Common Problems Startups Face – A design thinking outlook

Common problems startups face – A Design thinking outlook

I have been directly associated with startups since 2006. That’s when I started my career as a member of a venture capital investment team. All the way to my recent years consulting them and young businesses, I have heard a multitude of problems that startups face. Problems that can largely be categorized under two main causes.

The first one of course, being investments.
The second, being the lack of traction, or growth in business.

With regard the problem of funds, you could further break it up in to funds you must have, and funds that are good to have.

Literally all of us are, more often than not, influenced by awe-inspiring startup stories. About those startups in the world that seem to be on a blistering growth path. With people and funds literally queuing up for an opportunity to invest in them.

Watched the movie ‘The Incredible Hulk’? The Hulk and the Abomination in that are like those few startups that receive disproportionately high amounts of funding.

Everyone is not like them. And even in their case, of the two, only Hulk was relatively stable with the superpower. The Abomination, as the name goes, became that way because of his lust for super-strength to beat the Hulk.

Similarly, even if all startups could be funded like that, or like Uber and PayTM and Zomato and others have been, there is no guarantee they will succeed. Because making a business stable takes managing a lot more variables than merely the investment one.

Which brings us back to the other alternative – funds you must have.

This is the basic minimum investment that you would need to get your startup rolling. It isn’t too tough to calculate it. Just make sure you have sufficient buffer. And keep checking those levels so you don’t realize it’s bad only once you’re broke. The advantage of this mindset, is that even if external investments never come, your startup will be built on a solid foundation and a sound business model. That, as opposed to one of hyper-experimenting, as is sometimes the case with super-funded startups. Take the case of TinyOwl hiring and almost immediately firing hundreds of enthusiastic freshers back in the day. Or Ola paying USD 31.7 million for FoodPanda a year and a half ago, only to fire a lot of the staff and suspend its operations recently.

While such news pieces might be good to hear, they are often not something to be proud of.

A bootstrapped startup will have its share of proud moments too. And they will be far more grounded and not the kind that could be easily taken away, unlike the case with some over-funded ventures.

Now let’s look at the other main problem area of startups. The lack of traction or growth.

In my book, Design the Future, I mention what is to me, a wonderful example from both an investment angle and a strategic one that depended solely on the understanding of customer needs.

One portfolio company whose growth my boss and I used to oversee, was in the car rental space. Around 2009, it was on its way to be the largest player in India, right on the heels of Meru. Meru was then leading the pack in terms of size of fleet.

However, what was interesting, was that Meru’s business had been built largely on debt. Ours had been built on equity. Which meant we were profitable sooner, and could scale much faster. Meru had just turned profitable around 2009-10, if I remember correctly.

And back then, our portfolio company was already onto the model of partnered fleet. That is what Uber is all about now. Our company was collaborating with small tourist vehicle operators to add their fleet and drivers to their own, in a revenue-sharing model.

Now think about this. A company founded in 2006, which was already employing a model that we in recent times popularly know of as Uber, what as of today, has a market capitalization of USD 69 Billion! And Uber was founded only in March of 2009 (conceptualized in 2008).

So what prevented our portfolio company from being the one valued at USD 69 billion?

In hindsight, a lack of better understanding of the stakeholders in the ecosystem, is my guess.

Our portfolio company and other players back then were perhaps used to a certain customer price level and profitability that they enjoyed in a tried-and-tested pan-India market.

However, perhaps we failed to see that we could considerably reduce the margins and incentivize the partner ecosystem, in an effort to gain massive scale.

And with customers, it is only in very select areas that if we offer something at a lower price, they won’t take it. But certainly not with transport.

So, Uber carpeted several countries with the initial attractive pricing, and more than encouraging partner revenue-sharing and incentives.

And companies like ours, that didn’t think huge enough, shrunk into insignificance in that particular space at least, which they had ruled for some years till then.

Putting investments and a better understanding of the stakeholder ecosystem together, it is not necessary that every business and every idea has to be Uber-sized!

You can as well remain small, exclusive and yet thriving in a small or select few areas or geographies, if that is your business vision. Or, as is the case with Uber, you can be the most recognized brand in ground transport.

