Reflective Essay

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Design thinking & Entrepreneurship in Practice class was designed to provide students with opportunities to gain and develop entrepreneurial skills that include managing, teamwork and design thinking skills through a live experiences brought by a business venture project.  The project itself has been a long journey with a lot of challenges. We changed directions numerous times until the final decision could be made that lead us to our end goal. But as they say, it is the journey that really matters and not the destination. Many obstacles were overcome and lessons learned throughout the whole project, but more importantly it was fun and a good experience of real challenges that every new business faces. In the end, it was exhilarating to see our idea grow into a design into a prototype then a selling product. In order to summarise what I have gained from the class in an explanatory manner, I will discuss all the challenges that I faced and how I overcame them using my personal experience as well as using what I have learned from this as well as other modules.

Changing perception

I have a BA degree from my previously university, Viet Nam Commerce University. The course comprised of a wide range of standard textbook courses such as economics, accounting, management and business studies. At the end of my degree, I gained quite a broad range of business related knowledge. However, that was all mostly theory. I was given very little practical knowledge and opportunity to gain practical experience.  Therefore, before the Design Thinking & Entrepreneurship in Practice course, I only saw everything as final products and was not aware of how these products came to existence and how they made their way to the consumers.

From the lectures I attended, I became more aware of how many different things get to their final form: from the birth and growth of an idea, to the design phase and finally the realization and execution as modelled by a three-recurring-steps process Inspiration-Ideation-Implementation as described by Brown (Brown, 2008).

I found out that ideas do not come easy. You need to look hard for them and most of the time you might not even know what you’re supposed to look for. Sometimes you need to pass by different ideas to get to the one that is right. And you are the one who has to make a rational decision of which idea is right, which idea is executable and has a feasible future.

But having an idea is still just having a vision of an end product that is far away. Whether the end product can be achieved and how it will look like depends entirely on how we grow our idea. By taking different design approaches, we will be able to explore different forms and nature that our product might have, trying to find the picture of a product that will satisfy our wants.

When actually making the prototypes from our designs, we’d be able to see real obstacles which solutions will help improve the product. This execution step involves much work but it also allows us to transform our product from an intellectual form to a physical form and most of the time we will see they are not the same, meaning we have more improvements to do. But by repeating the prototyping process, we will gradually find an equilibrium where both intellectual and physical forms of a product match, then we will have a version of our product – a good one.

Design thinking in a team

There were five people in my team. We all came from different countries. The diversity of the group reflected a real life scenario where more increasingly now, especially in commercial hubs and financial centres like London, companies and organisations employ people from such a wide range nationalities and ethnicities. Therefore, to be open-minded as well as compliant (a good summary on organizational compliance can be referred to from a document by Tate (Tate, 2010)) now is a normal requirement for an employee. Working in my team was a direct experience of that.

We had different backgrounds and skills but mostly related to some kind of arts. It was practical to utilise our artistic and designing experience cooperatively to come up with a creative yet real product. I believe the exertion of each team member to cooperate was one of the main factors that helped our team achieve what we did. Donna Novitsky, CEO of BigTent, addressing the importance of building a teamwork culture in a start-up in a lecture at Stanford University, said that “success is dependent on our ability to motivate others and encourage others to strive to the level of excellence that we are looking for.” (Novitsky, 2007)

However, it was quite new to me personally to apply a design thinking approach that is described as follows in the Harvard Business Review journal (Brown, 2008):

Put simply, it is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity. Like Edison’s painstaking innovation process, it often entails a great deal of perspiration.

I especially like the last sentence where it mentions that design thinking “often entails a great deal of perspiration”. In fact, it is compared to as the “99% perspiration” approach. Indeed, our team spent a great deal of time trying to come up with a product that would be unique and have a commercial potential. As Edison used to say “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that do not work.” We tried and we failed. Each time we iterated through the same cycle of prototyping, testing and refinement, and that process was repeated many times until we arrived at our final Ukreate prototype.

From the many ideas that our team came across, rejected and tried to realize, it could not have been a clearer practical example of the fact that most business ideas come from current needs to solve a particular problem (ACE, 2012). And in order to know what problems there are to solve, it requires a deep analysis of the current societies and markets combined with personal experience. It is also important to keep one’s mind open and be ready to explore new options and ideas because you never know with what idea you might end up with. In other words, it is important to be able to pinpoint which of the business ideas will bring success.

