The Designing a Business Journey – Reflective Essay

THE OBJECTIVES

A year ago I had just finished researching on the occupational field of Public Relations for my bachelor dissertation. The study I carried out with more than 900 PR practitioners surprised me and showed one thing clearly: If you plan to pursue a stellar career in the PR occupation, you have to develop managerial, leadership and business knowledge and that’s why I decided for the MACE Managing and the Creative Economy programme – to expand my creative skills by business understanding. I don’t know the exact position I would like to have in five to ten years time yet, but what I do know is that I’ve always been into content management. If it’s not going to be a content marketing agency I am going to work for in the near future, I might throw myself into the content management team of a large company. One thing is for sure: I would like to take over responsibility. This is also the reason for which I took over the Managing Director position during the Designing a Business project.

Although I’d learned about basic branding principles before, I am glad the MACE programme offered me valuable insights into new fields that will be of advantage for my creative management future, such as lean management principles, tribes & customer identification, creative leadership, as well as selling & pitching. Once managing a PR agency, all those fields will be important to me on more than just one level: As an agency provides a service to companies those principles will not only apply to the agency itself, its operations and employees but also to the client’s company and their operations.

 

BRANDING & THE SEARCH FOR MEANING

As Dr. Beaumont explained to us, branding is made up of three components:

  • “Brand is everything that creates an experience for the customer
  • DNA is the unique message of the business that is communicated in the brand
  • Identity is usually the visual part of the brand: logo, colours, layout, adverts, design”

For this project we aimed to use those three concepts and thinking of the brand as an experience for the customer we tried to take the meaning of the business even a little bit deeper. We’ve dealt a lot with problems the local community of London and the society as a whole have which has lead us to the fantastic concept of social enterprises. Just as Alex Hannant says, the world is not capable of managing the monsters it creates. From the beginning of this project we knew we were doing something bigger than designing umbrella bags. We take material that would otherwise go to landfill, create something new out of it and donate back to whatever institution the material came from. It’s not a win win. It’s a win win win win win. Why? Social enterprises go where conventional enterprises don’t. They go to places that aren’t attractive to the conservative business world, but at the same time open up new paths which will be crucial in the future and which traditional businesses might desperately need at some point. Social enterprises have not only great potential to be branded and provided with the community’s goodwill successfully, I also strongly believe in their growth potential for the future because of those exact reasons. In fact, social enterprises and working with the community’s issues have impressed me so much that I have recently applied for a Social Entrepreneurship workshop in Germany and even thought about Social Entrepreneurship as a potential special interest field for setting up a PR agency.

 

LEAN MANAGEMENT

Having read Eric Ries’s “The Lean Startup” the production of our “Heroes” was definitely enhanced by his lean startup principles and inspired by a saying by Lao Tzu: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. As today’s market is highly competitive, fulfilling a real customer’s need is essential. The core of Lean Thinking is about defining and delivering what is valuable to them over various incremental stages. A business run in this way, keeps customers, shareholders, and employees happy and reduces the risk setting up a business usually involves. For several times we have adapted customer feedback and included it into further production stages as Dan brilliantly describes in his blog post “Sequencing our startup DNA”. But it is not only about startup principles; taking my future in an agency into consideration, where I might have to deal with more established companies, the Lean Management philosophy provides a great framework for expansion as well as this video and the associated article illustrate. According to those, the whole business improves when its processes a) establish a pull system, b) create one piece flow, c) work in takt, and d) strive for zero defects.

 

TRIBES & CUSTOMER IDENTIFICATION

In order to identify our target group, we made use of social media. Based on a survey we carried out in the social media sphere, we filtered which people would buy our product and actually they had much in common! We took this information in order to create a kind of “mood board” with impressions of their pro­files and started analysing those people. All this information showed that we should target enthusiastic business professionals and provided some useful insights into their lives. Although tribes and target groups aren’t new words to me, in fact they are starting points for every PR concept as well, I wish I had known the Lean Tribe Canvas Model by Dr. Corrine Beaumont before. It provides a simple framework which helps identifying customer needs and target groups and choosing appropriate business unit strategies for addressing them. Pointing to the fact that customer and end-user do not necessarily have to be the same person, the canvas splits the target group identification into 8 steps. Having identified and observed the potential tribe with our social media method, the canvas helps a lot to create solutions for those people by thinking of the methods they currently use for solving their problems. I am convinced that from now on I will use this model not only for designing my PR concepts, but also for identifying potential corporate clients the agency I am going to work for shall target, using it as a tool to underline my suggestions to the board.

