danchadley

Reflective Essay

Evaluating career ambitions

A company’s ability to use resources effectively within an every changing environment is crucial for success (Clegg, 2010). Christensen (2010) vindicates this use of strategic analysis within a person’s life, reflecting that “good theory helps people steer towards good decisions-not just in business, but in life, too”. Life will always place demands on your resources, however to truly strategise your own life it is imperative that you spend your time, money and talent on achieving your true intentions (Christensen, 2010). Jobs (2005) reflects how “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work”.

Whilst I believe using external advice and guidance is hugely important in anyone’s career, it is also important to direct your valuable energy towards career aspirations that will make you truly happy. What exactly this entails for me has evolved during the course of ‘Designing a Business’ and I place considerable onus on this particular experience for evolving my career intentions. The journey I have been through with my team has made me realise a passion for social enterprise and the way innovation can be used within this section of the economy to have a positive impact on society. Investigating Greenblatt’s (2010) work on the ‘Impact economy’ within my blog entry ‘a Hero for Social good?’ made me realise that if I was to create a social enterprise that was self-sustaining (and not so reliant on government grants or donations) then the use of this type of positive impact, for-profit business model is the route I want to pursue.  This type of model has considerable durability within society (Grennblatt, 2010) and I also believe it would give me a greater level of satisfaction in helping people.

Relating experience

In order to launch such an enterprise requires a plethora of start-up business skills, many of which I have acquired to some degree within the duration of the course.

Design Thinking

Without a doubt the ability to use ‘Design thinking’ in such an enterprise, particularly in its creation, is a hugely valuable asset to have. The ability of design to be “both problem seeking and problem solving” within the innovative foundations of a start-up, enables a company to be built which inherently creates new forms of value to consumers (Heller, 2001, Brown, 2008). The use of the U.S.E.R model of design thinking proposed by Beaumont (2010) was reflected on within my “Becoming a USER” entry and demonstrates the unique way design thinkers exploit USER-centric design to formulate innovation. The process of mapping and understanding the problem stages when experiencing a product or service was elaborated on within the role plays and USER testing performed within Eewei’s start-up experience and Corrine’s lecture. The role plays highlighted to me how valuable altering our perceptual bias of a situation can be, demonstrating the daily ‘work-arounds’ we sub-consciously implement. This enabled us to form connections within a system and from this derive scenarios and personas to tailor offerings towards (Beaumont, 2010). I learnt from this stage prototyping can begin which Brown (2011) argues “should command only as much time, effort and investment as needed to generate useful feedback and evolve an idea.

The prototyping we performed initially for our product Hero was done within our team and consisted of brainstorming lots of ideas and bringing them to life with paper and sketches. However as elaborated upon within “Sequencing our Start-up DNA”; once we had decided upon a design we produced a ‘Minimum Viable Product’ to enable a full turn of Reis’s (2011) Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. This allowed us as a team to validate assumptions about our product by using Steve Blank’s (2006) advice of “getting out of the building”, talking to customers and validating our learning. An attempt to perform this type of validated learning was made by Team Hero in creating two designs and seeing very simply which design had more perceived value to the consumers via number of sales. However our team tried to validate our learning wherever possible, for instance within the website we created, we had a section to encourage customer comments which allowed us to further tailor the website to customer preferences i.e. a more user-friendly navigation toolbar. This ability to test assumptions early and cheaply was for me truly remarkable and implementing customer driven design into my future venture is an absolute priority.

Marketing and Branding

A fundamental credential my start-up company must have is effective, communicative and impactful Marketing which meet and exceed post-modernistic “customer needs better than the competition” (Jobber & Ellis-Chedwick, 2013). In order to achieve this Morel (2013) highlighted how segmenting your market of ‘prosuming’ individuals can be effective in identifying marketing techniques. At team Hero we used the social media medium of Facebook to conduct a survey which filtered based upon people who would buy our product and their “Behavioural, Psychographic and Profile” characteristics (Morel, 2013). This was an extremely useful and completely free method of gaining true insight into our potential marketing segment.

Upon validation of our business concept and our differing ‘tribes’, we decided to formulate these ideas into a ‘lean tribe canvas’, which served as an adaptation of the Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas (Beaumont, 2013). With segmented individuals to market towards, we could design a tribe canvas for each demonstrating how our business model could work for this particular group. This example of further USER centricity enabled us to design a business model to target specific channels of tribes which had the resources to further our profits and influence (Beaumont, 2013). For instance one tribe appeared to be culturally and socially active urban lifestyle enthusiast who enjoys an entire product experience. Therefore we attempted to always engage customers in a multi-faceted social media interaction.   

The branding of our company was the first element of this experience. Within our banding we needed to communicate the company Brand, DNA and Identity to target our market segment (Beaumont, 2013). I believe the use of ‘Hero’ was a good decision as the name itself was a powerful tool to capitalise upon. Hero also reflected our DNA as our products saved soldiers, upcycling the materials saves the planet and now it can save you on a rainy day. The journey of building this brand was an exciting and educating experience. Initially we wanted to go along with a cartoon theme and use a recognisable poncho character as our Hero saving people. Interestingly for me the response to our brand ‘Identity’ we received from our peers was of confusion and a fear towards the character we had designed (Beaumont, 2013). This was a memorable reaction for me moving forward and made me realise how easily absorbed you can become within a closed off group mentality and not realise what you are creating is designed incorrectly.

With a more focused Brand that illustrated our ‘Identity’, my ‘Scream-Shout-let a Hero out’ post detailed how team Hero were able to establish a variety of social media and selling platforms. These included an upcycling community ingrained twitter network, Facebook Page, Etsy shop and a website with a blog about everyday Heroes. Dillon (2014) describes the way digital media can be used to inject personality and recognisability into your brand. The pink army branding was consistent across all of these mediums and these were used synergistically to broadcast our company activities (Dillon, 2014). For instance when the team went to trade fairs, we advertised this fact across multiple mediums and even used these trade fairs to connect our customers to our Facebook group via a photo-booth event.  As further marketing ammunition for our brand we also developed an advertisement which was targeted at connecting with our customer on emotional, physical and cognitive level (Beaumont, 2014).

