What role can design play when starting up a company? – Launch 48 Kingston

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to mentor Launch 48 Kingston. Finally, a 2 day start up event I could be disruptive at.

Having attended Design Jams and hack camps, this first event where I could see design, development and running a real business come together. It offered up a new and exciting challenge: How could I be super effective at helping businesses formulate, ideate, design and get ready to present their exciting new business propositions in 48 hours.

Arriving at an empty university campus on a Saturday morning felt a little eerie yet some how very appropriate. Many start ups were conceived at Uni including FaceBook. No pressure then!

Day 1 – Formulation and ideation

10 am Board meeting

Each of the 3 teams had 10 minutes to explain their ideas to us. As mentors we had to understand the value of each business idea and let each team know how we could best use our skills and experience to help them. I liken this to speed dating where you have just minutes to get to know each other. Key here is to understand the strengths and the dynamics of the team and those of the mentors so we could start working together to help form the ideas as efficiently as possible.

10:30am till 6pm -Ideate

Mentors roamed around helping teams to form their ideas. I began by challenging teams to try and help them come up with more innovative ideas; getting them to understand how to differentiate their offering by figuring out what motivates users and where there is a potential gap in the market that they can fill. Using whiteboards, pens and stickies, I encouraged teams to draw, sketch and think about what they are going to be building. Each of the 3 teams had decent ideas but all of them were pretty ‘safe’ ideas and none of them were challenging the status quo. When facilitating ideas I try to set some ground rules like the following:

  • Be collaborative & inclusive when running workshops within the team. Don’t leave anybody out!
  • Challenge the status quo. Just because others are doing it does not mean it is right or the best way!
  • Time box your brainstorming and research sessions and make it rapid
  • Iterate and get feedback. User test your ideas at every given opportunity and as early as possible
  • Match user motivations to business value and features so that nothing is wasted. Keep it lean
  • Share a common vision within the team. Try building an elevator pitch.
  • Clarify Roles & Responsibilities
  • Prioritise requirements
  • Create a simple business plan. Try using the business model canvas to show how it all hangs together.

I was happy to be able to have been influential in guiding all 3 teams to come up with better ideas. By better I mean, they thought about who it was for and what a difference their offering could make in their lives. I encouraged the teams to adopt a more human approach and to basically make users happy either by letting them have fun, being themselves and being recognised for it or craeting real value that meets the most important user motivations (e.g. saving time).

Day 2 – Build, develop business plan and present

After Day 1 we left them to their own devices. I offered to user test any applications as and when they were being built, as some user testing is better than none. Happy that much of the business and financial aspects were pretty much nailed the mentors arrived back on Day 2, sat back and watched the teams present their final propositions. On the whole teams came out with fully functional prototypes that I, for one, would have been happy to take out to the market and test to get more user feedback. There is still work to do on all 3 propositions but it doen’s take a genius to figure out that with a little more tender loving to shape them, all 3 could be doing well. it is all just a matter of time.

Here is a link to the final 3 projects: http://kingston.launch48.com/

Thank you to Kingston University Entrepreneurs Society, Janja Song and Iain at Launch 48 for hosting and having me as a mentor.

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