 

CREATIVE LEADERSHIP

Directing a team of four – all coming from different backgrounds – into one direction was a challenge. In fact, it was a realistic challenge against the backdrop of every company’s diverse constellation. One of the most important things I’ve learned as a Managing Director is that having a certain degree of working in divisions does make great sense, but also that particularly in a startup environment it is not advisable to think too much in “background dimensions”. Yes, we had a brilliant designer who could instantly visualize every idea we had, but he turned out to have some valuable ideas for our operations management, too. And our finance genius is the finest salesmen we could think of. It takes some time to get to know your team and definitely a lot of courage to hand over certain tasks, but guaranteeing some freedom is the only way the business can grow wings. It is the manager’s responsibility to lay the foundation for this, e.g. by encouraging even the most retiring team members to share their ideas – just as IDEO for instance does. Discovering those hidden talents throughout the team work, I soon got the impression that in every organization out there must be talent that is not fully outcropped. Learning to know my employees on a trustful basis will therefore be one of the preliminary commandments I set myself as a leader. Not part of the Designing a Business module, but great MACE lectures were the Re-Imaging Leadership lectures and Piers Ibbotson’s guest lecture on leading creative people. His idea of reducing the fear of failure creative ideas usually involve, especially in the context of the economy’s evolutiontowards more immaterial, knowledge-based products andservices, could help employees opening up. Overall, the leadership topic motivated me to step into further discourse with this topic, preparing myself for a leadership role with the help of Piers’ “The Illusion of Leadership”. For me as a hands-on and outspoken person it is a valuable experience to understand that many people have the ability, but simply can’t share their ideas the same straight forward way I usually do.

 

SELLING & PITCHING

PR agencies have to pitch. They do it every day, because it’s their way to win new corporate clients. Usually a company puts a project offering out and invites agencies to apply. Agencies then prepare competitive pitches with their first creative ideas on the project in order to win the client. Stepping into the agency world soon this will be my job. However, as pitching is an art and very complex, I am thankful for the intense work we have spent on it during Designing a Business lectures and a workshop with Eewei Chen. Particularly the very brief elevator pitch often proved to help understanding our own ideas better. Just as Businessknowhow.com outlines, an elevator pitch must contain an opening hook, about 150-225 words, a lot of passion and a request in the end and overall answer six questions:

  1. “What is your product or service?
  2. Who is your market?
  3. What is your revenue model?
  4. Who is behind the company?
  5. Who is your competition?
  6. What is your competitive advantage?”


Because this kind of method appeared as a very powerful tool to me, I researched further and came across the Forbes’ Message Map which I will definitely use for further pitches as well. By describing the core business in a “Twitter Friendly Headline” and surrounding it with three supporting facts helps a lot to structure your idea of a complex business and therefore is a great tool for preparing the elevator pitch.

Also, selling our Heroes face-to-face at different markets across London provided me with a whole new but very positive experience. The direct and very honest customer feedback made the effort worthwhile. To see how little changes about the pitch or display design had tremendous effects on customer’s perception as well as how many business professionals such as investors are present at such markets, illustrated how powerful the whole trade fair tool was. This made me believe that agencies should take the opportunity to attend professional trade shows and exhibitions with a stand whenever there might be potential corporate clients around as well – something they usually don’t invest in.

 

WHAT ELSE?

There are a few additional points I happily take out of the module:

– Setting up and leading a business involves a lot of reflection throughout the whole process. There are a lot of people surrounding you, everyone tries to give you their very best advises and because they often contradict it is by no means easy to find your route. In the end it is up to the team that runs the business to combine the best advises to a map that will work for the company.

