FROM A PASSION TO A BUSINESS

The beginning

In January 2012 I moved to London. I had a flexible contract as a sales assistant with a minimum wage salary. I barely had enough money to pay the rent and the transport expenses. Ergo I could never eat out.

It was the official start of my baking experimentations. I occupied all my spare time to cook, thus I became more and more expert and, with my surprise, even creative at baking: I had ever thought that who was creative at such a mysterious art should have been born like that. Finding myself under the same definition made me really passionate.

I couldn’t imagine that such a passion could have been so strong to drive me and my team into my first business experience.

In October 2012 I was admitted at the MA Creative Economy at Kingston University; we had just formed the Young Enterprise teams, and we were actually registering each team on website.

Solve a Need from The LeanEntrepreneur.co

As business teams we were supposed to create something which could solve a problem we encountered or observed in our living context.

A couple of days before, I was preparing the dinner. I was about to struggle trying to stir the risotto and then putting the spoon in the balance on the border of the pot, in order not to smear the kitchen surface. I failed: the tool stayed in its position for a while, but then it fell every time.

I thought that maybe many women like me had the same; therefore I sketched a spoon hanger which could be attached to the border of a pot. I showed it to my team mate Maria: she found it a clever idea, and push me to speak with the others, Lucy, Natalie and Angelika. They liked it so much that as soon as I proposed to call ourselves “The Spoonist” they eagerly agreed.

The observation

During our first meeting we started discussing about the brand. We decided to change our name in QB- quanto basta, which means just as much as needed, and is a typical kitchen unit used in traditional recipes.

That was the same day of our first “observation”:  I was cooking for all of us, and the team examined the difficulties I encountered.

RESEARCH-FIRSTWith hindsight, if customers experience is what shapes all perceptions and value of the brand, as Bernd  Schmitt and David Rogers underline in their “Handbook on Brand and Experience Management” it would have been better to observe external people cooking, ask them questions and not even name our idea of the product. Just afterwards it would have been appropriate to start to brainstorm ideas about the brand, embracing a “holistic view of costumer value that encompasses rational and emotional benefits” (SCHMITT, ROGERS, 2008).

After a couple of weeks we found many competitors, and we realized we couldn’t effort the costs of the materials as well- that was another conceptual fault: we wanted to make a product made by expensive wood, but the reason we wished that was justified just by our perspective, without any proper market research.

Since we were already so immersed into our brand, we found more difficult to adjust our product rather than restart from the beginning, even if this is exactly what a startup should expect most of the times. As Eric Ries sustains, “instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions”, exactly like what we did, we should have made” constant adjustments with a steering wheel called Build- Measure- Learn feedback loop” (RIES, 2011). We didn’t didn’t apply Ries’ validated learning at all, and this is probably why therefore we repeated the same error.

 A New Idea

When I was a sales assistant I had a minimum wage salary; as I was also attentive to eat healthy, I started to cook my own lunch at home. Being an environmental friendly person, I hated wasting the plastic bags I used to carry my lunch: so with my boyfriend Aldo I designed a lunch bag. Since QB was in need of a new idea, I proposed it and the team was enthusiastic.

I was sure there was a need of the product in the market. I noticed that almost every Londoner used to buy meals around. I made some researches online and luckily I found many statistics regarding a high amount of expenses per capita for lunch out, other than alarming articles on the dubious healthiness of take away and fast food meals.

We started brainstorming about product development. Lucy made a model out of fabric: by the end of November we were the first team which had a prototype. Nevertheless we repeated the same mistake: we didn’t follow Steve Blank’s Customer Development. We didn’t “get out of the building” before creating the brand and defining our persona. We should have tested our product from the very beginning with just a sketch, to find out whether our lunch bag was “a vision or a delusion”. (RIES, 2008).

Blue Ocean and Experience Design

Ask Your Market from The LeanEntrepreneur.co
As long as we didn’t create a new product- there were already different lunch bags on the marketplace-, from a first sigh it couldn’t have been told we developed any Blue Ocean strategy.

