As the design thinking module ended and my first ever experience with a start-up is coming to an end, it is a good time to sum up and reflect on this journey. I arrived to the business school as a dancer who did not have much experience in business. Back then, I would not imagine that design thinking would be so interesting for me. When I started seven months ago, I did not know what design thinking was. When thinking about business, I had my own dance school in mind. Since then my perspective changed a lot. Today I am a part of a start-up with a real business potential and in three weeks I will pitch the idea together with my team on the Young Enterprise National Start-up Competition. Let’s start from the beginning!
What is design thinking for start-ups?
Start-up is a ‘catalyst that transforms idea into product’ (Ries, 2011, p.75). In general, it is hard to find a meaningful idea for a product. To help with this process we used design thinking. According to Brown (2008), design thinking is a methodology that imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human-centred design. Design thinking is a process of finding a problem and applying an innovative solution to it, through development of a product, experience or service.
Figure 1. Design Thinking Process. Plattner, H. (2010)
First step of the design thinking process is empathy. According to Plattner (2010), to create meaningful innovations, we need to know our users and care about their lives. A group of people I care a lot about are dancers. At some point during the process, I realised that I was looking for an idea in every possible field, apart from the one that I feel the most comfortable with, dance! I knew the dance community, their behaviour and their needs really well because I lived it since I was 13. To define the problem, I started thinking about my trainings and the difficulties I encountered in my dance career. It might sound odd but I associate dance with pain; sore muscles, bruises and stiff joints become a norm when you train every day. I thought that there must be some knee pads and footwear for different type of dance but there is nothing to protect the spine and the shoulders. This was the moment when the idea of the shoulder pad was born. I immediately emailed my friends asking what they think about this? As a response I got a picture of bruises on the shoulders and the spine with a comment ‘please make it happen’. When I shared this idea with my team, we stepped into ideation process. We came up with many different designs of ‘shoulder pads’ that eventually led us to designing a t-shirt with padding on the shoulders, shoulder blades and the spine. ‘The prototype mode is the iterative generation of artefacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution.’ (Plattner, H. 2010, p.5). We started prototyping, first on the paper and after a first prototype with a foam padding. Then we tested Danzza with students from The London Contemporary Dance School and we got valuable feedback.
Figure 2. Initial testing with one of the students. Own photograph.
What is Lean start-up?
Lean start-up is a new product development approach to managing the business and unlike an old linear method of product development, it investigates the needs of the customers at the begging of the process (Ries,2011). Research shows that the most common reason start-ups fail is no market need (CBinsights, 2018).
Figure 3. The top 20 reasons start-up fail. CBinsights (2018).
Lean methodology aims to reduce those mistakes by using build- measure-learn approach. This feedback loop helps us to either validate or reject the idea early in the process, saving us from investing in something our customers do not need.
Figure 4. The Lean Start-up process – diagram. Ries, E. (2011)
After getting the feedback we get two possible options: pivot or preserve. We also faced the dilemma of pivot, when few weeks before our official product launch, we were not able to get materials. After careful deliberation we decided to produce a good quality prototype. I believe it was the right decision.
To understand how our business works, we filled a business module canvas. Business model canvas (…)’describes the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers and captures value’ (Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2010, p.14). It helps to define how business works, what key activities it has to undertake, how it generates revenue etc. Our business module canvas had its fair amount of alterations but here is the final one:
Figure 5. Business model canvas. Based on Osterwalder, A. &Pigneur, Y. (2010).
Additionally, to understand our product and market it better we filled Lean Canvas. Lean Canvas created by Ash Mauraya (2012) is an adaptation of an Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas and was created especially for start-ups. On the left side of the canvas the focus goes towards the product, we were asked to define the problem and solution. On the right side however, we focus on the market i.e. customers segments, unfair advantages and early adopters. This exercise helped us to build the right product first, rather than focusing on the key partners.
Figure 6. Lean Canvas. Based on Mauraya, A. (2012).
Once our idea was defined, we were ready for advertising campaign. In the advertisement we focused on showing how our product works and how it can improve dancers’ trainings. Knowing our customers very well we wanted to create something that dancers could enjoy and connect with. The main focus was to show the dynamics in the movement and music, producing the feeling that this product was created for dancers.
Video credit: Production: Team Danzza, Camera: Kijsuchon Niyomsataya,
Editor: Valentin Sampedro, Dancers: Kaja Jurkowska and Joao Andre Costa, Music: Pleiades & Vivien Tomasello.
Additionally, to promote our product we took part in trade fairs. We found out that, designing our own stand can be very challenging as we did not have the physical product. Therefore, we had to improvise. Our first trade fair stand was somehow disconnected from our branding. We realised at some point that customers were confused with what we were selling. We used mannequin to show our prototype and we placed the poster at the back, thinking that it would attract some potential clients. We were wrong as we were told many people totally missed it.
Figure 7. Trade Fair at the Kingston University.