Which idea?

We started up with the idea of creating a commemorative product that would be made from used items having direct connections to things that symbolize the UK such as the oyster card, London map and tube map, etc… It was a nice idea but we later on decided it did not have a market appeal and that it did not have much business opportunity in it. The idea then morphed into making UK symbolized toy products that had some use in them for example a double decker that is also a pen holder. But it was not feasible because of lack of technical expertise and resources. We could not make the toys from wood and plastic and then decided to scrap the idea before we get too bogged down. Furthermore, there were already similar products in the market. In the end, it all boils down to answering questions such as “Can the product satisfy or create a market need? Will it be market appealing and for how long? Is it a unique product? How useful is it? Is there a big competition and can it be easily duplicated?” in order to decide whether to stick with the business idea (Isidro, 2012)

Our final idea came very spontaneously from a conversation between me and a friend of mine in which she told me she just bought a phone case for thirty pounds. Understanding that there is currently a high demand for smartphone accessories, I decided to explore the commercial feasibility of the idea of making a new type of a handmade phone case. Sometimes, persuading people about a business idea is not easy. But seeing is believing and I learned it from showcasing my prototype of my hand-sewed phone case to y team members. As on many episodes of Dragon’s Den, a person with a good prototype by default already has a head start and is taken more seriously by others (Monosoff, 2012).

A prototype is very useful. It is the first existence of a business idea in the physical form. From that, it is easier to see what the product looks like. Answers to the following questions would come easier: What are the pros and cons of the product? What changes should be made to improve the product and make it more marketable? What is its cost and what should the price be?

The business strategy

Putting together a business plan and marketing strategy for a new product is not a simple task. As my part, I did marketing and risk management part for our business plan.

But first thing that we tried to come up with was a good name for the company and the product. Building an iconic brand has always been a hot topic. Both our names of the company, the former Little Jokes and the latter Ukreate, aimed at conveying a message that describes what we do. However, how to make a name of a company becomes coupled with consumers mind, as Douglas Holt suggests, could be agnostic of its meaning. Holt argues in one of his articles that iconic brands are not built with mind-share principles but rather cultural-share principles. An iconic brand should act as a cultural activist and challenge current cultural contradictions (Holt, 2003). To a small extent, our company did challenge the norm by creating a business model that was meant to put the power of designing the product into the consumers’ hands and build a story surrounding that.

Through the process of raising brand awareness by trying to apply different marketing and public relations strategies, I have come to understand better the principles of marketing (Armstrong, 2010), and even small things like the difference between marketing and advertising (Lake, 2012) made me appreciate the core differences; I have come to understand better the importance of social networks and social media in the developed countries (Lake, 2012).

Risk management is also one of the subjects that I now appreciate. The evaluation of future financial, operational and strategic (Business Link, 2012) is an essential part of every business. It provides an objective view of the business’ future.

The project was without doubt a valuable experience. All the events that the department made available to us as opportunities to get engaged in promoting and selling our products, the Dragon’s Den competitions, all of that have been very practical, fun, educative and communicative. We all made a long journey and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to work with all the members in my team as well as Ms. Corrine Beaumont who made this project this great. And it was indescribably exhilarating to see that we actually achieved something and were able to market a real product, and did I mention that we were one of the six teams that were nominated for the best start-up business and that we also won the prize for the best product at Kingston University’s trade fair?

References

ACE, 2012. Where Do Business Ideas Come From? [Online] ACE Available at: http://www.ace.sg/site/Page.aspx?id=8C97B588-A974-4216-864C-2A2EF3E84737 [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Armstrong, K., 2010. Principles of Marketing. 13th ed. Pearson.

Brown, T., 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Business Link, 2012. Managing Risk. [Online] Available at: http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1074405311&type=RESOURCES [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Holt, D., 2003. How to build and iconic brand. Market Leader, pp.35-42.