Actually, I noticed that people liked the idea of bringing their own lunch, but many of them were not capable to cook or were lack of meals ideas. The Internet was already full of blogs about food and recipes, nevertheless I saw an opportunity. According to the case of the Cirque du Soleil, which, “breaking through the boundary traditionally separating circus and theatre, made a new and profitable blue ocean from within the red ocean of the circus industry”, I realized that we could act in little like a Blue Ocean company by matching the food-blogosphere with the bags market. (KIM, MAUBORGNE, 2004)

I proposed to publish on our website simple recipes not for every visitor: just for our customers. Following the rules of the Experience Design Manifesto, our aim was to make people more confident of their capability of cooking, to inspire them and feel better. We wanted to transmit them the importance of a healthy and environmental-friendly lifestyle, but also make them have fun while baking. Last but not least, our recipes sharing community was aimed to “strengthen relationships between people that live the same experience” as well. (PEREIRA, 2008)

 Design Thinking

It was Natalie who insisted on “less is better”. She was really pragmatic. I was the exact opposite, I wanted to add dozens of features to our lunch bag. While exploring Design Thinking, I discovered how much what Natalie sustained made sense. We followed her.

Our idea was respecting almost all of the 10 rules of Design Thinking. It was innovative: it matched the food blogosphere and the bags market; useful: well, at least we assumed that; aesthetic: it was functional and beautiful at the same time; understandable: it reminded the paper brown bag of the childhood, so it was “already seen”; honest: it was what it seemed; long-lasting and environmental- friendly: it was washable, reusable and an alternative to plastic bags; simple, with the pleasure of Natalie: our final design was just a sack with a ribbon to close it. (RILEY, 2013)

Fail

Never Force the Market from The LeanEntrepreneur.co

As we assumed our target was composed of students, considering they have to eat lunch at University and usually they have little money to spend, Natalie and Maria went to interview some of the potential customers. The result of our first official market research was a disaster: almost every people declared they weren’t interested neither in our product nor in the community. Some others said they weren’t willing to pay the price we set.

Many startups like us are mistaken at this step.  They “fail for lack of customers”, because they don’t “attempt to learn about their customers (or potential customers) until it is too late”. (RIES, 2008)

Luckily we were not that late in the process- it was still December- so we completely changed our target into female office workers between 25 and 40. For the third time we didn’t go out of the building before going on with the plan. We assumed. We didn’t clearly understand that customer development wouldn’t have been “an excuse to slow down or change the plan every day” but “an attempt to minimize the risk of total failure by checking” our “theories against reality”. (RIES, 2008).

Challenges

In December Lucy left us due to personal reasons. She was the leader not because she was the official Manager of the team. As Diego Rodriguez wrote on his blog, she “made the difference by acting”. Since the beginning she acted “on what she knew”– branding and product design- and “felt it was right”. (RODRIGUEZ, 2013) She was the only member who was already working in a business. As a startup, we were living in a state of “extremely uncertainty”, and this meant that the entire project could have easily failed. (RIES, 2011) Lucy was willing to risk her personal reputation for the good of QB. That is why we got lost for a while after her departure.

Angelika became the new leader. We had two urgencies at that time: getting both the product and the website done. Lucy had already found a manufacturer who apparently was interested in making our lunch bag, thus Angelika, Maria and Natalie tried to contact him and had a long journey in the Warwickshire to visit the factory.

Since I was the only team member who knew something about graphics and webdesign, I decided to take care of the website. I bought the domain, installed wordpress and started creating my own child theme during my spare time- I had already a full-time job. Although the huge number of forums, tutorials and communities of developers, it has been an extremely hard work. I assumed to publish it in 3 weeks: it took 3 months. The final version was online at the end of March.

In the meanwhile our manufacturer disappeared. Angelika and Maria tried to call him many times, but in the end he wasn’t interested in our business any more. It was February. The first trade fair we were supposed to attend was at the end of the month. That meant we had to sew the bags ourselves. From a Blue Ocean strategy point of view it wasn’t that bad: by sewing the bags on our own we managed to make the product low-cost.

Angelika went to Lucy’s to learn how to sew, and took her sewing machine. We passed entire days sewing all together at Angelika’s – she spent even more time -, and for the end of we had almost 20 products done, and finally started to sell.

