Having run my own business, Babatunde, for the past nine years, I was really excited to get started with the Design Thinking for Start-ups module. Running my own business has been an experience with many ups and downs. I had no formal business training previously, and I’d run my business more or less on instinct. I know for a fact that I made many mistakes and many poor decisions which were uninformed. For this reason, I enrolled for the Managing in the Creative Economies Masters degree in order to further my business knowledge and also to learn more about managing in general. The Design Thinking for Start-ups module was particularly advantageous for me and taught me a lot about starting a business as well as adapting and improving a business as it grows. Many of the lessons learned are not only relevant to me now, but are lessons I need to keep reminding myself in the future, whether I decide to start another business or to seek employment in the Creative Industries.
The module began with classes to teach us the basic principles of design thinking. Ries (2011) believes that the major undertaking of a start-up is turning ideas into products, gauging how customers act in response, and then learning whether to pivot or persist. One of the first lessons I learned was the importance of empathy when solving problems and conceptualising. Building a sustainable business requires the identification of problems that people experience to find gaps in the market. However, to solve these problems in an affective and relevant manner I learned that I need to be empathetic to the target market and to fully understand what the problem is and how to effectively address this problem. Brown (2008) observes that by making use of a ‘people first’ angle, design thinkers can create solutions that are intrinsically desirable and meet definitive or underlying wants. I learned about the minimum viable product and the process of adapting the product to make it as profitable as possible. This process involves coming up with a sample and then testing the sample within the target market and getting feedback on how it can be approved and then making another necessary pivot or change. This is known as the ‘Lean Business Model’ and is currently viewed as the most relevant and effective model for developing a start-up.
To gain experience with these start-up principles, we formed teams and were tasked with coming up with an idea for a start-up or business. I was a part of team Planit. After much discussion and research, we decided that mindfulness and anxiety, had a gap in the market that we could address. Different daily situations cause anxiety for people of all ages. According to Mental Health First Aid England (2019) millions of people living in the UK suffer from generalised anxiety without a known cure. Our team strategy was to create calm for people in situations that make them anxious. Hugs are known to comfort people and bring a sense of calm. Team Planit’s business idea was a portable and practical hugging accessory. The Hugbuddy had been hatched!
After looking at products already available in the market, we collectively decided that we would redesign and repurpose the body pillow. People suffering from anxiety needed an accessory that was more portable and that could be used outside of the home. We started by finding the best fabrics to work with. After going to Shepherd’s Bush Market to view fabrics, we agreed that fleece and brushed cotton would work best as they were soft and ‘warm’. We found a tailor in the area who could make our first prototype to the quality required. As soon as the first prototype was ready we immediately noticed changes that could be made to improve the HugBuddy. However, as we had our first prototype, we could start working on the branding and marketing strategies for our start-up.
Branding and brand identity is extremely important when starting a business. This is how businesses become recognisable and create a following. Brands can be extremely valuable assets, in terms of the economic, strategic, marketing and financial advantages they offer according to Dall’Olmo Riley (2016). The branding strategy for Hugbuddy was a brand identity that was gentle and calm, in accordance with the accessory and it’s purpose. We created a logo that could be used on our campaigns but that also had potential to work effectively on product labels and packaging.
As part of the module, we registered the HugBuddy with Young Enterprise scheme. Young Enterprise is a national charity who specialise in enterprise and financial education. Registering with Young Enterprise enabled my team to open a business bank account. Steps such as registering a business and opening a bank account is something all start-ups go through. Once registered, we also had access to the Young Enterprise financial software where we could record transactions and generate financial statements for HugBuddy. Young Enterprise provides insurance and a safe environment for young entrepreneurs to experience and experiment with their business ideas with limited financial risk according to the Young Enterprise website.