Isidro, I., 2012. Evaluating your Business Ideas and Products. [Online] Available at: http://www.powerhomebiz.com/vol13/evaluateideas.htm [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Lake, L., 2012. Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference? [Online] Available at: http://marketing.about.com/cs/advertising/a/marketvsad.htm [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Lake, L., 2012. Social Media Marketing: Put It to Work for You. [Online] Available at: http://marketing.about.com/od/internetmarketingstrategy/a/socialmediamrkt.htm [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Monosoff, T., 2012. Creatinig a Product Prototype. [Online] Available at: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/80678 [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Novitsky, D., 2007. Importance of Teamwork. [Online] Available at: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1847 [Accessed 20 May 2012].

Tate, D., 2010. davidtate.us. [Online] Available at: http://davidtate.us/files/Key_Components_of_an_Organizational_Compliance_Program_David_W._Tate_Esq._073010.pdf [Accessed 20 May 2012].

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The Vietnam Summer Festival, a first of its kind in the UK, will take place on the 14th July right in the heart of London at the world renowned Spitalfields Market.
The Vietnam Summer Festival is a cultural festival and will celebrate all . As a visitor to the Festival, you will be treated to an unprecedented experience – a celebration of tastes, colours and discoveries.
Join us at the first-ever Vietnamese Festival (www.vietnamsummerfestival.com), and be whisked away for a day to our exotic and charming Vietnam!

And what have we got waiting for you?

– Food food yummy food: 30 stalls with mouth-watering cuisines from the Northern, Central & Southern regions. And if you’re really lucky, our talented chefs will show you some of their tricks too.

– Immersing live music & dance performances: we’ve flown artists across the ocean for your eyes only!
– Traditional games: be it outdoor or indoor, sweaty or artsy, we’ve got something for everyone! … And have we mention our attractive prizes??? Come play! 😀
– Arts & crafts: Vietnamese craftsman are known for their skillful, dedicated hands and creative minds. Visit our stalls and you’ll sure be impressed!
– Lastly, don’t forget to visit our Travel market where you will meet with Vietnam holiday experts, learn about what Vietnam has to offer and claim yourself a luxury holiday for two.

We hope we’ve given you more than enough reasons to join the event. In any case, for more information, please visit: www.vietnamsummerfestival.com

See you there!!! xoxo

Pinterest – Pin me!

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Having to say that I’m an Pinterest addict! I coincidentally knew about this website through one class of Design Thinking when my teacher talked about one of the best website for designers. Basically Pinterest is your own store which you can share and collect all the stuffs you like. Pinterest makes the process painless by offering a Pin It button that lets you grab pictures of your favorite things as you browse the Web. The site then collects the images on “boards” that other users can follow and comment on.

Pinterest features a range of content, but it is dominated by home decor, fashion, food, and crafts which attracts a numerous of female visitors, especially between 25-44. There is no doubt that Pinterest is in the top 10 favourite social sites with a high usage.

In the future, I think some website as Pinterest will take more advantage than other social websites because of their useful, attracting information, low time consumption and problem-free content – no scams, no harassments, etc … However  Pinterest has to face with copyright law, which seems to be its biggest problem in repining activities.

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Recommendation:  56 Ways to Market Your Business on Pinterest

http://www.copyblogger.com/pinterest-marketing/

Story about XQ

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

On the way to find out skills which I need to improve our product, suddenly it makes me think about one embroidery company from my country which I always admire their success.

Hand embroidered products have also become less popular and businesses became less successful in selling embroidered art products. As rough comparison, popularity of hand embroidered products in Viet Nam has been doing as well as classical music among young population in many countries. Hand embroidery is time consuming – it takes at least a month to produce a medium sized mediocre hand embroidered picture. However, it is hard to sell a fine hand embroidered picture that is priced from 500 thousand to 1 million Dong (15 – 30 GBP).Businesses have not been doing well. And the revival of hand embroidery tradition alone seemed to be an intricate question. But one company brought back hand embroidery to life and not only that, it also pushed its products the borders of Viet Nam, selling many of its pictures at billions of Dong – that is hundreds of thousands of Pounds.

XQ was co-created by a couple Vo Van Quan and Hoang Le Xuan. Hoang Le Xuan, who is originally from Hue – a city renowned for hand embroidery traditions, inherited the embroidery tradition from her family and along with her husband had already been creating embroidered pictures that had a main theme about Vietnamese people and places.