Selling and Presenting

Aside from our on-line channels, the process of physical face-face selling was an incredible learning curve for my future goals of marketing a business. The first skill I learnt was how to effectively produce a trade fair design which clearly demonstrates you are selling items (pricing etc.) and also “creates a setting” (Beaumont, 2014). Whereas initially our design contained a confusion of too many ideas; our progress into a clearer, attractive and more consistent design was noticeable.  For instance we made the products take more of a centre-stage and added an open umbrella to put our Heroes in their “natural environment” (Beaumont, 2014)

The ability to convince and persuade people is a truly a skill and reflects an ability to use emotional intelligence (Goleman et al, 2013). My goal is to become a leader within a company and therefore the importance of further developing this trait is essential, as Duarte (2010) notes “Your ability to shape your future depends on how well you communicate where you want to be when you get there”. The ability of figureheads in companies to use ‘Primal leadership’ in an emotional manner which motivates people’s open loop limbic systems is defining characteristic of any great leader (Goleman et al, 2013). This therefore represents the second skill that evolved from this experience, in the form of selling and presenting to people. We evolved as a team at selling to customers, becoming more persuasive and being able to give fluent product demonstrations, which elaborated on all of the advantages of our design (Beaumont, 2013). Many of these pitching skills we used within our presentations at the final Dragon’s Den. We aimed to try to inform and transform our audience in an imaginative way and deliver disparate parts of information in a cohesive manner (Duarte, 2010). This took the form of creating a real-time illustrative presenting where we simultaneously narrated an emotive story about the place our social enterprise has within the world. This experience as well as the 2 minute pitch I delivered has evolved my skills as an emotive and persuasive leader.

 Finance

Certainly being able to manage finances within my start-up will be a crucial skill to master and due to my role as finance director at Hero I feel I have gained a lot of experience within this area. The ability to record information within double-entry book keeping and produce cohesive accounts to summarise within a business report has been a rewarding experience (Dyson, 2010). I have also realised the importance and potential ramifications of setting the ‘sale price’ of items, in terms of taking into consideration the unit cost, covering costs and psychological limits on what people are willing to pay. Husain (2014) also emphasised the importance of cash and liquidity within a start-up and this is certainly a factor I will be monitoring closely within my enterprise.

Conclusion

Consistent among much business literature is this idea of delivering ‘value’ to consumers better than the competition. Looking at myself as a product how can I now deliver ‘value’ to my company in a unique fashion? Looking back to ‘My infatuation with effectuation’, I believe it is clear that my effectuating principles have grown during this experience as I have new means, altered goals, through a variety of new interactions and commitments (Sarasvathy, 2001). This experience has enabled me to scan the environment for potential opportunities and try to formulate these ideas into an innovative and cohesive package of a product, brand, marketing and finance. It has enabled me to implement expert advice and theories first-hand into a real-life practical venture.

Within my post ‘What makes a great Ad?’ I reflected how the whole experience for me represents a consistent honing of perspective on every front to deliver a valuable commodity to the world. How valuable the commodity we created actually IS to consumers is indeed questionable…I do not believe we changed the world with our innovation and this has taught me that when I pursue my new venture I will ensure it is truly innovative venture that has been thoroughly tested for its scalability and profitability. Within my post ‘Innovatively Stagnating?’ I question whether true innovation is grinding to a hault, however at the end of the experience I can say that I do not believe this is the case at all. It has in fact highlighted to me the wasted potential of people not coming together and trying to find innovative solutions to problems.

Christensen (2012) reflects how there is a difference between being taught “What to think or how to think” and this statement is what I truly believe this experience has taught me. To not be told how to run a business but to be given the skills to guide me to make my own decisions and mistakes, so I can learn from these and make successful choices in the future….and for this I am truly grateful.

 

References

Beaumont, C. (2010) USER design thinking model. MACE Kingston. Available at: http://macekingston.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/usermodel-corrinebeaumont.pdf

Beaumont, C. (2013) Designing a Business (Design Thinking + Lean Start-ups). MACE Kingston. Available at: http://macekingston.wordpress.com/

Blank, S. (2006) The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win. 3rd  edition, Cafepress.com.

Brown, T. (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business review. Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/~denes/PolandTop500Innovators/General/R0806E-PDF-ENG_Design_Thinking_HBR.pdf.

Christensen, C. (2010) How will you measure your life? Harper Collins: London.

Clegg, S., Carter, C., Kornberger, M., Schweitzer, J., (2011) Strategy Theory and Practice. London: Sage. 

Dillon, C. (2014) What is Social Media Marketing? Toptensocialmedia. Available at: http://www.toptensocialmedia.com/social-media-business/what-is-social-media-marketing-ten-definitions

Duarte, N. (2010) Resonate, Present Visual Stories that transform audiences. Wiley and Sons: New Jersey

Dyson, J.R. (2010). Accounting for non-accounting students. Harlow. Pearson education limited.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., McKee., A. (2013) Primal Leadership. Harvard Business review press: Boston.

Greenblatt, J. (2011) Revolutionizing the World Through Social Responsibility, Ted talks. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk1Ady8H9fY.

Heller, S. (2001) Education of an E-designer. Allworth Press: New York.

Husnain, F. (2014) Finance Director briefing. Kingston University.

Jobber, D. and Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2013). Principles and Practices of Marketing. 7th Edn. Berkshire. McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Jobs, S. (2005) ‘You’ve got to find what you love’ Stanford news. Available at: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

Morel, C (2013) Marketing. Available at: https://studyspace.kingston.ac.uk/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_group=courses&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Fcontent%2Ffile%3Fcmd%3Dview%26content_id%3D_3186273_1%26course_id%3D_5933155_1%26framesetWrapped%3Dtrue .