– Presenting is an art and all the various Ted Talks we have watched during our MACE time have raised my expectations of a well delivered presentation massively. What those Ted Talks do is making the audience embrace the idea themselves and this turns out to be the most powerful tool to make them act towards your desired goal.

– Operations management is tough and it is all about timing and keeping an eye on the schedule. Only with the help of constant deadlines we managed to achieve our goals and a well developed time plan is something I will try to include into all my future projects.

– It is not easy to network with professionals straight forward. Taking opportunities to outline your professional competences e.g. on Twitter and make people come to you is therefore a comfortable compromise I discovered.

To conclude, I just love how tightly knit the whole programme is and that everything we learn in different courses makes perfect sense in the light of the practical Designing a Business module. The combination of my bachelor studies, the Designing a Business and International Business Management classes made me a “practically experienced entrepreneur with management and communication skills” – exactly what I want to be. Having discovered the world of pitching, leading creative people, identifying tribes and branding socially meaningful business models, has taken me closer to where I can imagine my professional business career will take place – a position in a creative, yet grounded environment.

 

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REFERENCES

Beaumont, C. (2013a) ‘Lean Tribe Canvas’ Designing a Business (Design Thinking + Lean Startups)Available at: http://macekingston.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/lean-tribe-canvas/ (Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Beaumont, C. (2013b) ‘Design & Branding’ Designing a Business (Design Thinking + Lean Startups)Available at: http://macekingston.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/design-and-branding/ (Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Casey, B. (2013) ‘Leading People — IDEO: the creative organization’ Youtube Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQMqEiJAIOA(Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Clifton-Hadley, D. (2013) ‘Sequencing our startup DNA’ danchadley Available at: http://danchadley.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/sequencing-our-start-up-dna/ (Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Darso, L. and Ibbotson, P. (2010) ‘Directing Creativity: The Art and Craft of Leadership’ Available at: http://www.directingcreativity.co.uk/images/piersImages/rotman-article.pdf(Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Forbes (2012) ‘Message Map: How To Pitch Anything In 15 Seconds’ Youtube Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phyU2BThK4Q(Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Fourprinciples (2012) ‘Four Principles Lean Management – Get Lean in 90 Seconds’ Youtube Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfsRAZUnonI (Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Fourprinciples (no date) ‘Lean Principles’ Fourprinciples – The Lean Management Experts Available at:  Youtube Available: http://www.fourprinciples.ae/leandetails.aspx?id=6#.U1dZEFdV6ap (Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Tedx Talks (2012) ‘Why social enterprise is a good idea, and how we can get more’ Youtube Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx9tizvS8NY#t=16(Accessed: 22.04.2014)

Pagliarini, R. (no date) ‘How to Write an Elevator Speech’ Business Know How Available at: http://www.businessknowhow.com/money/elevator.htm (Accessed: 22.04.2014)

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Recommended reading also:

http://theleanstartup.com/

The Illusion of Leadership

Eewei Chen

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The art of presenting

“Planting an idea in someone’s head – a strategic and simple idea. So simple, that they embrace it themselves, but so strategic that if they embrace that idea they take a chain of actions that result in your desired goal. That’s what a great presentation does.”
Gordon Kangas

