A Moment to Reflect, Please

A Moment to Reflect, Please

What a ride. Seriously, what a ride. This has been truly extraordinary and I am even grateful for the opportunity to reflect upon this experience. So, allow me?

The very first weekend of our programme, and of this course, we were placed into groups to experience a lean startup weekend in full force. It was interesting. And humbling. Because straight off we realized it was our ideas we were implementing, which sounds innocent and useful enough. But we hadn’t yet learned to practice design thinking. Meaning? Meaning we hadn’t yet trained ourselves to experience a problem from the perspective of the people you are intending to benefit. Seems straightforward enough when given the task of doing something, anything, to improve the student experience of Kingston University students. I was with Mikkel, Vania, Michelle, and Julia – a wonderful group of people.

kingston bike

Admittedly, before we even began this startup weekend I had to find out exactly what the heck a startup is. It’s one of those buzz words that I had heard floating around forever but it had never impacted my life so I just let it go. Now? It was front and center and I needed to figure out what was up. Basically? It’s about reaching the potential customers sooner so you’re able to know what they actually want, and what they think about your idea. “The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration.” (Ries, 2015)

methodology_diagram

(Ries, 2015)

This was a fantastic plan for us, as a course, because it ultimately showed us exactly what would need to be done for our designing a business course and project. But the most crucial advice and lesson we learned that startup weekend was to never fall in love with your product because the moment you start speaking with an outsider you will realize it is flawed and you were always destined to pivot.

The next major project that came along in designing a business – quite quickly may I add – was the Know Your Lemons Campaign! This campaign was aimed at us having to learn what all it takes to launch a campaign in a short amount of time and how to measure its successes and failures. My group was Jonas and Julia. Together we decided we would get people to write the name of someone they knew whose life had been impacted by breast cancer. Not related to the purpose of this reflection, but oh my goodness how terrifying and humbling to see so many people have been impacted by one cancer. Before we gave students a piece of lemon paper to write the name of the person they know that had been impacted by cancer, we filmed people raising their hands when we asked the simple question, “who knows someone whose life has been impacted by breast cancer?” and hands just flew up.

Take a look: https://youtu.be/EWwqG72t4gQ

Though we didn’t “trend”, we did learn the fundamentals of how to monitor social media impact, and in this day and age? That’s kind of invaluable. We used Google Analytics and it was super easy, even for this not-so-tech-savvy girl! “Google Analytics shows you the full customer picture across ads and videos, websites and social tools, tablets and smartphones.” (Google, 2015) Professionally, I have worked in eCommerce and have seen first hand how a company pivots so many business decisions based on what the customer picture is presenting through data collected from analytics. But I had never actually dealt with the analytics and it was super helpful to do so!

know-your-lemons

(Worldwide Breast Cancer, 2015)

But on the flip side of this social media learning adventure was the seemingly obvious fact that you sincerely need to nurture a social media campaign. I have a newfound respect for people who make things trend! Wow. My group had a lot of friends and family who were lovely enough to share our work on this campaign but once we were asked to present the results a week later it was painfully obvious that we had lost steam, and traction. Live and learn. One simple fact summed up my awe of social media quite nicely: “Facebook is currently building a data centre in Sweden the size of 11 football fields, joining two others in America, just to collect and process the stuff. You can analyse it to make a variety of business decisions.” (Bradbury, 2013)

Finally, the part of the course I was most looking forward to: choosing my group. And, knowing myself (and my personality) I knew it would be my group. First? Jonas. I knew from day one when he sat next to me that he and I got on well. And no matter what anyone tells me, that is hugely important in group work. But my official reason for rather awkwardly asking him to join my group was because he came from a media background and I most definitely do not. Good mesh of professional skillsets. Second was Vania. I had worked with her on the Lean Startup weekend and knew she was talented and easy to work with. But it was actually sitting next to her during class one day that I started watching her doodle in her notebook and saw how truly talented that woman is. I remember nudging Jonas and he just smiled and nodded and I knew we had our third team member because she came from a graphic design background. And have I mentioned how ridiculously talented that woman is? Unreal. Finally (for MACE students) it was Aleem. Jonas and I had talked about what skills we knew we were lacking and he had spoken to Aleem a few times and knew he would make a good product person. I chatted with him and took note of how friendly he was and how easily his personality would blend with the rest of ours. We asked him to join, he shrugged, we took it as a yes! Then we got to interview the IBM students and find the final piece of the puzzle. Britt. We didn’t want anyone else. She practically had “INVALUABLE” tattooed on her forehead. Her background with startups, her knowledge of small businesses and her social media and marketing skills? Yeah, it was love. Hook, line, and sinker – Britt was ours. And I knew I had my dream team.

