Why I’ll Never Start Another Business Without Doing This First
Recently, I locked myself, my business partner, and two very smart design professionals inside my living room for five days straight.
No, this wasn’t a hostage situation, Chateau Marmont-style bender, or notorious Atlanta inclement weather event. This was business-launching boot camp, also known as Unicorn Rescue: a week-long, SWAT-esque intensive led by 9th Path Creative’s Brandy Porter and JD Jordan of J+E Creative, two brilliant design thinkers who developed this program as a way to help clients take projects to the next level and give those projects that extra push over the finish line.
The one-week program is structured as a series of steps from business analysis and research all the way to user flow and design. Each day, from morning to evening, we camped out in my home in Atlanta, scribbling ideas in dry-erase marker on my living room windows, subsisting on delivery sandwiches, and analyzing every facet of the new project I’m launching. By Friday, we emerged from a living room papered in Post-It notes feeling inspired, armed with a deeper understanding of our users, and equipped with a business model that’s pretty damn close to being bulletproof.
My business partner and I have each launched our fair share of big projects over the years. We’re no strangers to the process — we’re idea people, after all. With Post-Office, our soon-to-launch roving pop-up coworking space concept, we knew we wanted to build it as intelligently as we possibly could. So, we did what we tell our own clients to do all the time: we called in the experts.
We crammed a ton into one week. It was equal parts exhausting, rewarding, and thrilling, and it’s something I’ll recommend without hesitation to anyone launching a business in the future. Here’s why.
You will learn more about your users than you ever thought possible.
I mean, you will know so much about your end users that by the time the research part is done, you might feel like you could invite them to your family Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t easy. In fact, in the initial stages, it almost felt like we were slowing down. We knew what we wanted from the app — everyone in that living room had used coworking spaces from time to time, and we thought that gave us a head-start on knowing what our users might want, too. But ultimately, our users’ wants and needs outweigh our own. So, we drilled down deep into our research, and we came out with a comprehensive understanding of the people we’d be reaching. (Not to mention that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from having your own guesses and hunches validated by data. We learned new things, but turns out, we were right about some stuff, too. I mean, who doesn’t love being proven right?)
Then, you’ll take that knowledge and make it into something awesome.
The first 48 hours are research-intensive. And yes, it’s a lot to take in and process. But on Wednesday, the magic starts to happen, because that’s when we started taking what we learned and putting it toward real-life features. It’s also when we caught our second wind after two intense days of information-gathering, because seeing this stuff take shape is exciting and adventurous and fun. There may have been happy dances.
You will, over the course of five days, work on Every. Single. Aspect. of your business.
This is so much more than just design, or just user experience, or just competitive research. From logistics to operations to pricing structure, we worked on every facet of our business in these five jam-packed days. And it all happened organically, because we were walking through the exact steps the user would be experiencing, from start to finish.
You will give it your undivided attention.
Immersing yourself in one project for a full week is a total luxury for entrepreneurs. We’re usually juggling dozens of things at one time, and when the real estate of your brainspace is at a premium, it’s damn near impossible to give something your total attention. But sometimes, you just have to force yourself to carve out the time and space to, as a wise man once said, whole-ass one thing, and this gave us that opportunity. Having the chance to fully focus on one project, and one project only, for five consecutive days is powerful. Taking a step back from the daily grind and committing yourself to one thing works wonders on your attention span and on the quality of your work. In a weird way, it almost felt like a break (a really, really, really productive break). Hanging out with brilliant, fun people helps, too, of course.
You will have lightbulb moments.
One of the coolest parts about locking a bunch of brilliant creative people in a room together for a week? You’re practically guaranteed at least one momentous a-ha moment. One of my personal favorites came after hearing from users that one of the trickiest parts of coworking is finding a place that matches your vibe: some people are there to mingle and chat, others prefer to plug in and work uninterrupted with minimal distraction. The two don’t really mesh that well, and if you’re looking for one but faced with the other, it just isn’t a great experience. Cue the Vibe Meter: our solution for feeling out the social vibe and noise level of a coworking venue before you even set foot inside the door, provided by in-app check-ins. It’s a way for users to scope out the feel beforehand — and it’s an idea we never would’ve developed without doing this kind of intense user research.
You will have the benefit of getting a fresh pair of eyes on your project
Any project will benefit from an objective third-party. In our case, explaining our operational model to Brandy and J.D. highlighted areas that were over-complicated and encouraged us to streamline. Again: this week was about so much more than just designing an app prototype.
You will be amazed at how damn good these people are at this
Here’s the thing: I consider myself an expert in my field, and I’m very picky about the people I like to team up with as vendors. With that in mind, here’s how I feel about working with Brandy and JD. These two are total pros: they know what they’re doing. They’ve nailed the structure, the process, and the tools. And they ran our session masterfully — no small feat, considering you’re asking a team to stick to a compressed schedule without getting distracted while also allowing a little room for creativity and ad-libbing. Teaming up with really, really smart people feels so good.
You’ll wonder how you ever launched a project without it.
Bottom line: I’ll never create another business without doing one of these sessions. Why? I feel confident that we’ve pretty much nailed our model. Yes, we’ll tweak it and refine it with time, especially once we have actual users, revenue, and costs. I understand our users, I understand our model, and together, we vetted extensively and pre-empted some of the gotcha moments that naturally pop up. The user testing, the research, the information architecture — that was all, of course, incredibly valuable. But in my history of starting businesses and launching big projects, I’ve never felt quite this confident at this stage in the game. And you really can’t put a pricetag on that.
Check out J+E Creative’s case study for more details on the process.