Reflections and Start-Up Lessons Learned

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Start-up Lessons Learned

The chance to design and start our own business as part of Designing a Business module provided me with great opportunity to acquire new knowledge, gain experience and learn by working in a great team. Now, almost a year later since the start-up of our company—Calamari–this blog will reflect on the experiences and lessons learned along the way, thus far. Below I will reflect on the process we went through to launch our business and the important lessons/knowledge learned during the course of designing the business.

Entrepreneurial Process

As the Calamari team and in planning, building and launching our business we went through five fundamental entrepreneurial processes that I believe are necessary for launching any successful venture. These five phases of entrepreneurial processes were: idea generation, opportunity evaluation, planning, company formation/launch and growth.

  • Idea Generation: All new successful ventures start with an idea. The idea could be solving a particular problem (new product/service) or offering solution to improve a current product/service. In our context, the idea at the initial stage was to solve the problem of getting burned when drinking hot beverages.
  • Opportunity Evaluation: This is the phase when the idea/opportunity is assessed on whether it’s worth investing in. Here five criteria’s must be fulfilled when evaluating an opportunity:
  1. Is there a market opportunity? Is it an attractive market to invest in? What is the size of the market? Doing market research.
  2. Is the solution offered feasible? Is the product/solution viable from the market and technical perspective
  3. What is our USP/comparative advantage over established businesses
  4. Do we have the capability/resources or the team and the technical know how to succeed
  5. What are the risks of involvement in this business opportunity

The answer to the above five questions determine whether the opportunity is viable or not. Going through the above process in our initial idea generation and opportunity evaluation we eliminated our first idea as not being viable. It was for building burglar deterrent devices for students.

  • Strategy: In this phase of the business specific and relevant strategies are needed to capitalize on the opportunities identified. Mainly three strategic decision making needs to be made at this stage of the business:
  1. Target Customers: A set of potential customers/buyers needs to be identified at this stage of the business and the products/service needs to be designed specifically to solving their particular problems. A qualitative and quantitative research can help to make this decision.
  2. Business Model: Choosing the right business model is important. As it will determines the profitability, revenue streams and cost and the ability of the business to effectively address the needs of the customers.
  3. Positioning: It’s important to make a strategic decision on what tasks the business will perform and what task it will not do as to differentiate it from its competitors. Also, here the company’s vision/story should be developed on how the brand/business wants to be known to its potential customers and shareholders.

We at Calamari when starting our business did not follow the above process, as none of us knew about the different stages and processes. We learned this through, reading, trail and error, own experience and experimenting.

  • Company Formation: After establishing that the business opportunity is viable and solid, the right form of legal and corporate entity can be created.
  • Growth: At this stage the focus changes towards building the product/service, generating revenue and sustaining and growing the business over time. Marketing, raising brand awareness and building relationship with customer are critical to the survival of the business.

The above processes were followed when creating SpeaCup stickers and the reason why the above were reflected upon here. As its crucial to learn from this entrepreneurial process as starting and building any future business venture requires the same process to be followed in order to successfully established it.

 Creativity

 The first and immediate lesson I learned from working with my team, who were studying the creative economy pathway unlike myself, and from starting our business, gave me the opportunity to learn and be expose to new creative and unorthodox way of thinking about problems/solutions. For Entrepreneurs, creativity is very important for coming up with completely new ways of doing things, to spot new opportunities, to change and to innovate. As change creates opportunities and entrepreneurs create value by creating changes in different aspects of businesses primary and support activities. Leading to new ideas, products and services. Furthermore, creativity and innovation is at the heart of true entrepreneurship, as, Porter (2008, 2004 & 1996) mentions, companies achieve competitive advantage and stay ahead of their competitors’ in their industries through acts of innovation and creativity (Burns, 2011, Drucker, 2002, and Christenson, 1997).