Olenski, S. (2012) What Makes A TV Commercial Memorable And Effective? Forbes. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2012/10/19/what-makes-a-tv-commercial-memorable-and-effective/.

Osterwalder, A. Pigneur, Y. (2010) Business Model Generation. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/downloads/businessmodelgeneration_preview.pdf. [Accessed 28 February 14].

Ries, E. (2011) The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, Penguin Group: London.

Sarasvathy, S. (2011). ‘What is effectuation?’ Available at: http://www.effectuation.org/sites/default/files/documents/effectuation-3-pager.pdf 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Hero’s Farewell

“If great presentations were easy to build and deliver, they wouldn’t be such an extraordinary form of communication”  (Duarte, 2010)

 

So the end of our journey with Hero arrived and with it loomed the Dragon’s Den final. As a team we wanted to create an extraordinary presentation which resonated with our audience and communicated exactly how our company would function to have a positive impact on the world. A presentation at its roots is about “moving your audience from being uninformed to being informed”, it is an art form of persuasion (Duarte, 2010). A great presenter has the ability to transform audiences; initiating movements, selling products and forming philosophies. In contrast to story telling, which often have a climatic single event, presentations undulate with multiple peaks and troughs as the presenter tries to deliver disparate pieces of information into a single cohesive argument (Duarte, 2010).

With this in mind we as a team set about trying to deliver the fundamental principles of our business plan, within a visually and orally resonating presentation. The beginning of our efforts saw us produce a Microsoft powerpoint set of slides, carefully divided into the sections of Company/product introduction (Dan), Marketing (Patricia), Branding (Dirk), Finance (Dan) and Lessons learnt/ plans for the future (Aude). We then practised a lot and managed to get the slides to flow with specific timings between changes. The slides themselves contained virtually no writing and were simply designed to back up what each of us was saying, with clear and attractive images.

We then practised a lot as a “high quality presentation takes time and planning” (Duarte, 2010) and delivered our first attempt to our lovely peers at the mock Dragons den. The presentation on the whole was accepted warmly and I think it was clear the hard work we had all put into learning and understanding our sections. For a student presentation I think it was of good quality and communicated the good points of our business as well as the challenges we had overcome. So we were pretty much set for the final and needed to change a few points Corrine had picked up on during the rehearsal……however at Team Hero we like to make things hard for ourselves….as a team we were not happy that the presentation was spellbinding enough and were not convinced that the emotive messages we were trying to communicate, were transmitting in an effective manner….

We therefore completely changed the presentation format to a illustrative design, in which everything we were audibly delivering was being drawn by our in-house artist Dirk on the overhead projector. This required a huge time investment and meant that everything we said had to be exact and according to a script which was alongside the projector Dirk was drawing on.

An example of this type of presentation is Steve Johnson’s “where do good ideas come from?” found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU

Despite being a massive headache, the use of this more creative form of presentation was very exciting and for me it was learning something completely new with little to no guidance of how to go about orchestrating such a process. We combined this new form of presentation with some more emotive storytelling about the role social enterprises have within the world today and how our business model offers real promise for the future in creating a cyclic pattern of people donating materials for specific charitable causes and we upcycle them into great products. Schiel (2014) mentioned within her blog the ‘power of threes’ in advertising and presenting (“Go,Fight,Win”) and we tried to use this phrasing in much of our prose.

After several evenings practising more …and more, we arrived at the Dragon’s Den final full of excitement and suspense. The first presentation went well and we managed to coordinate the new style into our routine to produce something unique. We received warm comments from the judges and then went downstairs to wait for the results to find out who needed to do a further 2 minute presentation for a chance of winning the £3000 prize. After much suspense, we got through, which was my primary goal as for me it was vindication that the judges recognised the hard work we had put in.

Then it came to the two minute pitch….

and my lovely team-mates decided that I was the best candidate to try and cram our whole presentation into 2 minutes in front of lots of people! I had to take a minute to think through everything and make sure that the presentation remained emotive and resonating with the key points. Before I presented I thought to myself that this is the only opportunity and I knew I would be disappointed if I didn’t give everything and so I did…I gave all my energy and ideas into two minutes and culminated all the hard work we had put in within this process into a short speech.

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Alas, we did not win the £3000 or young enterprise prize but I think our team our winners in many other ways….we have learnt the art of presenting in multiple formats whether it be using multiple mediums to communicate our messages or time constraints making us decide which are most important. We have battled with nerves and constant decisions and managed to produce a convincing argument for why our company existed…

This is the end of our experience but lessons I have learnt with stay with me forever…in this case…furthering my ability to communicate and persuade people within my career.

 

References

Duarte, N (2010) Resonate, Present Visual Stories that transform audiences. Wiley and Sons: New Jersey

Schiel, P (2014) the pigeon and the grain. available at: http://pswelt.wordpress.com/

 

Cash is King!

At the beginning of the business I was elected to fulfil the role of finance director. Whether it was my thick lensed glasses that was deciding factor for this election is unclear, however what I can say is that I have learnt a great deal from the experience. The first financial task that as a group we needed to decide upon was pricing of our products. This pricing needed to account for the unit cost, the price consumers were willing to pay and finally a value which would deliver sufficient profit margin to cover our costs. 

So lets look at these considerations……

Unit Cost= Total purchases/No. of units produced 

In our case this gave us a unit cost of £4.90. With this in mind we looked at what we thought people were willing to pay for a ‘Hero’ and based upon customer responses to questions we found that £10 was our initial sale price, delivering us a margin of 49% on each item. However after a week of trading we found that this price was marginally too high based upon feedback and lowered it to £8 per item, delivering us a margin of 39%. The reason I mention specifically this first consideration is that the sale price is fundamental to the successful running of the business and is the reason why so much time is invested into analysing this factor by price dependant businesses such as supermarkets.

