The end of a module has presented itself before us. For many, the end of an amazing course. For me, the beginning of a new year. Finalizing this year makes me feel scared as I realise how much I still have to work on. However, it gives me joy to think of all the accomplishments this year prepared for me and for all my colleagues.
Design Thinking changed my perspective on businesses and guided me through a path I definitely want to follow in the short future. When recalling our first weeks, I was very impressed to observe the importance of caring about a customer a product or service is being developed for. Thinking as a company or small business, internal interests always find their way first. However, learning how to observe what a customer needs and being able to feel sensitive and related to that specific need is what establishes a strong and special business (O’Connor, 2013). Learning the importance of developing something after a problem and to identify every aspect of it was crucial for my growing path, especially when related to our startup.
When we started putting our start-up project together, all we cared about was what was going to be created. We had a million ideas but they all ended up flat, as we were thinking the exact opposite way of how we actually should. Our constant thinking was how amazing a product could be, and not how a product could affect and change ideas or lives. A lesson learned was that the real talent in all entrepreneurship is finding the right problem, and not building the right solution (Ursache, 2019). Identifying why the problem is important and how in any ways it can be solved is the first and most important step for any startup. After changing our mind-set, things became easier and with the support of our big printed lean canvas received in class, we were able to come up with not only one, but a few problems that could potentially be solved.
Understanding lean canvas for start-ups developed by Ash Maurya (2010) through the module was very challenging, and being able to complete it together as a team developed our patience and perception on the subject. Once our poster was completed and we were back in class after a week, it was time for comparisons and popular feedback. In teams, we were expected to deliver feedback on other groups’ ideas and to compare the value of each, our lecturer placed on the board a simple way of identifying the importance of what was intended to be created.
Figure 1. Support to identify level of importance of an idea.
Figure 2. First Lean Canvas projected by our Start-Up group. Muraya, A (2012).
A simple guidance changed our perception and when combining it to our canvas we were able to sense the higher importance of one of our problems, and consequently the solution to be projected.
Going back to the process of identifying customer’s needs, we involved ourselves in a series of in class activities week after week. We were challenged to, in groups, create a solution for specific problems that some people had. In addition, we developed our techniques on brainstorming.
It is likely for groups to accept the first apparently good idea that is shared on the table. However, we have learned that not always that idea is effective and can many times sink. The importance of intensively brainstorming before deciding is that it encourages critical thinking and collects different viewpoints (Price, n.d.). It represents the discharge of all possible thoughts about the problem from all participants, which will lead to the craziest ideas. Nevertheless, what may seem as a crazy idea can be projected and shaped in to being a successful one.
After understanding how to process ideas as a team and being prepared for the next steps of our journey, it was time to work with our startups and their content. Our first Dragon’s Den was approaching and Danzza didn’t have much on its plate. We were sure about the name, but still did not have a strong logo. We worked hard for a few days straight to make sure our idea was being placed properly and would be clearly delivered to the judges. Our mission that day was to have a product approval and start receiving feedback about its development.
Presenting our idea was challenging, although extremely satisfying. With the support of wood boards identifying our problem through pictures and well prepared answers for the questions that would be asked, we filled in most of the requirements needed that day. We had a target group, competitors and an idea of how we would start promoting our product in addition to our first customers. We finalized that day proud and excited for the next step of our journey.
Figure 3. First Dragon’s Den. Photograph by Claudia Weaver.
If there is something I learned regarding the initial path of a business is that it appears to be extremely simple to deal with, until the real problems start flourishing. When working on our first business report, the small fragments of our business were our first main focuses. Observing our target customer, the market our product could be included in or competing with and the numerous possibilities of marketing we had to use were just a few details we had to pay attention to. Nonetheless, it was time to prepare ourselves for our first trade fair at Kingston University.
How do trade fairs work and why? Establishing a business is easier when outdoors. Being able to network, promote ideas and present products or services with the support of a self-explanatory well-built stand to a broader group is extremely crucial for any starting business. Being involved in a trade show can provide with opportunities to branch out to business-to-business trading and create a customer database from the visitors to the display booth (Business Queensland, 2016).
For our first trade fair we produced our first prototype. We were sure on the fabric we wanted to utilize, as it was meant to be stretchy and breathable. However, we didn’t have the proper padding exclusively needed to protect the shoulders and spine area. As a result, we developed a hand-stitched basic prototype with the same textile, but simple foam attached to its inside. Additionally, we risked displaying a mannequin at the fair and so the product was projected on what looked like a female body.
