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Scramble – Week 12

It’s time to have a pitch, but we just pivoted and focused at the last minute on the concept of a resource library. This was the week we perfected divide and conquer. There was no way we were all going to be able to work together on every part of the presentation and documentation and have our pitch ready in time. So, we all claimed something and got to work.

I claimed the business model, revenue, and market. This was a huge undertaking, especially during finals. And I had to essentially develop them from scratch because we tossed out the consulting side of our business completely. We are doing something very different now. And our target user has changed.

I’m still at a loss of how to find real estimates for TAM and SOM. I can identify certain numbers, like, Forrester has 2,600 clients, but there isn’t a way to look up how many businesses we can potentially reach, especially when our potential audience is possibly not even what we expect at this point.

Good thing I like numbers and money. I spend a lot of time creating a realistic scenario. And I feel good. It is like summiting a mountain The way up sucks, but when you make it you feel great.

We aren’t sure what we should ask for. I think we should ask for enough money that makes it worth their while. I don’t want to repeat the mistake that some groups made when practicing with Dave and ask for too little. But looking back we should not have asked for money at all. This wasn’t a model that needed funding. We needed clients to begin accumulating reports for our library. And that showed when the visiting “VC’s” opted not to fund us.

We also forget in the mess of all our projects being due the same couple of days to include that we are scalable by having organizations like universities and colleges feed research into our library. We don’t have to do it all our selves. 

I’m pleased with how far we made it, but I still believe the model needs some work to really become sustainable and possible.

That great thing is that it has spurred a few new ideas that may be more plausible. Can’t wait to try them out!

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Can't let it go – Week 11

We have an idea in our heads of what a consultancy is. Even though we have every intention of doing things differently, and even though we have done the research to uncover what needs to change, we still have been caught in the magnetic pull of not breaking the traditional model completely. We’ve held on to this so tightly that as we have identified other awesome business opportunities we try to wrap them up with the semi-traditional consultancy model we are pitching.

This week we realized in order to be successful we needed to tighten our focus on one element. One by one these are all great business opportunities, but we are sinking ourselves week after week trying to build all three simultaneously. Perhaps they can all be a part of the eventually business model, but as we enter the startup space we need to have a razor sharp focus. Each week as we presented our progress the class would still be in a state of confusion of exactly what we are trying to accomplish. And a visit from an angel investor provided us with the precise expectations from the market and investors for a team like ours.

It was difficult, but we finally did it.

We are no longer a semi-traditional consultancy. We are no longer pitching three opportunities all at the same time. We are now a qualitative resource library. We can now spend the appropriate time needed to create clarity for this concept, and paint the picture of the model that will sell the pitch.

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Show me the money! – Week 10

This week was all about money for me. We were prepping our presentation to an angel investor/VC to practice for our final pitch. My task was to reevaluate our financial projections based on our modified concept. I had to research the cost of a contract attorney and a contract accountant. I discovered LegalZoom.com where we can order business contracts and other common legal documents for set fees or subscribe to advice for a monthly cost. This made me think about how we might set up the model for our own resource library. Figuring out the cost of an attorney specifically was difficult because although it’s easy to find out average hourly costs, it is very difficult to estimate the amount of time needed for the different tasks we need done. So even though I know that I need to plan for $200-$300/hour, I have no idea how many hours I am going to need one. The same goes for figuring out the cost of an accountant and bookkeeper.

Then, I had to adjust all of our operating costs and burn rate to account for not working out of a physical location for our primary task of consulting clients., and including the other members of our team. This meant we could start off in a much less expensive collaborative space like WeWork, as opposed to leasing our own office space. This saves us a considerable amount of overhead costs; literally a difference between $8,000 to $3,500/month.

This was also a time to really work on the business model. We have to really consider how long it will take us to do projects, so that we know how much our rate needs to be in order to remain profitable. We can’t just say that we are more affordable than other consultancies when we don’t really understand our revenue and the viability of our business. I worked with Will on this part, and it is a difficult equation because there are still a lot of unknowns.