Based upon this unit cost strategy we could determine the break-even point which is calculated by multiplying the unit cost by the number of units we produced. This gave us a target to exceed of £196 to break-even for our business, which meant we needed to sell 25 units. 

It was from this point that I began compiling our company accounts which taught me the historic accounting art form of double entry bookkeeping or the “dual-aspect rule” (Dyson, 2010). Simply put, “Every debit must have a credit and vice versa” (Dyson, 2010). Utilising the young enterprise templates, I was able to produce receipt and payment accounts that assimilated into a Profit + loss account and Balance Sheet. This representation of the data allowed consistent monitoring of the company’s financial progress and enabled us to set targets.

Cash Flow is King! (Hasnain, 2014) Particularly within a start-up the inability to monitor liquidity is a very bad idea, even if you are VERY ‘profitable’. Therefore alongside these accounts we constantly monitored cash flow and throughout the experience managed to keep a positive net cash flow via the strategic sale of 300 shares at the start of the experience. This was made even more positive when we actually sold out of all of our units (40) and ended with a cash balance of £351.05, which equated to £36.52 net profit (within our P+L account) after removing liabilities. 

I’m the first to admit that our profit wasn’t huge for this period, however I’m proud to say that we actually managed to make a profitable company within the short time frame we had and this was a result of the many activities mentioned within this blog. Also the economies of scale of our product meant the unit cost would actually have reduced over time as we actually had a large amount of surplus items from the initial production and we get the poncho material for free. 

The experience of being a finance manager resonated the importance of consistently monitoring this aspect of a start-up and how important controlling costs as well as the many intricacies of pricing items can be. It has also demonstrated the inherent simplicity found within many of these systems if used correctly and in a regimented fashion. My advice to anyone starting this task is don’t take it lightly, research and understand how these systems operate, follow the advice of professionals and finally stay on top of entering your figures accurately. Then you might be able to wear a thick pair of spectacles like me….

 

References

Husnain, F (2014) Finance Director briefing. Kingston University.

Dyson, J.R. (2010). Accounting for non-accounting students. Harlow. Pearson education limited. P220-260 & P420-436. 

What makes a great Ad?

“Effective TV advertising is all about the consumer and fulfilling his/her needs: emotional, rational or both” (Olenski, 2012)

In order to explore the world of advertising design, team Hero produced an advertisement which looked to promote our brand and product. Beaumont (2014) describes how an advertisement must “Connect with your customer on emotional, physical and cognitive levels (EPC)”.

In order to achieve this our advertisement needed to reflect on the “personality of the company” whilst still demonstrating the problem we are solving, how we are solving it and why/how people should buy our offering (Beaumont, 2014). With these goals in mind we set to work on putting together a ‘script’ for the layout of our 1 minute advertisement.

Firstly we wanted to clearly demonstrate two prominent issues our product is solving. In the commercial you see the business man leaving his wet umbrella on the bus and the interviewee soaking her CV when looking for a storage location. The same interviewee then presents this wet document to an equally wet looking and unimpressed interviewer (the business man).

The ad then moves onto an alternate reality where the ‘Hero’ is introduced and aims to illustrate the positive impact our product could have on these characters lives. This is shown by the lady having a positive (and dry!) interview and the (dry) business man not forgetting his umbrella.

Olenski (2012) describes the two routes emotionally exploiting routes an advertisement can take is either through targeting the “heart or humour”. Our ad was aimed more at humour with the unimpressed facial expression of the business man and the light-hearted heel click at the end of the commercial. This was combined with our consistent pink branding throughout the advertisement and the appearance of the Hero logo within the ‘solution’ section. The intention was to use these two emotional and visual aids in unison to communicate what we feel is Hero’s ‘brand personality’.

One of my favourite commercials by ‘Nextal’ does this brilliantly, with a very humorous plot and a fantastically seamless summary of all the brilliant things the product does.

Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zVmflv_PjY

Upon reflection the experience of producing an advertisement really made the team make some decisions on how our brand should be portrayed to the public. This facilitated a honing of perspective of messages we were communicating to our audience, which is useful in reducing the complexity, inconsistency and confusion associated with our marketing. Our team underwent a similar experience in my last blog post “Trading Heroes”, where we brought our display back to the basics to make a more effectively communicative experience.

For me this has really become a trend within my ‘designing a business’experience. We have been on journey of honing perspective of what our product offers and how we can communicate this most efficiently to consumers. What started off as a maze of prototyping and a mixed bag of ideas, now presents itself as a consistent and convincing brand ‘Hero’…..and it is this that I find truly staggering.

This experience has really exemplified to me the analogy “you get out what you put in”….we have ‘got out’ how to build a coherent company and we put in a lot of mixed and varying ideas which had to be assimilated and condensed to produce value to a consumer.

References

Olenski, S (2012) What Makes A TV Commercial Memorable And Effective? Forbes. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2012/10/19/what-makes-a-tv-commercial-memorable-and-effective/.

Trading Heroes

Over the past few months our team Hero sold our products at four separate trade fairs. This has allowed us to test our hypotheses and reflect on whether our validated assumptions were consistently re-validated by a wider variety of customers.

Our first fair was at the Kingston Business school and served as a crucial test for discovering the art of trade fair display and how to sell to customers. 

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In essence within the stand display we tried to “create a setting” (Beaumont, 2014) by combining our products with some rugged army features and our characteristic ‘pink and camouflage’ mix.  It was clear that we had a lot of ideas, however upon reflection the team felt that perhaps too many ideas were present on the table, which made the display look a bit confused and messy. Our suspicions were confirmed by customer comments and answers to questions about our stand. 

Our trade stand, did also have the addition of a photo booth, which was used as a medium for customers to send messages to a beloved ‘Hero’ via a Facebook uploaded photo. This served a purpose of driving traffic to our Facebook page by these customers being tagged and then their network of friends then becoming exposed to our company. 

