November 29, 2016
by Columbia Entrepreneurship Design Studio Design Leaders Program members and co-founders of Ernt Nate Littlewood, EMBA ’17 at CBS and Rob Elliott, Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Earth Institute
The best explanation of the entrepreneurial process I’ve ever come across is:
- Identify the customer you want to serve. Think long and hard about this. These are the people for whom you will get out of bed every day. Your life becomes a mission to make these people happy. For us, these are people who are health and environmentally conscious and are interested in access to fresh, nutritious food. You are unlikely to ever be satisfied with your job if it involves forcing you out of bed to serve people you don’t respect or want to make happy. Hopefully there is more that draws you to this customer than simply the size of their wallet.
- Figure out what problems your customers have. What could you give them or provide them that would make their lives easier? How could you make them happier?
- Offer a solution. Having listened to their grievances and understood their problems, its time to start offering solutions. Start small, and if you get some traction, keep going. If you don’t, try again.
Frankly it’s a process that’s equally applicable to entrepreneurship as it is to life in the corporate world. It took me longer to figure this out than I’d like to admit, however I guess the important thing is not how long it takes to figure it out but that you eventually do.
What really excites us about working with Adam and Alice at the Design Lab is that they’ve set up a program which helps aspiring entrepreneurs navigate through steps 2 and 3. #1 is something you kind of have to figure out for yourself. We’re using the Design Leader’s program to better understand our customers as well as deep-dive on some of the critical assumptions that exist between an individual recognizing that there is a problem with their food, to that person ultimately becoming a customer. We’re exploring some of the existing solutions that potential users are employing, researching the pros and cons of competing solutions, and trying to understand what would make users want to try our solution.
Ernt is developing solutions to assist people growing their own food – addressing both a population that is increasingly living in urban environments as well as their changing food preferences (local, fresh and transparent). Rob and I met in early 2016 (click here) at a presentation Rob was giving about his research on green infrastructure, and over the course of several months the idea evolved fairly organically. Rob is a Post-Doctoral fellow with the Earth Institute and I’m a (recovering) investment banker and current Exec-MBA student. In addition to the Design Leader’s program, we’ve been involved in the Lang Center’s Summer Startup Track, SoFi pitch competition, and in 2017 are looking forward to participating in Lean Launchpad with Steve Blank. We are planning a minimum viable product trial (MVP) in early 2017. If you’re interested in becoming an early stage pilot user, we’d love to hear from you! You can also follow us on Instagram or sign up to our newsletter.