Having been exposed to such creative people and environment and having my ideas constantly challenged in new, different and exciting ways, was very stimulating and great learning curve form me. Which, I believe I have developed new sets of skills, knowledge and way of thinking that I can use both in my professional and daily life, as a result.

 Design Thinking

 I will be honest and admit here that I had no idea about design thinking before starting my course. Since, I have been both fascinated and wanting to find out more about design thinking and learning to apply it to our business venture.

Design Thinking as Tim Brown (2008) defines it is a process/tool of thinking in terms of applying “innovation activities with a human-centered design ethos” (Brown, 2008, P.1) to solving and adequately and directly addressing people’s needs and preferences (Brown, 2008).

I believe when designing our own product, SpeaCup stickers, we were influenced heavily by this concept and were constantly thinking and trying to see our product and solution through the eye and needs of the end user for our product.

Furthermore, the other reasons why I like the discipline of design thinking and reflecting and thinking about is that it can be a powerful tool when designing a new business or a new product or service. Specifically, that can concentrate the energy and finite resources of the entrepreneur into solving and creating solutions that directly impact the lives and create indispensible value.

As I have been writing about in my blog, design thinking concept can give the entrepreneur tools that can be used to create unique and differentiated products or services for s specific problem or customer segment. Providing the entrepreneur with a unique competitive advantage over its competitors (Porter, 1997, 2004 and 2008).

 In addition, as it has been argued in my blog about disruptive innovation, through design thinking and concentrating on solving problems for specific customers. Entrepreneurs can bring new creative solutions and technologies, material, processes, designs and business models that change and even reshape the whole industries by making the old way of doing things obsolete.

Through concentrating and spending time, energy and resources on finding out specifically what customers likes, wants, needs, company’s can create niche markets and competitive advantage through using the discipline of design thinking (Tidd and Bessant, 2013, Kelley and Kelley, 2013 & Christenson, 1997).

This is true for instance in industries such as: movie rentals (Netflix), PC (phones and tablets), Kodak-Photography (digital camera), classified ads (Craigslist), long distance calls (Skype), record stores (iTunes), research libraries (Google), local stores (eBay), taxis (Uber) and newspapers (Twitter) these examples show that industries have been reshaped by disruptive innovations and thinking about the end users.

I believe design thinking has already had a huge impact in how I think about approaching new ideas about designing a business and product development and will be critical in my future endeavours.

Storytelling & Building Brand Persona

As part of the course to have an outside consultant to come in and talk about how to create a story and brand image was very useful for our product and business development. We understood as a result of this class and from subsequent reading about it that it was important to build and image about our product and how it can be used in different scenarios to enhance the lives/experience of our end users when engaging with our product.

Furthermore, it was interesting and useful to find out how through storytelling one can engage and reach target customer in a very unique and deeper level. As through ones products story, brand image and persona can distinguish oneself from other competitors products and services.

Pitching & Blogging

Given that, as part of the course we were required to blog about our experiences and to do elevator pitches often, I believe these experiences immensely improved my confidence and skills to better express my ideas and thoughts to general audiences and gain new skills and knowledge.

For all these reasons I am happy and grateful that I took the Design a Business module and in the process meet amazing sets of friends, learned from shared experiences and designed a business.

In future I hope to use and apply these skills and knowledge learned in my future endeavors and hopefully start a services based company in near future.

Reference

Burns, P. (2011). Entrepreneurship and small business: Start-up, Growth & Maturity. 3rd Edition. Basingstoke Palgrave.

Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2008/06/design-thinking [Accessed 2 Apr. 2015].

Christensen, C. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

Clegg, S. & et al (2011). Strategy: Theory and Practice. UK: Sage.

Drucker, P. (2002). The discipline of innovation. Harvard Business Review: 95-102.

Drucker, P. (2007). Innovation and entrepreneurship. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.

Kim, W. and Mauborgne, R. (2004). Blue Ocean Strategy. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2004/10/blue-ocean-strategy [Accessed 2 Apr. 2015].

Kelley, T. and Kelley, D. (2013). Creative confidence. New York: Crown Business.