Personal Epic Fails

The extreme delays of both the manufacturing and the website availability postponed our social media presence. In other words, to get our product and service done in the best way, we diverted our attention from the relationship with customers to the design and production. Instead of accelerating the feedback loop Build-Measure-Learn of “The Lean Startup”, we retarded it.

As a consequence, our sharing community actually never worked. It was mainly my fault. Even though I was supposed to be the most expert of the team in Social Media, I lost myself designing the website. I wanted it to be perfect.

In many of his speeches about customer development, Steve Blank underlined that the unfortunately diffused approach “build it and they will come” is largely wrong, because “issues are customer acceptance and market adoption”. (BLANK, 2008)

Social Media is today’s most effective channel to speak with potential customers and to test assumptions in order to accelerate the feedback loop. Nevertheless I moved it completely to the background.

Working on the website made me forget the impulse which should drive every startup: passion. Passion and Love are the first two secrets of success. I had both of them at the beginning. The story I told you speaks for me. Before developing  the website, I used to create many recipes and took pictures of them. After that I just wanted to get rid of it, because I was working hard, yet I wasn’t enjoying it. (JOHN, 2005)  

My team could felt that my enthusiasm was lowering, and that effected it as well. I wasn’t the leader, but I was the core: the lunch bag was my creature. I didn’t motivate my team; I became even negative and dubious about the future of QB.

Lessons for the future

QB was my first startup experience. It was the first business project I have ever been involved with. I never learned more from a University project than at MACE. To be sincere I wasn’t so used to fail. Thanks to Quanto Basta I became able to accept my faults. Moreover, it’s not all about admitting mistakes.  The best learning I am putting in my pocket is the 8th rule of success: persist. Persist to failure and to Criticism, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure (CRAP). And never give up.

References

(BLANK, 2008) Steve Gary Blank, “The Customer Development Methodology”, slideshare presentation for Stanford Technology Venture Program’s Roundtable on Entrepreneurship Education, published by Venture Hacks, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://www.slideshare.net/venturehacks/customer-development-methodology-presentation

(BLANK, 2008) Steve Gary Blank, “The Four Steps to the Ephiphany- Successful Strategies for Products that Win”, Third Edition, 2006, pdf file published by Lulu.com

(BRAZ, 2008) Andre Pereira das Neves Braz, “Experience Design Manifesto”, 2008, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://www.brazandre.com/manifesto/

(JOHN, 2005) Richard St. John, “8 secrets of success”, February 2005, published by TED Talks in December 2006, last access 23/05/13, available at http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_st_john_s_8_secrets_of_success.html

(KIM, MAUBORGNE, 2004) W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne, “Blue Ocean Strategy”, Harvard Business Review, October 2004, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://hbr.org/2004/10/blue-ocean-strategy/ar/1

(LANDBERG, 2003) Max Landberg, “The Tao of coaching: boost your effectiveness at work by inspiring and developing those around you “, Profilebooks, 2003

(RIES, 2011) Eric Ries, “The Lean Startup”, Portfolio Penguin, 2011

(RIES, 2008) Eric Ries, “What is customer development?”  , Startup Lesson Learned, 8 November 2008, last visit on 22/05/13, available at http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2008/11/what-is-customer-development.html

(RILEY, 2013) Wells Riley, “Startups, this is how design works”, 2013, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://startupsthisishowdesignworks.com/

(RODRIGUEZ, 2013) Diego Rodriguez, “The heart of leadership”, Metacool- thoughts on the art & science of bringing cool stuff to life, 01 May 2013, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://metacool.typepad.com/metacool/2013/05/the-heart-of-leadership.html

(SCHMITT, ROGERS, 2008), Bernd H. Schmitt, David L. Rogers, “Handbook on Brand and Experience Management”, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013

Bibliography

Babak Nivi, “Customer Development: How to develop your customers like you develop your product”, Venture Hacks, November 5th 2008, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://venturehacks.com/articles/customer-development

IBM, “The new collaboration: enabling innovation, changing the workplace”, IBM Corporation, 2008

Mirko Pallera, “CREATE!”, Sperling & Kupfler Editori S.p.A, 2012

Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In”, WH Allen, 2013

Steve Blank, “Embrace failure to start up success- An ambitious US programme aims to turn scientists into entrepreneurs.Go on, says Steve Blank, unleash your inner capitalist.”, NATURE International weekly journal of science, World View, A personal take on events, 8 SEPTEMBER 2011, VOL 477, 133, Macmillan Publishers Limited, last access on 23/05/13, available online at http://www.nature.com/news/2011/070911/full/477133a.html

