eu-flag

Europe is us.

(Translation in Italian at the bottom)

Hi. My name is Francesca.

Last February I got 30, after a week from my moving back to Brescia, Italy, after 4 years of living in London, UK.

London changed me a lot. London itself changed a lot over the years that I lived there.

I moved 6 times in 4 years. The neighbourhood where I have lived for the longest period is Brixton. I fell in love with it. Brixton is one of the most multiethnic neighbourhoods of the city.

If there is anything that I certainly brought with me back to Italy, it is indeed the passion for multi-culture environments.

I am part of that generation of people born between 2000 and 1981, called “Millennials”. Despite all the flaws that my generation has, as well as any generation, I am particularly proud of being part of it.

In 2015 Eventbrite published a research which states that for Millennials “happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities” (Eventbrite, 2015). My generation is switching from materialism to experiencialism, as well underlines James Wallman in his book “Stuffocation”.

I believe it is not a case, indeed, that within my peers there are more people that invest in travels and experiences of all sorts, than people who buy a car (I am not considering the parents bought ones) or ask for a mortgage. Obviously the crisis of the labour market made the second choice more difficult, if not improbable, for my generation of freelancers, however in London as well as in Brescia I have seen and I still see an entirely different approach to life and money. I have met people who have worked over weekends and summers for two, three, five years in order to afford to leave and travel for a year or so. With the same money they could have bought a new car.

We are definitely a generation of travellers. It is not a coincidence that the percentage of “digital nomads” is increasing.

I have friends in half of the European Countries, and also in other Continents.

Will I ever see them again? I hope so, but even if I would not, I will always have the memory of the experiences that I lived with them and it will be much more valuable than all the t-shirts I could ever buy at Primark, or all the skirts of H&M, or all the Zara shoes.

It’s been months that I hear people speaking about “Brexit”, and, actually, years that I hear people speaking about “Italexit”. Economical problems, immigration dealing problems, political problems.

I believe that if we want the European Union to work we have to be the first to feel it as part of our culture, and to celebrate it.

I believe that, as generation, we have the honour and duty of representing Europe, at least the one we would like, at least among us, because we know it certainly better than who takes the decisions for us. Because our experiences overthrew mental blocks and prejudices. Because we have friends in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brighton, Dublin, Southampton, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Porto, Reims, Hamburg, Bruxelles, Prague, Athen.

Because this ethereal Europe, in the end, is us.

The 9th of May is the Europe Day. Our party. Let’s celebrate it, let’s believe in it.

(post originally published on my Medium)


L’Europa siamo noi.

(traduzione in Italiano)

Ciao. Mi chiamo Francesca.

Ho compiuto 30 anni a Febbraio, ad una settimana dal mio ritorno a Brescia dopo 4 anni a Londra.

Londra mi ha cambiata molto. Londra stessa è cambiata molto, negli anni in cui ci ho vissuto.

Ho fatto 6 traslochi in 4 anni. Il quartiere in cui ho vissuto per più tempo è Brixton, di cui mi sono innamorata. Brixton è uno dei quartieri più multietnici della metropoli.

Se c’è qualcosa che sicuramente mi sono portata in Italia, infatti, è la passione per la multiculturalità.

Io appartengo alla generazione delle persone nate tra il 2000 e il 1981, i “Millennials”. Nonostante tutti i difetti che la mia, come ogni generazione sicuramente ha, sono particolarmente fiera di esserne parte.

Nel 2015 Eventbrite ha pubblicato una ricerca in cui sostiene che per i Millennials “la felicità non è focalizzata su averi o carriera. Vivere una vita piena di significato, una vita felice, riguarda anzi il creare, il condividere e il catturare ricordi costruiti attraverso esperienze che allargano lo spettro delle opportunità della vita” (Eventbrite, 2015). La mia generazione sta passando dal materialismo all’esperienzialismo, come ben ci fa notare James Wallman nel suo libro “Stuffocation”.

