Learning from Past Projects: Coaching a Startup Journey from Idea to Pitch

The Context

For a reputable digital technology startup competition, HackJozi, we were asked to design a coaching programme which would teach over 50 startups how to develop their idea from dream to reality.

The Challenge

The challenge was to give these startups the know-how and confidence to create a fully-fledged digital or technological product, over the course of three months, which would be simultaneously desirable, viable and feasible.

Of course, this is no easy feat and the reason why many ideas remain in garages.

Our Hypothesis

There’s an old Chinese proverb which rings “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember.” We believe that effective learning is deeply embedded in practicality. Doing. Which is why we asked the question: How might we teach developing startups the necessary skills to frame their products within the human-centred design lens, refined to a point where potential investors might take the plunge?

The logical framework for our coaching programme was to place humans, the very people these startups were designing for, at the centre, to avoid assumptions. In order to do this, startups were divided into teams, where they were asked to tackle a local design problem, working as a team with people they’re essentially competing with. After, they would address their own products.

While solving the hypothetical design problem we set these teams, they used an Empathy Map to place themselves in their audience’s’ shoes, a Product Journey Map to track their product’s travels as it changes hands and contexts, Camera Capturing and Interviewing to quell assumptions and gain a further, better understanding of their audience’s wants and needs, designed a Product Box to visualise and prototype their offering as well as formulating a pitch that would blow investors away.

From there, startups left these teams and focused on their own products, using the tools and methods described above.

HackJozi Top 100 Bootcamp: Framing the Design Challenge

Startups learned how to:

- Design a solution for a hypothetical, local, “real- world” problem
- Refine own, local solutions to real-world problems
- Work as a team, beyond their own startup
- How to apply the human-centred design lens
- How to apply design thinking methods and tools
- How to visualise and prototype their product
- How to design a pitch that sells

During this process, three facilitators helped guide coaching sessions, where startups weren’t left to their own devices. At the end of the programme, having refined their products, startups were able to pitch their products to a panel of judges where further feedback was provided on their pitching techniques and skills.

HackJozi Top 20 Bootcamp: Prototyping

Key Learnings

Prepare, prepare, prepare
There’s no such thing as over preparation, as we found out. Even though we approached the coaching programme with thorough attention, wrapping up all loose ends a week before the programme’s start, would’ve given us peace of mind.

Verbal guidance isn’t enough — physical guides help solidify learnings
Some participants learn faster than others and that’s okay, but to keep everyone on the same page, have a physical guide on-hand to minimise confusion and give everyone the same fighting chance.

Large groups require more facilitators
Boy, oh boy, do they. The group we coached contained over one hundred people, no easy task to navigate between three people. When it comes to facilitation, rather have one coach too many than one too few. A physical guide also goes a long way and could replace a facilitator if self-explanatory enough.

Different people are on different levels
People will always be on different levels — anticipate and prepare for it. If someone needs more guidance, be prepared to go the extra mile so that everyone may be on the same page and learn effectively, together.

The less abstract, the better
You’ve only got a few hours to teach hundreds of people a few key concepts, so the less abstract your teachings, the better they’ll retain their learnings and be able to apply.

Actionable Tips

Finish all preparation a week before
Trust me — the adrenaline is fun, at the time. The stress, however, isn’t. Get all your ducks in a row a week before you’re set to coach your programme. You’ll sleep better, have confidence in what you’re coaching and won’t run around like a headless chicken, a day before.

Create a physical replica for all your teachings
I can’t stress this enough — people are visual creatures and tend to remember better if they’ve seen or read something. Create a physical replica for all your teachings so that they may apply it even after your programme has ended.

Start small
Bigger isn’t always better. If you’re new at something, start with a small group and work your way up. Even though our coaching programme was a success, starting with a smaller group, working out all niggles before attempting larger groups, would have worked in our favour.

Develop empathy for learners on all levels
Not all people learn at the same pace and it’s not because they’re incapable, they’re just on a different level. Develop empathy for learners across all levels and internalise what their specific needs might be during a coaching programme.

Practice focused, outcome-based teaching
Make sure your teachings follow a system which relies on an outcome to keep everyone engaged and on the same page, throughout your coaching programme.

We’ve certainly learned a lot since tackling this project and hope you’ll take these learnings to heart when designing your own coaching programme.