What is most important, is to first decide where on that spectrum you want to be. Then you need to find out (not in meeting rooms, but by spending time with stakeholders), what their likes and dislikes are. What drives them, what their profit expectations are? And how flexible are they on pricing; or, is there a better way you can offer them what you do? Something that might completely be poles apart from how you offer it right now.

Scenarios in the startup ecosystem are limitless. And so are the possibilities.

Originally written for NODD app and posted here: link

***

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Killer Design

Killer Design

What comes to mind when you think of possible consequences of bad design? Of a badly designed product or service? You might think the product generates less revenues. Or a rise in the number of product returns, and unhappy, angry or disappointed customers. Right?

But what about death? Of animals? Or worse, death of children?

In my book, I discussed IKEA‘s water dispensers for pets that were resulting in pet deaths. Why did that happen? Possibly because wizards on the IKEA product design team were lazy enough to use stuffed animals instead of real ones to test their design.

Think that’s bad? Enter IKEA (again!).

This time, for their dressers (a chest of drawers). Around 2016 and 2017, about 8 children (hopefully not more) died, thanks to IKEA dressers. The dressers designed in such a way, that when young children would open them and perhaps lean on to the drawer, they would tip over, crushing or badly injuring the kid.

Image: source

The company had to recall over 29 million dressers! It recently launched a new line of dressers that had finally solved the ‘tipping over’ problem by preventing more than one drawer from being left open at a time.

Now, what is worse than a poorly designed product?

When the company cuts corners, misleads, and denies they have a bad or flawed product.

That is where American toy manufacturing giant Mattel‘s subsidiary company Fisher-Price comes in. In 2009, Fisher-Price launched a product that would be a runaway success – their Rock-n-Play inclined sleeper for babies.

Image: source

Fisher-Price sold over 4.7 million of their inclined sleepers to parents, who probably thought it to be a boon to take away the agony of putting their baby to sleep. Based on some information about how children sleep better when held at an angle, they built the Rock-n-Play.

Instead of first conducting clinical research to validate the design, all Fisher-Price did was consult one family physician in all. One!

Eight years after its launch, following a lawsuit, Fisher-Price consulted a paediatrician about their product for the first time. Because of the lawsuit. The result of this callous approach to the design of a product for none other than infants, who require constant attention and utmost care, was the unfortunate death of over 35 babies!

One argument is that countries like the US don’t rely enough on regulators to endure product safety. And you might agree, especially in the case of smaller companies perhaps replicating a successful product.

But that can never be the excuse even for a moment for a now 89-year old company, Fisher-Price. The gross negligence in research, design and development of a product that could present potential risk of death.

Never stop when you think you’ve found what looks like a perfect solution. Especially when lives might depend on it.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

The Mortal Risk of Riding Shotgun in an Autonomous Vehicle

The Mortal Risk of Riding Shotgun in an Autonomous Vehicle

Source: link

We live in strange times. And in interesting and amusing times.

A recent article I read, spoke about how most automotive manufacturers are misleading (or are confused themselves), when they claim to offer autonomous driving features in their vehicles.

Their mindset seems hugely flawed, if not shocking. Article here

Don Norman could have a field day ripping this mindset apart.

I have heard numerous stories since when I was a teen. Of people falling off to sleep while driving to or from work in the US. It never made sense to me. However, in the years since, I have seen and personally known fatigue while driving.

I worked in Pune in the manufacturing sector for a year and half. Work largely involved workday trips to relatively far off industrial sectors and every other weekend trips back home, I was mostly driving alone.

Then there were outstation trips, where I would leave early one morning, pick up one or two colleagues, and drive to another city, attend meetings at companies spread across a large industrial sector. The next few days would involve more meetings all day, before either driving back to Pune. Or driving to the next city for an encore. In all, over 33,000 km in under 18 months.

What auto manufacturers apparently offer with autonomous driving, is different versions of driving systems that take care of driving for you. It could be identifying and staying within lanes, measuring vehicular distance and safe braking, and using GPS to drive you to your destination.

