Venture Design 101
A brief introduction to Venture Design
This blog post is part of a series of posts around Venture Design.
Every business experiences (and fights) numerous “Strategic Inflection Points” — critical points where it must make a fundamental shift to respond to external business environment changes in order to secure successful growth.
Apple offers a successful example of this kind of shift. After noting the success of the Sony Walkman, they made the strategic decision to enter the portable media player and digital music markets with the combination of iPod/iTunes. This shift expanded their offers from the core product of computers and software into new areas, opening up new revenue streams and lines of business in the process. Their success has been unparalleled in the years since.
My work at Myplanet over the last 3 years has largely been in this strategic space. I’ve been on a small, highly experimental team whose objective was to engage enterprises in innovative design projects, testing new concepts and ideas with them and helping shift the ways they think about challenges and solutions along the way. It’s thrilling, sometimes unexpected, always fascinating work — but it has been hard to explain to others outside of my closest circle of colleagues.
And then earlier this year we formalized a new wing of Myplanet — one that does this kind of strategic shift work but with space carved out specifically for working with startups — and I was introduced to the term “Venture Design”. Venture Design is a way to approach those moments of shift. With enterprise orgs, it’s easy to see how and when this kind of thinking could be applied. And with startups, their origin point can be seen as the very first strategic inflection point through which they disrupt the existing market and/or create their own market.
For the first time in 3 years, I had a name for the kind of work I’ve been doing all along. And even though it makes sense to me, I know it’s a relatively new term for most people. So I’m here to share my insights on what it is and the lessons I’ve learned while practicing Venture Design as a Design Strategist on Myplanet Ventures.
The Life Cycle of a Business
To start, let’s take a closer look at where Venture Design is leveraged in the business life cycle, which will explain why and when to apply it.
The graph above illustrates that life-cycle, from development through decline. And while the timelines can be very long or very short for any given product, the pattern remains the same. What it ultimately tells us is this: Eventually, if a company wants to survive in the ever-changing business environment, it’ll need to ramp-up its innovation efforts to bypass the “decline” stage and maintain its forward and upward momentum. And this is where Venture Design comes in.
The illustration above shows how those strategic inflection points — opportunities for innovation — can be brought into the business life-cycle to give organizations a continuous growth model, staving off the formerly inevitable decline.
Why Venture Design Works
Venture Design operates at the start of each innovation iteration, including the very first one. It aims to help companies identify growth initiatives, launch new ventures, and mature them into viable businesses. And it’s a lean approach, optimized for new business creation and growth, that capitalizes on market opportunities.
Venture Design leverages design thinking and lean startup methodologies, strategically bringing an idea from concept to product rapidly and efficiently. We launch with a level of fidelity that is just enough to determine if the concept is viable for the business needs being addressed. At its core, Venture Design is where design thinking meets entrepreneurship. And understanding this is fundamental to understanding Venture Design. So let’s dig into that statement.
Design thinking, the first half of Venture Design, is an iterative process and action-based approach aimed at identifying alternative strategies and solutions to business problems that might not be instantly apparent with an initial level of understanding. It is not an exclusive property of designers — all great innovators in different disciplines have practiced it — and it’s been written and talked about a great deal in the last 5 years or so, so I won’t go too much deeper on the topic here.
The second half of Venture Design from the statement above, entrepreneurship, can be defined in countless ways. But to get us all on the same page, I’d like to work from my favourite definition of entrepreneurship care of Harvard Business School Professor Howard H. Stevenson:
“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.”
Digging into that a bit more (with the help of Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition by Thomas R. Eisenmann) we get functional definitions of each component:
“Pursuit” implies a singular, relentless focus;
“Opportunity” implies an offering that is novel in one or more of four ways:
1) pioneering a truly innovative product;
2) devising a new business model;
3) creating a better or cheaper version of an existing product; or
4) targeting an existing product to new sets of customers;
“Beyond resources controlled” implies resource constraints.
So entrepreneurship, in this definition, is relentlessly focusing on a novel or unique opportunity beyond the resource constraints. For our purposes, the entrepreneurial spirit of Venture Design requires it to have an emphasis on speed, focus, flexibility, experimentation, and risk-reducing.
Venture Design takes the iterative, experimental approach that comes with design thinking and combines it with the forward-facing, hyper-focused nature of entrepreneurship. Quick launch cycles, end-to-end thinking and approaches, and regular, incremental improvements are all hallmarks of Venture Design.
Despite its newness, we already see successful examples of Venture Design in the wild. This case study of the full-service online pharmacy startup PillPack is a great working example of Venture Design that led to not only a redesigned website and a private dashboard for PillPack customers, but also a suite of physical products. And in June 2018, Amazon outbid other retailers to acquire PillPack for $1 billion.
Another great example is the Scotiabank Digital Factory — a Scotiabank internal initiative dedicated to transforming digital banking is the first of its kind globally. Since its establishment in 2017, many disruptive products have been launched into their customer’s hands including the new digital mortgage experience, Scotiabank eHOME.
Venture Design at Myplanet
It’s not easy to drive innovation from within. That’s why our team at Myplanet Ventures is dedicated to helping startups and established companies alike find potential areas where we could launch a viable venture together through deep collaboration.
There are plenty of resources out there, but very little time for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to digest it — let alone act on it. Since launching Ventures, we’ve found that engaging a new venture requires a lean yet systematic process that helps focus on the right things at the right time.
Part of how we’ve tackled the need for that lean-yet-systematic-process was to create the Myplanet Ventures Sprint: a collaborative 2-day workshop for answering critical business questions, identifying opportunities for radical user experience improvements and business growth, and mapping out a plan to accelerate a founder’s vision.
“This was the most useful strategic decision I made in the last few years! The Myplanet team gave a starting point, and we’re now using Machine Learning as a competitive advantage for our business.” — Abraham Meghuish, CEO Jentu Networks
This Ventures Sprint allows us to collaboratively help with building a company, not just a product. So far we’ve received tremendous positive feedback from companies that have participated in the sprint and I look forward to sharing more on how our process works in a future post.
Venture Design is a big topic — too big to cover in one post. But hopefully this stoked the fires of interest for you. Stay tuned to this space for updates on our process and experiences on the Myplanet Ventures team, and in the interim, check out these resources on Venture Design to continue your own learning (and please, help me grow this list by leaving a comment!):
Toronto-based software studio Myplanet now has a Ventures division! Our mission is to help founders launch new ventures that matter. If you’re an early-stage enterprise-focused startup with traction, check out Myplanet Ventures.
And if you’re an enterprise team itching to get started with building data-driven products/services, visit Myplanet.