Claire’s Reflective Essay

Claire Volke

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.

Design Thinking

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.

Plattner
Figure 1. Plattner, H (2010)

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.

Spending time 2gether
Team One Minute

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).

Pivot or Persevere
Figure 2. (Ries, 2011)
Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 12.06.29 pm
Figure 3. Adapted from 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.

Tyton Fiverr.jpg
The TYTON Case

Lean Start-Up

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.

MY PA Lean Canvas
Figure 4. Based off Maurya (2010)
MY PA Value Proposition Canvas
Figure 5. Based off Osterwalder, et al. (2014)

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.

Business Model Canvas
Figure 6. Osterwalder, A. & Pigneur, Y. (2010)

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

Sticky Note Ideas 2
       Brainstorming Business Ideas

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.

Team One Minute Cropped.png
Team One Minute

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!

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Working In A Team

Before coming to Kingston University, I was working full-time at a small and brand new law firm in West Hollywood, CA. The business was run by three young attorneys who were pretty much just starting out in their careers. The law firm was, for most of the time while I worked there, owned by three partners, who in my opinion were always struggling to make the business work. I was often frustrated by their lack of coordination and communication which really hindered the growth of the company. My interest in entrepreneurship peaked while working at the law firm because I was involved in many aspects of the company, and I felt that if I were working for myself I would be able to really excel in a business.

Now as I have been working with Sanif, Divesh and Hector, I have gotten my chance to work first hand with partners as well, and I must admit now it is full of its ups and downs. I’m not sure if there is a magic number of partners that should run a business, but I do have more of an understanding for what type of people I would prefer to work with in the future. I can see how each person has their own qualities and traits to bring to the table. For example, Sanif is very good at motivating us as a group, organising and making sure things get done that need to get done. I think that I am a big contributor as far as work that needs to be done, and I stay focused and keep the team on task when we are working. Divesh is very helpful and is always happy to help out whenever or wherever something is needed. Hector attends all the meetings and likes to work on financials. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and have learned a lot from each other. I know who to go to for different things that need to be done in the company and they know when to come to me.

For my own business in the future, I always thought that I would not want business partners. However, I can definitely see the benefits there would be, but I would be extra careful before choosing one. Qualities that I would look for in a future business partner are:

  • Dependable – can depend on for meeting deadlines and finish the work they say they will do
  • Helpful – if something needs getting done they will jump right in
  • Available – by phone at least, regularly, and happy to have a schedule to include meetings to assess growth and state of the business
  • Good communication skills
  • Resilience – can overcome obstacles and not beaten by failure
  • In general pleasant to be around
  • Professional – can trust working with clients and customers, understands how to act in business environments and business relationships
  • Attitude – positive, not moody, never rude or disrespectful or acts over emotionally
  • Reputation – reflects positively on the company
  • Productive – does not waste time, and is productive while working

Designing and Manufacturing The Tyton Case

        The process of designing our product and finding a manufacturer to make it has been quite long and challenging. We are now working with a manufacturer in China who has agreed to make our product and we are expecting our first prototype in the mail within the month.
        Firstly, we had to design the product. Our team sat down and brainstormed countless ideas, talked about what we wanted and didn’t want for our phone case, and whether or not our ideas were going to work. Our case at first attached to the wall by magnet, then we transitioned into a case that could be held up by three different ways (magnet, suction cup, and a Velcro strap). We then decided we would make a case that is held up by four small suction cups. Divesh’s brother put together a 3D model of our design and we were able to get it 3D printed at Knight’s Park campus! Pretty neat.

 

        Finally, in the end we decided to simplify our case to one that utilizes one single heavy-duty suction cup, and we upgraded the materials to use a high-quality silicone material and a capacative TPU screen (touch-enabled) so that users can use the phone while in the case.

