The end of MACE is approaching and I have mixed feelings. I feel happy, sad, fearful and intrigued. I feel happy that this phase in my life is almost over to give room to another extraordinary experience, but at the same time it is sad to know that I might never see some of my colleges again nor learn from their experiences. After feeling joy and sadness the fear comes in. The fear of not accomplishing everything I have set myself to do, the fear of not being as good as I want to be, but then again, who has never been scared? I believe that being scared (sometimes) is healthy and makes sure that the confidence is balanced out. Now, the intrigued feeling is the hardest to explain, even to myself. I think that I am intrigued at everything that I have been able to accomplish and at everything that I had to do to accomplish it. MACE has definitely made me grow as a person, a professional and a colleague. But let me tell you how it all began.
It was the winter of 2009 and I was thinking about my life. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do after college. I was only a few months away from graduating and I still was not sure about what I was going to do to my life. Various options aroused in my head: start working, do another degree (in law) or do a Masters. All three options had advantages and disadvantages, so choosing one was not an easy task. Luckily my parents helped me to make this decision and I it started my Master searching. When I found the Master in the Creative Economy I knew it was the one. I have to be honest diary, I had no idea at the time that the master was going to be this good and this complete.
I have always been very ambitious, you know that, so the barriers that I set for myself have always been very high. My Goal in life is to be a successful business woman, either in a high managerial position (Marketing or Creative Director) or co-owning a successful business before I am 30. I know that this is a very ambitious goal, but then again how can I accomplish something without fighting for it? So, yes, I am aware that achieving this is not going to be easy, however I have never liked things to be easy. My goal is to be a successful business woman before I turn 30 and also be married and possibly have a baby by that time. Knowing that things only happen with hard work is why I chose to do a Master after I graduated. I believe that if I had started working after my bachelor´s I might not be closer to my dream, as I am today.
I have to tell you about my first MACE experience. It was about shoes. It sounds trivial, I know, but it is not. This was my first contact with storytelling and empathy without even knowing. My lecturer told the class to write a few questions about shoes and to ask people around the campus. Our main questions had to do with price, colour, shop and model preference, since we had no idea what this experiment meant. It was only when we started asking questions like “how do your shoes make you feel?” or “tell me the story behind this shoe” that we understood that this was the way to engage with people and understand how they really felt about shoes. This was my first lesson and I was amazed. I was really looking forward to learn more about user experience and a lot of other terms that I did not know at the time. Everything else that we learned did not let me down. It made me even more curious to learn more and to understand the creative economy.
Creating a business is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. Initially I thought it would be about profit and about creating something solid (product). But this was just the beginning of my understanding of what a business is and what it entitles. Even before we started the businesses we had to choose the appropriate team to work with us. I was nervous since I was one of the few that did not have a set idea of what type of business I wanted to do; a lot of people knew they wanted to work with art, music, fashion, etc. and I believed at time that that was the right way to go in order to find partners with similar interests. It turns out that not knowing what I wanted to do was even better. I connected with Sam because we both knew what we did not want (a business about fashion nor music) and because he is a product designer, perfect if we ended up creating a product. Getting Joe to join the team was not hard. He was also unsure of what he wanted to do and liked myself and Sam, so he joined. Ben was the last group member to join the team (and the first one to leave).
A lot of the groups jumped right into business ideas – Temptation knew immediately that they wanted to do a magazine – but we had no clue. This fact left me a little bit restless. I was worried to be behind, I did not want to be part of group who had no idea about they wanted. We also learned that we should “Fail early and fail often” (IDEO, 2005), so having this in mind we researched three to four ideas before realizing which one had a real need and which one we could really transform into a business. Firstly we thought about creating mini GPS units that could be put anywhere in order to know where to find them. We thought this was particularly interesting because people keep losing their keys, forget where they parked their car or even get their goods stolen. And although this was an interesting idea and there was a big market for it, we soon realized that the prices were too expensive and that it would not be possible to have it in such a small form like we wanted to. So, following IDEO´s advice we failed soon and went on to the next idea. When we learned about the importance of having a need behind an idea and the relevance of that business success, is when I understood that not having rushed into an idea was actually the best thing that we could have done. We found a need, but we also made sure that we could create a service that would cater for that need, audience and create something unique. I believe that having a need and making sure that there is a target audience who needs what your creating is very important. According to Matt Bross (2008) from the BT Group CTO “The power is sifting to the people”. Consumers (people) are the ones who have the control of buying a product/service or not, and realizing that they have that power will only empower companies, that can start creating products to cater for their consumers. I believe that it is a win-win situation. Companies gain revenue from targeting consumers correctly and creating products that they need/want and consumers get products that suit their desires.