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This was also our first opportunity to sell at an event and it was an incredibly useful experience at revealing how difficult and tiring the selling experience can be. At first we were all fairly useless, only being able to explain to customers little more than the basic features with an embarrassed chuckle. However throughout the day we started to get together a bit more of a routine, decide which features were essential to explain and try to give consumers a number of practical uses for the product. This led to a couple of first time sales (!…very exciting), but we were still in our infancy as traders. 

The next trade fair was at Spitalfields market. This was a challenging market to firstly reach with all of our stand equipment and also a new challenge to sell to a much larger population of customers. Due to the market being a young enterprise event it was an amazing hotbed of micro start-ups and interesting ideas. Our first challenge was to try and improve our stand to have a cleaner, more bespoke and crisper look which we felt would more clearly emulate the brand of ‘Hero’. We also clearly labelled what products we were selling, the price and shifted focus towards an social  business model for the enterprise by indicating an intention to donate to the Help for Heroes with any profits made. 

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I believe we achieved our goals on the day and the attractiveness of the stand was noted by numerous passers by. The more illustrious customers that we were complemented by included an advertising professional who commented on our brand and design, a private investor took a picture of the stand, gave us his card and asked if we required investment and finally a gentlemen from the Chamber of commerce gave us his card and told us he is part of a government project to invest in new start-ups. A final complement was from the apprentice finalist Jason Leech who told us that we were in the running for a prize and it was a close decision not to award to us. 

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Our selling stile improved massively and we had a routine which included the whole team trying to put forward the most engaging and convincing argument for why customers should buy our products. This included a brand introduction, product demonstration and an opportunity for customers to hold and feel the quality of the production. This led to a boast in sales compared to the last market. 

The final two markets Hero was present at was the ‘Merton Abbey Mills’ trade fair in Wimbledon and the final trade fair in Kingston centre. We adopted the same approach as at Spitalfields and once again used any feedback to improve how we sold the product. 

The key lessons we learnt from our trade fair experience were:

1. Selling is an art and is all about practice and confidence 

2. With display, less can be more and with simple (inexpensive) touches you can make a display which stands out.

3. It is only through practically attempting selling your products that you receive true insight into perception and remove yourself from the perceptual bias that you as an immersed team member suffer from. 

4. Your perceived target customer is a very wide range of people and therefore everyone has potential!

 

Scream….shout…let a ‘Hero’ Out

Whilst sitting here thinking about ‘Hero’…it occurred to me that I hadn’t mentioned the website, social media and distribution channels team Hero have set up to facilitate the sales of our product and enable the further building of our brand for a more diverse range of future products. 

Dillon (2014) describes the crucial elements of using social media marketing as “a opportunity to inject a little personality into your brand on-line, and to reinforce your brand.”  The ability to customise your social media to always consistently reflect your brand is also highlighted by Dillon (2014).

I feel that over all of our platforms our team has maintained a consistency and recognisability of our brand experience that has allowed a pluralism to our touch points with the our base and potentially new customers. This pluralistic nature of our social media has been amalgamated together due to the ability to trend one platform on another. This has allowed our team to sustain coordinated PR efforts which reach the largest demographic of people at one time.       

Website 

The website our team has created is available at http://www.hero-up.co.uk. The website has been designed on a word press platform and has required significant time invested into its creation. Despite this it has been a hugely valuable learning curve and has enabled our team to use customer feedback once again to tailor this offering.

Whilst our ‘in-house’ digital designer Dirk Bruwer facilitated the technical aspects of its creation…the whole team contributed to the layout and text within, to create a positive brand experience for customers:

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The hero logo scrolls with the customer down the website maintaining the presence throughout browsing…the recognisable ‘pink’ of the brand is also a common theme. The light-box photographs of the products also make the product look more bespoke and desirable. We attempted to bring a more light-hearted side to some of the text such as our “sunny souls” section which introduces the team in an informal, endearing and positive manner. Another section which explains the product is divided into sections, each of which is a “doing word” i.e. “heroes are transforming” which follows on from our slogan “Hero isn’t a noun, it’s a verb!”…

Another key aspect of our website is the “Hero blog”. With posts such as: “The Village Laundry service” based upon Akshay Mehra’s attempts to bring clean clothes to India, our team attempted to advertise stories about common ‘Heroes’ and use them to trend across our social media platforms…so far this has worked excellently to draw attention to our website and our products.

So far the website has received positive reviews and we have received  constructive feedback on the customer experience from customers who have purchased items. For instance one customer remarked that despite ‘blog’ and ‘home’ being in the taskbar…maybe all the other sections for quick navigation should be present…Another example was during purchasing, a customer found that you couldn’t select between the ‘velcro’ or ‘draw-string’ sealing design on our paypal option. This was customer driven design in its raw form and demonstrated to us valuable points which as team we hadn’t initially considered.

Facebook

Our Facebook site is available at: https://www.facebook.com/HeroUpcycling and again contains our key ingredients of logo and pink theme…The Facebook site has been utilised to advertise events the team is present, as well as the other publicity attempts such as our Hero photo-booth. It has always been used in a coordinated PR schedule, so that the different channels display consistency.

The Facebook has also given us access to Dillon’s “Point of exposure”, by allowing us to share our business across four different networks of friends in four different countries! (Dillon, 2014). This idea exploits Facebook’s network effect and uses the members of our team as advertising tools for the business.

Twitter

Our twitter: @Heroupcycling has again been used in coordination with our other channels; however in twitters case the potential to reach a much wider and unknown audience is apparent.

The twitter also enables our brand to reach sections of the community e.g. upcycling, innovation groups, where other people who are interested within these areas can follow us and re-tweet our posts. Our twitter has additionally enabled our team to mention people we encounter at markets and networking events to attract further attention to our business and to reach their contacts simultaneously…the power of the tweet! 

Further virtual shops

We have additionally used the channels of Etsy and Amazon to establish additional selling channels for all of our products, consistent pricing, photos and general branding has completed our portfolio of touch points with consumers. 