Theodore Levitt, “Marketing Myopia”, 1960, in Best of HBR, July-August 2004

Tony Robbins, “Why we do what we do”, TED Talks, filmed February 2006, posted June 2006, last access 23/05/13, available at http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_robbins_asks_why_we_do_what_we_do.html

A Space for Creative Cooperation and Innovative Communities

On the 1st and the 2nd of May I had a great opportunity to help a charity.

I volunteered for the 3space Re:Think Festival at the 3space Blackfriars Hub. If you know 3space you should ask me “which charity”. If not, probably you shall need some explanations.

3spaceentrance3space, as it can be read on its website, is an extremely innovative charity which “unlocks the potential of empty commercial properties by making them available for temporary community use”. Its novelty lies on the business model: the organization makes agreements with landlords and offers to charities and social enterprises temporary free access to properties which otherwise would be empty and not utilized. It generates a virtuous circle: the landlords benefit because they not only increase their reputation, but also keep the property in use, so it doesn’t get old – it remains on the market as well, so they don’t loose potential sales; the charities benefit for a free space to use as their office, or as a base for pop-up projects; finally the community benefits because of the work and the initiatives of the charities.

It is to tell that 3space was included in the list of Britain’s 50 New radicals 2012, and nominated at Smarta100 as well. So it is definitely an organization which has something to teach.

ReTHINK%20880The Re:Think Festival hosted more than 50 charities and social enterprises. For 3 days it has been a place full of great insights, art, social care, civilization initiative…a world of possibilities. Just to name some of the guests – you can find more information on the Re:Think websiteThe Edible Bus Stop, which transforms neglected sites across London’s bus network into valuable community growing spaces: Sustrans, which develops practical, cost-effective initiatives that enable many more people to travel by foot, bike or public transport; The Living Furniture Project, which employs and trains homeless to make beautiful up-cycled – and so sustainable, waste-reducing and uniquefurniture; make: good, which designs community public spaces with the communities, and has an innovative approach from the engaging to the activities it organizes in the places.

As I said I volunteered, but I shall admit that I barely did a few to help the charity: I just had to check that every room of my section had every tool and device on the list, and control the timing in order not to encounter delays during the scheduled activities. Other than this, I actually attended the workshops.

The most uplifting meetings I attended were three: Community space for making items from waste materials, Rethinking Housing, and Pop Up Meet Up.

Remakery-Brixton-image

 

The first workshop I mentioned was headed by The Remakery, an innovative social enterprise which I was happily surprised to find settled in my borough, Brixton. It converted a disused underground car-park into a co-working and educational space for up-cycling items. The staff- all volunteers – renovated the site using a community self-build method. The Remakery offers many services like memberships for co-workers (including the usage of all the materials, not only the space) and for suppliers, service users and sponsors / donors; they will open a remakers store where they will sell affordable re-used materials for DIY, gardening, art, design and crafts; parts of the site would be available to be hired for events and training programmes related to reuse, skills and sustainability; last but not least The Remakery organizes workshops and training courses for the community.

rationalhouse

 During the Rethinking Housing talk my attention was attracted by City House Projects and especially the Rational House. It is a new family city residence in Hammersmith which match quality with sustainability, comparing different house models from different parts of the world, contextualizing them, considering the urban character and the density of population within the area. The design of the Rational House is made to be flexible and scalable, in order to be a family house, a flat, a block of offices or workshops, or spaces for commercial uses.

marylebonegardens

 At the Pop Up Meet Up I discovered two interesting and clever projects, Theatre Delicatessen and The Shop Revolution. The first one is a charity which transforms disused buildings into creative hubs that provide a live space for artists; secondly it supports emerging theatre artists by providing space for them to develop ideas and share new work, offering them advice, mentoring and assistance in realising their productions. As an example, they brought to a new life the former offices of BBC London at 35 Marylebone High Street, and transformed them into their current – and wonderful – location, Marylebone Gardens.

loveurlook

 Similarly to 3space, The Shop Revolution offers to landlords an opportunity of short-term leases of their properties which prevent the places to get old between tenants, but instead of being given to charities and social enterprises, they are transformed into pop up businesses and organizations. The project has been tested through three 4 weeks – shops during the 2012 Christmas period in the areas of Sydenham, Kirkdale, and Forest Hill, then seven between January and May 2013.