Porter, M. E. (1996). What is Strategy? Harvard Business Review 74, no. 6 (November–December 1996): 61–78.

Porter, M. E. (2008) The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy. Harvard Business Review 86, no. 1 (January 2008): 78–93.

Porter, M. (2004). Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. New York: Free Press.

Ries, E. (2011). The lean startup. London: Portfolio Penguin.

Start up lessons learned: Blog By Eric Reis (2015). Lessons Learned. [online] Available at: http://www.startuplessonslearned.com [Accessed 2 Apr. 2015].

Tidd, J. and Bessant, J. (2013). Managing Innovation: Integrating Technological, Market and Organizational Change. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

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Creating a Strong Online Presence for Marketing Success

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According to Google, 97% of consumers use the web to search for local businesses. And if the vast majority of your potential customers are online, you should be, too. Having a strong online presence is a crucial component of your marketing strategy, no matter what size your business is or what industry it belongs to.

Here are three important elements when building a strong online marketing presence.

1. Your website

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All businesses, no matter how small, should have a website. It can be extremely basic, but it should contain the fundamental information customers – both existing and potential – need.

A basic website is pretty easy to set up using an application like WordPress. WordPress is a free blogging tool and content management system that gives users the option to pay a little more for the premium version. If it’s relevant to your business, you can even add an online shop – after all, in 2013, 70 percent of consumers preferred to do their retail shopping online.

If you’re not sure where to start, there’s a great guide to WordPress for small businesses. It’s easy to understand and runs through the factors you need to consider and steps you need to take when setting up your small business website.

2. Search engine optimization

Once you have a website, it’s vital that it can actually be found by search engines. After all, 89 percent of consumers use search engines to research a product, service or business before making a decision. To take advantage of this, you need to make sure to look at search engine optimization (SEO) for your website.

In case you’re not completely sure what SEO means, how it works, or why it’s important, here’s a quick rundown:

  • What: The purpose of SEO is to make it easy for search engines to find your website and list it in their ‘organic’ (as opposed to ‘paid’) results.
  • Why: People tend to trust search engines, so websites that appear high in results pages are more likely to receive traffic.
  • How: Using search-engine friendly methods to improve your website.
  • Who: Everyone – anyone who has information that people want to find on the internet should be using SEO techniques.
  • When: All the time – SEO is an ongoing process. It’s important to monitor the information on your website and make sure it’s current and correct. Search engines also love new content, which is why starting a blog can do wonders for your SEO.
  • Where: Major search engines include Google, Yahoo and Bing. They connect people all over the world to the content they desire, from products to services to information.

The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz and Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide both give a fantastic overview of the basics and will help you optimize your website.

3. Social media

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Social media is an important part of your online presence that improves your chances of generating additional revenue and building customer loyalty. It allows customers, potential customers and other interested parties to engage easily via a channel that plays an important role in their everyday lives.

For example, Facebook and Twitter will serve a purpose for almost any business – it’s a great place to post news, tips, photos and videos and ask and answer questions.

In addition to Facebook and Twitter, you might find Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, FourSquare helpful.

Once you’ve decided which social media channels to use, get a clear idea of the kind of content you can share. The more compelling and engaging your material is, the more likely your followers will like, comment and share your posts. Engagement is key to promoting your brand – not only will it make you more appealing to existing customers, the more positive social activity that goes on, the higher the chance is that their friends will be exposed to your brand and intrigued by what you have to offer.

First Trade Fair

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Given that none of us had participated/done a trade show before, we felt pretty overwhelmed as the more we realised that we needed to think about so many issues to make our first trade fair a success. In this post will reflect on the hard work that we put to prepare for the trade fair and how we felt the trade fair went for us. In this regard I’ll explain the process over four stages that I believe best describes the process that we went through before in preparation to the first trade fair.

