Insights from interviewing startups

(This is a 3-minute read)

This is the second in series of three blogs that explore how design thinking can help your startup succeed. It is based on research conducted on my MA at Hyper Island.

Part one was entitled Defy the startup odds and focused on the startup ecosystem. This blog focuses on interviews conducted with startups and a ‘startup manifesto’, a tool I devised to use when having conversations with startups about approaches that would increase their chances of success. The final blog in the series looks at the service I devised to help startups.


What did I learn by speaking to startups? 

The startups interviewed fell into three groups; ‘met on an MBA’, ‘emerging technology’ and ‘developing new products or services for an existing non-digital business’.  Interestingly the findings were common to all groups. Here’s what I found: 

Ideas come from founders

The idea often begins in the mind of the founder. They imagine the solution and inevitably have an emotional attachment to their idea. Many don’t take the time to talk to users to validate if their idea will solve a real problem for users. Instead they move quickly to a ‘solutions mindset’ with little if any involvement from their future users. So sadly there are a lot of assumptions, that remain unvalidated. This was particularly true for startups spawned on an MBA course.  

Linear in approach 

The approach is often waterfall. Founders start with analysis of existing market research which is used to create a long term business case. To be fair to founders, this is often a requirement to receive funding and investment. The problem with this way of working is that it assumes that the founder has all of the answers upfront. The reality is a more agile approach would provide the founders with a broad idea, which they iterate over time based on learnings from testing out ideas.

Eager to build

Startups focus on building their product as they want to get it to market as quickly as possible. There are many reasons for this, such as the need to generate income and satisfy investors, and/or to prove that their idea is a good one - even when they know their offering isn’t right.  As one startup told me;

We’ll fix it when we’re live.

Full steam ahead 

Startups need to feel like there’s forward momentum in everything they do. This mindset can lead to the belief that taking time to speak to and understand users is a distraction - a handbrake to momentum. 

As one startup CTO that had just secured a second round of funding told me;

“do we want to spend 6 months messing about or 3 months making progress?” 

Stick to the plan 

Changing an idea is seen as both a weakness and a move away from an existing plan/business case. They do not see that it is simply an opportunity to learn, pivot, iterate and grow the idea. 

Let’s face it not every idea is a good one. The earlier you validate the idea with users the better. The alternative is wasting time on an idea that you will never be able to take to market.

Where’s the design thinking? 

So in short what’s missing is an understanding of design thinking and associated methodologies. Too many people don’t understand the benefits of testing and validating ideas with users.  Without understanding the benefits, the process is seen as a costly and a time-consuming distraction.

A manifesto for startups 

I designed a service to help startups which I will discuss in detail in my final blog. But before doing this, I came up with a manifesto (in the style of the agile manifesto) to help guide entrepreneurs. 

Artboard 1 copy-100.jpg

The startup manifesto is a tool to use with entrepreneurs who are not familiar with design thinking and associate methodologies. It compares behaviours we are trying to foster with their common behaviours. In doing so it gives you the opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, helping the entrepreneur to come to their own concussion about why they should try and adopt the left hand column over the right.

It can then be used as a quick reference point for entrepreneurs when decision making in the future.

I’d love to hear your experiences of working with or creating a startup in the comments section below.

That final blog in the series will be out shortly and will look at the Find Out’s ‘startup research sprint’, the service devised as a result of the research. 

Ben SprungComment