As a filmmaker and future film production company owner, I found Design Thinking for Start-ups module extremely valuable. The main aims of it were to teach us about behaviours and processes that are necessary when creating a product or a service. It put a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, innovation, management and collaboration skills. It allowed creative people to learn about business for creatives, how it works, what It requires and how its’ rules are different from the traditional business rules.
The module required all the students to get into groups and create enterprises. Each group was asked to develop, manufacture, market and sell an innovative, purposeful product. The process included processes such as writing a business plan, pivoting, testing the product, thinking about the problem the product was solving, gathering feedback and improving the product. We were also responsible for marketing, sales and finance.
The company I was a part of was called MSAJ and it was created by Aye Nge, Jung Mi Lee, Sakeenah Martin and myself. The biggest problem in our group and what we have learnt to see as the biggest strength was diversity. Each of the team members comes from a different country, studies different subjects, has different interest, perspective and skills. At the start of the module, we did not know how to embrace diversity. We tried to have the same way of thinking, to uniform our ideas. We quickly learnt that this will not help the group, but destroy it.
The first part of the task was to come up with an idea for a product. This was also the part we struggled with the most. Janja suggested we think of an existing problem first and try and find a solution for it. This theory for innovation was also written about by Seelig, Stanford University Creativity and Innovation lecturer. What she suggests is that “Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge. Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions. And entrepreneurship is applying innovations, scaling the ideas, by inspiring others’ imagination.”.
The first problem we encountered was being cold. We tried to solve the problem by introducing various products that were supposed to heat up, massage and prevent the user from feeling cold. We wanted to create a heatable massage backpack, massage suspenders, heatable ponchos and even a heatable shoe insoles! The main problem we thought we have encountered, was that surprisingly, some of those items already existed. The problem however, was so much deeper. We got stuck on trying to solve the wrong problem. No one in the group had any technical skills that could be useful when creating heating systems. Neither did we know about the materials that were needed. We wasted a lot of time developing poor ideas, instead of realising our mistake and moving on. ’Fail fast’ David Kelley (2013) said in one of his books, and we should have listened. At some point, Janja and Richard both told us the task we created for ourselves is not appropriate for our capabilities. We took this feedback and we pivoted. As a future film production house owner, I need to be able to not only manage people, but also see when the team is going in the wrong direction and be able to see the limitations of the team, be it finance, capabilities or resources.
Next few ideas were a little bit more achievable and required less technical skills. We wanted to create an antibacterial, magnetised make up bag or a tap connector. Our creativity at this point was running out. We felt like we needed a new method for coming up with ideas. We tried vocalising our ideas, writing it down and focussing on each for at least a few minutes and letting it grow. We tried coming up with the worst idea possible, to then see what comes from this way of thinking. All those techniques will be very valuable for me once I open my production house and I will be responsible for keeping the team proactive and creative. Sometimes the pressure of creating something may block creative flow, so it is beneficial to know games and methods that help simulate creative thinking. A lot of those interesting methods were mentioned by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup (2011). MSAJ found this as well as other Lean Startup techniques very valuable. We have learnt about the theory about testing products, as well as minimal viable product and we used them on our project, especially once we came up with our final idea.
After hours spent struggling with product development, our group became really stressed. Janja suggested we spend some time together without discussing MSAJ problems. Jungmi invited the whole group for Korean dinner at her house. What we found out was that we did not know each other at all. We jumped at the Design Thinking challenge so quickly, we did not take time to get to know each other. This was the foundation for our big communication problem. We finally found a real life problem that we could solve. I came up with an idea of creating a solution for weak, mainly internet based relationships amongst adults. We have decided to create a social interactive game for adults.
Before we moved on to doing a business plan, we created a minimum viable product and tested it amongst students and ourselves. We gathered valuable feedback and we adjusted our game and tested it again. After a few days spent improving our product we started thinking of aspects like strategy, marketing, business plan and sales. The Lean Startup theory taught me of an importance of customer feedback and the speed with which startups should act. In the future I will be in charge of some much more complex projects. The testing phase eliminates wasting time creating the service no one wants. It can also save a lot of money. I have also learnt a lot about various written plans and canvases that help create a business. One of my favourite ones and certainly most valuable for MSAJ was Value Proposition Canvas (Osterwalder, 2014) and the Business Model Canvas (Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2014).
After we had our final idea, we needed to focus on the actual product design. We tried to keep all our marketing materials uniform, in terms of content as well as visual qualities. We wanted our branding to be memorable. We created a set style for our game. This gave us a lesson in importance of branding. To make a product that becomes one day becomes iconic, the design plays just as important role as the function of the product.
Dragon’s Den events as well as Trade Fairs, were a valuable practise in presentation and importance of building rapport with the clients. At the end of the project, we all knew by heart what to say to experts or potential customers. We pitched our product so many times we can easily repeat it while half asleep. It also gave us a lot of confidence in approaching strangers and have a belief in the product we created. Confidence in your product is essential when selling it. It also allows for an easy conversation with potential customers or investors. Knowing what you sell and being an expert in the field is important in all industries, also film. This was the reason why we researched our competitors to find out what advantages our product has over other games.
Our biggest problem throughout the process turned out to be communication. Language barrier combined with online communication was not doing a favour to the group. Because of the communication problem other problems occurred, for example tasks were not fulfilled by the people who were responsible for them, the agreements we made were not executed etc. The problem affected the way we worked. We learned the importance of understanding each other. What this makes me realise, is also how crucial it is to set clear targets that everyone in the team understands, ask questions if anything is unclear and listen to other team members.
Another lesson was about feedback. Some conflicts we had, could have been easily resolved if we listened to each other and gave each other honest feedback. Being open about issues can be a bliss for a company. It saves time and confusion. We have also learnt about product development. If not for the course, we would never have had a chance to experience this first hand. We also learned how to embrace differences within the team and how to get the best of it by dividing roles and adjusting responsibilities towards people’s capabilities. We also gained creative confidence and through practise we mastered the art of pitching.
What we all still need to improve on as a team is stress management. The pressure and competition did affect the way we worked. It was a great practise in finding out how stress affects work flow. In the future I will take this into consideration when leading groups.
The whole experience was an extremely valuable lesson in business creation, development, creative design thinking, finance, marketing and team collaboration. I am convinced I will use this experience in my film production house and I am grateful for the safety net that we had that allowed me to experiment.
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