You would assume you could completely disconnect and do your thing, as your car takes you places. However, auto manufacturers still expect you to be as alert as if you were driving, in case a sudden manual intervention is needed.

That expectation of theirs is absurd at best.

Humans are either engaged or not. Or as my Statistics professor would often quote the popular idiom, ‘she’s either pregnant or not, there is no somewhat pregnant’.

If you have someone drive a car, you can hope they are awake and alert. And yet there’s no guarantee, proof being the numerous accidents that occur due to distracted driving.

But the moment you are not driving, your brain switches off, or switches to something else. Unless you are a professional rally car navigator, or in the armed forces.

On most long distance drives, be it with friends, family or work colleagues, the person in the passenger seat eventually nods off, and I’m almost certain it is not because of the company.

So, expecting someone not to drive, but have the alertness and rapid response times of someone who is, is asking for a lot!

Of course, the biggest reason for this expectation is not so much the flaws in technology, but rather human behaviour again. Many autonomous vehicle accidents are due to unanticipated human errors – be it pedestrians or other human-driven vehicles.

So the effort should be on improving that unpredictability in erratic human driving, before rolling out technology that could potentially cause fatal harm to customers who come with a very different expectation of the technology than what the manufacturer offers them.

Look at the quality revolution and process improvement. They took industry by storm several decades ago. And their impact on our machines and automated processes is unquestionable. But are we humans more efficient today, or are we far more distracted and poor managers of our time than we were? Phones, entertainment and noise to blame.

Maybe manufacturers are explaining the gaps in tech to customers before the purchase. Maybe even spelling out the risks and precautions to them. But there’s only so much you can change human behaviour in short periods of time.

And finally, it was amusing how this potentially life-threatening flaw got reported.
The article was titled, “..a UX risk!”
Why dilute a crucial message?
It’s a f@€k!^¢ risk to life! Far more than a risk to the customer experience.
Can’t have a bad experience if you’re dead. Why not highlight that?

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

What Qualifies as True Innovation?

What qualifies as true innovation?

The word ‘innovation’ does get passed around a lot nowadays. From large businesses to startups and perhaps even consultants like myself.

If you take a moment to think about it, innovation is not as commonplace as we might assume it is.

If you had an almost infinite budget, and you created a cutting-edge product, that is innovation, but probably not a great one, at least in my book, unless it is easily affordable by a good section of its total user base.

What does that mean?

In my book, I take a few examples. One of a hand-built, limited-edition supercar. Perhaps only a hundred, or even just 7-8 of them ever built. Each one will come with an astronomical figure on the price-tag. High input costs, the best of components and skilled manpower, and a high sale price.

The W Motors Lykan Hypersport, only 7 made at € 3.1 milion each Source: link

That is not a great example of a true innovation, because only a few people would benefit from it, and it is easy to add technology with a huge budget.

Contrarily, what if a similar amount was invested on an early-warning system for storms or earthquakes that could benefit millions? Now that would be a true innovation!

Another example I mention in my book, is of the USD 120,000 Ottobock Genium X3 knee. It is a state-of-the-art prosthetic foot, also referred to as ‘the Maserati of microprocessor prosthetics.’ Again, at that price, only a few differently abled would be able to afford it to improve their lives.

Then there is the BMVSS fitted Jaipur prosthetic foot, that retails at USD 30-45. It has benefitted over 1.55 million people worldwide since the late 1960s when it was invented.

True innovation does not happen on huge budgets and unlimited manpower and resources. True innovation happens with constraints. Not just monetary constraints, but others too. But that is also when you sometimes get products or services that the world never forgets. Products or services that truly change lives

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Anti-Crime Balls

Anti-crime colour balls

Imagine you are a store manager, and a masked thief has you at gun or knife-point, asking you to empty the cash into his or her bag. How would you recognize the thief outside in a crowd of people? Especially if he or she had an accomplice, and the bag exchanged hands?