In my opinion, I l believe I earned the most from the trade fairs we attended. The trade fairs gave us excellent first-hand experience. Trade fairs are a great platform to engage with possible customers. Speaking to potential customers allowed me to gain valuable feedback about the HugBuddy. Do they like the product? How much would they spend on the product? Would they give it to someone as a gift? These were questions that we could get answers for in our conversations with people. Secondly, this is a great space to test out your marketing and branding. The main goal of a trade fair is to attract people to your stand. To do this effectively, the stand needs to be attractive and approachable. Schramm (2010) believes that the first impression is key to how people will interact with you in the future. At the first trade fair we attended, we learned that our stand and displays had more weaknesses than strengths. This knowledge helped my team to quickly improve our branding efforts for the second trade fair.
This module also taught me vital lessons about teamwork and collaboration. Due to our three team members all coming from different cultures and levels of business experience, we had some challenges to overcome. Communication was probably the biggest challenge for us. Eliadis (2020) maintains that effective communication relies on empathy, positivity, clarity and assertiveness. I feel that communication is something we take for granted. We often feel that we are being clear in delivering our communication and listening actively but in most cases this is something that needs to be worked on. Particularly in the business environment. HugBuddy helped me to improve my communication. We met weekly to discuss HugBuddy and to decide on what needed to be done for the following week. These meetings enabled us to assign different parts of our projects to each team member and follow up on pending progress.
Time management was another challenge to overcome. With team members living in different parts of London and having different schedules it was often difficult to co-ordinate meetings at convenient times that suited each of us. But we agreed that if we met on the same day every week at the same time we will all be able to lock off this hour every week to devote a discussion to HugBuddy and it’s development. Dierdorff (2020) states that adaptability is a key ingredient for effective and versatile time management.
My role in the team was financial manager, however I also got involved in some of the creative aspects of the branding. I admit that while running Babatunde, I was apathetic towards my business finances. I had identified this as something I would like to improve so jumped at the opportunity to be financial manager of Team Planit to improve my skills. I was responsible for the pricing of our product as well as recording any transactions that took place. The young enterprises platform provided me with a neat and user-friendly online system to record HugBuddy transactions. From these transactions over the 5 months, the system generated a Profit and Loss Statement and a Balance Sheet to analyse HugBuddy’s financial performance. Unfortunately, we made no sales so our financials did not make for good reading. Although, our £1000 prize from the Bright Ideas competition helped to make our bank account appear healthier than the start-up had performed.
Another personal weakness I had identified was public speaking. The design thinking module has helped me to improve on this immeasurably. Thompson (2019) believes that practice along with small, manageable steps such as talking to a small groups of people when possible. Due to the various class presentations, and the Dragons Den events my confidence has improved. I’m not only less shy to speak in front of people but I’ve also learnt what makes a talk captivating and convincing. It is key to make sure that the content of your talk is on topic and that you grab your audience’s attention early. This module placed a great deal of emphasis on how to make a pitch attractive to investors.
One of my strengths that was identifiable from running Babatunde was branding. I have a natural inclination towards aesthetics and visuals. I was responsible for creating the HugBuddy logo and for putting together a lot of our campaign images and displays. I really enjoyed this part of the process and getting to know new programmes such as Canva.
In retrospect, I would say that HugBuddy was a good exercise in collaboration. Each member of my team listed their own strengths and weaknesses and contributed towards making the hug buddy an unexciting and feasible start-up. Although we generally worked to our strengths, there was room for us to develop our skills which we felt needed work. In this video, Chris and Uta Frith discuss the benefits and challenges of collaboration and how effective collaboration eliminates the need for a group leader.
In the future I would like to be a part of a team again. I definitely see myself starting another business in the future. However, in the near future I would like to work within a team of professionals to further develop my business and communication skills. Another advantage of working in a team would be to improve my collaborative skills. I feel a lot of this course was aimed at entrepreneurship and developing a start-up. Nonetheless, I’ve learned that design thinking can be applied in most business situations. In more established businesses, design thinking can be applied to problem solving on a wider scale. In the future I’ll remind myself about what for me are the most important aspects of design thinking – empathy and collaboration. These are the key to working in the Creative Economy where sustainability and equality are essential for success.
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