Marny’s Reflective Essay

 

At the start of this master, I remember reading “Design thinking for start-ups” with no clue to what it was, as I have never come across the term before. I did what I thought was sensible enough: which was research books on the topic and familiarise myself with the term and the notion. It still was very unclear as to what precisely we will be studying this year. Reading the module guide and assessments that will be carried out, was the second sensible thing to do in my opinion. I was apprehensive, at times on edge not knowing how I’ll perform and it pretty much remained that way for a little why. Tom & David Kelley have been of great help when it came to explaining and understanding creativity. Though this statement may bring some confusion, I do believe that creativity should be understood in order to be exploited. Yes, some will say you just are born creative but although Tom Kelley’s opinion is not the only opinion that counts, I agree with his statement that everybody can be creative. The questions in hand are: did I get to exploit it this year? Was I aware of the different facets of creativity?

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Design Thinking: the process S. Gibbons (2016)

Firstly, what is design thinking? Such innocent and yet powerful words I got to understand midway. From what I have gathered and understood from my experience, design thinking is a methodology that is used to find solution to complex problems. With design thinking, the emphasis is not quite put on the problem, the focus is rather put on actions and steps taken to create a desired future. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO once defined design thinking as “a subject that uses a designer’s method and sensibility to pair people’s desires with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can translate into a market opportunity and customer value” (T.Brown, 2009)

 

Did I get to exploit my creativity this year?

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Source: Pinterest

Undoubtedly yes! For the moment one stepped into the class, the first few words from the lecturer sparks that flame and if you could see your brain imagining, designing, playing. If anything, my creativity has been fuelled, and made me into what I call a “creatmonster”. Design thinking has transformed the way I strategised. I learnt how one can go from an idea to launching a product and selling it is safe to say that it can transform the way you develop a service or a product. Was I aware of the different facets of creativity? No I was not.

 

Prototyping

The entire year, the lecturers have not failed to make the class as interactive and fun as possible to the point where one could find himself/herself wondering whether it is even legal to have this much fun when working. If I had to choose the hardest part of our adventure as far as coming up with an idea, the market research, manufacturing, selling and a few other steps in between the part I enjoyed the most was the prototyping. We were encouraged to think a lot with our hands, this was something new that showed me a different way of working. Prototyping is the reason behind many of today’s greatest inventions. The Wright brothers, had built a substantial amount of prototypes before learning how to fly. There are no guidelines to prototyping, you just do/build a product. Another key advantage prototyping has is to allow you to pivot if need be. Our very first idea was to create a fork attached to a tube that will allow you to store and dispense your sauces or dressings for salads or pasta. It was by doing that we realised that there were many things we could do or could not and therefore avoid unncessary financial strain on the company.

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Design of first prototype (2016) Bright Light

The people you are in a relationship with a.k.a your teammates

When pitching for funding, the key thing that could convince a venture capital or business angel to invest is a team. This is something I was taught in entrepreneurial finance (one of my other module), it started to fully understand when my fellow team members and I had to managed a business. I guess what I can advise future students will be to make sure that your teammates shared the same desire, most importantly make sure that you have a variety of skills. Often you’ll be faced with situations where the outcome could have been different if only you had a mixture of different backgrounds (i.e a designer, an engineer and a biologist) which we did. This could help leverage each others expertise to build or create a solution. The designer will bring in the creativity, the engineer will solve problems and build a solution, a biologist can be conservative about taking risks but will be relentless. As the founders of Fab Lab once said, make sure you shared the same values, ideas but most importantly that you complete each other. We as team have gone through our tribulations as any team would but I would have it another way, I am proud of my team and the accomplishments we have made.

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Team Bright Light (2016) Photo by C.T.Ching

 

What design thinking also solidified was some of the traits an entrepreneur need to have:

  • Risk taker: we had to take risks times and times again. Have an idea, prototype go out and test it.
  • Determined: going through the experience alone meant overcoming many obstacles and roadblocks.
  • Creative thinker: we have learnt to think past boundaries, to go and think out of our box and explore different outcomes.
  • Confidence: We got to learn to take initiative, to believe in our product and us as a team.

What it allowed to see at times were the weaknesses they might have:

  • Bad time management: spending more time to thinking about how we could make more sales rather than just going out more and trying to sell.
  • Biased perspective of the business at times: an entrepreneur should be able to step back from time to time and ask for external feedback because after working on a project for some time it is easier to take some bad decisions.
  • Not implementing one idea at a time: having many ideas and trying to implement them all at once could result into a disaster. It is better to stick to one, and dismiss the ones that could not work.

