The aim of this essay is to describe my personal learning experience during the creation process of DANZZA and the Design Thinking for Start-ups module overall. I analyse how every situation changed my personality and the way I see things now. Also, I explain how these skills will help me to achieve my ambition of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
At the beginning of the module I felt anxious since I did not know what to expect from this module. I did not finish my undergraduate studies so I was afraid that the topics that were going to apply were not of my knowledge. Before starting my Masters in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, I spent five years working on my family business, which is a BTL marketing agency based in Argentina. At the same time, I worked on several personal projects as the creation of a beach resort in the most popular area of my country. I believe the title of my first blog cannot better reflect what I felt at that time: @#$% is this??!. On this post, I express my fears at that time but also how I enjoy facing new challenges.
Our first session included an activity called `The Gift Giving Project’. The aim of this task was to interview a classmate and solve in a creative way an issue related to making a present. I consider this point as the moment I realized what the module was about. After asking some questions to my partner, I came up with the idea of creating an intelligent box that would allow customer to add videos to their gift-boxes. In this activity, we learn about the term `Design Thinking’ for the first time. This concept refers to the non-linear process of finding an innovative solution to a specific problem through the analysis of the user´s mind and logic, challenging pre-concepts, redefining the problem, and delivering an original solution to it(Interaction Design Foundation, 2019).
During the beginning of the first semester, Alice asked us to form groups to create our own product and work on it throughout the year. In order to have different backgrounds, we formed a team including Vivien, Sheng-Yi, and Kaja. Vivien did her undergraduate in a Brazilian fashion school, Sheng-Yi’s background includes business and video gaming development in Taiwan, and Kaja is a Polish professional dancer who did her business undergraduate in Scotland. Sheng-Yi and Kaja did not have any professional experience; Vivien and I had it. While it may be difficult for people with diverse personalities to work together to accomplish a mutual objective, the benefits of this type of team activities are very positive for the members (Belcher, 2019).
During the next few weeks, we continued learning about the `Design Thinking’ tools and techniques. We did a wheelchair body-storming to put ourselves in the client’s place and thus understand their certain needs. Besides, Janja introduced us the Business Model Canvas, which is a strategic management tool to simply define and communicate a business idea(Bartlett, 2016). It was the first time I was in contact with this method and I was surprised on how this tool help us to think about a business idea without missing any element. The canvas is undoubtedly one of the most important tools I have learned throughout the module and I will make use of it when planning my future business projects. I even applied it successfully when I had to perform an analysis about different businesses as part of my projects in other modules.
Once we assimilated the conceptual framework of the ´Design Thinking´ methodology, we started to think about the product we will create for this module. After several group meetings and brainstorming sessions, we came up with an array of different ideas, such as a guitar pick keychain, a portable ashtray, and a protective top for contemporary dancers, among others. At this stage, it was essential to choose the right product since we would delve our work into it during the next months. This was a critical moment since our innovations and decision-making skills were put into test. This phase in the developing process is deemed as fundamental due to the importance it acquires for the future success of the business (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2011). Afterworking on our business ideas, we presented them in class to receive feedback from Janja and our classmates and define our future steps. After a dynamic discussion with the entire class, we decided to focus on the protective top for contemporary dancers. At the same time, given that Kaja is a dancer, we considered it would be easier for us to learn beforehand about the customer’s unfulfilled needs and expectations.
Having chosen the product we were going to create, it was time for us to investigate thoroughly about the problem we wanted to solve. We spent plenty of time researching about the injuries that occurs to dancers during their performances and how this affect them. Having gathered this information, we moved to the next step and started to design our business idea. We believed that a proper name for our brand would attract the right market. For this reason, we decided to name our brand DANZZA. `Danza’ is the Spanish translation of the word dance; and we added another `z’ to make it more eye-catching.
Two weeks later, we experienced our first Dragons’ Den; an opportunity for all teams in the class to pitch our idea in 5 minutes in front of a panel of experienced entrepreneurs followed by constructive feedback and suggestions from them. I was comfortable with this kind of activities since I used to present business ideas in front of crowded audiences during my last job. However, I felt slightly nervous about this because it was my first academic presentation in English and in front of a panel of judges. It is said that the most interesting products are created by people with loads of conviction and passion(Belsky, 2018). Our team represented those characteristics and that gave me the confidence I needed to perform in front of the audience. I believe that this experience would be useful for me in the future when pitching a business idea in front of potential investors.
During the first Dragons’ Den feedback, the judges suggested us that we should start creating our first prototype. For this purpose, we started to research about the materials that would be appropriate to manufacture our top sample. After some tests, we decided to produce the top with a dark blue breathable fabric and 1-inch foam for the protective areas. And with the help of Kaja´s flat mate, who owns a sewing machine to manufacture the t-shirt and sew the foam to it, we had our first DANZZA prototype.