IMG_0218

From our very first meeting at the pub I knew we had the perfect mix of personalities and skills to, at the very least, have a good time in this course together. I don’t think there’s anything better to sum of the team work aspect of this course than to simply quote. “You succeed or fail not on the strength of your idea or your product, but on the strength of your team. “ (Elvekrog, 2014) I cannot emphasis enough how important building the right team is.

Next up? Enter the Dragons. Oh man. Well, we went in a bit too confidently into our first Dragon Den experience and, um, it wasn’t pretty. For the first Dragon’s Den experience I think Vania summed it up quite nicely in her post on it stating, “Failure is part of the journey. Learn from our mistakes. We all have to go through this downfall in order to get back up and find our dynamic.” (Nyssa, 2014) We walked away from that experience feeling gutted and moronic. And it deflated us for a good, long while. If I’m being totally honest? We really didn’t get the wind back in our sails until we went to Wales to meet with a potential manufacturer.

Fast forward a few months to the final Dragon’s Den. This time? We didn’t mess around. We came in guns blazing. We were prepared, confident, good looking and sincerely excited about the advancements we had made with Ella. She was gorgeous and practical and handmade and so loved by all five of us. We presented to Corrine before our final Dragon’s Den and it was wildly helpful. She kept emphasizing the need to focus on our story. The storyteller in me rejoiced and I was in my element. We sat down and changed everything. We dropped the stats, we dropped the marketing strategy and we humanized the product and ourselves. We told the Dragon’s about how we were each connected with a pregnancy, or a newborn. This reaction was instantaneous and there’s a reason for that. “Let story drive your products and processes in your organisation so that it is more efficient, your teams more engaged and your customers more loyal.” (GRUNDEL, 2014) We engaged our Dragon’s! There was not a single person in there who hadn’t been around someone they loved who had been pregnant, wanted to be pregnant, or had recently had a child. And five young, ambitious people who just want to sell a product to make pregnant woman more comfortable and ailing babies more comfortable? Everything Corrine suggested became crystal clear. Treat your customers (or your Dragons) like the humans they are.

But on an emotional level, once more, Vania just says it best with how that night went:

I turned around and saw the biggest smile, mixed with genuine surprise, in Aleem’s and Kaitlin’s face. Jonas and Britt looked like they just got hit by confidence boost out of nowhere and just walked into the room without looking back. And we… did well. We did really well. So well that we were one of the top 6 groups that had the best pitch? I guess. It wasn’t clear. (Finally! We won… something!) Whatever. (Nyssa, 2014)

We were so happy. We were so relieved. And we all knew we were so done. We knew it was time to move forward and let Ella go. It simply wasn’t anything any of us felt passionately enough about to carry on with. We had the best experience with the best people and I know we all learned so much and were grateful for the hands on experience because sometimes books and lectures simply will not cut it. Little Steps, and Ella, were going to be a fond memory. That night, as we were all drinking wine, I asked if I could keep Ella, that I’d be happy to pay everyone a bit for her. After all, as a former nanny, she was my original idea that evolved 23408234 times over! But I admitted I actually wanted to gift Ella to someone I love very dearly who has struggled with fertility issues. I wanted her to know that I love her, and that I know she will be a wonderful mom. But most of all, I wanted her to know that even on a subconscious level, Ella was made for her.