Or imagine if a home or bank, or the ATM or even the ATM cash van is being attacked by one or more robbers. Depending on if they have covered their faces, and on how well-lit or dark it is outside, you may or may not be able to recognize the culprits, even if they were in front of you in a police line-up.So what might help in such a situation

Surprisingly, the Japanese have had a solution for over two decades. And a very simple yet innovative one. They have been using baseball sized balls made out of colour pigment. The compound has a shelf life of a few years

Banks and other medium-to-high risk places have them at the counters. In case of a robbery, the employee at the desk merely throws a ball at the thief. The balls break on impact, spraying the colour over a 10 meter radius area. And the colour does not wash off easily, so the police or others would be able to recognize them relatively easily, even in a crowd.

So while even the sight of these anti-crime colour balls sitting in a bowl at a counter were a huge crime deterrent, it was found that whenever a crime occurred, the chances of the attendant throwing one at the criminal (perhaps for fear for their own safety), only about 3% actually threw it.

Even if this innovative solution does not find actual human use, imagine its applications. They could be used as part of automated systems that deploy these upon people crossing restricted or cordoned off areas. Or in case of suspicious activity around ATMs or protected areas.

More about it here: source

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Changing User Behaviour

Changing User Behaviour

I am currently reading the book Hooked, and happened to read something very important. I shared the excerpt with a design thinking group I am administrator of. The snippet read:

John Gourville, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, stipulates that “many innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.”

Nir Eyal

A recent member of the group asked if I could share examples of this.

I said any attempt by a company to break a customers habit toward a competitors product/service, is an example.

This concept needs to be looked at in context of a larger concept of value.

The book says that a product/service attempting to break an existing customer habit must offer 9-times more value than what the customer currently derives from something existing that he/she is habituated with.

One of my favourite examples, that I used in my book, is about keyboards. Interestingly, I found the same example cited in Hooked. This is about the QWERTY keyboard almost all of us are hugely familiar with. And the example of another product that attempted to replace it.
The QWERTY is a very old design. Early 1870s to be exact!

Along the way, a psychologist invented a keyboard called the Dvorak keyboard. After studying usage, he rearranged keys on his keyboard to increase typing speed. What was different, was that the most frequently used keys were put closer together and in the center. A user would spend less time moving to frequently used keys, which were now closer together. Thus Dvorak rightly claimed a significant improvement in typing speeds for anyone who used this new keyboard.

Want something that helps us improve our typing speed?
Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Learning to use a differently-arranged device should not be too tough for humans from an ability point of view. Surprisingly, the Dvorak keyboard never really took off.

The Dvorak keyboard: image source

Look at the Dvorak keyboard in context of the above 9x benefit. Perhaps the benefit it offered was not high enough for users to leave an old habit (Qwerty). And learn a new one.

To wrap it up… The new guys are like Dr. Dvorak and team. They assume a better product that needs users to do things differently will be an instant success. What they don’t realize, is that users need to see a disproportionately high benefit first. It takes a hugely great product solving a pressing problem, to make customers learn a new way to do something. Little else incentivizes them enough. And in context of more recent startups, it takes astronomical amounts in funding to tempt users to change a behaviour. And that too with no guarantee they will still be around when the offers and freebies stop.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Goby the Fish

I recently came across an article about an initiative to create awareness about marine pollution.

Some folks living close to a beach (can’t seem to find the beach’s location), created a giant, transparent fish. Made of mesh and barbed wire, it had a signboard which read, ‘Goby loves plastic, please feed him.’

It made for a fun game for visitors, who helped fill it with trash lying around. But it probably also created a hard-hitting visual for everyone who saw it. A giant, transparent fish filled with plastic would leave a lasting impression in anyone compared to reading articles about marine pollution.

What’s concerning however, is that we humans are getting smarter by the generation. And yet it takes increasingly creative ways for us to register the consequences of the mistakes we keep repeating.

Source of the article: link

*

If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.

My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon & Kobo, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart. I’ll look forward to your review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

***

Look forward to your views. For similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion, follow or subscribe (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Context

One of the fundamental ingredients of an impactful innovation or successful design thinking exercise, is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Often, in our enthusiasm to create something someone (a customer segment, employees, or even society), or to solve a problem for them, we tend to knowingly or unknowingly speed up the process. We skip the part of trying to understand the problem or the cause of it. Or the unexpressed need. We create, and we expect (or at least hope for) delight from those receiving our innovations or solutions.

