Welcome to this most recent installment in the series of day-in-the-life reports from the Columbia Startup Lab.
Understanding the Link Between Smart Design Strategy and a Successful Launch
In the September issue of the Columbia Entrepreneurship newsletter, our readers learned a great deal about design from Adam Royalty, the Columbia Entrepreneurship designer-in-residence. But for many of the resident businesses here at the Startup Lab, the importance of design thinking to any successful launch has been ingrained since day one.
Prior to moving into the Lab, these founders took part in the Greenhouse program, a capstone entrepreneurship course at Columbia Business School led by Professor David Lerner. Let’s check in with some former Greenhouse seeds and see how they’ve leveraged these design methodologies into their current ventures.
Steve Gilman ’15BUS: Block Party Suites
In his second year at Columbia Business School, Steve came up with an idea that promised to improve the tailgating experience at sports games, concerts, and other events, while providing businesses with new opportunities for innovative on-site marketing.
Following the advice of his mentors in the Greenhouse program, Steve and his partner developed an ultra-lean prototype for Block Party Suites with minimum overhead. This bare-bones model of the product allowed the two to remain nimble and adaptable during the initial period of market testing.
Steve conducted focused tests on highly-targeted markets like college football games in Texas, quickly pivoting in response to client feedback. That feedback loop allowed him to craft a product exactly suited to the needs of his customers — offering enough features to satisfy users, but not more than what they needed.
This type of ethnographic research combined with rapid prototyping has played a large role in Block Party Suites’ initial success.
The startup already has contracts with several large organizations in the sports and entertainment industry. As Steve moves forward with his new business, armed with the design thinking tactics he gained in the Greenhouse program, he expects it to expand rapidly from here.
Matt Bachmann ’15BUS and Ben Gordon ’15BUS: Wandering Bear Co.
As Columbia Business School students, Matt and Ben began crafting a model centered around the convenience and environmental benefits of boxed, cold-brew iced coffee. Just fourteen months later, Wandering Bear has become a beloved staple in households and corporate workspaces alike.
Matt attributes much of their success to Adam Royalty’s design-centered advice and the “awesome” Greenhouse program.
Matt and Ben incorporated design thinking into the initial development phase to get a better sense of how their product would ultimately be received. After extensive consumer testing, they discovered that for many people, the experience of receiving a box of coffee was actually somewhat confusing.
With Adam’s help, Matt and Ben built numerous prototypes, each drawing on the valuable feedback of the previous iteration to make improvements along the way.
In the end, gaining a better understanding of their target market’s expectations allowed them to develop a simple, visual guide to properly dispensing the coffee, all without making any expensive alterations to the physical design (yes, that’s something different) of their packaging.
Going forward, Wandering Bear plans to expand the ways its product reaches consumers through new delivery partners and digital channels. So far, you can order Wandering Bear through its website and FreshDirect, but soon, they’ll be adding a direct consumer subscription service to the mix.
Oh, and for all you folks in the Startup Lab: that Wandering Bear box in the fridge is up for grabs.
Kathleen Reynolds ’01BUS: SavvyRoo
Noah Blumenthal and Kathleen Reynolds have witnessed the power of proper design thinking firsthand. Although their initial model for SavvyRoo was to act as a social media platform for those looking to fact-check and share the news, the company’s design-minded flexibility has allowed it to head down a path towards something much bigger.
Noah and Kathleen initially started hiring college-aged interns to generate content, run analysis, and create data visuals for partner organizations. Although SavvyRoo internships only lasted six months, their interns were all moving on to find other great opportunities and jobs with relative ease.
What they discovered was that the impressive body of work the students generated over the course of their internships had a direct impact on their ability to get a job — the writing they were doing was setting them apart.
This had all the markings of a potentially lucrative new business venture, but taking a leap like this can be risky, especially for a startup. Over the course of countless meetings with Adam in the Lab, Noah and Kathleen were able to take a design-minded approach to the development phase, effectively gauging the needs and demands of their potential customer base.
Design thinking has ultimately allowed them to craft a more focused product that better meets the needs of their target market.
Now, SavvyRoo University is in its second round of beta, with schools across the country participating in the program. Kathleen says that they’re “cautiously optimistic,” but anyone can tell that SavvyRoo is excited by the prospect of arming a new generation of students with the skills they need to succeed in the professional world.
(Main image credit: Mads T.F/flickr)