Stage 1: Manufacturing the product

The first step we took when organising and preparing for the fair was to decide on the quantity of products to produce, the kind of materials to use/explore, the different colours, messages and shapes and sizes to use. This was important because this will determine the success or failure of our product. To this end we arrange a weekend to work on resolving and address the above issues and produce the enough quantities of the products that we felt we might be able to sell on the fair day.

Stage 2: Pricing

How much to sell a sticker for? Is the product price right for this trade fair? Since, we manufactured the products ourself we were not sure how much to charge for a single sticker. Also, we had to decide on selling only single stickers or bundle them into a package. At the end we decided to bundle the product into two different packages for two different prices. This pricing strategy and thinking ahead helped us sell all of the products we manufactured and make a small profit.

Stage 3: How to display the product

Because we had put a lot of emphasis on the product itself, we did not fully appreciate the importance of having a consistent message through out our display stand. This was also the case with how we displayed the product itself. The product was displayed in small envelopes that customers could not see through it, though it still had our brand/company name on it with our some marketing massage. The found out that this was an area we could improve on for the next round of the trade show.

Stage 4: How to market the product–The Take Away Message

We had to create a story for our product to show how it can be used in different scenarios and settings. This was to show that it will provide a unique and differentiated experience through customisable messages, shapes, logos and sizes.

The first trade fair was a great opportunity for us to showcase our product, get feedback from attendees, and learn from the process to take to next step.

Goodbye 2014 & Hello 2015!

On Friday (12/12/2014) we had our last group meeting for this semester. We talked about what we have achieved over the last couple of months and our plans for next semester. We divided the work between ourselves to be carried out by 12 January 2015.

So far, it has been a great learning experience. As a team I feel we accomplished a lot. We finished writing up the business plan, created logo and brand name for the product, prototyping, story telling and building brand identity. And most importantly learned about design thinking.

The one thing that I regard this semester is: not writing my daily blogs here on a timely manner. This is due to a combination of starting the course relatively late and laziness in my part. I hope to rectify this for next semester.

I’m looking forward to reading my new book by the Kelly brothers “creative confidence” which I understand is a required reading for all the student on the creative economy programme. Hope to broaden my understanding of the designing think method of thinking concept. Here is a video by one of the authors on Ted Talk about: How to build your creative confidence.

Until we meet next: Happy Christmas & New Year!

The business plan: from a blank page to a real plan

Over the last couple of months we have been continuously working alongside the practical aspect of designing a business on writing our business plan. The business plan has proved very insightful for our business idea. Working on the business plan has helped made us to think critically and think about the different aspects of our business idea. Determining the viability and feasibility of of business idea and the proposed product we aim to create.

Meet the Dragons

This week it was the first pitch for our product to give in front of the Dragon’s/judges. I felt our pitch went very well and thinking about the product before the pitch I am more sure about the product. Also, the feedbacks and discussion with the judges and friends, I believe have helped to think about the product from a different perspective and different ways it could be used.

In addition, the first pitch in front the judges have helped our team to become more confident in our pitching and convey a clearer message about our product to the audience. This experience will hopefully help us in our future pitches and presentation in front of the judges.

Sticking With Stickers

The story behind the idea and why we decided to stick with the sticker. Initially we wanted to use the thermomchromatic ink and apply it directly to the cup to have the desired effect we wanted. However, after finding out more about the product and as a result of contacting suppliers directly we came to the conclusion that it was not safe for customer to do so.

Hence, we decided to stick with sticker and use it for our product idea. Changing the concept and the product to sticker provided us with the flexibility and feasibility that we wanted. This meant that we could customise our product much more broadly and target a larger segment of the market than we initially planed.  Here are some of the ways it could be used:

  • Environmentally friendly solventsThermochromic_ink
  • Food grade for direct marking on food items
  • UV curable for outstandingly durable codes
  • UV readable for security or discrete coding applications
  • Pigmented for dark substrates
  • Thermochromic ink where a colour change is required

DESIGNING A BUSINESS & SHARING THOUGHTS ALONG THE WAY