Good presentations are essential; we all know that – at least since having experienced one by Shed Simove. An average product might suddenly appear groundbreaking when presented perfectly engaging, but at the same time an excellent one can be destroyed by a bad presenter in just a blink of an eye. Having the final Dragon’s Den a week ahead of us, we keep asking ourselves: What makes a good presentation? As always TED talks have an answer. Gordon Kangas, founder of Fluent Presentations, a company that helps individuals and businesses improve their presentation skills, gives us some simple but effective concepts to consider. His idea is that presentations take the audience from one place to another; from a red square to a green square. By doing so the presenter has to keep in mind that the audience doesn’t care what he or she wants. So it is their job to make the audience embrace the idea themselves. The key to do so is giving a linear, focused presentation that takes the audience towards the green squared goal in three steps. This refers to the rule of three which not only works in literature, comedy or memory. Even the Romans supported the idea already: “Omne trium perfectum” – everything that comes in three is perfect. The principle suggests that things that come in three are funnier, more satisfying and overall more effective. Advertising works with this principle for many decades as you can see in many slogans such as “Go, fight, win!” A series of three is often regarded as a progression in which tension is created, built up and released. Gordon Kangas therefore suggests structuring everything you need to say on the path from red to green into three basic concepts that make the audience own the idea. Another thing he stresses will be particularly relevant for being successful in front of the dragons: “You’re not there to be interesting; you’re there to be effective.” Being interesting might still be a part of being effective, however, we have a green square to take the dragons to and they have one as well: Investing into something effective – a company that has potential.
And there’s another relevant point I took from classes. Not always do we succeed in convincing others. Therefore, the way we handle feedback after presentations is essential as well. Corrine, our course leader, made a very clear point regarding this. She said that responding to critical feedback is like walking a bit with the critic supporting his or her opinion before subtly changing direction to your own point again. So, agreeing on the criticism is a must before explaining why you’re still convinced of your own idea.

Social Entrepreneurship – Why our business is more than umbrella bags

“We’re not capable of managing the monsters we create.” – Alex Hannant

From the beginning of this project we knew we were doing something bigger than designing umbrella bags. We take material that would otherwise go to landfill, create something new out of it and donate back to whatever institution the material came from. It’s not a win win. It’s a win win win win win. Why? Because the world we live in is dangerous. Just as Alex Hannant, Executive Director of the Hikurangi Foundation, a social enterprise incubator focused on supporting new solutions to sustainability challenges, says: “We’re not capable of managing the monsters we create.” Consumption is too high, population is too big, waste is uncontrollable – and people are just not as smart as they think they are in managing all this. For the past decades it was all about growth. Yes, shareholders are difficult to satisfy. But at some point the truth has to be faced, even by shareholders: Growth is not infinite. And this is the point social entrepreneurship enters the scene. They go where conventional enterprises might not go. They go to places that just might not be attractive to the conservative business world, but at the same time open up new paths which will be crucial in the future and which traditional businesses might desperately need at some point. Social enterprises are also highly innovative as they work closely with the community and with the community’s good will on their side. That means possibilities many other companies can only dream of. With his idea of successful communication Paul Hughes, communication consultant, underlines the relationship between social enterprises and the community. He points out, that truth and justice are the new operating principles in communication that build trust and belief. And those factors will be additional competitive advantages over traditional full-profit businesses.

The only thing this world lacks at the moment is funding and infrastructure for this kind of business model, because many governmental programmes and investors still promote fast returns rather than sustainable ones. However, as we believe HERO is just at the start of a new movement that is so powerful that the world will not survive without it in the long-term, we keep doing what we do and search for new material to upcycle.

See also the ABC of communication
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V00n4QEPP4g

