Words on design (takeaways from Autodesk)

The aim of any company is to create two reactions:

  1. WOW
  2. Uh-Oh

You want to create the WOW reaction in your customers and their customers. You want to surprise them time and time again by being awesome, crazy, unexpected, special, simply great and unbeatable.

You want to create the Uh-Oh reaction in your competitors and their customers. Similarly, you want to take them by surprise time and time again by being awesome, crazy, unexpected, special, simply great and unbeatable.

Mimicking competition won’t create WOW, nor will it create Uh-Oh. What it creates is commodities. We all know that commodities are next to zero in value and there is quite frankly nothing sexy about being a commodity. So why not do something of value? And further why not do something your competitors can’t or won’t do? The catch is that today, features and how you make or do something hardly separates you from your competitors. You need take a closer look at design to create something that is a WOW and an Uh-Oh and simultaneously something your competitors can’t do.

Take for example the iPod. It was hardly the first portable consumer mp3 player and since its launch there have been many attempts to overthrow its position. So what made it a WOW to millions of consumers and an Uh-Oh to all its competitors. I’m sure you guessed already. Yes, I’m talking about design. The iPod was a masterpiece of design. It actually combines several forms of design that makes it almost impossible to copy. It is a product design, a fashion design, a marketing design, a business model design, a manufacturing design, a business system design and so on.

Looking at the iPod it is easy to see that there is a clear distinction between tactical design (making pretty things – design as a noun – attempting to compete with features or looks) and strategic design (form and function from a user perspective – design as a verb – competing by separating yourself from all other actors). This is quite the same as attempting to compete in terms of price, there will always be someone willing to do it cheaper. Similarly there will always be the new model that is prettier, faster, lighter, shinier etc. So be and think different by looking at different forms of design. Figure out how design can make your competitors look like commodities.

Design is to companies what sunglasses are for Neo or what a special ring is to Frodo. You just shouldn’t separate them.

Seed, Startup, Growth, Transition

This trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley has definitely been an opportunity of a lifetime to learn from people who have done it. Before the big finale, Disk 2012- life in 4D, innovation tournament with Autodesk, UC Berkeley Haas Business School and InnoCoop, it is time to reflect on some of the meetings we have had with entrepreneurs here.

We have been fortunate to meet teams that are in different phases of their business. First, Pedicine, a company creating a new and innovative way to manage your medical data globally is working hard with exploring the opportunities related to their idea and developing the company. At this stage it is important to find the right people who can take the company to the next level and attract other people to get involved.

Today we had the privilege to meet with the guy behind Appington. Appington is a company which is revolutionizing the way how advertisers connect with customers through apps. Instead of annoying banner ads, Appington has brought the traditional audio advertisements to mobile platforms by embedding ads into the user experience. The company is currently working with first customers and working hard to create more traction. At this stage, getting as much feedback and insight as possible from potential customers and target groups is irreplaceable. Most founders waste time here thinking about (and creating) elaborate business plans and business models, but the truth is your plans are going to change so rapidly that keeping your presentations and documents up to date is a waste of time. Create a hypothesis, validate it with your target group and iterate when needed.

Betterdoctor, the company I talked about last time, Is possibly a little bit more established than Appington. The company has been successful in creating traction both in terms of getting doctors to join the service as well as getting customers to use the service. Currently the company is looking for external financing options in order to grow the company and secure a larger market share. read more about the growth stage of Betterdoctor from my earlier post.

Finally, looking at a fourth stage of young companies, we can see a transition from being rapidly changing and in some situations chaotic to being established and more mature and structured companies. This is pretty much where Luxus (especially its San Francisco office) is. Luxus focuses on combining a strong knowledge in marketing with their exceptional skill set in different technological and SaaS solutions.At this stage of the company, it is important to bring in people who are able to manage and navigate the company in its transition while continuing to generate growth. Here, finding the right partnerships can help companies avoid hurdles in their attempt to become stronger players in their field. It will be interesting to see how Luxus is able to scale their business with the help of their technological innovations.