We had our idea firmly conceptualized, researched and tested by a survey by the end of November, beginning of December. During this time I felt that I was one of the leaders of the group, joined by Joe. I would make sure we were thinking about everything but still keeping a steady pace. This is a skill that I believe I have always had, but that I improved in MACE. I have always believed to be a leader. I have a strong personality that some might love while others might hate, however I always remain true to myself. Luckily my team mates liked my personality and also respected my opinions and decisions. Being a leader is something that as always come natural to me; following is a little harder. I have no problem in following someone that is hierarchically above me, like a teacher, parent or colleague; but following an “equal” has been my weak point. I consider this a weakness, since I believe it is as important to know how to lead as to know how to follow. Knowing this was not my strong point I tried to make sure that everyone was in the same page as myself and let anyone make decisions if they felt they wanted to. So diary, one of my first lessons of running a business was to be humble.
Around December is when the Reality sank in, I had no idea of how to run a business. I did not know how difficult it was going to be, I had no idea how much time it would consume, I did not know how to manage people skills but most of all I had no clue on how to create a successful business. One of the first things I learnt to surpass one of my Obstacles – lack of business knowledge – was to “Experience the world instead of talking about experiencing the world (Rodriguez, 2009). Instead of trying to figure out how people browsed in newsagents or how people felt when they browsed, I observed and experienced it myself. This was a big lesson. It made me realize that I would never know how to run a business without actually running a business. But there were more obstacles to overcome. Amongst the obstacles was lack of financial input in the business, lack of mentorship, lack of business experience and lack of a back up idea if this all went badly. Once the obstacles were found I had to device options of how to overcome the obstacles, both individually and with my team. The options came at different stages of the project depending on what we felt it was an obstacle at the time. The first obstacle was, without a doubt, running a business without knowing how to, but as I stated before, we overcame this using Rodriguez (2009) suggestion. The second obstacle that we faced was monetization for the business. We believed we could do everything amongst ourselves and very cheaply, but the reality settled in when we had to develop the website and did not know how to. Our options were to either create a very basic (and bad) website or to invest in a good service in which people would be interested in. Fortunately we were runners up at the Bright Ideas contest, which enabled us to pay for the website, but either way we had decided that we would put our own money in order to create a good website. I have always followed my parents’ philosophy “Money is not an obstacle, lack of ideas is.”
The second obstacle that we faced was business experience. We tackled this issue by researching other companies and understanding how other companies were capable of doing things with the same or fewer resources than we had. I analysed Facebook and Google strategies. They both started small and had little or none monetization in the beginning, which was the case of Hold the Front Pages (HTFP). Looking at how these two companies started and how they are positioned in the market gave me the incentive to continue and also made me understand that it takes time for businesses to be come out on top. So, I learnt about business experience by both having the experience myself and by reading about other businesses experiences. The third obstacle that we had to overcome as a team was the lack of a back-up idea in case ours failed. We realized in the beginning of January that the newspapers were not as willing to give us their front pages as we thought. Realizing this made us come up with a back -up plan. It was to either pay the newspapers (not very viable for us), to turn our service into a subscription service – which than would be no problem to get the covers – or to get investors that had business knowledge to back us up. The solution ended up being simpler, we now simply take the front pages from any available website and posted in HTFP. But I think it was important to realize that we needed a plan B. Our last obstacle was lack of mentorship. We managed to surpass this by contacting two business angels (Simon Hulme and Julian Ranger) that showed interested in the business and gave us excellent advices.
