Note to Future Self
Every journey has an end. It is time to conclude the roller coaster journey I experienced in design thinking module. Now looking back at it, I can safely say that it the most interesting, fun and at times stressful academic experience of my life. It feels as it was some days ago that I was looking for Co-founders to form a company with. There was a great amount of learning during this time. I didn’t even heard of Lean Startup before this module. According to Eric Ries (2011), ‘The Lean Startup is a set of practices for helping entrepreneurs increase their odds of building a successful startup.’ It is a scientific method to develop a product/service and get them into the customer’s hand as quickly as possible. It is a way to test a proposed business model.
It all began with searching for co-founders. I was very fortunate at this stage. I easily formed a team with people I wanted to work with. I was pretty happy about it. But if I think about it now, it doesn’t matter who you form the team with, or what criteria you give yourself to form the team. You cannot know about a person unless you have seriously worked with him or her. Maybe this is the reason, I would recommend student coming next year to form teams randomly. Just like any job, you don’t get to choose who you work with.
After some discussions, I volunteered to be the Managing Director of the company. I always wanted to see if I can be a good leader, or do I have what it takes to lead a team. I thought this would also benefit me in my post-course ambitions of working as a manager in any firm or opening my own start-up.
The next stage was finding out an issue we wanted to solve. I always thought to form a startup, you think about a product/service that is not already available in the market and just produce it. Now I know it doesn’t work like that. The first step is always to find out an issue by which many people are affected. As Seth Godin (2017) said ‘Empathy is the hard part. The rest is mechanics. We’re not wired to walk in someone else’s shoes, it’s not our first instinct.’ We have to show empathy towards the user to create a product, market needs.
We all thought that fitness and health effect everyone regardless of age, gender or nationality. We all searched what is the issue that people are facing. We found some shocking facts. According to Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet (NHS,2018)
-40% of men and 30% of women adults are overweight in the UK
-26% of men and 27% of women adults are identified as Obese
-1 in 5 children in Year 6 and 1 in 10 Children in reception are classified as Obese
-50% of Adults are trying to lose weight but don’t use any weight management aids like Gym, Mobile or website tracker, diet clubs.
After this, we reframed the problem our product needs to solve. We need to create a product which will make it easy for people to follow a good diet. Even if they don’t have time to go to the gym or do any physical activity, they can use our product to take a step towards fitness.
That is how we got the idea of Trusteam. A mug steamer which is portable and easy to use. We developed the idea, presented the idea in the first dragon’s den and also tested the using USB. In the tests, we found out that USB power is not enough to steam all kinds of food. A plug was required. But we found out that if we use a plug, it will not be covered by Young Enterprise Insurance. This was our first major hurdle.
I got really confused as to how we should proceed. I was worried as we had wasted so much time in developing the product. I kept on thinking about phrase Janja has used many times, ‘Kill the Baby’. It meant to replace the idea as a whole. We as a team thought
‘Is it time to kill the baby?’
I thought, if we had to completely change our product, now is the time because after this it will be too late. Instead of killing the whole idea we pivoted.
We did our first pivot. From hot steamed food, we went on to cold food recipes. Now instead of making steamed vegetables and meal, we thought of providing something that makes it easy to make and carry salads. That is how we came up with the product Shakesy Salad Shaker. This phase gave many learnings. There is no need to worry when something doesn’t work out. Pivot is a natural part of a business and not a hurdle. In reality
I felt very confident about tour new product and also very proud that in such a short time, we came up with a new idea that solves the issue and is innovative.
At that time I thought the difficult part is over, now we just have to showcase it in a first trade fair, give order to factories to produce it and sell at the second trade fair. But I was wrong.
In the first trade fair, we got good feedback and even some preorders. But soon after that, we found out that we will not be able to produce this in low quantities and in such limited time. Again we got worried and confused. We did some meetings, contacted many manufacturers, contact different countries and materials but we got no viable option. This was the most stressful time for all of us. As work in the other modules was piling up, we had to again pivot and think of a different product to sell at the trade fair. Luckily a manufacturer said that he can produce the salad shakers but they will be made out of BPA free plastic. At this point, I felt that it is out of the question as our core strategy was to make eco-friendly products. After much discussion, we went through with it. This is how we got to Shakesy Health Starter Kit from Shakesy Salad Shaker.