Non credo sia un caso, infatti, che tra i miei coetanei ci siano più persone che investono in viaggi e esperienze di diverso tipo, rispetto a persone che acquistano un’auto (non considero di quelle regalate dai genitori) o aprono un mutuo. Sicuramente la crisi del mercato del lavoro ha reso la seconda scelta più difficile, se non improbabile, per la mia generazione di freelancers, tuttavia a Londra e a Brescia ho visto e vedo un approccio del tutto diverso alla vita e all’uso del denaro. Ho conosciuto ragazzi che hanno lavorato durante i weekend e d’estate per due, tre, cinque anni per poter poi permettersi di partire e viaggiare un anno intero. Con gli stessi soldi avrebbero potuto sicuramente comprarsi un’automobile.

Siamo effettivamente una generazione di viaggiatori. Non è un caso che la percentuale di “nomadi digitali” sia in aumento.

Io ora ho amici in mezza Europa, nonchè in altri continenti.

Li rivedrò mai? Spero di sí, ma se anche non li rivedessi più, mi rimarrà sempre il ricordo delle esperienze che ho vissuto con loro e varrà molto di più di tutte le magliette che potrei mai comprarmi da Primark, o tutte le gonne di H&M, o le scarpe di Zara.

Sono mesi che sento parlare di “Brexit”, e in realtà anni che sento parlare di “Italexit”, anche se non con questa espressione. Problemi economici, problemi di gestione dell’immigrazione, problemi politici.

Io credo che se vogliamo che l’Unione Europea funzioni dobbiamo noi essere i primi a sentirla parte della nostra cultura, e a celebrarla.

Credo che, come generazione, abbiamo l’onere e l’onore di rappresentare l’Europa, almeno quella che vorremmo, almeno tra di noi, perchè la conosciamo sicuramente meglio di chi prende le decisioni per noi. Perchè le nostre esperienze hanno abbattuto barriere e pregiudizi. Perchè abbiamo amici a Londra, Parigi, Amsterdam, Brighton, Dublino, Southampton, Barcellona, Madrid, Berlino, Porto, Reims, Amburgo, Bruxelles, Praga, Atene.

Perchè questa fantomatica Europa, alla fine, siamo noi.

Il 9 Maggio è la Festa d’Europa. La nostra festa. Celebriamola, crediamoci.

Sabato all’Abba, Domenica in Piazza Vittoria e Lunedí all’Informagiovani: tre giorni in cui Brescia festeggia l’Europa. Siamoci.

(post originariamente pubblicato sul mio Medium)

Digital Divide in Customer Service

digital divide in customer serviceYesterday I had a very bad customer experience with Telecom Italia Mobile, the main telephone service provider of Italy. The detailed story is available here.

GIVE YOUR CUSTOMERS THE IMPORTANCE THEY DESERVE

What got me frustrated the most was their incompetence in doing customer service on Twitter. The TIM operator’s replies to my tweets were always the same, so that at one point I even thought it was an automated profile. It wasn’t, but, still, as a customer, I felt treated like a number that wasn’t making a difference in TIM’s budget. Well, indeed, that is true, but today every smart entrepreneur knows that customers engagement and loyalty is crucial to any company. Also, I would say, it is important in particular for telephone service providers, because as soon as customers are unhappy they move towards another telephone company, don’t they?

That’s why, just to stay on topic, my UK telephone company, O2, rewards loyal customers with prices and discounts. Their online presence is absolutely awesome, and their efficiency and creativity on Twitter is exemplar. For instance, here’s the promo video of their #TweetServe campaign, just to give you an idea of how they constantly innovate their customer service.

OPERATORS SHOULD ACT AS PEOPLE

Speaking more generally, other examples of efficient and customer-centred replies of customer service operators on Twitter can be found on a post of The Drum, dated 2012 — we are in 2015, and TIM still doesn’t get it. The article shows how O2, Sainsbury’s, East Coast Trains and Smart Car personalise their tweets in relation to the style of the customer, they make clever use of slang, write hilarious comments and just reply as they were real people — which, ops! They actually are! Operators aren’t machines, are them?