 

        Once we had drawn what we wanted and prepared the dimensions, we went on Fiverr.com to find someone to make the 3D design. At the same time we had gone online to Alibaba and started reaching out to phone case manufacturers to find someone reliable to get our product made. We reached out to 6 or 7 difference manufacturers and gave a brief introduction about ourselves and what we were looking for. Based on some of the responses, we narrowed down the companies we were willing to work with immediately based off the ease of communication. Unfortunately, having worked with website developers in India before with little English, we knew that we wanted someone with a good grasp of the language since we would intend to be working with them for a long time.
        Next, we discussed in more detail, requested timelines and cost estimates, as well as sent over drafts of our product. At the same time, we found a suitable candidate to make our 3D model online and it was complete within just a few days. We requested unlimited edits, which was very useful because we did have to make many adjustments to the model. We learned that there is a difference between stp and a STEP file… and finally got everything we needed to send over to the manufacturer. We chose the manufacturer that we felt most comfortable with, had good reviews, Gold star on Alibaba, had a quick response rate and sounded confident that he could get us our product on time. We sorted out the quotes and the way to proceed. Now we are waiting for our prototype to come in the mail!
First Fiverr 3d model
       Only one person on our team had ever dealt with manufacturers and getting a product made in China before, so at the end of the day our experience in this field was still pretty low.  What we have been advised on or learned along the way about choosing and working with manufacturers abroad include:
  1. Making sure the manufacturer accepts PayPal to protect ourselves against fraud
  2. Shipping is safest and fastest in general through DHL and UPS from China
  3. Make sure the manufacturer has a gold star review on Alibaba with over 5+ years of experience (15+ preferred)
  4. China takes really long vacations for the New Year…
Looking forward to getting our final prototype in time for Nationals on May 9th!

Uni Study Trip to Norway

Recently I went with my innovation course to Norway where we had a very informative trip visiting at the Universitetet i Agder in Grimstad.

UA Grimstad 1

UA Grimstad 2

Coping with the future

The course director of the University’s Master’s program in Innovation and Knowledge Development, Hans Christian Garmann Johnsen, was the leading researcher of Industry 4.0, and had recently published his book called “Coping With The Future”. His book discusses ways for businesses to run in an “unknown future”, one where manufacturing is changing and the way businesses are run in general with such rapid changes in technology, saying it is hard to predict what the future will look like for business, but suggests it is beneficial for companies to work for the long-term instead of focus on quick short-term payouts.

Hans Christian.jpg Hans Christian Garmann Johnsen, Universitetet i Agder, Grimstad

One of the other themes of the trip was around the “Circular economy” which was a term I had not yet been introduced to yet, but which basically iterates that one company’s waste can be another company’s resource. It’s a technique being used by the Nordic countries to eliminate corporate waste and ultimately help the environment. We attended a symposium one of the days where a “cluster” of businesses from Sweden, Norway and Denmark came together to meet and present about their companies. The goal of these clusters is to network and see how these companies can learn from each other or utilize excess resources from each other in an effort to reduce waste.

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Norway is fortunate enough to have oil, and has made a lot of their wealth by the production and sale of this resource. Norwegians have benefited from high salaries in this sector, and it makes up a large percentage of the positions offered in the country. Hoewever, the country is aware that this resource is definite and some point will run out, so Norway is faced with the position of figuring out how to transition their workforce into another sector that can be beneficial and highly profitable for the nation. It was very interesting to hear about this as Norway is a nation of just over 5 million people, that it almost acts like a business itself, planning out its strategy for generating revenue in the years to come.

Oil boats 2

Oil Boats
Oil boats in Kristiansand

As Norway is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world, I was inquisitive to find out why during this visit. What I discovered by talking to the other students and with Hans Christian is that their country is small and is run like a business. However this business isn’t one that can easily be copied as it has been made to work for Norwegians. It is not a model that can be simply copied and implemented anywhere in the world and will receive the same results. Norway has a long-term strategy for the country and its people, tops many lists as the richest country in the world, in part due to their oil, but the country itself is also responsible for a large chunk of the NY Stock Exchange portfolio, and that money invested gets pumped back into the system to provide support for the people.

Overall it was a very informative trip! For a country with a small population than my tiny American state, I was very impressed by how well they have developed their country, and continue to develop and plan ahead (and cope!) for the future.