The one unrelated task I had this week was another validation interview. I spoke with Ryan Shafer most recently from Viacom. He led a 20 person design team, and had incredibly validating experiences related to our concept. It made me rethink our decision to only focus on startups if teams like his can use the help of a team like ours so badly.

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Push it – Week 8

Now that we have found our focus as an embedded design team, we need to find ways to innovate within the space to really introduce something special to the market. This is how we will separate our offering from all the other design consultancies seemingly doing the same thing. We worked on pushing our concept further this week.

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As we looked at the opportunities related to our focus and received feedback from our instructor on our weekly update presentation, we identified an analogous opportunity. Just as we’ve identified that the traditional cost structure of consultancies makes hiring a consultancy inaccessible to many businesses, we have also seen that the skill level and methodologies used by UX designers varies a great deal in our industry, making it very unpredictable for anyone hiring to know what to expect. We can assemble a library of resources for any team to have access to which would establish a solid expectation of methodologies and frameworks for any UX designer. We could set it up as a subscription service, a membership, or itemize individual documents for purchase.

I had a chance to email Dylan Longley also this week. He has worked with a few teams internationally as a business analyst, co-founder, and educator. It was great to hear the perspective of someone in New Zealand, as well as to speak with someone with his specific background, having hired many design contractors and consultancies to do various projects. He has a much broader scope of experience than many of the other participants we have interviewed, as his experience has been in hiring design for promotional print material as well as standard digital UX projects. He was able to validate much of what we are directing our vision to address in relationships and processes with clients, and provided good feedback. I’m enjoying the validation phase of the project as we are very obviously on the right path to address the issues in the industry.

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We found the flow, the groove, the pocket – Week 7

Of all the weeks our team has been working together, I think this was the best. We found our flow this week and it is generating some great results.

I was actually a little uneasy coming into this week. We had not ended on the most positive of notes last week, and were needing to really come together to know how to pivot and narrow. I thought we might struggle to get back to the core insights that our opportunities were founded on.

To my surprise we nailed our meetings early in the week. We all seemed to have naturally re-centered on the research insights, and defined the opportunity we would commit to and test this week. Going back to were we saw the largest gap in the market, and the most opportunity that overlaps with our skills, we are reaching out to startups that have recently acquired funding, and are ready to boost their product and business culture with the integration of systemic user-centered design. We will be the embedded design team for startups that have still been either functioning without design, or juggling freelancers. We offer not only product design, but creative culture design for teams. And, ultimately, provide the framework for providing access to a customized design team from our network when our goal has been reached. We bring value to the part of the market that only has access to the risky network of freelancers. One of my tasks in this process was to define our value proposition. I decided to take a stronger position in the wording of the statement, and phrased it from the perspective of the audience. i.e. "You are a startup that needs a design team...." Phrasing it this way removes some of the barrier for our target users, and helps them visualize the applicability of the service directly to them.

Branding fell into place next. We are now Voxum Design. And we had a great meeting that helped up realize the logistics that are essential to put in place for this type of endeavor.

Throughout the week I learned the power of turning back to the data when we’ve become clouded by the immense amount of opportunities and tangents. The data tells us that we are doing something the market asked for. Now we just have to prove it through vitality testing and validation interviews.

 

VoxumDesign.com

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Meet David, Amos, and Will – Week 1

The first week of Creative Entrepreneur. This is a class I have been anticipating since I started the program. I am a natural entrepreneur at heart, and have always been drawn to opportunities to create products and services. Needless to say, my hypothesis is that this will be my favorite class of the entire IxD program.

I am also expecting to come out of the class with a truly viable product or service that I can turn into a reality. I have no intentions of just using this class as an exercise in founding. I am tired of working with “possible” concepts in all my other classes. I am ready to start something real, and this is the perfect mini incubator for it.

So, we assembled our team. Amos is an Industrial Design student, and Will and I are both Interaction Design students. We spent the week identifying areas of interests to address, and narrowing down to a specific area. Conversation was fluid and we seem to work well together. Will and I have worked together in the past, and Amos is motivated to make something happen also. 