I do believe that all those projects are examples of disrupting businesses because they are a great efficient mix of:

  • Sharing knowledge, capabilities, properties, ideas, collaborations;
  • Local communities – driven projects, from the design to the realization, from the usage to the training and to the activities made by and for the community itself;
  • Reuse and transformation of empty buildings and waste materials;
  • Economic and Environmental Sustainability;
  • Scalability.

 Many thanks should be told to 3space: other than responding to all those characteristics, it is an aggregator of brilliant organizations as well: it generates an echo which I hope will continue to reverberate for long.

Innovation and female spirit

As I wrote on my post One Month Ago, I own you some posts about what I assimilated during the last month. Here we go.

On the 18th of April I attended an Entrepreneurship Experience event about “Dealing with Success and Adversity”, and it revealed itself as one of the most impressive talks hosted at Kingston University I listened to.

peter1Peter Marks MD of Luminar Group, as the first speaker, told us his story of failing and raising and failing and raising again, showing that an entrepreneur should always consider 5 factors before starting a business:

  1. Idea. People want it? Can we actually make the right margin? Did we make enough market research? What about costumers driving?
  2. Risk. Be happy with it.
  3. Toolbox. First we need to learn how to sell.
  4. Work hard and be nice to people, because people are a resource as much important as capital.
  5. Know the numbers. Always check and keep them up to date.

Peter underlined as well that decentralization is a crucial point: we need to choose people we trust to work with, in order to give them enough freedom to comply tasks. Otherwise all the job would be necessarily performed by us.

The problem within working just on our own is that since ever we know that more brains have more ideas. If we keep us updated and surrounded by creative and smart people, they could give us more insights. Related to this, we have to improve always our networking activity. If we follow those suggestions we could constantly innovate our business.

It is fundamental to apply innovation in every field of our business, from the market to the company, from the brand to the tech side, from the communication to online presence and conversations. Moreover it is important to create places and experiences for the staff to share, because sharing knowledge thrives innovation as well.

A great viewpoint of Peter to cultivate novelty and keep the momentum going is to involve students via training, to participate to competitions and modify, correct, share, analyze, check, change. Continue to constantly change.

And what we should avoid?

All of us could and will fail, for sure. We should get used to fail. But we should never ever give up.

In addition to that, in order to avoid keeping failing without going on, we should never stop keep being updated, studying, networking, sharing and learning.
Rachel-ElnaughRachel told us her story, her life. A story of great successes, and then great fails.The second speaker was Rachel Elnaugh from the series 1 & 2 of the famous TV show “Dragons’ Den”. I wasn’t a fan of the show, so I admit: I was sceptic about this speech.

She spoke about risk and going always on as well, like Peter. However, what she said which really impressed me was her idea of marketing: a magnetic marketing.

She explained that it is not just like using some focus groups, but it is an emotional marketing: we should not evenfollow the flow, but actually go with it.

She pointed that nowadays companies need to be not women driven, but female driven. Female in sense of including instead of excluding, sharing instead of splitting, embracing instead of pushing.

As entrepreneurs we should follow our soul, our desires, or aspirations, and create a business around it, because we will need passion over all, and courage.

A Disruptive Game For All

When I did my Bachelor’s in Science and Technology of Music Communication for my Final Research Project I studied Virtual Words and Games. At that time the Department of Informatics and Communication of my University – University of Milan – was renting a section of an isle on Second Life, so I had the opportunity to support my research with an experimental approach:  I designed and set up a live music pub.

During my analysis I was able to observe the behaviour of the citizens of the virtual world. It is neither the moment nor the occasion to explain what I found out, however I would like to deliver your attention on one result which influenced all my following researches: people need to share.