This simple image I came across online gives great context to our urgency to solve problems or innovate. An infant is too young to realize or even see clearly, the flaw in this. If a simple flaw like this could be missed by most of us, what else might we be missing? How little effort are we taking to look at business innovation or problem-solving from the right ‘context’?

Source: link

Small efforts in understanding customer needs, go a long way. Apart from feeling appreciated and important, customers help us get closer to innovative solutions they are willing to pay for. The least we can do is look at their needs and problems from their perspective.

*

If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.

My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon & Kobo, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart. Look forward to your review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

***

Look forward to your views. For similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion, follow or subscribe (top right of the page). You can also connect with me onLinkedIn and onTwitter.

Lose Your Illusion

Lose Your Illusion

Sometime last year, I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s girlfriend who is a psychologist. Between drawing inferences from my handwriting to discussing human behaviour in general. She also mentioned the acute dearth of mental health personnel in the country (India) at the moment.

I did some reading around that. The most recent global statistic on number of psychiatrists and nurses in the mental health sector was by WHO. The study dates back to 2014. According to it, 30.4% of the world’s countries had less than 1 professional per 100,000 population. There’s also no data available on another 35.5% of the countries.

And while Monaco had a commendable 40.98 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, in India, that number was a shameful 0.30. That means, there’s one psychiatrist for every 300,000 of the population. Or a total of between 3500 and 5000 psychiatrists in the country.

Then there are psychologists (they council, and focus on treating mental and emotional suffering but cannot prescribe medications; unlike psychiatrists, who mainly focus on treatment with medication) As per Sindhu BS, a Mental Health Therapist on Quora, the Indian Psychology Association, of which she is a member, has less than 10,000 members in 2018. Another source mentioned some 14000-15000 psychologists in India. India is already on the higher end of the spectrum as of 2016 when it came to suicides. At 18.5 per 100,000 population.

And here’s why this will be even more concerning going forward. The world is seeing a steadily growing impact of automation on jobs across sectors. India has been shielding employment in every way possible. Resisting industrial automation to maintaining average quality of work worked well for a section of average skilled, low-cost labour.  But how long can it continue to do so before it starts feeling the negative global impact of it? Additionally, India is on its path to soon being the largest population in the world. It is also on the verge of being the youngest population in the world.

Young Indians are pouring into different sectors which will have a steadily shrinking job base. This could lead to a spike in the depression and suicide numbers. But is the country and its government anticipating and doing anything to build a safety net for that?

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

I recently conducted an interactive session on Design Thinking at a leading investment bank. It might be easy to assume that applications of design thinking at an investment bank are limited. It is quite the opposite though. And the applicable scope of design thinking just seems to grow bigger with each passing day. The team was also kind enough to present me with a thoughtful gift at the end of the session. A Gucci tie.

Now, once you’re in the design thinking fold, you are always processing and assessing products and services. As you might have noticed, the tip of the tie is a little crumpled. If I was the manufacturer of ties that retailed at anything between $60-240 or more, I would have been concerned about the experience a customer goes through of opening the packaging and seeing the product as well.

The tie came in a tall box which was in a slightly taller paper bag, fastened with an embossed ribbon. When you hold the bag upright however, the tie drops inside thanks to that often-neglected phenomena called gravity. This causes creases at the tip of the tie. Now while many might tell you it is ok to iron a tie, it is not something I’d recommended you did often. And certainly not something you would want to do with a brand new tie.

While there might be several ways to package it in a way that leaves an impression with the customer, it isn’t something I’ll spend time thinking of right now. The easy way for Gucci to solve this problem, would be by merely placing a card paper insert which is fixed to the sides of the box. It would hold the tie in place at the top, like a clothes hanger. That way, the tip of the tie would never touch the bottom of the box when held upright.

Little things go a long way in improving how customers interact with your product. And how they remember it.

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.