minwo.co — A Lesson in Design Thinking
Where do I even start? Well first, if you haven’t already, check out our website: www.minwo.co
There’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes to bring Launch Day to fruition. Let’s start with a timeline to get you grounded:
- August 2015: the idea is formed
- January 2016: we’re incorporated as an LLC
- Summer 2016: we run our first market research study — we’ll come back to this
- Fall 2016: we run our second market research study — again, hold onto this
- February 2017: we “soft launch” our MVP 0 website
- Summer 2017: we land our first set of clients (👋🏽👋🏽 JerkxJollof and Atlas+Faris)
- Summer 2017: we begin designing and developing our MVP 1 website (what you see today)
- Fall 2017: we land our first set of partners (👋🏽👋🏽 Part & Parcel and Writer’s Ink NYC)
- November 2017: soft launch MVP 1 in time for AfroTech
- April 2018: Launch MVP 1 of minwo.co
Mind you, there is a lot that happened in-between the milestones listed above, but I wanted to focus on the key aspects that, to me, represent our Design Thinking approach here at MINWO, LLC.
Before we dive in, what exactly is Design Thinking? There’s a lot of literature available around Design Thinking and Lean Methodology (usually used together), but for us, key elements to Design Thinking include:
- Engaging with customers to ensure their feedback is incorporated to your product/company strategy
- Iterating on concepts/features to test hypotheses and assumptions
- Dreaming big, but taking baby steps to get there
Want more content like this? Follow our social media pages:
These concepts sound simple, yet they require extreme discipline to implement correctly. You constantly have to check yourself, I mean really check yourself to make sure you are not following your personal assumptions or biases. To truly build a product/company that meets the needs of your customers, you have to check your ego. Period.
So. While there were blood, sweat, and tears shed along the way, our Design Thinking-esque journey to date can be packaged into three main buckets: Market Research, Minimum Viable Products, and Beta Programs.
Remember the market research studies of Summer and Fall of 2016? That was part of our year of “analysis paralysis.” We were perfectionists trying to decide how to get off the ground and spent a lot of trying to figure out the “best” way to do so. Internally we brainstormed and ideated and ultimately were torn so we decided to let the market tell us. And “told us”, it did. We learned things about our prospective market that we could never have guessed ourselves. We had made assumptions, asked questions to get feedback on those assumptions, and were surprised by which assumptions were validated and which were left by the wayside.
At a high-level, our two experiments went like this:
Market Research Study 1
Our Assumption: we should be a “buy black”, “buy minority”, and/or “buy female” marketplace. Essentially, we thought that people needed, and wanted, better access to companies owned by minorities and/or women and that we should be the platform to do so.
Survey Design: the survey we launched focused on a few things to help us learn more about whether or not our assumptions were valid. We wanted to know:
- Do people make it a point to buy from these companies currently
- If not, why do people not buy from these companies
- What kind of people would be the type to buy from these companies
Survey Results: welp. This was a nice, piping hot bowl of #youThought. We learned that yes, having better access is important, however, the average person will not buy from a company just because they are identified as minority- or women-owned. The company and its products have to be competitive in its market. This was our first epiphany which prompted our first pivot as a company. 💡
Market Research Study 2
Our Assumption: at the time of the second study we had two products with very different business models in mind. The team thought a B2B model would be an appropriate response to our first market research study, so we tested our hypothesis.
Survey Design: we wanted to know what kind of product we should focus our go-to-market strategy on, so this time we asked a smaller number of participants product focused questions. The survey flow went:
- Presented two different products to the survey participant
- Asked participants to rank each products features based on need
- Asked for the participant’s willingness to pay for each product
- Assessed the participants likeliness to use the product if released in the market
Survey Results: the results here were difficult for us to interpret. Product 1 came back with higher “likeliness to use” results, but product 2 came back with a higher willingness to pay. Therefore, in combination with the first market research results, we had to make a judgement call. The final result? What we now call the MINWO Business Network.
