September seems a long time ago……
WHY AM I HEAR?
As a student taking a Masters in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, the Design Thinking for Start-Up’s module complemented our other modules which were more focused on innovation and entrepreneurship – how to raise funding for your big idea and how to commercialise. DTSU really digs into the product design and start-up process and, while drawing on theory, requires commitment, energy and belief and the ability to show this – all characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. It takes people out of their comfort zone’s as it teaches non-traditional business rules and theory and you can see that not everyone feels comfortable doing this, especially those from outside MACE. It also helps you to re-adjust your mind-set as to what can be achieved and how to achieve it, to be less rational and analytical and more intuitive and inspired. That is why I signed up for a Masters, so for me, it ticks a lot of boxes .
I really enjoyed the over-lap with the MACE students who came from a variety of international and creative back-grounds and had some life experience. It reminded me that creativity doesn’t just come from within but is also stimulated by working with and learning from others.
HEAD-SCRATCHING BUT I THINK I UNDERSTAND THE JOURNEY
Our induction week introduced us to a combination of theory and working practices. I was inspired by learning how IDEO work and the process for creating a new product. Voices are heard, creativity is supported, yet the process is managed with time-lines and delivery expectations or, as their CEO said, the Management of Chaos.(ideo.com, 2016). It also underlines that vision and concept, product development, marketing and sales are all connected and part of a process for an early-stage venture. All lessons that we were going to appreciate more as we created our team start-up projects.
As the course progressed, I also got to understand the importance of basing decisions on a first-hand understanding of customers. In his book, The Lean Start-Up, Eric Ries, explains that ‘the fundamental activity of a start-up is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond and then learn whether to pivot or persevere’ The Build/Measure/Learn feedback loop and within this I got to understand the concept of a Minimum Viable Product and it’s importance with start-up thinking. On reflection, I can see that my mind-set on how to address innovation was changing – its not always necessary to wait until you have the perfect product before you release.
We were given the idea of prototyping a shoe that would meet the needs of users having identified a gap in the market. This combined qualitative research, prototyping and presentation skills as we needed to present our ideas in class.We knew that people buy footwear for a variety of reasons ; fashion, colour, durability, brand, price but we also learnt that many people especially those coming from abroad, buy to keep their feet warm. It looks good but feels good and out of this came the TNL Heated -a prototype that could self-heat, was powered by battery and operated by user-friendly SMART technology, was made of sustainable materials and incorporated the renowned TNL branding. This re-inforced to me the importance of getting out of the class-room, out of the office to meet your customers or genchi gembutsu – Go and See for Yourself which is central to the acclaimed Toyota Production System.
I got to understand better how as consumers our buying habits have changed and that on-line research – price comparison sites, customer reviews, expert guides, how-to videos, and recommendations from friends – is a key step in the product buying cycle. Marketeers have labelled this the Zero Moment of Truth (Trying to Understand and Influence the Customer Journey) and its the period when the buying decision is likely to be made. We need to put as much information out there to try to gain traction with potential customers and influence these Moments and the best way to do this is to be pro-active and transparent. This is a key understanding if you are going to do anything around B2C marketing and is relevant to most start-up enterprises.
FINDING A TEAM – A BIT LIKE FINDING A PARTNER, you kind of know when it’s right and when it’s not……
It was time to find a team and after a couple of false starts (My Journey to find a team), Innovatio was formed – me (commercial/marketing, Nicolas (finance/marketing), Nika (music/creative) and Kirsty (design). Different back-grounds, different experience, different nationalities. The team is the most important part of a start-up highlighted in the book, Creativity Inc. and discussing how Pixar fosters creative collectivity ‘Give a good idea to a bad team and it will go to waste, give an average idea to a good team and it will become great’ (Catmull, 2014) .When I look back at the Innovatio team dynamics, I think it’s fair to say that when it clicked it worked well, when it didn’t we seemed to go off on different paths working as individuals to our own time-scales. Theory states that teams that enjoy each other show increased motivation and satisfaction (Scott et al., 1970) and we certainly proved that theory. But creating a team dynamic is a process, right, and by concentrating on what we were all good at within a group structure, we overcame all the speedbumps that seemed to appear in the road on our journey.