final dragon

Okay, feelings aside: what did I get from this experience if I had to sum it up and wrap a lovely bow on it? Gosh, I hope this doesn’t sound narcissistic…but here goes nothing: I am skilled in creating a group. Aleem summed up the success of our group quite nicely saying, “the fact that we all got along so well was also valuable as we were able to have dynamic and open discussions and everyone was able to both provide, and receive critical feedback.” (Jamal, 2015) But even if it’s all in my own head, I built that team and assessing their personalities, skillset, and balancing it all with members who had already joined. This is important to me because I want to be a manager. And I want to be a good one. But most importantly? I want my employees to be happy and enjoy their work. I have the confidence and faith that I can facilitate that environment for those poor, unsuspecting future minions of mine, thanks to this experience. From the go we took a “divergent approach, to explore new alternatives, new solutions, new ideas” (Brown, 2009) by brainstorming everything that crossed our inexperienced minds and we came up with something that we each played such an important role in. I want my future employees to feel that way when they look at the things we’ll produce as a team. And how lucky am I that I got to see this manifest in such a safe, risk-free environment.

So, a reflection you say? My thoughts you want? I am tickled pink. This was a wonderful experience made even more wonderful by working with such a bright people and reveling in the success of my peers. Speaking of success, you can’t measure it. Do you know why? Because “every person, from the project manager to the CEO, has a different idea of what success means—and often that’s why teams don’t get projects done efficiently.” (POZIN, 2012) There is no definition of success except for the one you place on your work. And I deem this experience a raging success.

Bibliography

Bradbury, D., 2013. Effective social media analytics. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/10/effective-social-media-analytics [Accessed 1 May 2015].

Brown, T., 2009. Designers — think big! [Online] Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_urges_designers_to_think_big/transcript?language=en [Accessed 6 May 2015].

Elvekrog, J., 2014. Finding the Right Team to Lead Your Startup to Success. [Online] Available at: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234648 [Accessed 3 May 2015].

Google, 2015. Google Analytics. [Online] Available at: http://www.google.com/analytics/ce/mws/why/ [Accessed 2 May 2015].

GRUNDEL, R., 2014. TRANSFORMATION THROUGH STORYTELLING. [Online] Available at: http://www.somekind.co [Accessed 3 May 2015].

Jamal, A., 2015. Stuff and Things. [Online] Available at: https://aleemj.wordpress.com [Accessed 3 May 2015].

Nyssa, C.H., 2014. Dragon’s Den. [Online] Available at: https://chrisvaniahandita.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/dragons-den/ [Accessed 3 May 2015].

POZIN, I., 2012. 6 Ways to Measure the Success of Any Project. [Online] Available at: http://www.inc.com/ilya-pozin/6-ways-to-measure-the-success-of-any-project.html [Accessed 5 May 2015].

Ries, E., 2015. THE LEAN STARTUP METHODOLOGY. [Online] Available at: http://theleanstartup.com/principles [Accessed 1 May 2015].

Worldwide Breast Cancer, 2015. Know Your Lemons. [Online] Available at: http://www.worldwidebreastcancer.com [Accessed 2 May 2015].

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Losing Actually Isn’t Possible

Here’s a little life lesson to be learned from the designing a business course. You can’t actually lose in life. You can only ever learn. Well, I suppose perhaps it’s more accurate to say that if you have the proper attitude. Gosh, I can’t imagine how draining life would be if you were constantly in the need to win win win and compete. Throughout the entirety of the process we were able to get support from other groups, any programme within Kingston, our tutors, connections made through Kingston. Everything and everyone it felt was open to us. You were set up to succeed, or to simply learn, in the safest of environments and we couldn’t have been luckier.

So many times in life you can’t learn anything until you simply do it. At some point you have to stop dreaming, researching, writing, theorising, planning and just DO. Do start that business. Do admit that crazy idea you’ve had to another human being. Do take risks. Do be courageous. Do. I am so proud to have see where some of the groups in our programme ended up from where we all began. And I can’t wait to hear how Fli does in the competition in Manchester. So many feels for so many wonderful people from such a beneficial experience.