Designing a Business – Tying all strings together

As our business works quite well and we got the first sense of achievement in form of positive customer feedback, this week was time for me to reflect on the MACE programme itself. Having discussed the accounts with our finance director Dan I was reminded of my accounting lecture last semester. And I thought: Hey yes! I actually had an accounting lecture! I never used to gain business insights during my creative PR bachelor studies back in Germany, but I feel it is increasingly important to do so. If we as female PR practitioners claim to want job roles of managers and creatives to be melting in order to have higher chances of promotion, there is absolutely no way around gaining managerial knowledge. When I enrolled to “Managing and the Creative Economy” I honestly did not know what to expect. I haven’t had calculated number for years and just briefly read some wise words of Michael Porter before, but what I was introduced to was all I could have asked for. I just love how tightly knit the whole programme is and that everything we learn in different courses makes perfect sense in the light of the practical Designing a Business module. The International Business Management classes I attended covered a lot of useful information in theory: Marketing, Accounting, Human Resources, Operations Management, Information Technology. At the moment I am enjoying an absolute brilliant Contemporary Business Strategy lecture which twisted all my creative thoughts around and enhanced them with a lot of rational logic, structuring and forecasting skills. Coming up with effective PR campaigns will prospectively be a lot easier if you understand all the strategies the company is pursuing overall, the strategic moves competitors are likely to take and the production processes the product experiences. It’s simple: If you’re just told what to communicate by board directors that might know a lot about business and just little about communication, you are probably less likely to be convincing. If you are a communication manager who also understands strategy you might be successfully communicating to the media. But because I’m still a creative mind, I am very glad MACE offers me courses about creative leadership, innovation, Design Thinking and a lot more, too. Absolutely amazing guest lecturers such as Shed Simove or Piers Ibbotson working in the creative economies and the mental exchange with all the other students with different creative backgrounds make the programme so special. And then there is the Designing a Business module which ties all the various strings together. Marketing, Accounting, Operations – what have been nice concepts in theory before, are now filled with meaning. Not only do we have to manage the PR part – we are also in charge of keeping the team working well together, marketing our product to the right customers, coordinating the sourcing, production and shipping processes and doing the accounts properly. All those activities provide us with the valuable business insight no book in the world could ever deliver.

The first Heroes hit the market

„Companies and their brands need to reach out and speak directly to consumers, to honor their values, and to form meaningful relationships with them. They must become architects of community, consistently demonstrating the values that their customer community expects in exchange for their loyalty and purchases.“

Simon Mainwaring

Trade Fairs one and two are done. Kingston Business School and London Spitalfields Market have welcomed Team Hero and gave us some ultimate insights into selling and customer interaction. According to the customer feedback we got, we made some changes about the stand design for the second fair; we decided to keep key elements such as the jute sacks or the camouflage net, but overall make it look clearer by introducing white as a colour, an iPad with a slideshow and some bigger price tags showing the product on a photo. Observations we made were that depending on how the stand is designed and what words you use on your display may have an impact on customer’s understanding of the product. Calling our product “umbrella cover” made people wonder whether we would sell products that cover umbrellas rather than bags, so we decided to re-name our heroes to “umbrella bags” which was understood straight away by most customers at Spitalfields. Also, we experienced the idea of a social enterprise as a very powerful one. As soon as the conversation got on to the idea of donating to the Help for Heroes Charity and stressed we would give something back to where the product material originally came from, people instantly felt more attracted to it. A good start for a conversation with customers passing by was to be friendly, communicative and ask them how their day was so far. Once the conversation started, beginning by pointing towards the actual problem of having those original leaking umbrella bags or not knowing where to put a wet umbrella when paying for a bus ticket turned out to capture the customers’ attention and help them understanding the product. Concerning the product range, people told us they’d like to have a wider choice of different upcycled products, different colours and designs. Some highlights of Spitalfields Market were: An advertising professional who worked for an agency, stopped at our stall and said he loved our strong branding and the corporate design. Also, an investment broker stopped, took a picture of our stand and handed his business card to us asking whether we would need some investment as he liked our upcycling idea and invested in start-ups. Furthermore, another gentleman from the British Chamber of Commerce gave his business card to us, saying his department would support young entrepreneurs with ideas like ours. Last, but not least, The Apprentice 2013 finalist, Jason Leech, who acted as a judge at Young Enterprise Spitalfields, told us the competition was very close and the jury strongly discussed awarding our upcycling idea. As a few customers at this day suggested us to go and ask the Inspitalfields Boutique whether they’d take our product into their product range, we took that as a last stop for this day and talked to the manager who asked us to email him further details about our heroes. What a day!