The speedbumps in the road included realising that our initial product – a multi-function bottle with separate compartments for shampoo, conditioner, sun-cream and all those other liquids you take when you travel – was too expensive to manufacture. We had learnt that Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Product Designers often have an emotional attachment to their ‘baby’, the product that they helped created, nurtured and financed. this can blind you to the reality. Pivot or Persevere (Ries, 2011) We killed the baby, pivoted and moved on with a new vision and prototype, Runeasy, the silicon wallet that secured your valuables when you ran.
Speedbump#2 was Kirsty being taken ill just before our first Dragons Den presentation. That created some pressure as we juggled the format, style and content of our presentation with minutes to go and …..WE NAILED IT. Pressure can break up a team but it seemed to inspire us and on reflection our best moments were when we were challenged.
Speedbump#3. Actually this was more than a speedbump more like a wall in the road. Having spent huge amounts of time and money on developing silicon in a variety of colours, we realised that our product was proving difficult to manufacture and we were struggling with quality control. We learnt at our first trade fair that people were attracted to the texture, the colour schemes but it didn’t come across as being secure. Over £200 down already, way behind other teams, and with the team divided between Pivot or Persevere which actually became Speedbump#4. We moved forward with the same idea but different materials, an acceptance that we would need to out-source instead of in-house production and a hole in our accounts close to £500.
Yet, a team that seemed to have a lack of cohesion, an inability to agree to meet on a regular basis, an inevitable falling-out, a seemingly mis-placed assumption that ‘it would be all right on the night’ was able to over-come all of these challenges, sell close to £500 of product in a 2 week period and get to break-even, put together a well-structured business report and nail not one, not two but three presentations. By the time we got to the Dragons Den presentation we were totally chilled and ready to give it our best shot. AND WE DID. It didn’t change anyone’s lives, didn’t open up the future and reminded me that people work to different rhythms, have different priorities and if you can accept that and find a way to accommodate, then you can still get the best out of everybody.
WHAT DID I LEARN AND WAS IT WORTH IT?
I took 7 months out of my career to dig deeper into creativity, innovation, new technology, big data, entrepreneurship – all themes that I wanted to understand better and find ways to apply either through a start-up situation or by taking back and applying in my career. Some of it I knew, some of it I had forgotten and some of it was inspiring and made me change me re-evaluate my business thinking. I also got the time to meet, listen and network outside of university with people that I wanted to connect to and this has proved to be the most productive time of my Masters. From wannabe to successful entrepreneurs, from brilliant creative talents to crazy innovators, from academics with a real sense and understanding of the world of business to angel investors and venture capitalists, many of whom I will stay in contact with. When you are working, you don’t have the time, sometimes you don’t have the energy, to do this. An example – out of this I got to meet the Mayor of London’s Entrepreneur team, from them I got to meet London Sport who are charged with making London the most physically active city in the world, from them I got introduced to House of Sport which is an incubator supporting the sport-tech and fit-tech sector with the idea that the private sector can help London Sport deliver its mission, and out of this I got to have, and continue to have discussions and meetings with the founders of start-up’s who are making things happen through technology, the capture of data and interpreting the key insights from that data to help inactive Londoners become active. Creative ideas which are built on solid commercial foundations. What I do know is that my input is based on my experience and skill-set developed in my career with the extra insight gained from my Masters of which MACE has been a key, and fun, and at times frustrating module.
Finally, I remember at one of our first lectures we were asked to think of home, what it means to us, how you would define it and how it means different things to different people from different age, socio-economic and nationality demographics. The IKEA Life at Home Report, lifeathome.ikea.com/home , explores a number of these themes but I could never work out how to put into words what it meant to me – family, your own space, something about coming home and being lifted. And then I read KU’s Big Read, Matt Haig’s book, The Humans (something else I can thank my Masters for and I found time to attend the author’s lecture), a book about family, aliens, relationships, depression and home and it was there….
‘ Home – is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home – she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place. ‘
-Talking Heads, ‘This Must Be The Place’
Read the book, listen to the download. That seems a good way to say good-bye to MACE 16.
- The Lean Start Up, (Ries, E, 2011)
- Ikea, Life at Home Report 3, (2016)
- Rework -change the way you work forever, (Hansson D & Friend J, 2010)
- The Art of Innovation, (Kelley T. 2016)
- Creativity Inc. (Catmull E., 2014)
- The Humans, (Haig M, 2016)
- The Innovators DNA, Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2009 Edition (Dyer J, Gregersen H & Christensen C,)