Two weeks later, we attended the trade fair at the Kingston Business School. At the same time, we took part of the Bright Ideas competition, which involved judges evaluating our fair stands, asking questions about our business ideas, and giving us feedback. On this phase, it was when I felt more comfortable about being evaluated. I consider myself a people person so I feel very comfortable when interacting with other individuals. Through my work experience, I attended many fairs and events where being extrovert is essential for attracting new clients. After the fair, the judges selected us as one of the teams who will attend the Bright Ideas Finals in February.
The Bright Ideas Finals was a good opportunity to improve our business idea and presentation. The most interesting thing about this competition was the networking event after the presentations. This was our first time to speak freely with the judges about our business idea or even share personal concerns or ideas. In my case, I had a very interesting conversation with Craig Mills, the founder of an advertisement company focused in health and wellness space (LinkedIn, 2019). And after telling him about my experience on the field and the fact that I was looking for a job here in London, he asked for my LinkedIn profile. This was a unique opportunity for all of us to have a dialogue with the judges on a more relaxed environment.
The next step of the process was to create a video advertisement for our company. I was truly enthusiastic about it since I spent much time with my company’s audiovisual team producing many video advertisements for brands’ campaigns. The modern customer prefers to see a product ´in action´, and towards this end, audiovisual content are one of the most important driving forces for engaging customers (Kallas, 2018). Hence, we decided to create a targeted advertisement in which we show our potential customers how DANZZA would solve their injuries problems letting them dance freely. During the next class, we had the “Oscars” and we won the first price for the best video advertisement. We were very excited about it since we spent various days filming the content and editing it.
One week after the Oscars, we started working on our company’s business plan. It was my first time doing such a complete report. A good business plan channels entrepreneurs´ work towards specific preliminary steps necessary to succeed, helping them to set short and long-term objectives to secure a bright future (Messmer, 2016). We had a lot of work to do. We started the business report by including a brief introduction about what DANZZA is and defining specific objectives and explanatory information about our design thinking process (Bentley, 2003). Then, we detailed our marketing strategy that entails the competitive advantage of our business which is related to the main concept of the brand that will help us to positionate our product on the market (Baker, 2014). Afterwards, we developed a finance analysis. Finally, we exposed the lessons we learned and the future plans for the company. It was a tough process, but enriching at the same time. For the first time in the module, we compiled all our work in a single report. Also, based on Alice’s corrections, we learned which topics we needed to improve in order to create a better business plan.
Our following event was the Eden Walk Trade Fair. This was the first opportunity to trial our idea with people who weren’t from the university. After some testing of the prototype, we decided to improved it by replacing the protective foam for a shock absorbent material, and using a better quality breathable fabric. Although creating a new prototype may seem a bit cumbersome, we believe that our product should meet our customers’ needs. Besides, we built our stand for a second time giving us more practice for the Final Dragons’ Den.
Unfortunately, we did not win any prize at this event. However, we decided not to give up and we set ourselves the goal of being selected as one of the best four teams during the final competition. This was an inflexion point for us where we all applied our team-working skills in order to not give up and encourage us to continue working in our project despite not having received any prize.
The Final Dragons’ Den arrived. That day I woke up feeling a combination of nervousness and anxiety. It was our most important event of the module and we were expected to show how we improved the business idea during the entire process. Besides, during this event the judges would select two teams to represent the university at the Young Enterprise National Start-up Finals. That day was perfect in all senses; we felt confident, we did an impeccable presentation, and the judges were quite satisfied. We even qualified to the YE National Start-up Finals. At this moment, we realized as a group about the actual potential that we had. The problem was that we did not had much confidence on ourselves. After the competition, Janja told us something that would be etched on my memory for a long time: “Don’t you see what you can achieve if you trust yourselves?”. She was right. That day we were convinced that after so much effort and time invested on this project, we deserved to be selected as one of the best teams of the module. Even we did several changes during the process, isn’t life about adapting to the circumstances? I believe that this concept is essential to be acquired by anyone who wants to progress in any field of life.
To conclude, after this enriching process, I consider that my way of thinking changed radically. Besides, the fact that we acquired considerable knowledge through practice made the module much enjoyable. I will explain it in the following terms: after the module, I generated a Post-DesignThinking personality which defers drastically from the Pre-DesignThinking one. If the Post-DT Valentin had a conversation with the Pre-DT, he would suggest him not to be afraid of facing new challenges, enjoy the process, never give up even in the discouraging scenes, and do not stress, since on the worst experiences is when we grow up and learn something new. Now, this more confident Post-DesignThinking Valentin feels that he already acquired all the required tools in order to continue his way to achieve his ambition of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
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