We didn’t win anything, and we certainly didn’t lose anything.  Because that is not how this programme was set up and that is now how the people within the programme function. We learned so much and enjoyed ourselves the entire time. I know not all groups can say the same in regard to enjoying themselves through the process and I’ve thought a lot about that. What did I take away most personally? That I have the ability to curate a wonderful, energetic, sassy team. And I wouldn’t trade them for all of Manchester.

Final Preparations

Final product. Final pitch. Final preparations. Final OMG WHERE DID THE TIME GO!?

Well, true to our teams form, it was a mad dash to the finish. So we hunkered down for an entire day in a freaking hot, poorly lit room in the library to write our business report. As the resident content person (and my love of storytelling) I was given the the task to write our story. And I loved it. It was a really fun time to sit back and reflect on what we’d done and where we’ve come since October.

So we got our report done, Vania (our resident beautifier) made it beautiful and then it was time to begin practicing our business pitch we’d be doing at the final dragon’s den. And we all wanted to go out with a bang and do quite well because we had reached a point with Ella that we, I believe, were all quite proud of.

buss report

So we wrote. And rehearsed. And then finally showed our stuff to Corrine. She had some really good feedback that hadn’t actually crossed our minds because we were in too deep with Ella, I think. Rightfully, she suggested we focus more on the storytelling aspect of the pitch (!!!!) and less on the the details like market research and prototyping. It all made since because, as “investors” they don’t quite care about the past, I suppose. They just want to feel the feels that potential customers would and then make their decision accordingly.

We pivoted our approach and then, lo and behold: we did really, really well! Far better than we were expecting!

dragon present

After presenting to the judges, we were chosen to cut down our presentation to a three minute pitch! It felt like, at long last, validation! And it felt wonderful. In the end, my group pulled it together and I couldn’t adore them more.

Ella’s World Debut

Ella came back from Hilary Wiley and she was b-e-a-u-tiful! She was polka dotted, perfectly soft, and machine washable! What more could an expecting mama hope for!?

So now came the time to figure out how best to sell our pivoted product. And other important decisions! Like how best to package her! And a story. Needless to say, we had a lot to do! But first? We had another trade fair.

It. Was. Misery. Pure, unbridled misery. Who thought it would be wise to put a ton of students outside to showcase their products in March…in the UK…for three hours!? Lunacy. It was just so mismanaged and disorganised and windy and cold and I hated everything. And then I was inside eating a sandwich when they judges came…*sigh*. Thank god I have a freaking solid team.

But then the true lunacy comes in when they they had us move inside after standing outside for three hours and then we just sit inside and watched teams get some rewards. Which was great! But after the Bright Ideas Competition? We already could (and did) know who was going to win. And we were right. Which was great! They were all, of course, worthy. But I kiiiiiinda only came for the free wine and nibbles, let’s be honest.

However, we did get a lot of really positive feedback on Ella and how they could see how she would transition nicely from the product for a mother, to a product for the baby, over and over again as the breeding cycle goes! Yay! Validation!

But whatevs, we got another super cute picture of our adorable group!

final trade fair

PIVOT

Following the dragon’s den feedback and multiple conversations with Corrine, we finally conceded we had to pivot our product. Given time constraints and financial constraints we had to forego the mat portion of our wedge. Meaning, it was just a mattress wedge. Which exist. We were a bit gutted to say goodbye to the duality and further selling point of our product but we just couldn’t get it to our target price with that excess material.

prototypes

We agreed we wanted to keep true to the longevity of the product, but we were stumped as to how to do so with just a mattress wedge. Seems like a bit of a niche thing. So, we needed to take a new approach to the entire product. So we started looking at targeting expecting moms and how best we could begin with them and translate the product to the baby eventually.

With just a bit of common knowledge and research it became clear that pregnancy is not a comfortable thing. Shocking, right? So we would there were many products on the market that cater to that. And by that I mean an uncomfortable pregnant woman. But they were a) hideous and b) not branded oh and c) didn’t evolve to use for the child, ever.