Getting back to where I started from, tomorrow at Disk, we’ll be working with collaborative design challenges in order to create new and cool ways of thinking about design and where it can be applied. I’m sure that the past meetings have worked as a great primer for the tournament. I’ll give you all a summary of the outcomes of the challenge later.

Valley Venture Capital

The first few days in San Francisco and Berkeley are almost over and a lot has been going on so far. After having a jet lag day with football and a Finnish sauna in the shady parts of Oakland, we got our first chance to meet up with a local (Finnish) entrepreneur. We had the privilege of talking with Ari Tulla from Betterdoctor. We met him at Foundersden, which is a co-working space / startup hub in the heart of San Francisco.

Betterdoctor is a company that is solving the problem of finding a doctor near to you that fits your insurance plan. the problem is that no service combines the data for, doctor specialty, accepted insurance plan, quality verification and availability.

We talked about several topics but an interesting discussion was about VC-money around here. Basically what makes a deal is a good idea, a great founding team (with advisors, lawyers and partners) and basically having built your company in a reasonable way from the beginning. Technology isn’t the key and nor is your idea. Up to 70 % of good teams end up doing something different from what was planned on day 1. Also what Ari thought as crucial is your first VC. If he/she is good, other VC’s will follow.

Guy Kawasaki has similar insight. Below is his VC wish list but do check out his blog for more details.

  1. Build a real business
  2. Get an intro
  3. Follow the 10/20/30 rule
  4. Show traction
  5. Clean up your act
  6. Disclose everything you can’t clean up
  7. Acknowledge / create competition
  8. Tell new “lies” (Be original)
  9. Don’t fall for old tricks
  10. Under promise and over deliver

Join a start-up

A new chapter in my life is right about to begin.

I returned to Finland from Denmark and Copenhagen Business School just before the holidays. My studies at Oulu Business School are now complete and it is time to move forward. I will be joining a start-up company in Espoo from the beginning of February. For me, this is one of the greatest opportunities. The company is growing rapidly, the people there are young and enthusiastic and also they appreciate talent. “A people” hire “A+ people” and later “A+ people” “Hire A++ people”. I hope the company also follows this rule of thumb that was closely followed at least at Apple.

For my fellow “soon to graduates” and “recent graduates”, seriously consider joining a start-up. These are the companies that are actually creating something new and exiting each and every day. You’ll certainly receive all the responsibility and opportunities you can handle. Also you have the great opportunity of growing with the company. Growth brings in new employees and these new employees will need new managers. Compared to large corporations where you might only be a number on the pay cheque, in start-ups you’ll certainly have a large role. Most of all, your work will leave a mark.

So instead of joining a corporation, join a start-up and be a part of something exiting.

Winners

Winners are like athletes…

Like a world-class athlete, winners set their goals and milestones high. Not so high that achieving them would be impossible, but high enough to motivate you on your way to the top. I don’t believe that Usain Bolt was attempting to be in the top 10 fastest people on earth. He was targeting to be the fastest!

Also like athletes, winners are confident. Winners believe that they are the best in what they do. They know that what ever hits them, they’ll find a way to overcome the obstacles. However, there is a fine line between confidence and cockynes. Being cocky, probably won’t take you far. Keep in mind that your competitors are confident too and you might get surprised if you lower your guard. So be alert.

And just like athletes, winners work hard to achieve their goals. Winners constantly seek for possibilities to improve their skills and partner up with people who might be able to help them on their way to the top. Improve your skills and be on top of your game. Being humble and open to new influences can take you to an entirely new level.

And for me, Entrepreneurs are winners. Entrepreneurs (you don’t necessarily need to be a company founder or owner to be an entrepreneur) are confident. Successful entrepreneurs are humble and open to influences. They set goals, work hard to achieve them and consult coaches on the way to success.

Men in Black Suits

Today I met a man in a black suit and quite frankly, tomorrow I won’t even remember talking to him.