A hero for social good?

Our business is currently situated around the idea of providing a solution to the problem of mini-umbrella storage due to the ineffective alternatives on offer to the modern day person on the move. Another facet is that we are marketing ourselves as an ethical brand looking to preserve the worlds resources by using upcycled materials for all of our products…in this case army ponchos…

Due to Bright Ideas charity affiliation we cannot be partnered with another charity…as we would like to form a partnership with the “Help for Heroes” foundation, which is a brilliant organisation set up to provide mental and physical re-rehabilitation of injured soldiers post-conflict.

However after this affiliation with “Bright Ideas” ends we CAN chose this road and this in my eyes presents a much more resonating and ultimately impact-full business model in which our company can operate…

My vision is one where we can be a primary buyer of reduced cost army surplus/waste materials and turn these into products which can generate economic capital (by providing quality equal to or better than competitors) AND provide a social benefit by donating shares of profits to charity…To me this seems powerful, in that the waste materials are no longer required by the military, as are the injured soldiers…  In a country such as the U.S where military spending reached around $600 billion and the citizens are very patriotic towards injured veterans; the potential seems very promising. 

I think encoding this ethos into our company DNA represents one of the major shifts in the world economy today. This shift represents a phenomenon highlighted by U.S Presidential advisor Jonathen Greenblatt (2011) as the emergence of an “Impact economy”. 

What is the Impact economy? 

To demonstrate this “Impact economy” lets take a look at a great example of social innovators; Tom’s shoes:

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“In 2006, American traveller Blake Mycoskie befriended children in a village in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need” (Tom’s website, 2014).

Now you ‘negative nellies’ reading this may think….”yes but this won’t work in a ‘for-profit’ organisation”….WRONG! Tom’s shoes IS a for-profit organisation and a very successful one at that, with $250 million in revenues in 2013. Greenblatt (2011) is a strong proponent of the view that  an organisation can have BOTH profits and purpose and in fact can build a more durable value proposition for an organisation.

Greenblatt (2011) describes this as “Building a new equilibrium”, an equilibrium where the age old forces of supply and demand converge to create a world changing mission. A mission that could go some way to easing the burden on the limits of the ecosystem, the dangers of globalisation, the gap between rich and poor and the increasing economic deficits worldwide. 

Maximillian (2013) concurs with Greenblatt’s view of the impact economy and advocates the role of governmental involvement within the process. This involvement would be serving as a constructive and facilitating role rather than a regulatory as frequently occurs. This is not a new idea with organisations such as the US Imports/exports bank which has allowed thousands of businesses to access markets which would have otherwise been inaccessible

Maximillian highlights three keys points for this facilitation:

1.Encourage standards: Facilitate the creation and adoption of common metrics to highlight a firms social impact.

(a fascinating example of this is Global Impact Investing Reporting Standard, which is a firm that aims to evaluate the performance of a firm based on the social good it is achieving. This standard is now being used by some of the largest private equity firms, demonstrating a revolutionary change.) 

2. Facilitate access: Ultimately funding from governmental organisations 

3. Create incentives: whether tax relief or favourable loans

(another great education example of this was a Yale University program which aimed to give tuition relief to graduates who chose a employment path of purpose driven business!)

4. Erect guidelines: protecting interests of consumers and general public interests

So in my view these points demonstrate the desire to create a controlled conditions which inspire social good and therefore inspire creativity to change the way we think about business and the way we think about how we can solve the world problems…

Can a company such as “Hero” truly develop into a socially positive organisation that still has the potential to be a successfully profitable idea? Alas I can only dream at the moment! 

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An enterprise for social change?

It may well be that social entrepreneurs are not the complete answer but IMAGINE the potential if we can amalgamate the interests of shareholders with social well being….IMAGINE the revolutionary way that could change the the worlds monetary systems into ‘friendly economies’…

 

References

Greenblatt., J (2011) Revolutionizing the World Through Social Responsibility, Ted talks. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk1Ady8H9fY.

Maximillian, M (2013) The Impact economy. Impact economy working papers. http://www.impacteconomy.com/download/Impact%20Economy%20-%202013%20-%20Making%20Impact%20Investible.pdf

 

Sequencing our “Start-up” DNA

Whilst the world moves on to 2014…(Happy new year and all that jazz)….Our business “Hero”..also enters a new phase of life….so lets get theoretical….

Having just completely read Eric Ries’s fine work “The Lean Startup” (mind officially blown) it seems appropriate to try and address the key ideas I gained from this body of work; presenting them in the context of our companies future strategy.

Firstly,what has become painfully apparent to me is that our team has  entered the “Build-Measure-Learn” feedback loop Reis (2011) describes, but has not performed a complete cycle. It is the ability of start-up companies to accelerate faster than competitors through this loop that will determine success. This fly’s in the face of the common misconception that the most important element of an innovative start-up is protecting ones brilliant idea. 

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This can be achieved by four crucial steps that (due to my previous background in Pharmaceuticals) stood out to me as truly scientific in their methodologies: 

1. Determine the ‘Leap of faith’ assumptions that resemble the core of your businesses value. 

2. ‘Build an MVP’ (minimum viable product) that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop for ‘Validated learning’, with minimum development and effort to avoid damaging waste. 

3. Use ‘Innovation Accounting’ to determine if MVP and tuning of MVP are performing to set “Learning Milestones”.

4. Pivot or Persevere on original strategy 

I found these ideas fascinating and the logic behind them so completely apparent. Reis (2011) describes how frequently a businesses products would be developed for over a year based on assumptions without ever entering a MVP stage to test these ‘leaps of faith’ with real customers (often early-adopters). Whilst in hindsight this is obviously a risky strategy; I can understand completely how professional people have a mindset of producing their highest quality work first time. Reis (2011) describes this from the point of view of his 3D avater instant messaging service IMVU. 