 

Then, Now and There

The module has come before other modules in terms of priority, has taught us to enjoy the struggle. We have endured standing in long hours in the cold, we have shed tears, frustration and although we did not win any prize what we valued the most were the life lessons we have learnt, the life long friendships and the person we have become. A few months, when our lecturer said that she had asked previous year students to give us one single piece of advice and what it would be and they unanimously replied “Oh they will survive” I thought how dare they?! Now I am confident enough to say to students to come, “they will survive, and it only gets better”.

 

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References:

“Change by Design” (2009) T. Brown

“Design Thinking 101” (2016) S. Gibbons, Available at https://www.nngroup.com/articles/design-thinking/ (Accessed on 9 September 2016)

“Creativity At Work” (2007) L. Naiman

“1903 – The First Flight” Wright Brothers National Park service, Available at https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/learn/historyculture/thefirstflight.htm (Accessed on: 2 March 2017)

“A beginners’ guide to design frameworks” (2016) R. Jama,  Available at: https://medium.com/swlh/think-with-your-hands-36d703f60164 (Accessed on 12th April 2017)

“The innovation value chain” (2007), Available at: http://knowledge.insead.edu/innovation/the-innovation-value-chain-2161 (Accessed on 7 April  2017)

“The innovation value Chain” (2007) M. Hansen and J.Birkinshaw, Harvard business Reviw, Available at https://hbr.org/2007/06/the-innovation-value-chain (Accessed on  7 April 2017)

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Thy Shall Prosper – Dragon’s Den Final

After two terms, everything has been building up to this moment. A week prior, we had a mock to give us the feedback to help us improve anything that needed adjusting. We had made some sales, were hoping to make some more before the final but unfortunately we did not make as much as hoped. From the feedbacks received from the mock we decided to keep the way our pitch was structure and adjust a few things. We had the right amount of humour and powerful statements to capture their attention.

Although fully aware, what we failed to realised that we had a competitive advantage when it came to our competitors. We offered better quality at a lower price than our competitors, the idea was unique though the anti-theft gadget’s market is mature. By our third trade fair we realised that a certain demographic was responding confidently to the product as opposed to our anticipated target market. In fact, our original target group were young travellers aged between 18-25 years. Now 40-60 years who love outdoor activities were willing to pay for the asking price that young people did not feel comfortable paying. This could be explained by the fact that they are more financially stable hence could afford the product.

 Luckily before the final, we knew and concluded that firstly selling at a loss to drive early sales was a risky strategy but one we were willing to try, after all running a business is all about taking risks. Secondly, we knew that if we were given another chance at the experiment, we would most likely outsource the manufacturing of the product to a country where it is relatively cheaper. To allow us to price our product still lower than our competitors but enough to still make profit.

Knowing what went wrong or what could have been done differently before the final helped in a way where it was easier to not only understand the feedbacks but also hear what the judges thought of the suggestions we had about growing the business.

Kingston Market Trade Fair 3rd Market

By the time the Kingston Market fair came around, we have had our fair shares of trade fairs and enough practice with pitching our product. We were extremely excited and everything had built up to this moment so nothing was going to ruin it for us, okay may be the number of sales but we were determined!!

Having many other deadlines besides preparing for the fair, put us a cross road where we had to choose if we could stay a few hours and leave early. It was not until one of our lecturer said something along the lines of what if your income depended on the sales or the business would you still leave early? Call it reverse psychology but it worked. We got to see what sort of paper work goes into booking a stall, which is A LOT!

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It was inevitably an interesting day; for luck of better words I had never thrown myself at people as much as I did on that day. You had to recover from rejections as fast as burgers are getting flipped at Mc Donald’s.

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We made the most number of sales on that day, most likely because the demographic was varied and also we realised that a new group of people aged 50+ were more willing to pay for the asking price rather than the young travellers we had previously anticipated.

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Breakthrough Success Summit W/ E J C Smith

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A few days, I had the chance to attend one of Edward Smith’s summit in Kensington. Those session are designed to break through your limitations, help you develop a powerful mindset that will enable you create things you want, to boost your confidence, to get the wealth and the future one wishes to have.

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Ed J C Smith teaches around the world how to apply business psychology to break through our limitations. The advantage he has over other business experts is the in-depth psychology background. Maintaining a healthy mind and being able to breakthrough any limitations our minds puts up is crucial in my opinion. Being an entrepreneur has it challenges but being able to surpass them and have the mental strength to pick yourself up when all hell breaks loose can make a great difference.