This phase gave some of the basic and important lessons. A business should never take pre-orders before manufacturing the product. Everyone knows that. Still, we messed it up. Result of which we had to apologize to the customers. I also learned that, before making the product, I should have thought about the limited resources and time we had. We didn’t plan it well. That is why we had to pivot again. Talking about the pivot, I know now that pivot is not a bad thing to happen to a business, According to Alan Spoon (Inc.com) ‘pivoting doesn’t necessarily mean desperation. It can be a tool to discover additional growth–growth you might otherwise have overlooked’.
For the future, I would stress upon planning and effective communication between the founders and also between suppliers and other parties. These are the traits which any manager should possess.
As there were plastic salad shakers out there, we thought that we need to add some value to it. That is why we added postcards, recipe books and health journal to the whole package. I learned many important things here. I learned about how marketing and branding can make or break the product. Now as we didn’t have an innovative product, we marketed it as a Health Starter kit. Instead of making a product which will we use for salad, we sold a kit which will introduce the customer to a healthy diet routine. That is why we branded it as a health starter kit. Recipe book for healthy recipes, health journal to monitor health routine and quirky postcards to motivate and encourage liking to the vegetables.
I also learned how collaboration is so much important in any workplace. After the first trade fair, there was a lack of collaboration and communication within the team. Everyone was not on the same page as to what are they supposed to do. This created a lack of motivation in some of the co-founders and also delayed the final product a bit. Everyone was also focusing on their other modules and submissions, so motivation went down a little bit for design thinking. At that time, I learned that collaboration is not just doing work together, it is much more than that
We decided that we should do something about it and make communication much more formal and effective. We started meeting every week and made an excel sheet in which we wrote what are the issues we need to talk about, what have we done in the past week and what is required by each member for the next week. I think this solved many of the problems and also decrease stress due to multiple submissions I was going through.
As we got closer to the second trade fair, we were working at a great pace and luckily we got all our products delivered to us. I think this was the result of formal communication. I learned that there is a degree of formality required in any company or firm. It ensures that everyone in the team is working towards a common goal.
We were really excited about selling our products. We stocked 25 kits to be sold. Till the end of the day, we were sold out and very proud of ourselves. We were the only team to do so, and there were many strangers who bought the product. This means that we were addressing a real issue. At the trade fair I learned how difficult it is to do sales. Patience is the key. People not reacting or saying no felt harsh. I think I will learn it with time.
“There’s no such thing as a born salesperson. What there are… are people with empathy and learned charisma who choose to work hard.” (Seth Godin, 2018)
But till the end of the day I realized, if I approach 10 people and even 3 respond and show interest, it can be considered good.
Towards the Future
This module has certainly changed me and made me a better entrepreneur. From effective communication to leadership skills, there are many things that I have learned. At the starting of the module, I wanted to open my own business but I didn’t have confidence. Design thinking has given me the confidence to put my ideas and creativity in the market and also to lead people. There were many lessons in failure. Now when I reflect upon it, I think that it was crucial that we met many hurdles along the way. It has made me more confident, innovative and organized professional. If there weren’t pivots, I wouldn’t have learned a lot.
Whenever I talk about my startup with someone, there is a sense of excitement and achievement in me. It has truly transformed me and gave me the tools to succeed in the future. I surely will miss it a lot.
Ries E. (2011), The Lean Startup, Crown Publishing Group, United States
Godin S. (2017), ‘Empathy is the Hard Part’, Seth’s Blog, Accessed on 16/04/2019, https://seths.blog/2017/04/empathy-is-the-hard-part/
NHS Digital (2018), ‘Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet‘, National Statistics, Accessed on 5/04/2019, https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet-england-2018
Spoon A., ‘What ‘Pivot’ Really Means’, inc.com, Accessed on 22/04/2019, https://www.inc.com/alan-spoon/what-pivot-really-means.html
Godin S. (2018), ‘The Born Salesperson’, Seth’s Blog, Accessed on 18/04/2019, https://seths.blog/2018/08/the-born-salesperson/