The time has flown by and the Design Thinking for Start-ups classes are finished. Moreover, in the last seven months, I went through the full circle of business existence: from finding the right people who share my values to form a company, to production and then sales. It has been quite a journey during which I have acquired more knowledge than expected. I have discovered as well as learnt many things from which I will directly benefit when operating my own business in the future.
Finding the right people is key. I heard this so many times throughout the past year. Working with people that share the same values can act as a cornerstone for a mutual vision and increase trust between each other. One of the university organised talks that I attended was by Mel Ewell, a former CEO of Amey, a successful company with a multi-billion pounds turnover a year. He had one piece of advice on how to be a leader: be human (Ewell, 2016). However, I would argue that this advice is just as much valid when creating a team. Nonetheless, being human means having values and principles. In turn, this will earn you respect and trust from co-workers. According to Dr Olga Kalinowska – Beszczynska, trust is ubiquitous yet elusive, and there are different levels of it (2016). Gaining trust is very important in both co-working and running-a-business scenarios (Welter, 2012; Adams, 2014).
In the case of ‘masterly’ I knew I wanted to form a team with Helen after having worked on a minor project to create a shoe. I enjoyed brainstorming with her, and then, to build the shoe, we realised only those ideas, that we had agreed upon. Whereas, the ideas that were rejected were done so by utilisation of constructive criticism. Helen seemed confident and opinionated yet objective. I could see that not only she shared my values and ‘my’ way of working but that also, I was already learning from the work process we shared. I could only hope that she was too. It was not her skillset or work experience, but the way she approached the ‘problem’ and treated team members that made me want to form a team together. That was important because I knew then that I would be able to work and grow throughout the course of running the business. Although she was already in a team with another person, Christina, with whom at that point I had never spoken to, I trusted my gut feelings, and thus was willing take the risk of trusting Helen’s judgement. It can be argued that the role of trust had a critical impact on ‘masterly’ formation, and even my entire academic year.
Theoretically, it all sounds very easy but how do you find the people that share those values and vision? It was relatively easy in the case of ‘masterly’ as every single person in the class was seeking to form a team. However, outside of university different people have different agendas. Attending events that somewhat meet your own agenda, and talking to people is a great way to meet similar minded folk. At one of the KU Talent events, I met Vlada Djidjeva (2017), who is actively involved in marketing, legal advice, and general consultancy for start-ups. I shared my concerns of not knowing how to find the right people for launching and driving young business together. She suggested using angel.co, a website for people who want to work at a start-up. Or course, if I had my own businesses I would be the one posting an advertisement for a job. In the past by ‘putting myself out there’ I met many valuable people, including Vlada. In contrast, at the same KU Talent event, I met a fellow with whom I shared the similar values, however, not the vision. Nonetheless, despite our different agendas, we are still in touch. Genuine communications make genuine connections, which are a great way to build a team, and even upon which to establish the corporate culture. AirBnB, a business with a genuine story behind, is a great example of how values and attitudes that go in line with that story can be implemented into one’s corporate culture (Vaughan, 2017).
Looking back at the ideation process, genuineness was one of the main ‘ingredients’ used to create the product ‘ComfyEar’. The three of us had the same values as well as agenda, and now just had to find that one particular area that we felt enthusiastic enough about to work on the entire year. The topic search included a lot of time spent together, and I was ‘near certain’ that the topic would arise naturally. I believed in our team, and our efforts did not disappoint. I participated in an NHS workshop designed to mitigate sleep problems. My teammates could relate to the problem having suffered sleepless nights themselves. The question now was who else could relate to it – how many people were having sleep issues?
We realised that this niche is genuinely underserved and that if utilised properly, our solution, ComfyEar, could provide an opportunity to help both us and others to cope with sleep problems. The ‘bottom-up’ approach, identifying the problem and then creating a solution for it, was implemented (Anson, 2016). Thus, we made use of Human Centred Design (HCD), meaning that we were designing the solution with users in mind. This was beneficial for a number of reasons. Firstly, HCD made the target audience naturally drift towards the product: many individuals who have sleep issues expressed interest in ComfyEar. Secondly, the starting point for Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was a market research, which included finding similar products and reading customer reviews on the competitors’ products. The Lean Startup approach made it easy not only to reiterate MVP according to users’ needs but also steer the business quickly and agilely (Ries, 2011). To ensure a competitive advantage we used as many as possible negative users reviews of the competitors’ product for our upcoming product.
