The Earliest Stage of a Startup: Finding Your Purpose
Something I’ve always found useful is documenting my process and publishing it. It allows me to follow the thread of ideas and crucial areas to return to (or to let go).
I’ve been working for nine years and freelancing for five of those (counting two years in grad school), so I’ve had a wide variety of experience in many different working environments, working alongside stellar creative directors, designers and product people. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the agile product design agencies I’ve worked for and incorporated it into my design practice. Most recently I’ve put everything I’ve learned in my life to the test, as I build the product I’m working on now.
I wanted it to be the first cultural events platform that people actually use, and rely on regularly. My main goal was to connect the creative life of the community with the people who live there; to learn something about a building you walk past every day and have it completely transform your experience of that place. Also to help artists and designers get their work out to a wider audience, and support the work of people who are doing good in the community.
During the past two months, I’ve gone on a little journey with finding the identity of the business, as the cultural discovery direction wasn’t as successful as I would have hoped. I had decided to focus on events as a tangible outcome of the creative work of the community, however focusing on events is very time consuming with little return.
Two reasons why this didn’t work:
1. Too local
The events were focused in London, which is not useful for people outside of the city. The amount of work involved to build the same service in other cities is not sustainable in the long-term.
2. Short shelf-life
Also, a lot of our content (in the newsletter and blog) was fleeting and only relevant for a short period of time, which doesn’t build a base of evergreen content for people to come back to reference again.
The new direction I’m going in is a process-driven platform focused on designers and artists who are solving big problems in the world. It’s for people who are interested in how stuff gets made. It has much greater potential for scale as its globally relevant, and will contain entirely evergreen content. So this ‘pivot’ aims to solve the problems of my last attempt.
A friend of mine asked me last night, how did I know that it was time to ‘pivot’? I realized there is a lot to that question that might be useful for people working on their own ideas. I launched the Tomorrow and Today newsletter in November 2014, while working full-time at Adaptive Lab. I decided to focus my efforts full-time to building the platform for T&T as I had established a goal of 10,000 users by July 2015 (not ‘S.M.A.R.T.’, but that’s for another article).
Unfortunately, the developers I had lined up to build the back-end fell through back in April/May of this year. While I saved a ton of money, this was the death-knell for my lofty goal.
In a simple twist of fate, around this time I had been working alongside Jenny of Art Map London, helping her with user research for their site redesign. I had been really focused on the art world (obsessed in fact, and still am), but I realized that while I know a lot about art, I know a lot more about design.
Two things that are essential for any entrepreneur to answer are, 1. What can I offer the world? and 2. What does the world need? I realized that I could offer insight into the world of design, especially with a cross-disciplinary focus bringing in my passions for art and architecture. As well, there is not much out there specifically for designers, while the number of digital products for the art world increases exponentially every year.
This is when I decided to do the research project, 25 Coffees with 25 Designers (in 25 Days), which has given me a lot of faith that I’m now going in the right direction.
I did a Google Campus pre-accelerator program in Autumn last year, and one of the workshops that stuck with me was with Amelia from Steer. She recommended finding people and organisations that share your ideological goals and create partnerships with them. For example, starting with identifying influencers on social media, and starting to build relationships in that way.
I’ve spent a lot of time doing this. And I can say that while this was a great learning experience, we have now built up relationships with London-based galleries that will probably not find the new Tomorrow and Today direction super useful. However, I have faith that the work of the past six months has been critical to building the base for the direction we’re going in now.
So during this process, I’ve gained a new perspective on creating a winning strategy and hiring a team, and I appreciate with new eyes the challenges of the startup clients I’ve worked with in the past.
I also realise you need someone else there who shares your goals and reminds you of priorities. You can’t do it all alone. As a designer my main goal is to build something useful, beautiful and engaging — now I’d like to find a team who’s as passionate about the idea as I am to move the business to the next level.