Design Thinking For Startups
Word Count: 2,168
27 April 2018
As the academic year comes to an end and we conclude our course in Design Thinking, there is no better time to reflect on the whirlwind that was our start-up module. Having spent the last seven months working with Team One Minute to create the Tyton case, we have been through many ups and downs, but have learned so much through the process and from each other. Before I move on from this course and the University, I want to take the time to reflect on this experience and what I’ve learned from it, so that I can remember what we did and how I felt starting up a business for when I start my own in the near future.
Firstly, I want to recap what really is “Design Thinking”. Before starting this module, Design Thinking was a term I had never heard of. According to Dorst (2010), Design Thinking uses abduction techniques to create value. This essentially means that as a design thinker, we first find what value we want to add for a customer, before going through the process of finding both the “what” we will create, and the “how” to implement this idea (Dorst, 2010). This is a more creative technique when compared to the traditional way of analytical thinking that uses deduction and induction to make hypotheses about ideas (Dorst, 2010). According to Brown (2008), the Design Thinking process starts by asking a question that starts with, “How Might We”, to elicit creativity, acceptability of failure and the strength of a team. This process starts by observation (Brown, 2008), where design thinkers observe users in an environment to find an area where they can create value.
To explain this graph provided by Plattner (2010), I will explain an activity that we did in class to demonstrate Design Thinking. Our task was to roll around the University on a chair with wheels to simulate being a person who uses a wheelchair (empathize). We took notes along the way of the issues that we faced such as getting into the elevator, using the toilet, opening doors and getting in and out of the building (defining the problem). We then sat together as a group to come up with some solutions that we could create to resolve these problems (ideate). We then designed our solutions and presented them to the class (prototype) who then provided feedback (test). This was only a simulation, as we did not build a full prototype that we were able to test, but it was a good representation of how to come up with an idea through Design Thinking.
Starting Up A Business
At the beginning of the term our first task in starting up our business was to choose our team. The idea was to mix with the Creative Economies course, however four of us had been working together already and had good repertoire, and for practical reasons it would help to have the same timetable, therefore we made a team of all Innovation and Entrepreneurship students. In retrospect, we are a team with strong business acumen, but low creativity so we had to be resourceful when the time came to sketch and model our product.
Pivot or Persevere?
Our first idea was a phone app called My PA, which was the Uber for personal assistants. However, when we pitched in the mock Dragon’s Den, we were met with a lot of turbulence from the judges and advisors who were concerned about the amount of legal issues we were likely to face. We had decided at the start that we wanted to ‘go big or go home’ in our company since there were four of us, but in retrospect most of us didn’t have start-up experience and it was a very ambitious idea. Therefore I’m glad that we changed course and decided to develop a product instead. Therefore in the lean startup fashion, we quickly made up our minds, minimized our losses and were able to pivot (Ries, 2011).
Our team then came up with the idea for the Tyton case, a hands-free solution to hold and protect phones while at the gym, keeping the phones safe and people safe from accidents caused by phones left on the floor.
As a student start-up we have taken a lean start-up approach (Ries, 2011) in all aspects of the company, as we are not yet incurring any sales. Following the steps presented by Blank (2013), the first step in a lean start-up is to fill in the lean business model canvas, to then “get out of the building” or practice “customer development” and ask potential users for feedback on all aspects of the model, and lastly to practice “agile development”, which means we develop our minimum viable product (MVP) from the start based off the needs and wants from our potential customers’ feedback.
With the Tyton case, we followed through with each of these steps as part of in-class exercises and also out of class. As part of our customer development process, we spoke to many people in the gyms about whether or not they would use our product. We later got a lot of feedback at the trade fairs about many other places where people wanted to use our product that had nothing to do with the gym. This then caused us to adjust our branding by removing the icon of a man lifting weights from our case so that we could potentially expand outside of the gym market in the future. In retrospect, we should have done a lot more market research and more neutral research before coming up with our target market and branding.
Before pivoting to the Tyton case, we filled in the Lean Business Model Canvas (Maurya, 2010) and the Value Proposition canvas (Osterwalder, et al., 2014) to set up our business. The lean canvas was a more practical approach for our team as a start-up with no outside funding, and is much faster than filling out an entire business plan based off the original business model canvas.
Here is the original business model canvas by Osterwalder & Pigneur (2010), which was developed to show “the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers and captures value”. Maurya (2010) tweaked this model and created the lean canvas explaining that his version is more practical for start-ups by minimising time and financial waste.