When it comes to sales we’ve also uploaded our Heroes to Etsy, check it out here

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The Trade Stand – Creating Atmosphere and Engagement

 

A good basic selling idea, involvement and relevancy, of course, are as important as ever, but in the advertising din of today, unless you make yourself noticed and believed, you ain’t got nothin’.
Leo Burnett

It’s first fair week. On Thursday we are going to share with Kingston Business School what we’ve been working on over the past few months. And we can’t wait. One thing we dealt with before this exciting event was the trade stand, another fun part of being an entrepreneur. Once again, we let our imagination run free, but not without having a look at those really helpful tips provided by our lecturer. Because space is limited in the world of fairs, we wanted to use every centimeter efficiently, achieving a good balance between selling space and setting. As our HERO brand and its relation to the British Army are strong elements to communicate and allow a great visualization, we decided to make the link through the usage of simple army related decoration, such as fake leaves, jute sacks, camouflage nets as well as cardboards that make a battered impression. Additionally, we tried to ease the serious army atmosphere by integrating the umbrella/rain theme and using bright pink colours. The whole stand therefore appears as an atmospheric “outdoor setting” that also illustrates the product’s usage. As our target persona is a young professional who enjoys any kind of engagement and is fully involved on different social media platforms, we searched for a way to integrate this as well. We came up with a photo booth where customers would let a photo being taken of them while they interacted with a cardboard that would feature a personal massage to anyone they know. We then would upload the picture, so that the customer can tag the message addressee on the picture to drive traffic to our Facebook page.

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How social media gave us insights into our customer’s lives

“Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.”
Ash Maurya, Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works

Lean start-up businesses are all about adaption, we’ve learned that. Adapting to the market, the customers, their needs and perceptions. We first started our business thinking the London business person would be the main target group. Being on the move in the city or staying at the office, carrying important documents, wearing suit or dress – our umbrella covers would definitely make their lives easier as they might become a juggling act on rainy days. Considering this we designed our sales and communication channels targeting business people, e.g. thought about handing out promotional material in after-work bars and locations. Potential competitors such as plastic wrapping devices for employees that are often placed in large office buildings seem to approve the idea of business people being main customers. However, when talking to people about our product idea and presenting it to the Dragon’s Den, it quickly became obvious that the potential customer base was much wider (We were even told to think about airline magazines. Wow.) Therefore, we spent some more time identifying a persona that will work for our product. Doing so we made use of social media once again. Based on a survey we carried out on different social media channels, we filtered which people would buy our product and were surprised how much they had in common. We then created a kind of “mood board” with impressions of their profiles and started analysing those people that we partly knew personally. All this information proved that we still dealt with enthusiastic business professionals, but also gave us some more useful insights into their lives. Image

Our persona appears to be a competitive, determined professional, and a culturally and socially active urban lifestyle enthusiast. Having this in mind we thought of ways to engage our customers at our fair stands, make them share their HERO experience in the social web and felt vindicated in sharing interesting stories about all the heroes around us and giving the customers the opportunity to share their voice in a reader’s column. Those customers like to be engaged and enjoy a whole product experience. Thinking about travellers, we also decided to target those by negotiating with retailers in the gift and souvenir segment. Carrying out such a social media research has not only provided us with important information, but also has another advantage: By involving as many people as possible into the product creation process, the potential customer base gets bigger, because people feel automatically loyal to our product.

Some more info about the Lean Startup idea and persona identification:

http://theleanstartup.com/principles

http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/06/defining-your-target-market.html

http://technori.com/2013/02/3122-5-critical-tips-for-identifying-your-target-audience/

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/06/13/identify-your-target-audience/

http://hbr.org/2013/05/why-the-lean-start-up-changes-everything

A tightly knit business net

“Hero is not a noun; it’s a verb.”

Robert Downey, Jr.