We have learnt from our mistakes and we improved our stand for the second trade fair. We already had a better-quality prototype, business cards, stickers and the advert. We placed the poster at the front of a table to be more visible.
Figure 8. Trade Fair display in Kingston
We first pitched our idea as a team back in December. We were really stressed and we did not know what to expect. The relationship with our idea became very personal and getting feedback from different people was sometimes hard to take. During the second term, we pitched a few more times at different occasions, including Bright Ideas Competition where we got to the final. Every experience gave us more confidence. It is really interesting to see how different people think and what feedback they give. I have learnt that having a concept in my head and presenting it are two different things and I need to be very careful how I present it to the public. Questions we were asked gave us better understanding of what we need to improve and add to our pitch. All of those experiences paid off. At the final of Dragons Den, we pitched our idea and we won a place at the Young Enterprise National Start-up Competition. I have learnt how to structure a good pitch, how to project my voice better and to be more confident. At the beginning I was nervous to answer questions but quickly I realised that nobody knows our idea better and investors simply want to understand it in depth. I learnt that being transparent is the best way to build the trust and show that we have nothing to hide.
Figure 9. Dragons Den in December
Figure 10. Bright Ideas Competition
Figure 11. Final Dragons Den
When we first started the module and we were asked to create a team, I was anxious as I did not know my classmates very well. I was aware that picking a group in those circumstances was risky. On the other hand, I have a lot of experience in collaborative work and I fairly enjoy it, therefore I was excited. My strategy was simple, I thought hat I need people with different abilities to complement my skills. Nevertheless, I did not know how to create a good team. According to Google (cited in Duhigg, 2016) success of the group lies in establishing group norms and finding psychological safety within that group. ‘The right norms, in other words, could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.’ (Duhigg,2016). Even though all four members of my team were intelligent, our group has not established rules from the beginning, as a result we faced some struggles. From this experience, I learnt that setting out clear goals and rules from the beginning of the process would increase level of responsibility and individuals’ engagement. In result, improving efficiency, eliminating misunderstandings and disappointments between team members. On the other hand, establishing the rules enhances the team work but it does not assure that the team will be innovative. The aim of our start-up was to come up with an innovative product tailored to our customers. Innovation is ’the successful implementation of creative ideas.’ (Hennessey and Amabile, 2010, p.585). Creativity happens between people, I believe that achieving good level of psychological safety in our group would help define our ideas sooner. According to Hennessey and Amabile (2010) creativity is a generation of products or ideas that are both novel and appropriate and requires a nonconstrained, undemanding environment, [therefore] external demands have a negative impact on the group’s creativity. On the other hand, external demands ‘can positively influence a group processes such as cohesion, task focus, and clarity of team objectives, [thereby] have a positive impact on group innovation. In our case the theory was reflected in our practice. The pressure of time impacted us negatively when we were generating ideas for our product and we all, collectively and as a team, were looking in a wrong direction. However, there were times when the time pressure made us more productive and we were able to accomplish tasks on time. I think that the main problem in the group was lack of establishing the rules. As a start-up, we should have established how many hours each of us was obliged to work, we should have kept better documentation of the meetings and allocation of tasks. The way we worked was not as professional as it should have been. When it came to implementation of our idea, we also struggled. Firstly, because of complexity of our product and difficulties with suppliers. Secondly, because the objectives between team members were not clear. Our primarily goal was to manufacture the product, we knew the ‘what’. However, we did not establish the norms and basics that would help us defining ‘how’ to achieve it. Difficulties in sourcing materials became our barrier to successful implementation. Success of the group depend on many factors: firstly individual ‘special skills’ of team members, psychological safety, level of personal motivation and goals and values that team members believe in. Understanding those theories and experiencing them in practice gave me a valuable lesson for the future. I understood that clear goals and creating safe environment is essential for the success of the team but it is not a guarantee. Finding people who have the same values and motivations is equally important.
My strengths and weaknesses
This experience also gave me better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses. I discovered that I am not afraid to take over and lead the team, I learn quickly and I can easily adapt to new circumstances. Being a dancer requires perfectionism, however perfectionism is an enemy in a start-up environment. Now I am aware that everything cannot be done perfectly and sometimes we need to do things ‘quick and dirty’. I became more comfortable with presenting the work that is not fully finished. Additionally, I realised the importance of persistence. I am an impatient person and often I get put off. Through this experience I realised that I should be more patient not only towards others but also to myself.
Points to remember for the future
I not sure yet how my career will follow but I am sure that wide range of experiences that I faced will help me in the future career. Being a part of a start-up and gave me a practical knowledge. I learnt not only about business but also about myself. I completely changed my perspective on how business works. I became more confident in my presentation skills and my ideas, I built the courage to express my opinions and listen to others. I understood what creativity and innovation are and what it takes to successfully implement ideas. All of those skills will help me building my career, whether its dance project, creating my own business or working in a team.
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