlight and the bulk of the workload which has been concentrated on creating a product and selling it to the public during the two trade fairs. As a latecomer, I had to scramble around the classroom looking for partners to form a team; finally, after persuading three colleagues, we were able to initiate a team and what a dynamic team it turned out to be!
Tadu: An experienced Individual that worked closely with start-ups in an incubator back in home-country. Ghalia: A designer by trait and our head of creativity and Edwin: An outspoken person, source of happiness and excitement in the group.
Figure 5: Busy Choosing an Idea after the Brain Storming Session – Photo credit to Tadu (Missing Ghalia).
About myself, I thrive generally when I lead my team to success especially when feeling empowered through my team’s trust and commitment. The ability to collaborate and work together in a diverse group had allowed us to reach greater extent through our willingness to give each other constructive feedback and organise the workflow accordingly to each person’s strengths (Rocheleau, 2012).
Nonetheless, as headlined by Harvard Business Review: Great Teams Are About Personalities, Not Just Skills (Windsbrough and Chamorro-Premuzic, 2017). Yet, with a dynamic team, conflict of interests arises, mainly through the contingency created by different agenda priorities (Brett and Goldberg, 2017).
For instance, the other three group members were all perfectionists, on the other side I value efficiency especially in a situation such as ours, where we had to complete several tasks in a short timeframe, with the objective of learning rather than competing. As Stillman (2015) argues; perfectionists are too worried about failure due to their psychology to achieve high standards, in which blocks the opportunity to learn. As a result, each stage of business development took slightly longer to complete than it should, which has irritated me.
Figure 6: My Dynamic Team Prepared and Ready for Action.
My intentions at this point of time, was that my colleagues were taking a laid-back approach which I have realised when they continuously conveyed excuses such as having work or living far from campus. At this moment, I decided to take the lead other than delegating tasks.
Contrasting personalities and working styles must be embraced rather than dismissed (Campbell, 2016). This guides the team to a creative approach to the process of problem-solving which is a practically effective tool in today’s vigorous business environment(Burrell, 2015). Reflecting on my leadership skills, I felt that I asserted my presence as an inspirational leader that has driven the group’s motivation through the rough stages of product development alongside effective communication skills which had been a crucial factor to keep members focused and productive.
However, a number of situations have proven significant limitation to my methodology. I found that in some circumstances I was impatient with my group and rather too stringent when my point of view was challenged; an example was when I have designed the first group logo, which was not a task delegated to me, however since no one did it I went for it, and the reaction of my team members has been unenthusiastic, while I was expecting positive reinforcing because I completed the task.
By reflecting on this incident, I must learn to appreciate value contributed by others who may be more competent at other business elements that I shortfall in. I should take an open-minded approach and embrace different people strengths through facilitating an optimal working climate for them to thrive.
Practical Experiences and Development of New Skills:
Throughout my undergraduate studies which I have completed in business management, we were never exposed to genuinely authentic practical activities in which I felt that something significant was missing. Practice does not just complement taught theoretical framework, it also promotes experiential learning in which develops confidence and independence (The Economist, 2007). The capability of swiftly moving from brainstorming, prototyping and into the market in a matter of few months has definitely been a challenging yet extremely rewarding experience.
Figure 7: At Eden Street Trade Fair – Photo credits to Claudia.
The ability to learn, explore, test and innovative under a protective environment through substantial support for both our tutors and Young Enterprise has enriched my capabilities is multiple aspects of business.
From Marketing: directing an advertisement campaign, social media management and logo design.
Operations: customer relation management, communicating with suppliers and manufacturers
to Selling: setting market price, direct customer insights evaluation and stock maintenance.
These are some of the skills I managed to develop by applying theoretical concepts into the real world. Luckily the mistakes that I have committed were restricted by the impact it generated; these errors such as having a very small sample group to set pricing has been a disastrous burden. Fortunately, we have not incurred any loses on this regards, rather a lesson learnt.
Using the Lean Start-up Methodology as a Complementary Tool Alongside Design Thinking:
In simple terms, the lean startup is a method that shortens the product development cycle through customer validation and altering of a business model before a final product is launched (Michelman, 2017). This process significantly rises products attractiveness through direct customer corroboration and reduces operational-expenses (Schonfeld, 2011).
I began reading the Lean Start-Up in the summer before joining this masters course. However, practically implementing it has added another dimension, as the author of the book says: “Reading is good, action is better”– Eric Reis (Khomichenko, 2017). First step has been to fill up a business model canvas, which significantly helped us map out critical factor of our business.
Figure 8: Business Model Canvas for Tasca.
Logistical issues have affected our production plans. Nevertheless, it was a strategic decision not to manufacture at an early stage. We applied the concept of building a minimal viable product, then allowing customers to direct us on how to improve our concept through both trade fair by using the SPIN framework, which facilitated us to further understand customers by asking:
situational (data collection of their lifestyle) ‘what is a typical weekend to you?’
problem (ask about the challenges they face) ‘how often does your battery run out?’
implication (build momentum to connect cost point with product features) ‘what if you had a seamless option that is stylish?’
and need/want pay-off(questioned focused on the solution) ‘for £120 we have all that you need, what do you think?’ questions to comprehend their needs and intentions to create the best possible product (Cooke, 2017).
This is a thoughtful procedure that had broadened our perception even on our own product. As a result, the outer-material changed from vegan-leather to crocodile leather and even the technology has been amended upon feedback captured from customers.