So away we went into the dizzying world of re-doing a lot. Our story. Our brand. Our product. So Aleem and I went to Clapham Junction, chose fabric (a shockingly intense decision making process) and found a costume designer, Hilary Wiley, who whipped up our foam cover by the next afternoon.

Introducing the gorgeous, final, Ella (version 234908234):

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

The Brightest of Nights

The Bright Ideas competition was a fantastic way to showcase everyone’s hard work and see what both the postgraduate undergraduate students have accomplished since the first trade fair. That is…if you were one of the preselected groups.

Please scroll down if you don’t want to read my rant: This is by no means a criticism on the Designing a Business course, it’s more of a criticism on the Enterprise programme and how they handled the evening. We were led to believe the evening would involve our group meeting with “judges” and working on our pitches. Then if we did well we’d go on, etc, etc. and so forth.

We had been told our product and group were finalists. So was everyone else who had entered the competition it seems. So we get to the nights events only to find that everyone was there…and had all been told the same thing, that they were finalists. So everyone is all dressed up with no where to go and we didn’t even get to meet with “judges” we practiced our pitches with other teams. Soon after we found out the teams that actually got to meet with the judges had already been contacted prior to the nights events to warn them…and they were asked to keep it discreet. How…conniving. It sincerely felt like we had been lured there just to fill the pictures for PR purposes. Rude. End rant.

However, the storytelling workshop was nice. And hearing the stories of the speakers was, as always, inspiring.

And a MASSIVE congratulations to Fli, the winners!!!! We are so proud of you.

winners

A Wale of a Tale

Once we realised how far we were behind our colleagues in the manufacturing portion of our business we took drastic (and fun) measures and hired a car and headed to Wales to visit a potential manufacturer. Let it be known my group trusted me to drive, and in doing so my lead foot incurred a £100 speeding ticket. Draaaaaaama. Anyway, AJM Sewing was so wonderful to us ignorant students! Our initial interest in AJM was their prototyping and samples services, even though they do swimwear and lingerie. Ooh la la! Pretty ideal for us, eh? The prototyping. Not the lingerie. Once we met with the owner he seemed very confident they would be able to prototype and produce our mattress wedge since it is a rather simplistic design. So the lovely owner, James Meller, gave us a tour of the facility!

wales factory

But we would need to provide the material, and they would only do a minimum order of 100 wedges. Oh my. That was certainly understandable on their end, albeit risky for poor students investing their own money up front. So we most certainly had a lot to consider following our meeting with the owner! And we felt invigorated and excited with more information and knowledge. Always a good thing. On the drive home we talked a lot about crowd sourcing and kickstarter but the same truth kept coming up: we were running out of time. And I think we all knew that deep down we needed to go on a much smaller scale than an order of 100. Buuuuuuuut, we knew we could charge more for being able to claim they were handmade in the UK. Not to mention a big selling point…again, a lot to consider!

So we decided during the remainder of the drive that we would look into kickstarter a bit more as well as local seamstresses in London that could do, say, a dozen or even made to order. And that is what we shall do! Onward and upwards, eh? The world needs less congested babies. The world needs…Ella.

Look how cute and professional my group is! (I was having a bad hair day. Read: every day.)

wales group

Trade Fair

So I’m a little late to the show but I still have words…and thoughts…and stuff.

So, taking our prototype of Ella to the trade fair was all good and well but we knew going into it we wouldn’t get much interest because our target market simply wouldn’t be there. That was fine, we still got some good feedback from an older, experienced generation. A few were downright enthusiastic about it! Plus, we got to practice our selling skills which is never a bad thing.

Here we are, all professional and stuff:

trade fair group

Adorable.

My thoughts on the fair? It was very interesting to see everyone’s products and listen to their process, where they’re manufacturing, everything. I think what’s interesting to hear is this kind of solidarity amongst us all in the questions. We get it. We’re all in this together. It’s incredible how just months ago none of us would have known the first question to ask in this sort of situation and now we’ve got this popped and locked.

And we care. I have not once felt this sense of competition or secrecy between any group. Of course I can only speak to my programme. Who knows? Perhaps the undergraduate participants are little monsters? Doubtful. They had some killer products. That sports bra to hold my iPod? Neeeeeeeed.