He occasionally runs sessions on Facebook Live to give free mentorship to any individual who is thinking of starting a business/new career or is just at a roadblock. He normally charges a substantial amount to his clients but such sessions are great opportunities for individuals who cannot afford it. One of my goal this year is to give the master I am studying my all, his live sessions motivate at times I feel less motivated. He talks a lot about valuing the end result to an extent where you are willing to spend your savings on knowledge and guidance. This is something that resonated a lot with me.

Spitalfields Market

After our trade fair in the Kingston business school, we had another try before the fair at Kingston Market. In terms of size, Spitalfields was larger, there was going to be more teams but the location of the market was an opportunity for us to make some sells or at least get some feedbacks. We knew it could go either ways: people could either hate the product and not want anything to do with it or they could love it and would either purchase it or give their impressions.

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One of the many reasons why we wanted to go to spitafields was because we wanted to sell the remaining products from the first batch. We wanted to get feedbacks and mostly see how to prepare for our third trade fair. When it came to telling the story with our stand, we made some drastic changes and the décor was much, much simpler. We just wanted the focus to be on the products and nothing else. We made an advert that we were playing on a small iPad, we had flyers and business cards. Likely, we made some sales although not as much as anticipated, but what we appreciated the feedbacks.

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The highlight of the day was pitching in front of the chairman of Young Enterprise. We were not aware of who he was so there was no added pressure of knocking his socks off which allowed us to rather focus on telling him about our product and us as a team (how we came about the idea, how we were enjoying the experience, etc). His feedbacks were encouraging, we used the approach we took when pitching to him and adapted our pitching style.

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Some people could tell straight away that the product was for travellers and could guess its purpose, others thought wrong but that also allowed us to change a little for next time. Although no prize won, still left feeling more accomplished.

Social Media – Vegan Festival

As much as in today’s society there are still some people who are opposed or who do not fully grasp the concept of social media, more now than ever it is clear that it cannot be ignored. Whether or not you are a student, an entrepreneur, a singer you have a brand and you cannot overlook social media. Nowadays society make its judgement of a company from the information given on social media. More than ever customer reviews matter and social media is where companies need to be interacting in order to be successful.

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For our company, we originally created an account on Instagram, Facebook and twitter. We were finding hard to managed and updated all three accounts. When we were asked a very simple question yet hard to respond to, we took action and changed our strategy. This is a question that stuck in mind “why all these platforms? Why not just one and all 3?” On Facebook we wanted to create a community, we used our existing contacts to create awareness to our brand and also spread the word. We wanted to build trust and on there, we shared information about where the next fair was taking place, how to get in touch for any information that is not clear and specific things as such the price, the range of colours offered, etc. On twitter we wanted to induce the desire of travel, share links to articles about travellers, share picture of getaway destinations one might not think of etc.

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What is life without fun right? Well, we though it was a good idea to have a look at how professionals who have been doing this for years, study their attitude the way they interact, present their products, etc. If you have not guessed it we went to a vegan festival, no no N-O-T BORRING! I can hear you thinking, the word you are looking for is F-U-N!

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London Vegan Festival (2017) By M.Boni-Kaya

Not to our surprise, everything we had been taught or seen was clear as water. Not every companies where on social media, they chose the ones that worked for them. Some only had Facebook, other neither and just an email address. When it came to their stands, the focus was on their products, not everyone had flyers or big posters in front or next to their stands. In closing, I will say that it does not hurt to be on social media, we just need to ask ourselves why are we there and what do we want to achieve on there?

Kingston Business School Trade Fair

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After our Dragon’s Den we knew that we only had a few weeks to prepare for our first trade fair and the stakes were high. As one could only imagine when taking part in a trade fair for the first time, there is certainly a lot of pressure from the do’s and don’ts. Call it human nature or just ambition regardless of whether someone is doing something for the first time we always want to do well. No member of my team nor myself had ever taken part in a trade fair before, we had been to many, knew what they were but there were still many things we did not know. Likely we individually read and watched a lot to familiarise ourselves with the concept. We started drafting earlier on what we wanted our stand to look like, what the focus should be put on etc. It is not an easy process trying to find the direction the brand should take because a dew weeks ago in December after the first Dragon’s Den everything sounded easy (manufacturing, developing brand awareness, etc) it was not until we had to get our hands dirty that we realised that there’s too much that has and will go into everything. Perhaps not everyone will experience this but working with a team where each member if a bit of a perfectionist is certainly overbearing at times.

Now, did we get the product ready for the trade fair? YES WE DID!! We only made 8 to sell at the first fair and see how people would react. We made them in a waterproof fabric and offered in either “navy bleu or black”. It is worth mentioning that we tried to make a few units ourselves but did not like the finish considering the price we were planning on asking we thought that the quality had to be good. As a result we embarked on a mission to find a tailor that was both affordable and was able to work within the time frame we would give him. After a few frogs, we finally found someone who was not quite our prince but who could do for the time.  We were still not please with the end result and decided that for the next fair we will go back on the hunt for our prince.