Selling Our Product
As a team we were also exposed to selling strategies for the company. Attending trade fairs at the business school, Penrhyn Road atrium, and Kingston town centre, we were given the opportunity to put our product on display and introduce it to potential customers.
Before going to our first trade fair we discussed sales strategies and defined our first customers. We were instructed to identify the needs and wants of our customers, and to ask questions and listen by asking open, probing questions (Comi, 2017). Using Rackham’s (1988) SPIN framework, it is best to ask “situation questions” to understand the customer’s background, “problem questions” to discover their wants and needs, “implication questions” to follow-up on these wants/needs, and “Needs/wants-payoff questions” to understand what the customer will want to experience in return of using your product/service.
In class we did an exercise where we tried to sell to one another the latest iPhone for almost a thousand pounds, and what was our strategy to do so. Unsure of what technique I was using at the time, I used an approach that tapped into feelings to get the user to purchase the phone, by saying the phone connects a person to their family immediately. When we were sharing our product at the trade fairs, we went with the “solution selling” approach (Deeb, 2017), by targeting our potential customer’s “pain point” and showing how our case is the best solution for that problem.
Choosing A Business Idea
Working in a team of four, our first challenge was finding and deciding on our business idea. When I start my own business, I will choose an idea that I came up with on my own, or use a design thinking strategy in an area that I have a strong interest in to start my business. As I am not a big gym-goer myself, I sometimes find it hard to promote and work on a product that I don’t relate to the target market myself. I also don’t feel a strong purpose or self-fulfillment in creating our product, which sometimes curbs my desire to work on the business when motivation levels are low. Therefore in the future I should choose a business idea in an area that I am interested in and that gives me pleasure or a feeling of accomplishment for doing.
Working In A Team
I was pretty lucky with my group, for the most part we worked together very well and didn’t have many issues. We all have very different and distinct personalities, so it was very interesting to see how we all worked together. Sanif was a great leader who kept us motivated as a group and was dependable to take care of pressing things and delegate work when needed. He also networks very well and made lots of great contacts for us as a company. He is not afraid to ask hard questions either which really helped to move our business along. He was a great choice for becoming managing director, and I may look for someone with similar qualities if I choose to have a business partner in the future. Hector and Divesh were also helpful in their own ways. Hector likes working with numbers so he did a lot of work on our financial accounts, and Divesh did a lot of work getting our prototype made which was useful for when I lost motivation in that area he was there to pick it up.
My Strengths and Weaknesses
I understand a bit more about my working style by spending the past seven months in Team One Minute. I learned when to work independently and when working in a group is better for me or even necessary. Some of my weaknesses lie in understanding the financials and accounts, such as Profit & Loss and Balance Sheets, and my ability to stay motivated on a day-to-day basis on the same project. I also get annoyed quickly if I feel work is not being done well or efficiently. On the other hand, I am good at keeping the team focused, have good presentation skills, and have a lot of good, well thought out ideas. On both ends, I am a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes spend too much time on certain things so that I feel they are done well. So I have to be careful to choose wisely how I dedicate my working time.
Key Takeaways For The Future
Starting up a business through Young Enterprise was one of the most practical aspects of my Master’s degree at Kingston University, and a main reason I chose to study here. I learned so much over a short period of time, and these are skills that I will be able to utilize in my own ventures to come.
Starting with the first weekend at Kingston, I learned how quickly we can start-up a business. Using the business canvas templates, we went from ideation to start-up the very first weekend! Before coming to Kingston, I would not have been comfortable or even thought of competing in a pitching competition, and now I have had so much practice that I wouldn’t hesitate in the future. As team One Minute heads to the UK Nationals competition with Young Enterprise, we are getting more mentorship and practice than ever, and great contacts to keep for the future.
One skill I really developed over this year was in networking. This was always something that I struggled with, and now I find it much easier being involved in business and actually so interested in the networking conversations I am having it doesn’t even feel like I have to try. Having built a network at the university with other business students, professors, and other business professionals, I have experienced the many benefits of surrounding yourself with motivated and experienced businesspeople.
Once I return to the states, my plan is to utilise all the skills and experience I have gained to quickly use a lean start-up approach and start my own business. I will be sure to choose a field that I am passionate about so that I have the motivation to persevere when times get tough. I am more motivated than ever before to set off on my next venture, and I feel confident now that I will be successful in these endeavours!