USE EMPATHY AND PERSONALITY

This is actually my point: doing customer service on Twitter — well, on any platform, but on social media even more — means first of all listening to each customer’s problem (listening= reading carefully and especiallyempathically), then trying to solve it or at least providing them with the moreinformation available. Finally it means giving real answers, not pro forma, and adding a little bit of personality.

…AND SAY SORRY.

Be patient and have a nice day, the TIM operator’s reply to my tweets (the same for 3 times, by the way) was cold, impersonal and, frankly, it just made me feel like an idiot. As I wrote in my previous post, not a sorry, not an apology for the inconvenience. @telecomitalia tweets were even worst: they asked me what was the problem, and once I told them they just replied we know that a TIM operator was already in contact with you, ask him for info.

This post was previously published on Medium, here.

tim customer service

How TIM welcomes new customers (or at least how it welcomed me)

One week ago I came back to my hometown, Brescia, in Italy, for the Summer. I wanted to change my telephone company, and after a long surf on the web I decided to move towards TIM, as it had a very good offer for traffic data, which is what I use my iPhone more for.

I filled the form online, and then I received a message telling me that a courier would have arrived in 7 working days to deliver my new SIM card.

Then I received a call from TIM, telling me that the courier would have come on Wednesday (today), and asking me my preferred time for receiving my SIM card. I said in the morning, because I couldn’t stay at home in the afternoon. The call center operator told me that the courier would have come in the morning before 1PM. I told her that I had an iPhone5, and therefore I needed a NANOSIM.

Today I waited for hours, and then, at 12PM, I started to be a bit worried. Therefore I contacted the call center with my phone (not yet on TIM, so I payed for the call) but there were no option for new costumers or to know where my courier was. Hence I contacted the customer service via Twitter. The operator didn’t know anything about my case and kept repeating that I should have been patient, without giving me any information about my SIM card or my courier.

Then I decided to directly mention @telecomitalia, hoping in some more information. They replied after a hour. In the meanwhile was already 2PM and the courier has arrived. The courier was actually a kind man that told me that nobody told him to come before 1PM.

Anyway, apparently everything was sorted out, but…no, actually, it wasn’t. I opened my pack and I found a MICROSIM inside, whilst I specifically asked for a NANOSIM.

I read @telecomitalia’s reply and I replied, too, telling them about the delay and the wrong SIM. They replied to me telling me that they noticed I was already in contact with an operator via Twitter, and telling me to have a nice day.

Now it’s 4PM. The operator told me to change the SIM in a TIM center. Not a “sorry”, not a single apology.

I strongly doubt I will change the SIM. I will just change telephone company. If I was in the UK I would ask for a refund, or for a discount at least, but unfortunately I know that in Italy that’s just a lost cause.

Here are the screenshots (in Italian). The whole situation is just unbelievable to me.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.11.07 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.11.30 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.12.08  Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.14.19 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.14.27 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.40.09Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.08.35

Think Forward, Act Now – Lambeth Entrepreneurs Forum

LEF for wordpress

People who knows me well, also know that my personal slogan is “Think Global, Act Local and Think Forward, Act Now”. That is my approach to everything, including economy.

Think Global, Act Local

Next Tuesday, the 2nd of June, I will be pleased to be one of the mediators of the Community Think Tank at the LEF – Lambeth Entrepreneurs Forum.

TTBWhat is it? The LEF is part of a worldwide movement Transition Town Brixton. TTB’s vision is to create a new culture of Community Supported Local Economy which fosters a resilient, independent local economy that supplies the real needs of local people, builds connections, creates new local livelihoods and keeps wealth local.

TTB’s co-founder Duncan Law has said:

Duncan“TTB wants to unable the community to invest all sorts of resources, from money through childcare to moral support, in creating and keeping the local economy we’d like to see.

