The 3 Day Startup is a short entrepreneurship program designed to drive collaboration and creativity in cross-disciplinary teams. It is a hands-on learning experience where participants engage in an iterative process – generating and researching ideas, forming teams, talking to potential customers, engaging with mentors, developing prototypes and pitching business ideas.
The event I attended was held at Griffith University from 3–5 July 2019, facilitated by Hunter Walkenhorst and team, including included external business mentors. There were 30-40 students from a range of disciplines. A handful of these students, including myself, were participating as an assessable element of our ‘CoLab’ course for Master of Design studies.
Where does a start-up start?
Most new enterprises start from an idea. But an idea alone is not enough — for an idea to be successful long term, it must address a need. It has to be something people want.
“Make something people want”Paul Graham, Y Combinator
Our first activity was to generate ideas — about anything. We followed standard brainstorm guidelines: quantity over quality, suspend judgement, embrace divergent thinking, leapfrog to improve ideas.
Each participant pitched an idea to the room; then everyone voted on which to take forward. Because there were so many participants, it was difficult to remember the ideas and judge their potential. A handful of ideas were selected to progress to the next stage.
Forming a team around a project idea
My grounds for deciding which project team to join were simple: find a team that will be enjoyable to work with! From experience, I believe the best results come from a happy working environment where people share common goals.
I chose the ‘bum zapper’ team, which (despite sounding like a novelty) also sounded like a workable idea. It was based around wearable technology – a garment with electronic pads that stimulate muscles to relieve pain or boost circulation. The aim was to address health problems caused by sports injuries and sedentary lifestyles.
Our team comprised students from various backgrounds — interactive media, business, health, eLearning, graphic and interior design. From the start, everyone was collaborative and happy to contribute in whichever way they could. I found it interesting that nobody tried to be a leader, yet the team maintained a clear sense of goals and priorities throughout.
Emma, who had pitched the ‘bum zapper’ idea, could have taken a leadership role. However, she acted more as a guide, explaining her vision and answering questions about health aspects. When she did not turn up on the last day, we worried at first, but soon realised we could get on with the job. A learning point from this is that the person who owns the idea does not necessarily have to run the project. It is more important for them to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with the team (and customers or investors) than to manage the enterprise day-to-day.
Developing a ‘Lean Canvas’
The Lean Canvas is a simplified one-page version of a business plan. It allows a start-up team to focus on factors that affect the viability, objectives and direction of the project.
Our team started by identifying customer types and discussing their problems and pain points. We looked at possible revenue streams, solutions we could offer, our ‘Unique Value Proposition’, and channels to reach potential customers.
There was not enough time to complete the Lean Canvas, but it helped us think through the issues and identify a number of possible directions.
Talking to customers
To see if our idea was something people needed, we had to talk to them. We drafted a list of questions and hit the streets (splitting into pairs) to do customer research. At this stage our customer base was quite broad (basically anyone who might have muscle pain as a result of work, sitting down or sports) so we approached a wide range of people.
Although potentially daunting, customer research proved easier than expected. Most people were happy to chat. We found people used a range of approaches to treat muscle pain, men were less likely to seek treatment, and people were aware that inactivity caused health problems.
Prototyping and evolving the concept
We prototyped and developed the idea using a few different methods:
- Physical prototypes and sketches: visualising how wearable technology could be incorporated into clothing, by cutting out fabric and trying it on a garment. This highlighted practical issues (like perspiration and washability) and psychological factors (self-image, comfort, fashion). We also sketched variants of the idea.
- Technical/Market research: investigating technologies for wearable smart fabrics and muscle stimulation methods. We found information on printable electronic inks, electronics woven into fabrics, and techniques for washing wearables. We also found that fitness gear was big business, and Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) was a trend in the fitness industry.
- Storyboarding and role-play: We created an animated storyboard (using Vyond software) based on a target customer persona, and role-played this to test scenarios.
- Branding: we brainstormed product names and branding design, using ‘Peach bum’ for the initial pitch, later changing to ‘Gym Stim’ to appeal to the fitness market.
Input from mentors
I found the input from a range of mentors very useful. It helped us question assumptions and focus our solution more tightly. As a result, we decided to concentrate on a ‘beachhead market’ (initial target customers) of young female gym-goers, and adjusted our product and proposals around that.
Pitching the idea
In the final pitch we used role-play to show how the product meets customer needs, basing this on our target market (represented by a team member, Kirsty). We used ‘Wizard of Oz’ techniques to make it seem real, simulating the effect of the product and pretending to use a phone app to adjust the muscle stimulation settings. My role was to facilitate the role-play and prepare the presentation – collating information, creating infographics, sourcing images, editing slides, and working with the team to refine story, structure and content. We had about half a day to do this, so it was amazing what we were able to achieve in that time.
Slides from our team’s final presentation
So… what next?
The 3 Day Startup was a learning exercise, but many of the projects pitched during the event could have potential to become real start-up enterprises. Our ‘Gym Stim’ idea is certainly one of them, as the market for fitness wear is huge. It would require more technical research first, to make sure our vision of washable wearable technology could be implemented cost effectively. The brand name may also need thinking about. Most importantly, it would need a motivated team to take it forward.
As it happens, the second assignment in our CoLab course involved working collaboratively on a project of our choice, and team members Kirsty and Nat decided to work on developing the wearable tech idea. I decided to work on an idea from a different team at the 3DS event – a marine drone that allows people to explore underwater without getting wet! I’ll write a post about that soon.
Learning points and reflections
- Diversity breeds originality – a mixed team is good!
- The person with the original idea does not have to lead the project.
- Don’t be precious about an idea. Ideas evolve and improve with input from others.
- Don’t be scared to talk to people on the street. The worst they will do is say no.
- Question assumptions. Listen to people. Be prepared to change tack.
- Vyond is a great storyboard tool I hadn’t heard of before
- It is possible to achieve a lot in 2.5 days!