Who is the man in a black suit? He might come from a prestigious college, he might have several degrees, he might have contacts to several different “important people”. To himself he is the most important and intelligent person around. At first he might seem like a person you would like to be in close contact with. He might even seem to be very valuable to you concerning your interests. However there is an other side to men in black suits…

A man in a black suit will go unrecognized at events. He won’t raise any opinions about himself or the work he does. When you talk to a man in a black suit, you actually realize that there is quite little he can help you with. He is overly conservative, as if he was protecting himself from the opinions of others. He attempts to please everybody around him, but by doing so he doesn’t do good to anyone around him. Sadly enough, if he went away, hardly anyone would realize his absence.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying everybody who wears a black suit is a “man in a black suit” or that a person without a black suit wouldn’t be a “man in a black suit”. It goes a lot deeper.

Don’t be a man in a black suit. Don’t try to please everybody around you. Just think about all “the men in black suits” that have gone unnoticed throughout the past. Have a stand and opinion about topics and issues. Be passionate. Disagree with people and challenge the views of others. Sometimes you will make a person around you disagree with you. Sometimes somebody will get angry. But similarly your views will definitely echo with others. People will remember you. People might even admire your courage. You will actually stand out of the crowd. Maybe it is because of something you said or did. Or maybe it is because you have a certain skill or ability.

 

Please FAIL today!!!

Ok, please write a note to your calendar for today. Please write; ” Today I failed!”

Don’t worry. Failing is good. Failing helps you learn from your mistakes. Failing will show what has to be improved. I encourage you to fail. Even better, I challenge you to fail. Finland challenges you to fail!

Today, 13th October 2011, marks the first nationwide “National Fail Day” in Finland. What is it all about? In short the Finnish society hasn’t been very encouraging in the unfortunate situation where a person – whether an entrepreneur, an athlete, me or you, anyone – has failed. Unlike in many other cultures failure in Finland is (soon “was”) personal. From children to adults, from students to professionals, from young to old – we fear failure so much that we don’t even try. We fear that other people will judge us based on our failures rather than our success.

However, today marks the time when Finland began to change its ways. Today, failure is celebrated. Share your failures with all the people you know and encourage them to do the same! Spread the word and visit the official website (sorry, only in Finnish) to see how some of the most prominent figures of Finnish society have failed. Learn from your failures and learn from the failures of others. Remember that when you have failed, you have the chance to learn how to be better the next time. Failure is an opportunity to succeed!

Inspiration

A while has passed since my last post. Better be more active in the future. My post today is about my inspiration to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs have different sources of inspiration. Just like any other people in the world, we are inspired by the achievements of others, by our heroes, by books, by videos, by quotes, by pictures, by events…… You can be inspired by pretty much anything.

For the past year, for me, there have been a couple of sources of inspiration. Firstly seeing my fellow student-entrepreneurs creating great ideas (like this one or this one), developing the ideas into novel and innovative business models and opportunities and later actually making their ideas turn into reality as products, services, apps etc. What inspires me most in these stories is not that they would be told by heroic people with super-human abilities and skills, but they are told by regular girls and regular guys. They only thing they had to posses was the self-confidence (don’t push it too far or you’ll turn out cocky) and belief in their visions. Obviously it takes hours of effort to understand your market, your customers and iterate your ideas, but still, the people who make it happen are not too different from you and me.

Being part of something that is possibly changing the course of a nation for the years to come is something that drives me to work with many of my ideas. As you may know, Finland is growing to become a start-up hub in the Scandinavian and Baltic region and maybe even in the whole of Europe. Steve Blank titled this “the Finnish Spring”. It has also been noted widely in media e.g. by Wired magazine and The Next Web. The possibility of looking back and saying I was part of that is something worth pursuing.

To end this post I want to give you all something that I find very inspirational. It is a simple video a friend of mine showed me on his laptop perhaps a year ago. Take a minute to watch it and perhaps you too will get inspired.