We want to build a community of Lambeth local investors that understands the benefit of investing local and ensuring a vibrant, diverse local economy that is able to ultimately compete with the big corporates”

Think Forward, Act Now

library-of-things-logoWe all know that startups, whatever their nature is, need to go lean and go fast.

During tkitchentablehe LEF, five selected social enterprises will pitch to their local community with the aim ofpledging to invest money, but also time, resources, skills, enthusiasm, Facebook likes, hugs, and basically any other kind of support.

graingrocerThe Community Think Tank will be in the afternoon, together with a Pitch and Pledge session with the selected social enterprises, such as The Kitchen Table Projects, The Grain Grocer, Spiral, The Library of Things.

Networking (+ food!)

LEF speechbubble LogoThe LEF will also be a networking opportunity for local entrepreneurs, investors, decision-makers, and residents, and for all to have a part to play in having the kind of local economy they want to see in Lambeth and in the world.

Last but not least, there will be locally sourced food as well as beer especially brewed for the event by Brixton Brewery!

I will be very pleased to see entrepreneurs, investors and local people networking and fostering the Lambeth local economy. I would also like to know what are the insights of the Tech scene about the event and if it is something that might be replicated in other boroughs or towns.

Tickets are still available at www.lambethlef.eventbrite.co.uk.

fairies

Why Entrepreneurs Should Believe in Magic

I have always loved fantasy books and movies, because I have always loved fairy tales. When I was a kid I used to paint on t-shirts and fabric. I used to paint fairies. Therefore my parents started to give me many presents on the topic: books about fairies and legends, flower crowns, dream catchers, decorative witches, small elves and goblins. My granma even sowed for me an elfish dress. Obviously, when I found out that ABC produced a series about fairy tales I couldn’t resist to watch it. I have to be honest: I spent several hours during the past week to watch “Once Upon A Time”. Let me be honest twice: I loved it. The reason I love fairy tales is because I believe in magic, in a way (Actually, when I was 15 I wrote a letter to Harry Potter, asking him to help our world to face corruption and misery…but that’s another story). However, yes, I do believe in magic. But what is magic? Once Upon A Time shows it clearly: it’s LOVE. Love is the most powerful spell. Since I moved to London I have considered as talismans all the most recent presents that my parents and my siblings gave me, because they are the symbol of their love. Lately my sister gave me a watch that is not a watch. I mean, it is, but it looks like a bracelet. I have secretly told myself that it was a magic bracelet. About 2 months ago I volunteered for the Startup Weekend at WeWork in Southbank, London. It’s not the first time I volunteer, I already wrote about it. On that Saturday night I lost my magic watch. At the beginning I didn’t even realise it. During the evening I was playing a game with the Startup Weekend staff, when Zee asked me if I had a watch. At that moment I realised that I didn’t. My first thought was that I would have never find it, because it was too small. I went on my hunt already thinking that I would have never seen my bracelet again. It was just a watch, but I felt lost without it. Everybody wanted to help me, uselessly: the bracelet was disappeared. The last chance was that it ended up into the bins. There were about 10 bin bags in a corner, about to be taken away in a couple of hours. I decided to try to see if I could find my watch there, even if I was perfectly aware that it was an impossible challenge: that evening we all ate noodles, and the noodles were stored in brown boxes. My bracelet was of the same colour, it was literally like tilting at windmills. After opening 6 bags, I was giving up. The staff was ready to leave the place, but a friend, Xavi, told me to try the last one. I opened it without any hope, seriously. And there it was. Inside one of the noodle boxes. That was really magic, and it was magic because it was love. It was love what made me looking for my bracelet for so long and being so stubborn in my quest: it represented my sister’s love. And it was the love of my friend that gave me the strength of not giving up. I know: it’s just a bracelet. Or just a watch, depending on the point of view. Nevertheless, for me it represents everything an entrepreneur should count on: friends, family and himself. Friends and family might be there to economically help you, but ultimately they are there to support you when you lose your wings, as Violet Fairy’s sisters. They are there to protect you, like Flora, Fauna and Merryweather with Aurora. They are there to help you to reach your goals, like the Fairy Godmother. And, ultimately, they are there to forgive your mistakes and give you second chances, in order for you to be the person you wish to be and to build your own path, like the Blue Fairy did with Pinocchio. And you, the entrepreneur, you are there to feel their love to be confident in yourself, and to be your own hero. That’s why every entrepreneur should know that he’ll never succeed alone. Of course he has strength and power in himself, but to discover it he needs magic, he needs love.

