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.
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)
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!
(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.
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.
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.
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].