 

The Importance of Feedback and Market Research

The trade fairs and judging interviews were one of our very useful outlets for getting to really explain and get to know our product even better. The questions asked by the judges were very probing and targeted, and gave us often very different opinions and perspectives on our product. We realised that our market research was probably a bit skewed since we were mostly talking to people at the gyms about whether or not they would use our product. However what we found out from the trade fairs is that people had a ton of other situations where they would instead be using our product, such as in their kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, offices and even in the car.

 

Tyton at KU Trade Fair.jpeg

 

As for our branding, we made it very tailored for the gym. We purchased a large banner with a man exercising at the gym on it, and our logo is a sketch of a person lifting a large dumbbell, and our sweatshirts and business cards had this logo on it. I was worried that we were going to have to have to switch our marketing strategy away from the gyms so that we didn’t exclude the other markets.

That’s where it was useful to meet with our mentors. Through Trigger KU and other events, we ended up deciding that our strategy fit well by targeting the gyms and the fitness market, so for now this is what we are sticking to. Ultimately we have adjusted our strategy to include entering new markets where we can target our product later on. As for our phone case, the name is printed on without the image of the man lifting weights in the case we want to market the product to other markets as well.

 

Tyton Logo wo Man.png

 

The main takeaways I discovered and want to remember for the future on this is the importance and extent of market research. We needed to do a LOT more market research than we did ahead of time, to gather as much feedback as possible before developing our brand and marketing strategy (though we did get a lot of feedback on the product itself). At the same time, many people offered many different opinions, and it was important for us to be able to decipher what feedback to take seriously and what feedback to discard.

Bright Ideas Competition

So both my idea for “On Tap” and my team’s “Tyton case” moved through to the Bright Ideas finals!

There was a lot of build up to this event, and a lot to memorize. I went first to pitch for “On Tap”. Unfortunately, I finally had one of those moments where my mind went completely blank… about 30 seconds into my pitch. I had to stop and ask if I could start over. This had never happened to me before! So, LESSON LEARNED – practice, practice, practice.

Claire presenting On Tap
Luckily I did better on the second try

I then had to overcome that hurdle to move on to pitching with my team, and not let the morning affect my afternoon’s performance! Luckily I had a much shorter script in the group, and the delivery went well. In fact, our whole team delivered a very nice performance, and smashed it in the Q&A. We were feeling pretty confident leaving the room.

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Hector explaining the finances in the pitch for Tyton case

The rest of the day we got to relax. We went on to the awards ceremony that evening and were happy to discover that we had been awarded runner up for the Tyton case in the product category! We were happy to accept this award, and it was a great boost of morale for us as a team. (And not to mention a recovery of 70% of our total spending thus far!)

Now we are back to the grind. It’s fun and games in these competitions but much more of a hassle finding a manufacturer to actually make our product!

Trade Fair at the KU Business School

     January 25, 2018

Tyton at KU Trade Fair

Tyton pulled it off and had everything ready that we could in time for the Trade Fair at the KU Business School. It was an interesting event, over 5 hours, where we explained our product to visitors and were judged in 4 different categories for a prize. In preparation for this event we ordered promotional materials (hoodies, the banner, business cards), and even teamed up with the David Lloyd’s in Kingston to provide a raffle for people who gave us their e-mail addresses. We are using these e-mail addresses to start our database and update potential clients about the launch of our product when we are ready!

The prototype we brought for the event was actually 3D printed using the printers at Knight’s Park campus (KU). We had a 3D model made and it was printed for about 12 pounds! (Definitely taking advantage of the resources provided to us by the university!)

We also used this event to discuss product pricing. We asked passersby what they would realistically pay for our product and recorded their responses. (Ultimately we understand that our product will be made differently and with more premium materials, so we don’t feel this data is quite accurate and we may need to adjust once our more developed prototype is made). We also got some feedback regarding our target audience and our channels for distribution which we are taking seriously and trying to research and refine at this point.

In the end we didn’t take home any prizes, but we were proud of ourselves and received some good feedback along the way!