In November 2012 I hosted for a couple of days in my tidy house in London my tutor of that Final Research Project, Ines Di Loreto. Even if our paths have been separated since my Bachelor’s Degree, I found that our idea of the importance of sharing delivered us to similar ways.

h&p Besides being a Temporary Research Associate at NTNU of Trondheim (Norway), Ines is a co-founder of a Start-up, NaturalPad (the English version of the website should be ready for the end of the month).  They designed an extremely innovative Health Game, Hammer & Planks. On the market place it is possible to find numerous Serious Games for Health, usually focused on a particular sector like rehabilitation (Mojos), prevention (Science Pirates), stress relief (MindHabits), medicine training (Pulse!!) and chronic illness understanding (l’affaire Birman).

The effectiveness of Health Games could be found in several different features:

1)      Health Games are motivational. The interactivity, the personalization of the characters and moreover the goals they players should reach keep their attention and enthusiasm up. The feedback they receive at the end of every “match” conducts them to continue with their exercises.

2)      Health Games track the progress of the patient/player. Due to the recorded data of the game for the therapist/ doctor is easy to analyse the results and recognize the improvements of the therapy.

3)      Health Games are low-cost. Instead of going to the clinic or hospital for the therapy, the patient can play from home with technologies which are present in almost every houses, like pc, laptops and tablets.

As I said, I am attracted from the sharing aspects of games and so, in this case, health games.

HammerPlanks-0There are a few examples of this feature on the market place, like Zamzee, an obesity-fighting game, or simply the Wii and other devices which stimulate a healthier lifestyle while giving people the opportunity to play, compete and have fun together.

Comparing Hammer & Planks to all this different examples of Health Games, its novelty lies in its model itself: although it is a game for people with balance disorders, especially hemiplegics, NaturalPad designed the game following the inclusiveness tendency. According to Pascal Schmidt’s speech “How to reach masses”at Games for Health Europe in November 2012, Health Games need to reach more users, to enlarge their market and become more profitable.

What NaturalPad simply did was

  • making the structure flexible in order to be adaptable ways of interation;
  • realizing a funny, well-designed and absorbing game that can be enjoyed by everyone, even healthy users, using the classical process of game enterprises, and not the one of Health Games enterprises;
  • developing the game for most of the platforms that are on the market place, like computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet, Wii, Kinect,  gamepad and joypad.

Those features make Hammer & Planks a great game to play with friends, because it potentially includes almost every kind of player. It is a challenge that everyone can face.

naturalpadDuring the MIG (Montpellier in Game) NaturalPad presented and tested his game, and had more than 700 visitors between healthy and unhealthy players in two days. To aggregate the gamers they created a generic leaderboard and launched as the final price one license of the game. The experimentation actually worked and almost every user played for the score and enjoyed the competition, no matter if they were “fighting” with people with or without disease. The sharing need took overall priority.

Finally I consider Hammer & Planks as a great example of disruptive Health Game, because it is enlarging its market to many new users, and in this way it is a great opportunity for investors as well.

Brilliant Minds to Observe

Yes, I know. It has been a long time since I published my last post. More than a month. It is not that professional, isn’t it?

Well, I don’t have any excuses, but the positive aspect of my absence lies in my participation at many different networking events, so now I have a lot to blog about.

ImageOne month ago, on my first weekend of unemployment after I quit my job at Franco Manca, I volunteered for the London Mobile Start-Up Weekend at Google Campus. To be sincere my role was really easy: on Friday I just had to receive the participants, give them t-shirts and gadgets of the event, help the staff to organize the voting for the pitches, and the other days just prepare and serve the food and help the participants with whatever they needed.

Volunteering let me live the Start-up Weekend from an external point of view. During my free time I walked through the teams observing them, and while I was serving the food I had some really interesting chat.

I became really passionate about some of the projects which came out from the event, especially     two of them, one more serious and one more funny.

Image

The serious and useful one is Courier Now, a brilliant app which let people send their postage through normal people who are travelling. The sender buys the traveller the ticket or in general pays for the journey.

Flirt Now! is the funny one ^_^. It connects people and actually lets them buy each other a drink or other gifts through the app, which are not virtual but real. It adds some gaming features by providing a function based on gps which can locate all the people who are online and close to you while you are walking in the streets. It can be used just for fun, between friends, or for finding a proper flirt.