Figure 9: Our Minimal Viable Product (Tasca)
Lessons Learnt and Takeaways:
Throughout reflecting on the past eight months, I now can say that I learnt much more about myself by evaluating my strengths and weakness. Thus, several key takeaways have emerged in which sets the ball rolling for further augmentation to achieve my objectives.
Here are the major takeaways:
- Always thrive to working on things you are passionate about.
- Make the customer the core component of your business.
- When working in a group, respect people’s opinions and work with others that share same values as you.
- Sometimes, to let go is best for you and your business.
- Have achievable objectives under a constrained time-frame.
I have managed to developed myself into a more competent entrepreneur that is courageous and fearless, through understanding my personal capabilities, challenging them as well as the solid networks which I managed to attain through the experience. There onwards, I am edging closer to initiate my first start that will be in the field of Artificial Intelligence Consulting, as it is a mixture of two valuable components to me, which are technology and business-support.
This boost of confidence and lessons learnt were not have been possible without the people that were involved, so thank you for bringing the best of me!
Figure 10: Group photo – Credits to Claudia.
Berger, W. (2012). The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/09/the-secret-phrase-top-innovato [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].
Bernazzani, S. (2018). 10 Great Customer Service Quotes to Inspire You. [online] Blog.hubspot.com. Available at: https://blog.hubspot.com/service/customer-service-quotes [Accessed 21 Apr. 2019].
Brett, J. and Goldberg, S. (2017). How to Handle a Disagreement on Your Team. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/07/how-to-handle-a-disagreement-on-your-team [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
Burrell, Y. (2015). Respecting and Valuing Differences: Corporate Diversity Programs Must Be Inclusive to Be Successful. [online] PRSA. Available at: http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/10944/1105/Respecting_and_Valuing_Differences_Corporate_Diver#.XMIUyc9Ki8V [Accessed 24 Apr. 2019].
Campbell, S. (2016). Understanding the Other Person’s Perspective Will Radically Increase Your Success. [online] Entrepreneur. Available at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/275543 [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].
CB Insights (2018). The Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail. [online] CB Insights Research. Available at: https://www.cbinsights.com/research/startup-failure-reasons-top/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019].
Cooke, J. (2017). If You Aren’t SPIN Selling, It’s Time to Start (Part I). [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaynacooke/2017/05/18/if-you-arent-spin-selling-its-time-to-start-part-i/#135cd6bc5c69 [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].
Dam, R. and Siang, T. (2019). What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?. [online] The Interaction Design Foundation. Available at: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/what-is-design-thinking-and-why-is-it-so-popular [Accessed 19 Apr. 2019].
Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G. and Staat, B. (2014). Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning. Harvard Business School NOM, 1(1), pp.1 and 2.
Eppig, M. (2017). How to Frame Your Design Challenge. [online] Tools for Social Innovators. Available at: https://toolsforsocialinnovators.com/2018/11/27/stage-2-of-design-thinking-define/ [Accessed 21 Apr. 2019].
Khomichenko, V. (2019). The best quotes of “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses”. [online] Linkedin.com. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/best-quotes-lean-startup-how-todays-entrepreneurs-use-khomichenko [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].
McGill, A. (2016). The Business Model Canvas Series: The Empathy Map – Ashton McGill. [online] Ashton McGill. Available at: https://www.ashtonmcgill.com/business-model-canvas-series-introducing-empathy-map/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019].
McKinsey & Company (2016). The power of design thinking. [online] McKinsey & Company. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/the-power-of-design-thinking [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019].
Michelman, P. (2017). Why Eric Ries Likes Management. [online] strategy+business. Available at: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/00224?gko=04896 [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].
Porter, J. (2017). Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It). [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it [Accessed 19 Apr. 2019].
Rocheleau, J. (2012). Benefits of Teamwork in a Startup Environment. [online] Speckyboy Web Design Magazine. Available at: https://speckyboy.com/the-benefits-of-teamwork-in-a-startup-environment/ [Accessed 21 Apr. 2019].
Schonfeld, E. (2011). Lean Startup Thinker Eric Ries: “Don’t Be In A Rush To Get Big, Be In A Rush To Have A Great Product” – TechCrunch. [online] TechCrunch. Available at: https://consent.yahoo.com/collectConsent?brandType=nonEu&.done=https%3A%2F%2Ftechcrunch.com%2F2011%2F08%2F14%2Flean-startup-eric-ries-tctv%2F%3Fguccounter%3D1&sessionId=3_cc-session_c6e2f7bf-39b0-4b30-946e-543552b7b1fd&lang=&inline=false [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
Stillman, J. (2015). Are You the Good or the Bad Kind of Perfectionist?. [online] Inc.com. Available at: https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/are-you-the-good-or-the-bad-kind-of-perfectionist.html [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
The Economist (2007). New graduation skills. [online] The Economist. Available at: https://www.economist.com/briefing/2007/05/10/new-graduation-skills [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
Ursrey, L. (2014). Why Design Thinking Should Be At The Core Of Your Business Strategy Development. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lawtonursrey/2014/06/04/14-design-thinking-esque-tips-some-approaches-to-problem-solving-work-better-than-others/#3d4f22bf1627 [Accessed 18 Apr. 2019].
Windsbrough, D. and Chamorro-Premuzi, T. (2017). Great Teams Are About Personalities, Not Just Skills. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/01/great-teams-are-about-personalities-not-just-skills [Accessed 21 Apr. 2019].