Minimum Viable Products
We eventually climbed out of our analysis paralysis through the concept of MVPs, or Minimum Viable Products. Toward the end of 2016, we had collected so much information but still hadn’t acted on any of it. We realized that there was an unspoken fear of making the wrong move. It was just enough hesitation that kept us from moving forward in a meaningful way.
So sometime in December of 2016 we decided to move. We sat down and brainstormed what our first website should look like. We sketched out our MVP 0 before the holidays, built it in Weebly when we got back, and soft launched it mid-February.
Our first website was.. not bad. It was clean and visually appealing, but we came to learn that it did absolutely nothing for our target market. They had no idea who we were, what we did, and why we were doing it. But what it did do was get our name out there. Because it was so wrong and unclear, it forced us to develop and refine our messaging. We ended up learning a LOT from our first attempt.
How is this a “minimum viable product”? Well, it cost us a fraction of the price it would have to have someone develop an app for us. Instead of trying to build an app in the tens of thousands of dollars (that we don’t have), we used a drag-and-drop website editor to get something out of the door. Our MVP 0 site cost us maybe $200 and 40 hours of work total. When you’re bootstrapping like we are, that means the world.
What we launched recently is our MVP 1 website. It takes into account everything we learned from people interacting with our MVP 0 website as well as what we have learned so far from our Beta Programs. In little over a year we were able to completely redesign and relaunch our website. Is it the end all, be all? Not by any means. But what it does do is give a chance to test out or business model.
This “minimum viable product” doesn’t have all the bells and whistles we’d like. It’s not even where we’d like it to be visually because we’re restricted to the features and functionality offered by Weebly. However, what it does do is give us the opportunity to start making money so that we can start saving up for our custom application. This website right here cost us probably another $200 and ~85 hours of work. One more win for the bootstrappers.
Want more content like this? Follow our social media pages:
The last bit of our calculated risk taking includes the liberal use of Beta Programs. Because we were able to get our MVP 0 website out, our friends and family had a more tangible idea of how they could help us. In fact, our first two clients, JerkxJollof and Atlas+Faris, came through friends & family referrals.
We now faced an interesting dilemma. We had clients, but we had no infrastructure in place to work with them. What we decided to do was to set up a MINWOwner Beta Program where the work we did for them was completely free. In return, we asked them to be willing to be patient and invest a bit more time and energy into working with us so that we could learn more about where opportunities for us to provide value lie. Again, it was an opportunity for us to learn — free of charge on both ends. This program really helped us to refine our business model and make sure we’re fully capturing the value we’re creating for clients.
One of the primary learnings from the MINWO Beta Program ended up modifying our business model. We recognized there’s an opportunity for us to bring in partners to fill the gaps we have as a company while simultaneously making our partners’ lives easier by bringing them ready made clients. And yes, we’re testing this model out too.
We’re currently running a MINWO Partner Beta Program that lasts until November. The primary goal of this Beta Program is to better understand friction points on our platform. We can observe what works well, what doesn’t work well, and everything in between. These details will then inform the features we prioritize for our custom application. We’ll be sure to update you on that when the time comes!
Ultimately, Design Thinking and Lean Methodology are ways to help your company de-risk its strategy by first testing assumptions and then iterating quickly to incorporate market feedback. While this may feel like us sharing our “secret sauce”, we believe in transparency and sharing resources. We share this information in hopes that someone that’s stuck and not quite sure how to proceed now has a tangible example as to how to move forward.
How have you leveraged Design Thinking or Lean Methodology to guide your company’s strategy? If you haven’t, what would you need help implementing? Let’s chat!
Editor’s Note: Before I wrap up this blog, I really want to thank those that have truly been pivotal to us being here today. Who knows what the future holds, but THANK YOU to:
6IT, Blue Team 4, Candace Mitchell, Chiamaka Ukachukwu, Chuks Nwamba, Hanane Abdalla, Jared Atkinson, Sydney Pearsall, Tenisha McDonald, The Black Burdell, The Ladies @ Haas School of Business (special shoutout to Hannah Lennett and Lori Sipe-Chen), TrackSquad, Toya Skeete, Yusef Trowell, and last, but not least, our families.
Each of you have contributed in your own way to our journey and for that we are truly grateful.