After doing secondary research to explore our potential areas of interest we came back together. There was not a lot of natural overlap in our areas of interest, so we ended up more or less voting, and selected video conferencing as an area to tackle. But, part way through the week we had a change of heart and began to lean toward commuting. We decided to focus our research efforts on that topic, and have begun to line up potential interviews for our primary research phase.

I learned that it is slightly difficult to arrange a group prior to knowing areas of interest. Finding a topic that everyone is equally motivated to pursue is trickier than having a passion and finding others that share a similar passion. Even at this stage of the process I can see the time we are losing by trying to come to an agreement of what we would all like to do.

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Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe – Week 3

Post synthesis phase means choosing a space to focus on. But we have so many ideas! There are a lot of opportunities for us to consider, and so many pain points we have identified within and without design consultancies. I thought we would have a clear direction after our synthesis, but that’s not the case at this point.

We are at a point where we can choose to do something for in-house design teams, consulting the consultancies themselves, introducing new designers to the industry, trying to beat consultancies at their own game, working with companies that have not invested in design yet, or companies that have in-house design teams but need an innovation team.

How do we choose? There are so many great ideas for each direction. And how do we prevent tangents at this stage that is basically a forest of tangential opportunities? I don’t think we figured either of those questions out yet. We semi-decide on directions, but can’t seem to come to a more dedicated consensus. And we mostly just chop our way through the discussions, getting caught in tangents, then realizing we are digging too deep we step back to get ourselves back on track.

I learned that there is a fine line between introducing a concept vs. diving deep into a concept. I’m not sure I’ve learned how to decide the appropriate point to dive deep when some discussion is necessary to even determine the viability and interest in a concept.

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The Business Hook – Week 4

So we are a design consultancy, but what’s the hook? We need to find out how we can differentiate from the current consultancy model to be innovative and successful. 

What is design as an industry missing? We discovered through our research that there is an issue of accessibility for companies that are not prepared to pay millions of dollars for traditional design consultancies to work on one major project at a time. 

We had a chance to talk with Stephen Hood, a founder of a startup called Storium. He opened our eyes to the reality that startups cannot always afford the format of design compensation that is expected from traditional consultancies, and when dealing with contractors and freelancers there are complications with consistency, professionalism, and expectations.

That along with other insights from our research led us to unchartered territory in the design world: the subscription model. There are individual designers that work on a retainer model, and we spoke with a couple of them. They are work on more of a high level consultancy level, rather than getting their hands dirty crafting the actual design. We see a hole in the industry when it comes to crafting design as a full-blown consultancy, and at both macro and micro levels of crafting interactions.

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Reality Costs Money, Money Buys Reality – Week 5

Now this I can do. Numbers are numbers. I have worked with very similar circumstances when starting businesses in the past, and I have a good grasp on the reality of survival when starting something new. The main difference for me is that now I have a family, so my personal burn rate is not only significantly higher than the good old days of being single and able to live on practically nothing, but also significantly more consequential when taking the risk.

It was my responsibility during this phase to figure out the business licensing fees, workers comp insurance, health insurance costs, and I helped with the fun part of looking up the cost of leasing potential office space. Many of these numbers are very customizable, so it was difficult to anticipate exactly what the costs would turn out to be. It also becomes complicated when licensing a business because not all of the potential costs are explained clearly in documentation online, so it is a bit of an adventure when going through the hoops of legitimizing with the government.

We worked on what it would cost if we were to open tomorrow while also considering the ideal state of the business. It is also fulfilling to set our own worth through determining our own salaries.

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We figured it all out… Just Kidding – Week 6

We thought we had the plan in a bag. We had a value prop, we had just figured out our burn rate with well calculated dollars to run the business. Then, we stepped into class and with helpful prodding from Christina realized we weren’t really that different from everyone else out there doing this. : /

Back to the drawing board.

Literally we went back to the whiteboard, and said let’s look at what we have again, and see what we can do to really introduce something innovative to this market. It wasn’t really back to square one because we are still floating on excellent insights from our research, we just needed a push to do something that breaks the mold.

We can do this.

