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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