I do have to say that I was a little irked by the undergraduates with the watch. They had been at it even before the programme began, which is fantastic and super ambitious and a massive kudos to them! But, to the rest of us? That capital? That investment? Felt a bit…unbalanced. Especially since my programme did even know the specifics of what we’d be doing until we had actually arrived in late September.

All in all, good experience with my four favourite people.

But probably most importantly, we saw that other groups were ahead of us in terms of manufacturing so this experience inspired / lit a fire under our bums to make some serious headway in that department. Next up? To meet a potential manufacturer.

One Term Down. One Term to Go.

Designing a business. Sounds fun! Sounds exciting and sounds like every ambitious person’s dream come true! Add to that the fact that we’re doing it under the huge security umbrella of a university with a cap on the financial investment we’re allowed to put into it. Safe, secure. Fantastic! Let’s change the world.

Turns out this process kind of sucks. Like, hard. I have the utmost respect for people who can do this but I think there is one flaw in the lean start up approach: it lacks passion. When you’re forced to get with a (wonderful) group of individuals and choose one thing to devote months of your life to you would think you need passion. But I can feel the passion fading from me, and my group.

Our first meeting following Dragon’s Den was…deflated. Which was to be expected. But we needed time to recover and that’s great because break and the holidays were soon to follow. Fantastic! Oh wait. We have an exposition on the 12th of January. So, no rest for the weary and we’re lacking passion…still feeling deflated.

This post isn’t meant to (solely) whine. It’s meant to showcase the difficulties and realities of what it is to attempt this approach to product development and admire the the tenacity it takes for people to do this from scratch without protection of an institution.

But enough whining. It’s time to buckle down and face the music. We’ll get this product out one way or another…even if we all have to learn to sew!

Enter the Dragon

My dream team has been working quite diligently on preparing our prototypes for the Dragon’s Den tomorrow. It’s been quite the experience mostly because it has been so hands-on. But in reality, real life, real businesses, real products are hands-on. Lots and lots of hands because I sincerely believe it to be near impossible to accomplish entering a market, developing a product, designing a business (and so on and so forth) without the help of other talented individuals. There is only so much one can theorise and plan for before it’s time to simply leap

dragonsdenLet’s talk money. Well, we have none…so there’s that. So the route we’ve chosen to take has been reimbursements for when (if?) we do make money. Essentially our product people (Vania and Aleem) have been giving receipts to our budget woman extraordinaire (Britt). (Sometimes I wonder what Jonas and I really do…I bring the sass, he brings the class?) I have literally no idea if this is a good plan. But it was the best we could come up with because we needed to purchase product! Pray for us?

Let’s talk about my concerns. We have found it exceedingly difficult to find affordable, sustainable materials from which to develop our product. On an unrelated note, I’m sorry to all of the companies I have complained about and their inability to make ethical, eco-friendly, toxin-free products affordable. That sh!t is expensive! Sigh…the search continues!

So yeah, the materials are a concern because they’re the same as our competitors. I dreamed a dream of materials made from the rose-scented refuse of free-range, cage-free, hormone-free chickens that could be hardened into a soft coverlet that was filled with the pillow-like consistency of shredded snakeskin! Sigh. No, I didn’t. But you get my meaning. It’s really hard finding anything that is truly local that has caused ZERO impact! The sweet old lady next door could do our yarning, but where did she get the yarn, where was the yarn dyed? You mopping up what I’m spitting out, internet? It’s hard!

Another concern is the price. We need to buy in bulk desperately. But how do you decide how much!? You crowd source…okay. Grand! But then what! One step at a time, eh?

Our business is called “Little Steps” and that is more than in reference to the wee one’s we’re developing product for. It’s for us. For Britt. For Jonas. For Aleem. For Vania. For me. Because we’re taking the littlest steps into the business world and hoping for the best, taking guidance where we can, being brave where it’s required. And isn’t that really what the journey of life is all about? From our first steps to our last. A little step is all it takes.