But, not without some decent work. Back to whiteboards, sticky notes, brainstorming… Think of some great ideas. Speak with a leader in the design world, and have reality hit us over the head. As I asked David Merkoski about consultancy models, he rained about 15 examples of firms struggling with this same question. Thanks for the wisdom, David.

But… we have something the seniors in the industry don’t have. We are starting this from scratch, so we don’t have the same paradigm constraints of how things should be. Hopefully we have a bit of beginners’ luck on our side too. We also learned that in a matter of a month we have run through all the consultancy models the experts out there have tried. We are grateful for the accelerated learning from user research. The pioneers of the industry have done an excellent job helping the world understand the importance of user experience design, which puts us in a position of needing to rethink how to be valuable to this audience that is losing the need for the same outside agency model as they integrate in house design more and more.

In our next team meeting we ranked the tools and our specific qualities that we could grow this idea out of. I got sidetracked by an idea that I thought would be spectacular. We have Benefit Corps; why not Benefit Consultancy? I pushed the idea of a Sustainability consultancy pretty hard in the meeting. On my two hour drive home (my thinking time) I began to realize that I was pushing a product without prioritizing the needs and insights from our research. As much as I would love to carry sustainability to the world, no one we talked to is specifically asking for that. We agree it needs to be an obvious element of our reputation, but a model built entirely around it was not the answer to the problem. At least… not yet. I cal dibs for still starting a Sustainability consultancy in the future. Maybe we’ll be ready for that in this industry in 5 years. Major lesson learned was to just write the idea down and let it go until it makes sense to discuss it in depth, but a brainstorming session is not the time for that.

One more long meeting and things started paying off. I’ll tell you about it next week. : )

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Rise of Team Chaos – Week 2

This is real. 

This is not an instructor-directed topic. This is not someone else’s social agenda. This is my life. My future. My developing expertise. 

The impact I have on the world as a designer starts right here. Senior year at California College of the Arts. 2015. This is when my naivety of all the particulars of the industry is an asset as I take a critical eye to ‘design consultancy’ as a system.

Design can do better than it is currently doing in the world. Just enough exposure through internships, research, and indirect perspectives has made that clear. This is not a question of whether design is valued. This is a question of whether Designers can enter the tech industry on the invention end of the spectrum vs. the final UI layer of the spectrum.

Team Chaos is a group of four Interaction Designers: Analicia, Kirk, William, and myself. I believe we can redefine the status quo of when designers are allowed to enter the stage during invention. I expect that most of the world does not share that same vision. The tech industry is very engineer driven and venture capitalism thrives off of what they consider the ‘builders.’

Through my team’s research this week, I believed we would verify that in most cases design is considered a small puzzle piece to a concept that has already been pitched, funded, and developed.

I interviewed three players in the ecosystem of design implementation throughout the past week.

  • Andrea - A Senior Software Developer who is working on a project a design consultancy has been hired to deliver the final user experience for her team to code.
  • Justine - An in-house UX Designer for General Electric who works side-by-side with the engineer team on a couple of projects in Agile format.
  • Brett - An Interaction Design Intern at a start-up led primarily by business school graduates, preparing to release a new product.

I also participated in the transcription and synthesis of a dozen other interviews my team conducted. The interviewees varied between clients of design consultancies, consultants, and in-house UX/IxD designers.

One lesson that became clear from our research is there are certainly opportunities for design consultancies to collaborate with clients in more strategic processes. Another lesson I learned is that communication between consultancies and clients can be a significant barrier even when delivering a completed package. This is commonly referred to as “throwing it over the fence,” which implies that consultancies put together their deliverable, hand it off to the client, and wipe their hands of involvement. The client is left on their own to build out the product – by their own choice, by the way (they are the ones that hired the consultancy, so they choose when to cut ties). Finally, the last major lesson I learned is that the internal organization and communication within design consultancies has room for improvement, as many designers find themselves dissatisfied with the their position in a consultancy after a short time, and begin seeking a change.

My goal for this coming week will be to continue uncovering the reasons behind so many consultancies taking a backseat approach to product development, and the drivers for retaining consultants in a design consultancy organization.

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