So lets look at this from Hero’s perspective….what are our “leap of faith” assumptions:

1. Customers are willing to pay money for an effective solution to the problem of a wet mini-umbrella

2. Consumers see the use of up-cycled material as value-creating

3. The branding of ‘Hero’ is increasing ‘first-time’ and ‘repeat’ customers. 

Our team has entered the ‘Build’ phase and our MVP has  been produced fairly quickly and with relatively low effort; therefore how can we test whether our hypotheses are accurate?…certainly the 3 trade fairs approaching over the next couple of months will be great testing grounds…but how can we be sure that certain tuning or refinements of marketing and product development are the cause of improvements in customer adoption or even hits on our website? 

Whilst the time frame we have to trial changes is limited, some of the principles of ‘validated learning’ can certainly be implemented  when trying to sell to consumers to determine whether slight changes in product appearance or functionality has an impact on sales …or even if a change in branding appearance has an impact….this learning can be achieved via “split-testing” where we show both approaches and test which strategy creates the most significant customer response. 

Ideally in terms of trialling some of this tuning I am going to suggest that we try to interact with some customers ASAP preferably before the trade fairs, to try and gain as much learning as possible to maximise potential at these events…A key feature of this learning will certainly be to determine who exactly our customers are…as without knowing this it is very difficult to know what quality (to them) really IS…

After these events we can utilise some of the principals of innovation accounting which for such a small scale operation such as ours will primarily be focused on basic key customer cohort metrics (rather than just ‘sales’) and will allow the use of customer feedback and activity to shape the future strategy of our team and ultimately decide if we need to perform a strategic ‘pivot’. For instance; within team ‘Hero’ our customers may take the shape of direct consumers or maybe we will be selling our products to a shop for re-sale…which strategy is most effective may require a “platform Pivot” for our business. 

Whatever the future of the business may hold what I see as vital is that we are ready to receive criticism, accept that failure is a crucial learning step and adapt strategy to create a product that serves a goal of ‘serving a customer need’ better than the competition. Once our strategy has been thoroughly tested and is proven to be lean and effective…the process of “acceleration” can occur within this model; whilst always ensuring that the companies goals are being achieved. 

(Reference: Ries, E., (2011) The Lean Startup. First edition. London: Penguin.) 

 

Our ‘Hero’ met a Wolff and slayed a Dragon

Ok, so the last few weeks have been incredibly busy in terms of the whole course and designing our business….

With the product idea and prototyping phase of our journey reaching a conclusion; the branding of our company became the focus for the team. The product we have decided upon is the mini-umbrella covers made out of army ponchos that were destined for landfill.

Beaumont (2013) describes branding as being comprised of the Brand, DNA and Identity of a company. It is the correct mix of these ingredients when ‘cooking’ the brand recipe for your segmented market segment that allows a valid strategy to be adopted. 

Our team began the process of deciding on a name for the brand and product by looking into what ‘value’ our team was trying to create with our product for our USER and how the journey of the material could relate to this. After many hours pondering, sketching and debating; one name stood out for us more than any other:

HERO

This name reflected our product DNA in the aspect that it “Saved Soldiers”, it now “Saves the planet” (due to upcycling of the material) and now it can “Save your belongings”.

In order to segment our customer demographics the group performed further analysis of the people who showed interest in our product from our initial survey of 35 people. The results demonstrated remarkably similar characteristics of our USER:

 

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Now with the name HERO in mind, the group really ran with this idea and tried creative ways of using it and ways of connecting our target USER with our material. 

One of the suggestions was to create a cartoon which displayed our hero character with our poncho material for its body, saving one of our target groups (in this case a lady commuter) from everyday situations; similar to the way our umbrella covers would save them on a rainy day.

ImageAnd along with this cartoon on the packaging we displayed our material journey:

 

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 Team “Hero” also began brainstorming logo ideas which would reflect us as a brand; here was a few examples:

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These logos were emphasising the comic book style of branding we were looking to go for which we felt may appeal to the masses and draw attention through media channels for our brand. The logo on the right was our initial favourite and featured the raindrop in the negative space of the star, demonstrating the water protection we were looking to offer (shown below on our prototype packaging).

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 With these branding ideas in mind we went to the in-class Dragons Den and presented them to the group…

The reviews of our ideas were mixed; however what was clear was the HERO character that had been created was perceived as “terrifying” and the cartoon branding was maybe not correct for the original UVP (mentioned in the last blog) of “It kept our soldiers warm, now it keeps your bag dry”. The logo was also seen by some as looking far eastern (maybe Chinese) or even soviet bloc esc.. A positive was the material journey was warmly received by all “dragons”.

This diagnosis of our dearly held branding strategy was at least at first a little daunting. However as Ries (2011) states that “The reason to build a new team to persue an idea is that you believe you can accelerate through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop faster than anyone else can”.

Whereas large corporate companies can suffer due to failures of products or their branding, the advantage of start-ups is being “obscure”, having a “small customer base” and not having much “exposure” (Reis, 2011).

So we concluded that we must learn from our critics and (upon Corrine’s advice) move forward to develop the branding strategy for our idea that was more centrically focused on the idea of “Soldier”, “Rain” and “Umbrella”.

Over  the next week we came up with a new logo, focused our branding more on the story of the material and our product prototypes were constructed for the first time.

 

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 The logo displayed the name, bunting award themed design and in the background shows an umbrella.

The story we are now aiming to tell through our branding was that this poncho is a hero…

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A hero that was passionate about helping or soldier Sarah:

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It sheltered her while she ate and protected her while she slept…Clinging on in the strongest winds and holding strong in the fiercest storms…and now, after years of service this poncho was retiring and on its way to landfill….Team Hero couldn’t allow that!.this Hero needed saving and now it can save you!

The channels this strategy is going to be transmitted through includes a Kick-off event “Hero gallery” displaying everyday life Heros and offers a chance for people to nominate a hero who have a photo and short description of their heroics in any form. Also at the event we aim to give out badges with our logo on them to these HEROs and other members of the public who attend the event.