I wish good luck to both of the apps, I really believe they can develop great projects.

Image

The reason I wanted to be part of the Startup Weekend staff was networking. Now that I did my first experience with them, I do want to continue, not for the networking. I mean, it is really important to be connected with many new people with different skills and background, but the whole meaning of the event for me is not just that. It is creating from scratch, from almost zero. And observing this process taught me many lessons which I didn’t notice during my Young Enterprise business project, because I was more involved (and I am) in it, and maybe less objective.

ImageThe Start-up Weekend is an experience I suggest to everyone. The reason I think this is because of the time they give you, which is really short. You have to come up with an idea, choose your team mates without knowing them, dividing the roles within the team, write the business plan, curate the branding and the design, do market research, do the prototype, do the interviews, do the finance, and pitch. In 54 hours. Impressive, isn’t it?

Image

Yet, observing the teams was like walking through an magnetic field: many brains were working hard, liters of red bull and beer were there to keep their hearts strong and passionate, and even while they were eating you could tell that they were still thinking of what they could do to improve their prototype or to reach more customers or to make a better logo or to produce or not produce a launch video.

I felt like a part of a massive group of thinking, smart and brave people.

When someone asks me why I chose to volunteer for the Start-up Weekend, I simply answer “it is worth it, believe me.”.

Just attend and see.

The Winning Laugh

monsters inc

Monsters, Inc. ‘s main duty was to provide all citizens in Monstropolis with energy in the form of captured screams collected from children. James P. “Sulley” Sullivan found that laughter produced more power than scream had done and reestablished the company to have the monsters make children laugh. In this way James became the new CEO of the new company, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. By changing the way of producing the energy, the protagonist of the Pixar’s famous animated movie also bettered the job of his colleagues: at that time they were not scared from the children anymore, and they enjoyed the job even more.

It could be assumed that Sulley and his colleague Mike Wazowski unconsciously became an example of Business- Model Innovators.

business-model-innovation


As Constantinos Markides writes in his “Disruptive Innovation- In Need of a Better Theory” (2006), the key to be Business- Model Innovators is not to discover new products or services, but simply redefine what an existing product or service is and how it is provided to the customer.

From a recent (October 2012) research project (Business Case Studies Final) of the Nordic Innovation, a Danish waste management company could be easily and positively compared to the case of Monsters, Inc. Van Gansewinkel today is specialized in making energy and products based on waste materials, by supply cycles, where materials are re-used in closed loops. What is really important to notice is that originally it was a classic waste collecting business, and only a small part of the waste was recycled, when the procedure was relatively straightforward.

The company decided to turn its business around, as the classic waste collection was decreasing. It started producing secondary raw materials on specification, based on demands from customers rather than on what was easy to produce from the waste materials it had. This constituted a new way of looking at its own supply chain, transforming the waste collection business into take-back systems.

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Van Gansewinkel has innovated its Business-Model from two points of view: fistly the company became a materials pooler by having established system of specifications of the different raw materials which are produced from waste products; secondly the company became a process coordinator by applying a holistic view of the production cycles. And – what is even more important and effective – Van Gansewinkel turned the company’s main cost, the waste removal, into their source of revenue, and in this process they have set up production cycles that close loops between production, use and re-use of products.

It also caused a virtuous cycle: by supplying secondary glass for bottle manufacturers, the company enabled the production to be carried out at lower temperatures; this caused a 10- 12 % reduction in the energy use, and, as a consequence, the heat generated is now used for central heating, further lowering the energy use of the company.

Regarding the financial aspect, despite the global economic crisis sales and revenues have increased by 10%, and the growth level of the company has been around 10-12% over the last 4-5 years. And, even more important, in the same period at least 200 people have been hired in relation to changes made in the company.

So, as P. Thomond and F. Lettice wrote, innovations can be thought of as falling onto a continuum from evolutionary to revolutionary (DIExplored-CEConf2002final). […] Terms such as “disruptive”, “radical”, “non-linear”, “discontinuous”, “breakthrough”, “paradigm-shifting” and “revolutionary” have all been used to describe what is in essence the opposite of sustaining innovations. Introducing a revolution, a drastic change into the business model could make the company not only survive, but even more gain over the competitors .

