From the Ground Up

I built my schedule around the Creative Founder class: and why? Because I wanted to learn. My roommate was in the class the year before and I heard all of the drama, I saw the struggles, but I also saw the results. I saw how a business was built from the ground up, and most importantly, I saw the improvement everyone went through with presentations, leadership, and team-building.

I still didn’t know what to expect, except that I would grow as a designer and, of course; expand that T-shaped skill base that everyone loves so much. I’d taken two of Christina’s classes before, so I knew that she was generally “that one” teacher that keeps everyone busy, and without a dull moment. That was extremely valuable to me considering that I still tend to need a lot of motivation for any kind of project.

Ahh, the first day of class.. It started like any other Christina-run event. We started talking about ourselves: What did we want out of the class? What were the rules we needed to establish? How was the class structured? So we familiarized ourselves with one another and a few classes later Christina assigned us a team. What? Christina? Why? I thought I was going to pick who I was working with? Ok, not to worry: we can switch teams as long as we are in groups of threes and fours. But wait, It’s not as easy as it sounds.. because we are all in teams of three! So if I leave, not only will I give awkward cause for two people to hate me, but I’m also leaving them to fend for themselves. This is the first hard lesson I learned: To leave a team stranded. Both of them dropped the class because they weren’t put in the best of situations.

So I shopped for a new team and found one working on food. I must be a gluten for punishment to choose this saturated of a market. This is the second hard lesson I learned. Finding a foothold in the food market seemed like a bloodbath, so there was some sort of chance that we might have to pivot, but I think we were to stubborn to even think about it at the time. How did we come up with an idea to run with? Well, with sticky notes of course. It all started with our interviews(of which I learned a thing or two about over-recruiting). I think we all learned pretty quickly to be more comfortable wearing the interview hat. We found out some interesting things about how people plan, shop, order, and eat food. Then, with some brainstorming and excited young minds, we followed some storytelling charette methods with the subtle guidance of Christina.

I want to take a minute to talk about teams. I saw a variety of ways teams could interact with each other this semester, and all of the ones for Creative founder had to be teated in a very different way than a four week project in any other class. Within this class, I saw teams split apart, I saw people who just couldn’t stand the way each other worked, the way people fought for leadership, passive-agressive ways of addressing problems; and I think I saw those problems get resolved. I saw people step up when we needed it most. I saw us all grow as group members and take on the odds that stacked against us. I think that the empathy maps and talking exercises were some of the most helpful team building experiences I’ve been through, and I’ll be sure to use them when I can in future teams. My team was definitely a blessing and although we didn’t take on our specific roles right when we got them, I think we learned pretty quickly from one another.

My job was Marketing. It is not easy to market to people who are rich. It’s not easy to find them, find which of them are in a demographic, or find time to talk to them either. It’s just not easy. I learned quite a bit from taking on this role. First of all, social media is easy — going viral is hard. Secondly, the two most important aspects of customer acquisition: find where your customers hang out(where are they looking for similar services and when do they look?), and word everything you say perfectly(this is the “confusion — interest” scale). One thing we did right was that we hung out at the ferry building and found bored+rich people people to talk to. One thing we did wrong was that we started using their own language with them late in the game.

Our greatest learning curve had to be our value proposition, especially when applied to our landing page. This was our headache space. We tried many different iterations with the landing page, but we just couldn’t seem to come together and figure it out. Finally we started talking to people about it. I know… It seems like a no brainer, but at the time we just kept putting it off and trying to fix it on our own; after all, we are supposed to be these intelligent human beings right?

Yet another lesson learned comes out of feedback. It’s hard to ignore, because, well: it’s valuable. But is it really? Yes, it is! But, it’s a game of psychology. Why are they telling me this? Why is it the first thing to pop out of their mind? Where are they coming from? Are they in our target market? etc.. Sometimes it can be hard to remember these types of questions and there was a time we almost pivoted just because we got a disappointing reaction to our concept. Thank goodness we have a teacher to steer us back to reality.

Ok, so there’s a good list of struggles from the creation point, but the last few weeks of class were about proof of concept and pitching to VCs, Angels, and other relevant people. For that we crafted a good revenue model, cost model, burn rate, and customer acquisition plan. We started with a few cups of coffee and the careful use of our Saturdays. We are no strangers to research, but I think we learned pretty quickly how to consolidate dozens of articles into a list of key points we needed to address. I was joyed with the quality of research and implementation that every team was able to do in the short amount of time.

Finally, we needed to convince everyone that our idea is worth a shot. We actually pumped out a pretty decent presentation, thanks to Elissa who was our master deck preparer. Did I mention how great of a team I had? There were some things to fix though, and we worked overtime on smoothing our pitch out. This is the final lesson that I will take away from the class: that you can’t prepare enough for a presentation. We did it all: we practiced over and over again, we recorded ourselves practicing and played back our cringeworthy performance till we smoothed our timing and speech skills out, we practiced with multiple faculty and implemented feedback, then we practiced some more. It was tiring, but worth it. Startups don’t get somewhere because you have a genius idea, they get somewhere because you don’t give up on a genius idea.

Thank you Christina Wodtke, Elissa Welsh, Tiger Zhao, and Ale Battisti for a wonderful time of learning. I will always use what I learned in this class, and you never know: maybe our startup will go somewhere.