Manas’s Reflective Essay

Here is a brief take on my journey of Design thinking for startups throughout the two semesters. Although the experience started with the development of a campaign for a workshop, the journey itself has just begun.

 

Learning from the module

As design thinking is a relatively modern concept, I have been able to learn and apply a lot of concepts. The entire journey has been very interesting as I was exposed to a variety of scenarios that needed one to adapt and reiterate efforts towards the end goal. The initial few sessions of body storming, brain storming and group interaction helped me to understand the creative parts of business management. I was able to understand the process of reframing the problem to simplify the solution for the desired outcome. We were able to understand the concept of lean-startup and its implications in the business model. Using my experience of creating a business model for our business in design thinking, I was able to apply the same concepts to create a business model for our business in International Business strategy simulation exercise. I realized the importance of offering a unique value proposition to the customer. By understanding the business model canvas and dividing the business into segments, I was able to realise how the different aspects of a business function and eventually need to be aligned to meet the business objectives.

Apart from theoretical concepts, I was also exposed to the communication part involved in setting up a business. Throughout the module, I was given opportunities to enhance my communication skills. I had to pitch the business idea in front of a professional individuals at dragon’s den. This also provided me with an understanding of receiving feedback and giving the right response to the questions. At the trade fair, we had to interact with people in different disciplines and sell our product. As I work part-time as a sales associate, I was able to use my experience while interacting with prospective clients and subscribers. Very recently, I had to interact with companies to get them interested in our product to gain advertisements in our magazine. This was a new experience for me as I had to sell the business to potential investors.

This module also helped me to understand the primary workings of a startup as post the module I have a better understanding of how startups function. My previous blogs contain an elaborate description of my follow-up about the various phases of the module. I was able to analyse and relate the various factors in a business in a more technical format. This also helped me to formulate business problems and identify specific solutions for the same.

As this module required me to learn things on the go, it suited my style of learning which is often via an experimental and iterative approach towards problem solving. I was able to incorporate the various skills that I learnt throughout the module to improve subsequent deliverables in all my modules.

 

Development of the magazine

We decided to pursue with the magazine which was a platform for Indian students studying in the UK. The previous blogs have explained the process of development of the magazine. We started with many ideas before finally selecting this idea. The process of iteration and business justification helped me to understand the importance of continuously reviewing the business. The magazine went through many changes over the period of its development. Most importantly, we were able to incorporate changes in the business from the feedback that we received. Along with the process of the physical development of the magazine, I was also exposed to the promotional and financial aspect of running the magazine. With help from friends in the finance module, I was able to understand the technical part of the financial aspect of business. I have also learnt the importance of having a media presence for the promotion of a business in modern times.

The process stated with brain-storming, body-storming, and intense discussions to create a prototype. Later on, came the feedback which took us back to improving and testing the product. This iterative approach helped us to understand the customer requirement and hence improve the product. Promotion of the magazine was mainly done using conventional methods and positive word of mouth. We were unable to utilize social media to successfully promote the magazine at the inception. Later we were able to communicate and promote the product better over digital platforms.

Physically I was able to create an MVP for our magazine by creating a locally hosted website. Although we weren’t able to procure enough articles and blogs for the actual website, I was able to provide an iterative platform to add content at a later date.

Now at the close of most of my modules, I have learnt the use of various tools and techniques that are necessary to run a business. If I were to start afresh, I would utilize my learning from international business strategy, project management and design thinking for start-ups to plan and run the business more efficiently. A good example of this is that I was able to use design thinking tools in project management to achieve the deliverable. To recreate the business, I would dissect the final outcome and strategize the decisions to achieve the deliverable with constant review both individually and as a team.

 

Indian Londoners as a team

Team dynamics were a major issue throughout the progression of the year. The team lacked motivation and seriousness in the development of the product. We were not able to meet team-decided deadlines as the members were not committed towards completion of the task. Quality of the work also suffered as the team had ‘that will do’ attitude towards the project deliverables. Initially I tried to assign bulk of the work to be done to myself, but later on I was unable to focus on all aspects of the business by myself. In addition to lack of motivation, there were internal conflicts within the team which influenced team work and the culture within the team. One of the most disappointing experience that I faced is that I had to present at the mock dragon’s den by myself without a presentation and a product. This experience forced me to make tough decisions. But all this came too late to make any noticeable difference to our final product and we had to face the consequences at the final dragon’s den. It was disappointing that although I had put in efforts, I wasn’t able to back up my efforts due a lackluster team effort.