To-date, XQ is said to have than 3,000 embroiderers, 2,000 of them are artisans, and runs six separate companies, two of them are abroad in Russia and the USA. In my opinion, their success is based on the creativity and the idea to create the difference of their product in the massive embroidery market.  XQ really understand that  only focus on the quality and the difference of products is not enough, also have to apply a new business model, build up image of the company and focus on marketing, promotion and network campaign. Moreover, due to the copyright problem in hand embroidery market, XQ assured that only sets out to create high quality embroidery art works that are unique most of the time and that will not have more than two similar works. Many of XQ embroidery paintings take from one to six months to complete. Some take a year or even more. A lot of social activities has been run to raise their brand awareness.

And now is the time to contemplate their feature products:

Dream at summer noon

Traditional beauty

Bui Xuan Phai – A famous artist in Vietnam

Trinh Cong Son – A famous musician in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh – President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam 

Grandpa

The mark of time

Meditation

Hydranga

Welcome spring – Front side

Welcome spring – Back side

Sunshine on window

Scent of Lotus

Forgotten Dream

A nice day to know a bit about K-pop music!!

Since 1995, the Korean government considered to promote Korean media and music industry as an export industry. K-pop (an abbreviation of Korean pop music) has grown as a most popular music among young age groups of Asian. Teenagers and young adults from Pacific Rim countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines are currently influenced and set by the K-pop trend of numerous hot and talented boys and girls bands and start imitating Korean fashion and music.

It is interesting to see the report from Youtube, only in 2010 the numbers of K –pop views on Youtube reached 793.574.005 around the world, especially from several potential markets as China and Japanese. To be quickly become aware of that great benefit, three giant Korean record companies (YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment) decided  to break the Japanese music market by releasing albums in Japanese and launch wide marketing campaigns in the cherry blossom country. Although Japanese are quite keen to keep their young people’s culture from being influenced by Korean entertainment industry but it seems to be a difficult task for Japanese government, especially Korean entertainment companies seriously keep an eye on this potential market.

Let’s enjoy some music clips to see if anything special in K-pop attracting you as Asian teenagers and young adults:

 

 

 

It is undeniable to say that Steve Vai is my most admirable guitar hero and many other fans in the recent massive guitar world. I still remember my first impression of Steve Vai was the time when my friend showed me a video clip of ‘For the love of God’ in the concert version. I was absolutely mesmerized by the magical sound from his slender fingers. He is not a guitarist or a musician, he is a magic artist. He is not a player, he is an outstanding performer. While many musicians fit easily into a single category, Steve Vai’s unique musical vision remains unclassifiable. After more than 20 years, Vai continues to use unbridled guitar virtuosity and soulful artistry to explore the spectrum of human emotion.

 

It would be a shortcoming to mention Steve Vai and not Joe Satriani, an American guitarist who has been widely recorgnized as the archetypal post-modern guitar hero. Basically, Steve Vai is one of his successful students. As an instrumental artist in a pop-dominated field, Satriani’s accomplishments are even more remarkable: He is perhaps the most successful rock instrumentalist in recent history, selling millions of records and consistently packing concert halls – yet always preserving a strong musical vision, as well as the respect of fellow musicians and forward-thinking music fans worldwide.

What is G3?

Where  you are able to enjoy the blossom of three famous guitar heroes which is organized by Joe Satriani and time to see Vai and Joe play together. 1996 marked the beginning of G3 – this first year featured Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Eric Johnson.

 

 

 

After the last show 5 years ago with Paul Gilbert, G3 come back in 2012 with a numerous awesome artists who will be in the long tour around the world!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!! And I really really want to be there!!!

 

FLYING GIRLS

Posted: May 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Just a few decades ago, this was a common image of Vietnamese women – housewives, destined for a predefined life of chores and maternity. In our age, being a housewife is no longer their only vocation. They make their own decisions and choices, and lead their own lives. They study abroad, go out, have careers, and choose whom to love and when to have a family of their own.

Flying girls is a project which tries to capture the image of the young generation of Vietnamese women wearing Vietnamese traditional long dress who are currently studying in the UK to bolster their beautiful spirit and future. Get involved this project, I have a chance to make use of photography skills and apply knowledge of creativity from university in the process to work with Vietnamese girls who are studying and working in UK. Furthermore I have to learn how to set the wooden block to each girl which is similar to ‘creative constraints” to encourage their creativity.