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Thankfully, we were told not to buy banners because I can see why it is easier to just put your money into banners hopping that it will help you stand out. We were instead encouraged to use our imagination to come up with something which was hard. We settled on the suitcase, as if it was not hard enough we kept thinking until the day of the first trade fair of how we could improve. My advice is stick to what you’ve agreed and wait for the first people who approach you , get them talking to see how they like it and people as surprised as I was are not afraid to tell you what they think. When we were told that it was confusing to find or know what the product was, that the stand looked like a boutique we quickly took down the packaging, the bin in what the product was and the end result looked like this:

Before:

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After:

Although there is no picture of the after but as mentioned above the following were removed:

  • The bags
  • The suitcase
  • The small white bin
  • The treats

Did our stand help tell a story? We thought at first that our stand was communicating a story but our product was drowning to say the least, it was not easy to spot.  We got a lot of “So what are you selling?” or “where is your product?” “Are you selling suitcases?” Yes, we had suitcases as part of our décor to sort of guide or hint the people that our product was related to travel. We had pictures clipped onto those suitcases as the pictures show.

Thankfully we were allowed to struggle first and were given guidance the day after to know the do’s and don’ts for the fairs to come. Something that was a bit hard to comprehend at first because it sounded like a doctor telling a patient, yes I want you to get sicker first before I can operate on you. We had to trust in them and allow ourselves to make mistakes before we could understand what they were trying to tell also I think that by allowing us to that first it will stick and will surely not be forgotten.

Congratulations you’ve made it this far, sorry you might fail again and again!

I recently came across an article shared on our module Facebook page. The article was titled “Prepare students ‘to fail’ so they can learn”. Pretty straight forward one would think and I would agree with that statement because it was something that I was not taught at school and had to teach myself. Coming from a country were the culture does not allow failure it was at times extremely challenging to comprehend or to even justify the slightest mistake.

Truthfully, my response to the article was that I loved it! I truly found it is satisfying that some people actually went ahead and conducted a study as opposed to “it” just being a myth. I could not agree more with what they were saying taking a punch so hard that you do not even have time to wonder how and where it came from but the process as a whole will help students “become more creative and resilient”. I wish I was told “you’re going to fail with this, you’re going to struggle, you’re not going to understand it in full, but try it”. Now I wonder whether it is either our parents or our teachers’ responsibility to teach us that failing should be celebrated and not condemned. This semester with Design Thinking, knowing in advance it was not going to be an easy road and being told that we might find some bumps along the way but we’ll eventually see the silver lining was comforting. Especially, during those times where we thought we could not pull off our project in time for the Dragon’s Den.

Well would you say that “productive failure” is a paradox? I remember when my team had to conduct our very first survey regarding the first idea we were considering for Design Thinking, hearing “no” was a bit shocking at first for myself surprisingly. I thought I had mentally prepared enough to receive criticism. Then I remember all of our lecturers constantly saying “remember their (the customers) opinions mater the most, not yours!”. It took me that sentence and a few “NOs” to start to comprehend that the idea was not a failure but there were details we perhaps had left out and not everyone will share our vision. Then again there are many factors such as how convincing were we? Or did they really relate to the problem we were trying to solve? Did we speak to the right people? Is there such thing as “the right people to speak to?” I am confident enough today to say that at times it will be hard to accept failure but at least I know it is for the better.

Should we aspire to fail?
The article is available at the following address:
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/prepare-students-fail-so-they-can-learn-report-suggests

Gearing up for Dragon’s Den

So after weeks and weeks of brainstorming, prototyping, market research and a lot of back and forth to the drawing board we finally have our product. We have three versions of our prototype to show to the judges on “THEE DAY” a.k.a “Dragon’s Den” and for some reason the nerves aren’t kicking yet perhaps it is a good thing because at this point we are a bit mentally drained.

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The process of getting to design or rather choosing to create the final product was rather long with occasional bumps until we realised there were one thing we had overlooked the entire time. Let me explain, we started our project with the idea that we wanted to create something that people needed not necessarily ourselves but a product that would help others who are facing a certain problem. I must admit we had some pretty good ideas and it took us an afternoon off meaning no market research, no prototyping, no nothing and a late lunch to realise that we all appreciate and love our travels and we have all been robbed. Yes, there are all sorts of anti-theft gadgets on the market but we had faith that we were bringing something different to the market. We were aware of the growing trends of youth travel and we knew that this time around we were not only trying to help others but we were going to help ourselves as well.