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Coming back to the Markides’ study, he tells that new business models improve to such an extent that they are able to deliver performance that is sufficient in the old attributes established competitors emphasize and superior in the new attributes. And, moreover, as more customers – both existing and new ones – embrace the new business receives increasing attention from both the media and the established players.

This is exactly what happened to Monsters, Inc., whose new CEO James was interviewed by the Business Shriek, and all Monstropolis knew about the new company, and to Van Gansewinkel, which became a case study.

Arsène Lupin the 3rd

lupinWhy, It’s the way of thieves to risk their   lives” answered Arsène Lupin to the Lady Clarisse de Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, The Castle of Cagliostro, 1979).

Lupin the 3rd could be a great example for every entrepreneur for taking the risk.

But what is it that famous “risk”?

The word share the same root of a word of my language, risicare, which means to dare (and a notorious phrase in Italy is “chi non risica non rosica” which means who doesn’t dare doesn’t gnaw made me think about my country, but maybe I’ll speak about it in another post). The term’s meaning, of course, has evolved since ages, and now its proper meaning is difficult to determine, because it means different things to different people, because a key component of risk is choice. (Khan, Zsidisin, 2012)

That is easy to understand, moreover if we consider that usually we see risks as something dangerous for use: we see them like something more related to loss than to gain. But, as the risks are strictly connected to the choices, we can always choose. goldfish jumping out of the water

To manage a sustainable and and efficient business, we will need a strong business model, and every business model does consider the risks, how to handle them, and how to make them profitable.

As Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine wrote in their How to Build Risk into Your Business Model – Smart companies design their innovations around their managing risk (HBR, May 2011), many companies redesign their business model to reduce their risks. They also underline that “it can also reveal unsuspected opportunities for creating value by adding risk”

Alan Hall defines it as a synonymous of the concept of entrepreneurship. He also presents, according to the data provided by the US SBA (Small Business Administration), the fact that more than half of the startups is supposed to fail within the first three years of existence. “Of those that remain, about one third will make a profit, another third will break even, and the balance will continue to lose money. After ten years, only a handful of companies will be in business.” (Hall, 2011)

So it is a really negative perspective.

media_httpfarm9static_IgjDu.jpg.scaled500But let’s think about it. I mean, let’s think about the reasons which make him saying this,

Why so often the startups encounter a failure, and which is one of the most important risk to face?

Hall lists the possible reasons which could be: not enough customers, insufficient revenues, formidable competitors, a shortage of cash, poor execution of a business plan, uncontrolled expenses and minimal gross margins.

Regarding the competitors, Girotra and Netessine (HBR, May 2011) write that companies create value by being better at managing risk than their competitors are, and so if an entrepreneurship could manage the risks more than the others, it could even earn something from those risks. They also say that the only way to win is to identify where the risks are in the value chain of the business model, determine whether it’s possible to reduce them, shift them to other people, or even assume them.

The major risk you should keep is that your product or service is not even better than the other ones, but it is just different. This is the point. You cannot be 100% sure of it, but you has to believe that – and, even more important, your employees have to believe it, too, because all the company in this way could demonstrate it just with its behaviour- .

Of course you’d like an example, would you?

Well, I work as a waitress for Franco Manca, the one in 76, Northcote Road, London.

333827_230588850401811_945544208_oSince I made my trial, all the colleagues I met they were absolutely sure of the importance and the originality of the product we were going to sell: a proper Napolitan pizza in London, of an honest price, and, more than everything, made with the original recipe, natural ingredients and a sustainable way of cooking. That was enough for me, even if being a waitress is not my dreamt job, otherwise I should not attend my MACE at Kingston University. And this is why I could be proud of working for the Franco Manca company. 

Now, after a few years (the first restaurant opened in Brixton Market Row 4 years ago) the label is famous all around the UK, and I found also customers coming there from outside the Country, just for its name. And, what is more impressive is that that Franco Manca doesn’t have a huge marketing department, so basically its fame is just based on word-of-mouth.

I really don’t want to write a fake advertising post (at least I’m not paid for that!!), but I am writing what I learned from my master and my working experience in London, and I am just trying to link them: the company I am working for is just one of the examples which I know could make you understand that taking the risk for a product you think is a winner it is definitely worth it.

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