Having solved the main obstacles that were impeding the business to move forward, I started thinking about our business model – Free. My team and I were investing in a policy that might not be very lucrative. Ultimately all businesses want to be lucrative, apart from creating a service that serves a need. The answer if free was a good or a bad business policy was given to me by the book “Free” by Chris Anderson. Anderson (2009) explains how today´s economics are shifting to the free. Many examples were given in the book that made me believe that HTFP could be successful using the “Free” strategy. Companies like Ryanair, google and TED all give free content by still survive. Ryanair gets 80% of its revenue from 20% of its clients. Realizing that most companies gain most of the revenue from 20% of its clients was very important and made me think how we could get those 20% of clients to spend money on the business. I immediately remembered about wordpress.com and how anyone can have a basic free blog or a more sophisticated paid one. This seemed appropriate for the business so I suggested it to my colleagues. But, Anderson (2009) made me realize the power of free. It made me understand that if our service was not free, we would never be able to get as much visitors, views, word-of-mouth and it might have not have been viable even. “The power of Free” (Anderson, 2009) was another important lesson that I learned in MACE.
During my time in MACE working in a team I realized my flaws and my strengths. Knowing that I could contribute little to the technological part of the business, I invested my time on contributing marketing and advertising strategies and on making sure that we could all innovate and be creative. Having in mind how much I like to be creative, I also know how difficult it can be. I wanted to make sure that I could provide the right tools so that my group could innovative. Knowing this at Tshaped we followed Sutton´s (2006) third tip for better innovation. This tip reads “Do individual brainstorming before and after group sessions” (Sutton, 2006). I tried to incentivise all the members of the group to come up with ideas before we had a brainstorming session, so that we could all be more comfortable in group brainstorming. Brainstorming in coffee shops and in a restaurant were also techniques used many times by us, as a way of breaking the routine and being more creative. These techniques worked very well, since I feel that we have always managed to be very creative and innovative with all our approaches. We also transported this technique to all group related assignments. The first apprentice challenge was idealized in an Italian restaurant while having our pasta for lunch.
In addition to our creativity techniques we used prototyping as the base of our business experience. We used all kinds of prototyping, normal, quick and slow, following the advice of Murray, Caulier-Gricea and Mulgan (2010:50). These authors suggest that prototyping is a low cost technique that enables quick feedback in very little time. In the beginning I was very confused on how a website could be prototyped, but I quickly realized it could be done and how useful it was. It enabled us to create various mock ups of how the website could look like, what type of functions it should have and where they should be situated in a matter of minutes and costing us virtually nothing. Since doing mock ups in the computer would take much longer and it would be harder to produce them, prototyping was adopted by the team with frequency. We also implemented tip number 134 that stated how important it is to have a web presence (Murray, Caulier-Gricea, Mulgan, 2010:71). We used this has our main marketing strategy and we marketed HTFP in many social media websites including Facebook and Twitter. Something that we were very careful with was design. We treated design as a verb and not as noun (Rodriguez, 2010). Everything we did put design in the centre, which made our business and brand ultimately stronger.
We used all these tools and strategies and I believe that we have managed to create a successful business. I am so very pleased about that. But MACE thought me so much more. It thought me to grow, to know my flaws to be able to correct them, it thought me what type of a team player I am and how I should improve that and amazingly it also thought me a lot about myself. I believe that I fit in the metaphor of the “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato. I have learnt that something’s were shadows instead of the real things, I have definitely become less naive and more mature.
My way forward is to keep believing that I can reach my goals and ultimately be successful in everything that I do. We will continue with HTFP, so I have a new goal which is to make this a successful business. Ultimately, my way forward is to achieve any goals that I set and to overcome any obstacles that run my way. Thank you MACE.
Anderson, C. (2009) Free, The future of a Radical Price, Random House Business Books, London
Bross, M. (2008) TM fórum, found at: http://www.tmforum.org/matbross/5893/home/html
IDEO (2005) Fail early and fail often – IDEO Service design, Management today.com, found at: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/search/article/548074/fail-early-fail-often-ideo-service-design/
Murray, R. Caulier-Gricea, J., Mulgan, G. (2010) The open book of social innovation, The Young Foundation, found at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/Social_Innovator_020310.pdf
Plato (427bc – 347bc) Allegory of the Cave, The Republic
Rodridez, D. (2010) Why design matters, Business week, found at: http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jan2010/id20100127_150531.htm
Rodriguez, D. (2009) Experience the world instead of talking about experiencing the world, metacool, found at: http://metacool.typepad.com/metacool/2009/04/experience-the-world-instead-of-talking-about-experiencing-the-world.html
Sutton, R. (2006) Eight Tips for better brainstorming, Business week, found at: http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jul2006/id20060726_517774.htm?chan=innovation_innovation+++design_innovation+and+design+lead