If I was to undertake this project again with the same team, I would establish parameters within the team with respect to deliverables. Although, the lack of motivation was prevalent, I would try to understand the reason behind it and try to improve so as to promote productivity. As team dynamics are dependent on a positive environment, I will try to promote a healthier relationship within team members. In all the excitement for personal growth during the project, I failed to consider our growth as a team. While we were unable to function together as a team for most

In my previous experiences of working in a team environment, I have been able to collaborate with my team to successfully deliver the expected outcome. This project exposed me to the unpleasant side of team-based projects. I am confident that this experience has helped me to under team dynamics and better prepared to anticipate and rectify such team environments in my future team-based projects. Having said that, I had the opportunity to work with individuals with creative backgrounds. Being a computer engineer, all my previous projects involved a higher detail of precision and technicality. Through this project I was able to explore the creative aspects of working in a project. In the future I would like to work in an environment that promotes both these aspects in an equal ratio.

 

Future Goals

I decided to pursue MSc in International Business Management after bachelor’s in computer science so that I could pursue a career that would help me understand the management side of software and IT industry. After studying for my modules in international business management, I now have a better perspective of the variety of fields and the skills required. I would still like to work in the technological sector but would also like to explore the creative side of businesses. Ideally, I would like to work in a capacity that would allow me to utilize and improve my skill set while at the same time develop new skills.

I would also like to be a part of a start-up environment. I believe such a set up will help me understand the finer workings of a business. At the same time working for a start-up will expose me to a more elaborate parts of the business. During this I have had the opportunity to meet professionals from both corporate and entrepreneurial backgrounds. I have realized that irrespective of where you work, how you utilize that opportunity is more important. Also, the current trend to innovate businesses by employing design thinking techniques at the workplace is an added advantage.

My part-time job as a sales associate exposed me to making real-time sales. I liked the challenge of interacting with potential customers and the satisfaction of closing a sale. This is something that I was able to use while promoting my magazine to potential customers in design thinking and would enjoy to pursue further.

 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of learning new techniques in design thinking for start-ups and implementing them in a real-life scenario. Although the complete experience was positive, it was sadly overshadowed by a dysfunctional team performance. I am looking forward to implementing my learning in a professional scenario.

Advertisements

Business Strategy

International Business Strategy and simulation was a module that I was really looking forward to in my second semester. I have always been curious how businesses develop and adapt their business models according to the organisation’s strategy. In the first few sessions of this module I was able to understand the key factors that help an organization to gain a competitive position in their market segment. The various variables that influence a company vary according to their industry. Understanding these variables and utilizing the company’s resources to achieve a competitive edge over their competitors help an organization to develop a competitive advantage.

To help us understand strategic tools and implement them in real life scenario, the module included simulation. In this simulation, we were divided into teams to compete with other teams to develop and sustain a product (footwear) in the industry. This involved making strategic decisions over a period of 8 weeks (each week denoting a year of decisions) to improve our market share, revenue and meet increasing industry demands and innovation.

At present our strategy was to develop a low-cost product to attain cost leadership in our industry. The first three weeks involved understanding the market, the competition and analyse the market in terms of internal and external analysis using tools such as porter’s five forces, PEST and SWOT analysis, framework & portfolio analysis. Based on our analysis we decided to pursue our strategy and enforce decisions that could help us to maintain our company’s goal to be cost leaders. At the end of the third week we ranked 4th in terms of market share but we have been able to exceed investor expectations and we anticipate a growth in the market share in the next two years. We have also analysed our competitors and believe that the majority of the companies are trending towards a higher quality product segment. This will result in an increase of our market share in the industry.

Staying true to our strategy we were able to implement decisions to increase our market share and profitability while also increasing our demand-supply(production). At the end of 8 weeks we ranked 2nd in terms of business profitability and 1st in terms of market share. This exercise helped us to understand and implement a lot of strategic tools, techniques and frameworks and portfolios.

I believe that I shall be able to integrate strategy, project management and design thinking to plan and achieve set targets in my future workplace.

MPV and Revenue

Designing the website was an interesting part of our magazine. As we had decided to digitilise the magazine, the layout of the website was an important aspect. As we had decided to create the website in house, I was in charge of creating a prototype (MVP). We decided to use the feedback from the panel at the final dragon’s den to improve the design and the layout. The prototype website that I built was connected to a local database. The code for the website was written in HTML. Xampp servers were connected to the code for database. Thus, I was able to locally host the website on my computer. As we progress with the website, we will have to buy a domain so that server traffic can be managed.

 

Another aspect of our business model was the revenue. As we created a magazine for students, we decided not to charge a subscription fee. Instead, we decided to generate revenue via advertisements and promotions. We decided to initially target businesses and organizations that are in some way or other provide some form of service to students. To this effect we were interested in student accommodations, local restaurants, student consultancy agencies which see a lot of student footfall. We were able to secure the advertisements from five local companies. As were unsure of the cost of production and distribution in the UK, we decided to charge the advertisers £250-£300 per bi-monthly issue. As the final product is not ready, we will be able to finalise the deal after we have the website running.