Welcome to the HERO year, world! Team Hero’s back to business from an inspiring Christmas break. And because Mr. Downey is right, we’re fully involved in planning, producing and implementing again in order to get our HERO out there as quickly as possible. At this production stage there are two main lessons we’ve learned: Even though we’re very lucky to know the producing tailor very well and expected production to be more of a casual business part, the past few weeks proved the opposite. Lots of prototype testing shortly before Christmas and the Dragon’s feedback have revealed some weak points and correcting them required additional material, such as cord stoppers, Velcro, rubber band etc. Ordering those took extra budget and time, Christmas holidays complicated the whole thing. The material didn’t arrive before mid January and showed once more how tightly knit all business parts actually are: If one’s late, they’re all most likely to. We used the meantime to plan ahead a bit of PR, marketing and sales which led to lesson number two: It is extraordinarily difficult to estimate sales figures of a totally unprecedented product such as ours. And again, everything is merciless related to each other. Our first production circle supplies us with 60 handmade HERO umbrella covers made from army rain ponchos. Obviously, we want to give our best to promote our brand and sell all 60 of them in the shortest period possible. Therefore it’s not all down to the three trade fairs we’re attending the next few weeks, sending out press releases, doing blogger relations, negotiating with retailers are scheduled as well. But the big question is to what extend those measures will actually influence the estimated sales. To co-ordinate communication and capacities therefore will be our top task for this week.

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They all depend on each other. Source: http://itbusinessalignment.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/it-business-alignment-ii.jpg

 

Of prayers, dragons and contradictory advices

Little Hans went alone
Right into the wide world.
Looking great with stick and hat
He was in good spirits.

I’m feeling a bit like little Hans. In September I left to a whole new world and the past 3 months now this world has been turning around our very first own business. As 2013 is almost over and production’s in full swing, it is now time to reveal a bit more about our baby called “hero”. Yes, we decided to name our product hero, because it simply is a real hero for 3 reasons. The material we use kept our soldiers warm, our product is upcycled and therefore contributes to the saving of our planet and not least, the product protects your belongings. Yes, we are solving a problem busy and fashion-conscious Londoners obviously face: Where to put a wet umbrella on the move or in the office? We’re answering all the prayers with an umbrella cover made from waterproof ponchos used by the British army. And because our prototypes look simply magnificent, we keep that little secret of how it exactly looks to ourselves a little bit longer, until our first trade fair in January. But what we do share is the feedback we got from last week’s Dragon’s Den at Kingston Business School. In fact, we pitched our business to two groups of business experts and got quite positive responses from both of them. One of the dragons even said he imagines airlines to be interested in our product as it is useful for UK tourists as well. The best thing was that one of the dragons was a young entrepreneur herself and actually owned an umbrella company and a little chat with her afterwards helped us developing some new twists and ideas to implement in the future, for instance expanding the upcycling idea to different products and material sources in order to be not too dependent on that one source. And this is pretty much what we got from the Dragon’s Den experience: It is unfairly hard to serve everybody’s needs. Even though all the people we’ve talked to recently just wanted the best for us and were not even part of the merciless market out there, however every person tells you something different to do; you come across so many contradictory advices and the hardest part is to filter what will really work for you. That’s what we will spend Christmas time doing, finding the best way to push our hero into the wide world.

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The day we pitched our branding strategy to Wolff Olins

Whenever I reflect on something or want to explain an idea to myself or someone else I embark on a journey to the wise words of former voyagers. This time it was a  journey into the past. And once again it was Aristotle who found some inspirational words for a busy lean startup:

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
Aristotle

As we are something, we’ve been to branding giant Wolff Olins to pitch our business and branding ideas in order to get some useful feedback this week. First of all: What a stunning office you have, guys! No doubt, creativity flows all around at this place! The atmosphere was productive from the second we entered the building. Right after a warm welcome by senior strategist Melissa our group took over the stage. We had four short minutes to say what we came there to say: What’s our business about, what product do we offer, how does the brand visually look like and how do we target the market. The respond we got was sharp criticism, reasoned sharp criticism, which we listened to carefully, because that was what we came for. The major criticism was that our brand seems to be too strong for our product, criticism that could have been worse, we suppose. And also a basis we can work on. It soon became clear that the Wolff Olins branding experts set great value upon the big picture.  What we as a team draw out of our day at Wolff Olins? It is all about bringing together details in order to create a big picture that convinces the audience. It is all about explaining the product utilization. Our visit at Wolff Olins once more illustrated the essence of lean startups: Constantly reconceiving concepts. Therefore our journey for this week ends with another wise quote by all time super wise Winston Churchill:

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

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