Fun, play and rockstars

Today I want to talk about something that caught my eye whilst browsing through the website of the largest newspaper in Finland.

First of all, I will say a few words as a reply to an article in Helsingin Sanomat. For those who don’t speak/read Finnish, the article talks about the current trend among young people in Finland to experiment with start-up companies. Across Finland students are coming together and spending their summers as the writer sais “sitting in meeting rooms and creating business plans rather than going to rock festivals and partying”. Instead of looking up to guitar smashing rock stars, young people in Finland have found new idols in the likes of Peter Vesterbacka and other entrepreneurs. Where is the fun and what has happened to our youth, asks the writer..

Well what has happened to our youth is actually a response to the current situation is Finnish society. Young people have realized the crumbling state of the Finnish economy and corporate ecosystem. Instead of taking to the streets, causing havoc and sitting on our butts, students have decided to respond by having fun, playing and experimenting with friends, ideas and new ventures. Sure, a lot of these experiments will never end up as new startups and a lot of the stuff will be forgotten in time, but for those few ideas that turn out to be successful and interesting, the people involved will look back at the early days and say “I was there, I was part of creating that and I’m proud of it!” In stead of complaining, we are actually creating something. Oh and, yes, it is pretty cool to hop on a plane and go pitch your ideas to people in Silicon Valley. Something, you will surely look back to after the years have passed.

And the fun fact of the day is that all this experimenting, fun and playing with ideas and startups doesn’t exclude any of the “more traditional” fun and play of forming rock bands, partying through the night and causing havoc in the eyes of others. We just came up with a way to have fun with friends all the time doing the exact stuff we like. I’m not so sure if this is worth the criticism. Another fun fact is that a lot of the startups that are being created are actually directly related to music, arts and pop culture.

Related to this I want to share a TED talk (click here) I found rather brilliant. Check it out and tell me what you think.

What is Failure?

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is easy, eh??

You just come up with an idea, team up with some of your mates, if it’s software you find a guy who writes some code, you talk to VC’s who fund you, you launch, you create a crowd around your vision, you maybe even change the world in the process, after a few years you either sell your company or you retire rich and famous, you will be remembered as a person who created something and above all you succeeded.

Well, I’ll be honest now. What I just wrote, is surely a description of how it is not going to be. And what it hasn’t been for successful entrepreneurs.

While starting up a company (or basically anything in life), you are bound to face obstacles. There will be a thousand good reasons to quit along the way, each far more tempting than the previous. The people telling you it can’t be done, will outnumber the people who believe in your  visions. You will probably even begin to doubt your visions. And this is only the first weeks of your new venture.

It’s all beginning to sound pretty daunting. What if you just give up. Instead you decide to go and work for [Enter company name here] or the boss you hated.  Would certainly be easier.

But here is the catch. People who give up, give in, take the easy road, blend into the crowd or abandon their dreams and visions are not entrepreneurs. They are not the people who create new realities or change the world. Visionaries, entrepreneurs and people who are truly successful FAIL, but they don’t give up.

Take a minute to think about the following quotes from Thomas Alva Edison

“I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
“I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

This is exactly the mindset entrepreneurs have. Failing early and failing often is a road to success. It is actually a possibility to learn what works and what doesn’t work. Failing is an opportunity to say “This didn’t work, let’s try the next thing.” And this is true to all aspects of a start-up. What I’m not saying is that you should bail out or jump ship. No. What you should do is take the resources you have and experiment with as many alternatives as possible. Don’t try to design a perfect company or product right away. Rely on trial and error. Recognize what works and what doesn’t work and here BE HONEST TO YOURSELF. It will save you time and money along the way. Have the guts to say to yourself that this isn’t working and do something about it as early as possible.

What ever you do, don’t give up. Don’t QUIT. You will never truly fail, if you keep trying. And before you know it, you actually might be on the road to success.

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If you agree with anything I wrote, Go and check out The National Failure Day on Facebook or their website. Spread the word, because to succeed, we all need to fail several times. Celebrate failure on October 13.