At the first trade fair at Kingston University, we involved people who had come to talk to us (we had a poster inviting for a chat) about sleep issues. There, we had conversations with those people to better understand the problem and receive feedback on the first ComfyEar MVP. The feedback was extremely important as it drove our ideation process. It gave a chance to truly empathise with the potential users, their needs and to accumulate as much as possible information on them. It was for later use to define and satisfy our target market’s implicit, explicit and even hidden needs and desires. It is noteworthy that we met people there who did not have any sleep issues and yet were interested in ComfyEar. Talking to all sorts of people gave some food for thought: as a film ‘Design & Thinking’ (2012) suggests, we started asking ‘why’ repeatedly to understand why non-target audience showed signs of interest in the product. This helped to redefine the problem we were trying to solve. We realised that there was a chance that a general public might benefit from our product who use earphones in bed to watch films or listen to music as a way to relax and not necessarily to help them fall asleep. A questionnaire consisting of 249 respondents was designed to support the hypothesis.
We won the best sales team at the trade fair even though all we had was an MVP. Talking to potential customers helped to establish ourselves in the mind of a user as a company providing comfort in bed and to start a potential clientele and mailing list for future sales. Additionally, only because of talking to people we realised we could broaden the target market considerably [more than 3 million people] (Office for National Statistics, 2017). It is a true revelation to me that ‘getting out there’ not only helps to meet the right people to form teams but also (talking to people) aids in defining the target audience and shaping the product itself. In contrast, from the user’s point of view, having an input into the process as of product development might help to establish an emotional bond with the product, and eventually advocacy (Machado et al. 2014). This is important because ComfyEar could be promoted for free via one the most credible channels of advertising – Word of Mouth (Keller, 2007). Trade fairs can be considered as a tool of experiential marketing. This means that a user can try and test a product before committing to buying, which is important as it defies the law of zero moment of truth (ZMOT). ZMOT refers to gathering information online from other users’ reviews (Lecinski, 2014). A chance to trial a product yourself gives an undeniable impression of the product, and therefore it is superior and eliminates the need of ZMOT as it skips directly to Ultimate Moment of Truth (UMOT). It is important to be aware that a product trial could triumph any reviews.
(2017), Eve (2017) and Casper (2017) offer 100 nights’ free trial. All of them claim that their mattress is the best and I, consumer, would normally go to see reviews to make other consumers agree with the statements. However, given an opportunity to trial a mattress and decide for myself, I would argue that other people reviews become virtually irrelevant. Furthermore, users could perceive these companies as transparent due to their ‘bold’ offer, which in turn may only increase customer’s trust in the product. Consequently, a consumer could take advantage of the offer and could sleep for more than a year on a luxurious mattress for free.
It was a lot more difficult to compel a stranger to come and try ComfyEar and thus reach UMOT at the second trade fair at the Kingston town square. There were several reasons why this happened. Firstly, we unquestionably implemented the feedback that had been received for the first trade fair. However, this trade fair was in an entirely different setting. In other words, the preparation was out of context and thus did not work. To ensure an adequate preparation I should have gone to inspect the market and the whole setting in advance. Secondly, ComfyEar is not an established brand. This means no one knew what the product wes. There was no trust or credibility. Branding, when used consistently, helps to achieve both trust and credibility (Arrunda, 2016; Brinkman, 2017), which is crucial t the successful business. We tried our best to convey through branding what ComfyEar was and its values, however, it was very challenging when there was so much competition around. Being a vendor at a real market that was the most relevant practice for the post-graduation, and thus invaluable experience. It taught me that the world beyond the boundaries of university is tough and it takes a lot of work to do well. Luckily, Design Thinking for Start-ups provided me with tools to succeed.
As mentioned at the very begging I would like to own my own business. Prior to starting this course I created a unique paper notebook I wanted to release. However, due to the lack of the skills how to manage a creative business I was too scared to take risks that were solely based on common sense. The high volume of practical exercises and ‘hands-on theory’ approach throughout the module enlightened me with the knowledge which I will be able to apply for my own business. And if even if I decided that not to go ahead with the notebook business, I have the skills to join someone else’s start up. As challenging as it is, having this much of responsibility is also a lot of fun. I learnt from the shortcoming of my university business, which was not being ‘out there’ enough and not making real business connections, that it may feel uncomfortable or ‘pushy’ sometimes. Particularly, when trying to establish new business connections. However, that is all shyness in my head, and when I have a genuine product with a great team behind, agile business model, then I must make myself comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
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