Design Thinking and Project Management

As I had mentioned in my previous blogs, the process of working on projects for project management and design thinking is completely different. While project management was better structured and the final outcome was defined, in design thinking the process was iterative and experimental. Even so I tried to employ tools and techniques that I learnt in the Prince2 methodology while creating the magazine for design thinking.

I tried to break down the project in the form of work packages and deliverables. This allowed me to break down the project into smaller parts which could be achieved in progression. While I was able to plan the process well, I was unable to execute the plan. A big variable of this exercise was the team factor. The team plays an important role in executing tasks for the project. In our endeavor, personal milestones were met but the overall team execution sadly failed. This gave me an insight about the risks associated with the project, lessons learnt and agile contingency aspects in Prince2. In all my previous experiences of working in a team environment, the team has been able to deliver and function together to achieve the end result.

This project helped me to understand the other side of team-based exercises. In project management, we had a project board which would help in the resolution of issues and motivate the team in case the project manager was unable to do so. There was no such structure in design thinking which has made me realise the importance of hierarchy and good leadership in a team-based project. In future projects, I shall be able to avoid, rectify and anticipate mistakes by refering to this experience of ‘lessons-learned’ in this project.

Trade Fair at Kingston Business School

The idea for Indian Londoner came from our desire to provide prospective and new students a platform from where they could find the basic information that could be useful to starting their university lives in an unfamiliar environment. When we presented this idea to the judges at the first dragon’s den, the general feedback regarding the business idea was positive. A few suggestions were made regarding the availability and revenue structure of the magazine. Originally, we had decided to provide the magazine in the form of a physical format, but the cost of production was too high. Based on feedback from the dragon’s den, we decided to digitilise the magazine.

We were unable to create the website in time for the trade fair so we decided to use the opportunity to gather subscribers for the magazine. As the trade fair was held in the university campus, we were able to pitch the idea to students and get feedback regarding the same. The trade fair turned out to be a success as we were able to increase the number of subscribers significantly. The number of subscribers is important as our revenue structure is built around it. We decided not to charge a subscription fee to our subscribers as we aimed to generate revenue through advertisements. The number of subscribers shows the customer reach that our magazine has which is an important aspect that companies need to supplement their advertisements in our magazine.

Another positive that came from the trade fair was that we were able to understand the importance of effective communication with the customers. We understood process of engaging with a potential customer and closing the sale. Based on our experience at the trade fair, we can now approach advertisers and improve our product.

23055-trade-fair-rs-jpg

Our stand at the trade fair.

Deciding the layout of the magazine

As our product is a magazine, one of the two most important aspects are the content and the layout. I am in charge of designing the layout of the magazine. I have spent a lot of time in going through a variety of magazines both online and print copies. Based on my research, I have created a layout that might be more appealing to the younger generation. I have decided to simplify the design so that the user interface is not complicated. Also, as I shall be developing the website for the magazine myself, I have decided to focus more on content than the visual aspect as I am unsure of the code that is used to embed graphics in real-time. Also one of the challenges is to create the layout that is a good representation of the idea behind the magazine. As the magazine caters for students we aim to empathize with prospective students to develop a better product.

We have a trade fair coming up soon, but we won’t be able to have the product ready for the same. We are hoping to promote the magazine based on the demo version that we have created to represent our magazine. A key aspect of this fair is to interact with and engage customers to sell the product. As we won’t be able to sell the product, we aim to create awareness about the product and gain feedback which will help us to improve the magazine.

 

A brief recap

A recap on my first semester of International Business Management.

While it was a demanding semester, it was just as exciting throughout. I come from a computer science background and so this was in many was uncharted waters for me. The course by itself has been very well structured. In Fundamentals of Business management where we were introduced to the five main aspects of a business. International trade and environment has educated me to the finer points of running a business in the global scenario. I was able to correlate and better utilize a lot of concepts in each of my subjects. For example, researching for my assignments in Fundamentals of Business Management (there were 5!) helped me while working for my Design thinking and International Project Management projects. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, both these subjects have given me an opportunity to utilize class concepts in real projects with real life consequences. Importantly I have also learnt to manage time and resources in the real sense.

I have learnt to experiment with the concept of redesigning in the context of marketing and operations. Not only just in class, I was even able to make better sales in my part time job by employing a few techniques about empathy and stastical placement that we learnt in our course work. Also working in diverse teams has improved me as a team player.

Its time now to finish the final assignment for this semester and finalise the layout for the magazine for the website.