Other ideas of more “hands-on” publicity for the business would be to go out into areas of London as ‘poncho wearing salesmen’ and target our USERs with unique triangular flyers (similar to packaging) with our story, journey and what value we can offer them.

The team also is looking at creating a HERO blog which will display many types of HEROs and will have articles about new HEROs and old HEROs who maybe people never knew of or forgot about. Our website which will contain this blog will also offer the opportunity for people to say who they would like to be more of a hero and leave feedback on the blog articles. Other channels of publicity the group were aiming for our brand to be present on include social media and entrepreneur platforms (twitter, FB, entrepreneur)on which we will try to trend the blog.

With these ideas moulded into a framework of a presentation our HERO went to meet the branding agency “Wolff Ollins”.

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The experience was very interesting (if slightly nerve-racking) and the feedback we received from Melissa, Andre and Rejane was interesting. As I understood it, they felt that the branding was very strong, eye-catching and thought provoking, so much so that they forgot what the product was! Therefore I think within the presentation we needed to have more focus on the product and what it actually does.

An insight into the way Wolff Ollins operates was also very interesting as it seemed the “dragons” of the day job roles were divided into “stratagists” and “designers”. I asked what the distinction between these two were and learned that the more pragmatic and framework based strategists worked alongside designers to bring ideas to life during projects. This I found interesting as I could see similarities between this structure and the structure our own team operates within: Dirk and Aude “designers” and Dan and Patricia “strategists”.

With this feedback on board we made some final tweaks to our presentation such as a design showing our creation in action:

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and the presented to a final “Dragons Den” of the term.

I think looking at all the other teams work we saw that everyone had progressed really well and the level of presentations and effort put into the strategies for our businesses was evident. This was reflected in our comments back from the dragons as they felt that there wasn’t much between the teams.

The feedback we received from the dragons was very useful and was concerned around the idea of including more financial information and being aware of trademarking of our items. The one team of dragons in particular were very enthused by the idea and saw the problem as real and the product as something they could really see themselves buying. This team additionally backed up our plans for the future of contributing to “help for heroes” campaign, which would also provide more networking and publicity opportunities.

So that was the branding journey up until this point at the end of term 1! Its been an inspiring journey where I have already learned a huge amount so far. Our Hero has met a Wolff and slayed a dragon!

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(This “slaying of dragons” idea was conveyed to me by the famous Levi Roots during his entrepreneurship presentation at Kingston hill. He was a brilliant speaker and emphasised the role that a good mentor and self-belief can have to make a person successful. Levi showed how it was the branding of himself and not his sauce that made him a success!)

Save it for a rainy day…

Just after my last blog post, our team decided on a vision for a product. This was narrowed down from four ideas:

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We spent a meeting discussing the problem these were solving, prototyping the ideas, testing the best solutions to the problem and seeing if the ideas were achievable within a (very) lean start-up model. After much discussion (in person and facebook) and liaising with Corrine we decided  that the ‘Umbrella cover’ niche was the most innovative and achievable with the contacts we had at our disposal. 

The premise/problem behind the idea is that with the very popular mini umbrellas (primarily) ladies carry around; once they are wet they cannot transport them with the rest of their belongings in their bag. The solutions we found from surveying 30 ladies included: holding on to it in their hand, using the wrist loop to carry it, carrying a plastic bag and putting wet umbrella in bag. The survey also suggested that many ladies would like an alternative to help the with this problem as plastic bags do not work and carrying in the hand is impractical. Also a few had a problem with leaving their umbrellas under tables etc, when they didn’t wish to carry them in their bags.  

The prototypes were then created by Patricia Schiel and her mother with low cost waterproof materials sourced in Germany:

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We were very happy with the results and thought that the designs were stylish, worked effectively, easily transportable and cost was low (around £1.50 to produce!).

More good news came thou as Dirk brewer informed the team that an army associate of his had a continuous, large source of waterproof materials (old ponchos) which were going to be disposed of and we could have for free. This for me was a great hook for our product as we would be re-cycling materials which were not going to be used and have a story to go with the products. Also, besides the cost of postage, we would have a source of free materials for production (how lean?).

With these ideas in mind, the team all set about completing a lean tribe canvas (mentioned in my last blog) independently and then set a meeting to discuss our interpretations of the ‘tribe’ we thought we were targeting, the tribes problems, our UVP (unique value proposition), solutions, channels we were going to use to solve this problem, tribe tracks, our defence for our product, our tribe offerings and costs. 

Our findings were interesting, as we all arrived on very similar outcomes for our tribe canvas. The tribe identified was a professional, creative, ethical lady, who enjoyed purchasing unique gifts. We discussed our ideas for UVP as well and the we liked the collaborative UVP of:

“It kept our soldiers warm, now it will keep your belongings dry” 

Last friday we then pitched our ideas to “fake dragons” and the class…and guess what….they liked it! The feedback we got from the session included people agreeing that this was a problem, they liked our designs and agreed that the use of the army materials will give us a story to sell with (selling with a story was mentioned in “becoming a USER”). I liked the feedback that we could maybe use the army material as the waterproof base and then design around it. Corrine also added that we shouldn’t be afraid to charge more than £5 for the product.

We also suggested that  we may keep the design very simple and just use a different coloured lace to use as the pull chord at the top. This idea would be helpful as would reduce production demands and I feel it would appeal to trendy, professional types (a sketch of this idea and possible packaging ideas is shown below).

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So that’s an introduction to our idea. I honestly can’t wait for it to develop, for the brand to develop and for our team to continue to grow. Our business name is still under discussion:  Bagrella, Funbrella, BrellaSoul, SoulBrella and UmbrellaSol all being suggested. I really like SoulBrella at the moment as it suggests giving your umbrella soul and also suggests a deeper meaning behind the product.

But at least for now at least lets save it for a rainy day…

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