Turning 29 in #LDN during the age of #Unemployment and #TechCity

keep-calm-youre-only-29-10Hi everyone!

Yes, it has been a long time. Precisely, 20 months and 12 days since my last post. Wow!

I don’t particularly like blogging (you can easily get that). I mean, I am an active subscriber to many, and I am a Digital Strategist aspiring to become a Growth Hacker. Let me rephrase that: I do not really like writing blog posts.

Today (well, yesterday, actually, the 8th) was my 29th birthday. 29 is usually an awful number. It is almost 30, although it is not really 30 yet, but it is still “getting there”. So you basically feel older than you actually are.

For me it has been a week of revelation, though.

On Monday I lost my job. It wasn’t a “proper” job, as we immigrants are used to say. It was an Internship, but, still: I had a 3The-Lean-Startup months contract with an early stage startup, which ended up to be a less-than-a month job.

It was not the first startup I was working for, and, anyway, I have been studying and researching on startups for ages. So, yes, I know that “most start-ups fail” and “most new products are not successful”. But, also, I knew that “the story of perseverance, creative genius, and hard work persists”, so I thought that my startup would have gone on (E.Ries, 2012).

It did not. It was a kind of a shock for me (and my colleagues, too).

Straight after that I basically had 2 choices: either get drunk or stay positive. This time I chose to stay positive.

iyaffullorigcoloursMy choice was probably helped by 2 fresh experiences of mine: mentoring the MACE Students at a workshop in collaboration with the International Youth Arts Festival, and an introduction course on coaching held by the Coaching Academy.

What did I do in order to stay positive?

1 – I spent the first two days on “market research” (job hunting, of course).

2 – Once I got to know which job adverts suited me, according to my skills, I started to make a massive research about the companies that were looking for those skills.

3 – I made a selection of those companies, mainly using as terms of evaluation each company and members’ (founders and directors) expertise, core focus and USP, because “as you climb the ladder of success, be sure it’s leaning against the right building” (H. Jackson Brown, JrI – or probably Anonymous, but, still, the quote gives you the idea).

4 – I picked each company one by one and went further into my research, trying to get as many information as possible from wherever on the web.guerrilla markting

5 – I wrote customised cover letters. When I say “customised” I do not mean just changing the names on the recipient. That is what many companies do when they send emails and, frankly, I, as a customer, I feel like they assume that I am an idiot. Anyway, of course part of the contents were the same – I am still the same person with the same skills and experience  -. In a way, I took that particular task as if I was trying to get my customers’ attention. I am a Guerrilla Marketing passionate, so I even used some of its methods to write my cover letters.Last, but not least, I was completely honest.

Many people told me that in applications you have to “fake” it a little bit. Because…everybody does that, so every employer expects that you actually “pimp” your CV. Well, I have never felt comfortable with that. So I actually never did it, but I guess I did it a bit in my cover letters, apart from last week. Last week I was completely natural and honest.

OLD STREET ROUNDABOUT6 – In less than 1 week I got 3 interview out of 5 applications to Tech City startup jobs that I completed. You might think that it is a small number, but it took me more than 3 hours between researching, coming up with each cover letter, and actually click on “send”.

I have no idea if those companies will take me on board. I mean, I made probably a great impression, but sometimes it is not enough.

However, I am so happy. I am still unemployed, and very conscious about that (I am not going to book any holiday at the Hawaii Islands, for instance), but I am very confident that London will give me a job (aka internship, which for me is still a job) in less than 2 weeks. It might not, but , as Walter Cronkite said, “success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles”. My strongest principle above all is honesty.

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