On our table there was a laptop screen containing a Google form to be completed by people interested in adding their data for any new information we could provide regarding the product in the future. We also a white spread sheet for written feedback and an A4 paper displaying our logo on a plastic stand on the table.
It is important to go through every process to then be able to learn and grow. We had no idea of how a trade fair actually looked and felt like and as it can be noticed, we did everything wrong. And I am so glad we did.
Feedback number one was that there is no such thing as a bad prototype, but it is certainly not good when presented in a wrong way. Using the dummy only made us look like a brand that sold T-shirts. The logo presented on the table was too small and obviously no person would feel comfortable to provide personal data on the form. What means that Danzza did not win any prize that day and we were now more prepared to change and make some new decisions regarding our strategy and how we would like our brand to be seen and remembered.
Figure 4. First Trade Fair.
Understanding how to communicate at trade fairs (Sarmento and Simões, 2015) was another important knowledge acquired during the year. Selling is the main skill when it comes to presenting and pursuing people’s interest. In class we received a much valuable lesson on the importance of selling not only a product, but also an idea. The lecturer Adam Raman was able to answer our questions regarding the subject and supported with share of knowledge on selling and the difference it makes when a business is able to communicate and attract attention and desire from others.
After organizing our changes and putting them in action, it was time to produce Danzza’s add. With the support of a lecture regarding advertisement and brand communication and comparing videos from last years’ students, our start-up next step was to develop a strong and empowered add. Our team proved to understand the brief, carefully analysing every content present in the video. The conclusion was positive and we were able to deliver a strong impact on those watching our video. It was sensitive, presented the problem, the solution and how the product developed was meant to work. For our wonderful surprise, Danzza’s video won as best add in class, being able to fulfil all the expectations for a good advertisement.
Eden walk trade fair came along with many surprises. Danzza was one of the only two teams with no product, but the improvement of our stand had no comparison on the last one. We had developed business cards, stickers and a better prototype. Our logo was clearly represented on the table and we were confident and active to speak to interested people. Once again, we had no projection in sales as we had no product to sell, but the experience was enriching and we had an amazing time observing people and their behaviour when learning about a new innovative idea.
With our Dragon’s Den finally approaching, Danzza was then a strong brand. It had focus, identity and plans for the future. All members were absolutely confident with the presentation and the business report. Pitching is curious when done for the first time, as we did a few months ago. But being able to sell our idea and product by our last Dragon’s Den seemed the simplest thing to do at that stage. Nevertheless, we rehearsed many times before meeting the judges and managed to fit our presentation with tranquillity in the requested 6 minutes.
Our pitch was successful and the results unbelievable. Danzza won and was one of the two chosen teams to represent Kingston University at the start-up National competition. The feedback received was that even though we had no product, we clearly showed why we deserved to win and have the chance to compete for an investment. The end of our year represented the beginning of an amazing story built by Danzza, and the lovely opportunity owned by the company.
Figure 5. Dragon’s Den.
Being in a start-up team is a lot of fun. It also requires a lot of hard work, understanding and patience. I have learned many things during this experience, such as how to build a business, develop an idea, work with finances and project value through communication. But there is one thing that definitely sticks to you for the rest of your life, and that is how you learn to work with people. When people from different backgrounds and experiences come together for the same purpose, it can be delicate and also extraordinary. Learning how to listen and comprehend others way of thinking is a very special detail that supports the teamwork. We have had a few conflicts during our period together, which is absolutely normal considering the amount of work we had to do. But knowing how to overcome the difficulties and work together to improve was highly important for Danzza and its development not only as a brand, but of the people involved in the project. I am glad we opened all of these doors together and managed to achieve what seemed to be impossible from the beginning. Certainly there is yet more to come, but being business driven and passionate for what we do will definitely support us until the last chapter.
As for my personal goals, I have been discovering a strong passion for management and how teamwork reflects on all results to be projected. The design thinking module gave me guidance and structure to understand step by step of a business module development, but most important, to work in a creative driven team. The way teams are built and how they opt for managing themselves or others towards a goal has extreme weight on the startup performance. I want to continue analysing this perspective and develop my understanding on teams and how they succeed or not in an organisational environment.
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