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One of our lecturers for the module made a great comment when we presented our prototype at Fab Lab a few weeks ago (Please refer to the post “Fab Lab”), I can’t remember the exact words so I will paraphrase what she said: [ do you see how when you create something that you love, you’re passionate about, you can relate to – the words just flow out of your mouth, you don’t need records card with a prepared speech to tell people why is it you think your product is good enough for them]. This time around for Dragon’s Den it’s not that it was easier but it was certainly a good thing to know the difference and to have experienced it. We did have to prepare a presentation and remember few statistics but beyond that I think it was more the passion behind our product that enabled us to give the presentation. Preparing for the Dragon’s Den’ pitch, I have to admit was the most enjoyable prep I have done in a very long time!! Who knew that using pillows to replace judges and rehears your speech was so much fun?!! I mean there were a few yawns, okay A LOT but it was worth it.

The day is finally here and we get to finally pitch our idea. Still not nervous and wondering whether or not I should be. We enter the room and get briefed with the judges. We were third to present and when came our turn, one of our teammate who doesn’t drink is asking for vodka because she’s stressed about the Q&A part now you’re thinking may be it is time to panic but no!! We held her hand and said that there are no ways we would be incapable of answering any questions regarding the product. If by any chance, we couldn’t it is okay to say that we have not looked at that specific thing they are enquiring about but we will take on board and follow up afterwards or something of the same sort. Presentation went well, we had some great feedbacks that we will all take on board. Going into the room to present, we had two USPs and 2 great add-ons for our product and among the feedback we got, they advised us to only use one unique selling point which was the location in our case of the safe. One judge asked us how much it would cost if we removed the slash-proof feature from our product and once we stated the difference in price that’s when he suggested perhaps we should consider removing that feature. I think we (as a team) love that feature so much that we are still struggling with the idea of completely removing it that we thought that we will do a trial. So we will manufacture the product without the slash-proof feature and see how what customers think of it, then ask them if they would like the feature and offer it on demand. After all groups had presented, we were joined by the other half of the judges and other fellow classmates where the lecturers and judges had some general feedback for everyone. I am ready to bet that the one advise that stuck with all of us (students) was when one judge said “Listen to the ones who do not like your product”. Ten very powerful words in my opinion though I can understand why some may think that those words are a bit of paradox. They may think – why would you listen to people who have not bought the product, they have not experienced it and technically speaking not in a better position than someone who has had some experience with the product, tell you what he does not like about the product. My take on these words is, all feedbacks are valuable regardless of who likes and who does not like the product.

Can You Innovate in Third World Countries?

 

I’ve always given this question a lot of thoughts but since I’ve started this course I have been looking more and more into this issue. Depending on where the people replying this question are, answers will differ. If you were to ask Africans (central) who have never left the continent, 80% would say it’s a clear “NO”. There is not a chance we can innovate, 15% are the ones who in my opinion think that there are ways to innovate but not in their lifetimes and say it will take at least five generations to start to see some changes. The remaining 5% (including myself) are the ones who have been lucky enough to experience other worlds and know for a fact that it is indeed possible to innovate in third world countries.

From a personal standpoint, when most people think about innovation, they envision developed-countries and why not?  In developed-countries, they have cutting edge technologies, developed infrastructure, they have opportunities to be funded (by Venture Capitalists, Business Angels, Governments) etc. In developing countries on the other hand, people lack those benefits and face severe challenges ranging from political instability, well underdeveloped infrastructure, to not enough trained individuals. Companies have to unfortunately innovate on extremely tight budgets as they do not have the means to spend on R&D.

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For a long time, I used to think that there is simply no innovation without technology. What “Design Thinking” is teaching me is that there is always a way to innovate, perhaps not always through technology but around it. Very few businesses in Central Africa use a customer-centric approach, some would say this is because they do not have the technology to allow them to understand the buying behaviour. I would say this is because “we simply have not understood how important is offering a great experience to the customer from the awareness stage, through the purchasing stage and finally to the post-purchasing stage. How challenging is it going to be to implement or at least try to make companies understand the importance of customer centricity, my bet – VERY CHALLENGING! Then again there are many other factors to consider, one of the most important ones is culture. People are very set in their ways and very reluctant to change, they believe that if something has worked in the past then there is no reason as to why it will not in the future.

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There people who are helping the continent with innovative solutions such as the “portable water pumps” to help small farmers in sub-Sahara grow crops at affordable price $35-$95. Others such as the “CardioPad” a touchscreen medical tablet that diagnose heart disease in rural areas with limited access to medical care.

 

Do you think the main challenge is to have the right technology or to find our way around it?