In 2015, I changed my focus from business school to culinary school, dreaming of owning my patisserie and culinary school one day. Food is something I am very passionate about and I joined Le Cordon Bleu, London to hone my culinary skills. By the end of that course I realised how much I am intrigued by the world of food but felt I was lacking the expertise to commercialise that love for food and my ideas that revolved around it. Hence, I pursued my Masters in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship to further enhance my business skills and to bridge the gap. Time is flying by so swiftly and with this journey coming to an end I am feeling a myriad of emotions at the moment, with a series of memories flashing by. On one hand I am feeling some emptiness knowing I wouldn’t meet many of classmates and suddenly it seems like I have nothing to look forward to; while on the other hand I am happy that this the final blog post I will ever have to write and there are no more weekly assignments.
The crust of Design Thinking comes down to product development and the incubation process of a start-up. This process consists of the following steps, namely, empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test (Stanford, 2017). Due to some visa issues, I was unable to attend the induction week but during the first class I got a recap of Ideo which was highly interesting and thought provoking. It highlights the vision, concept and novelty of a product encouraging us to think outside the box (Brown, 2008). These have come in handy for me and my team through this course, assisting us in our team activities and product creation (Ideo, 2017).
The fundamental objective of this module was to develop a product that solves a problem and commercialize it. From brain storming to physically selling the product to customers, we had to see the whole process through. The early meetings with my team went relatively slow, considering we were all just getting to know each other and we were overwhelmed by all the guidelines we needed to follow. We came up with so many ideas, including carry-on slippers, an umbrella that never gets wet, bag organizers and many more, but once we started researching the ideas we discovered that most of these products already exist or there are close substitutes to them. One day I lost my home town sim card, so frustrated about it I discussed it with my team mates and Manal came up with the idea of a sim card organizer that soon became our superstar, SimTrap. We spoke to many international students who had faced the same problem and we could validate it as a product that realistically solves a problem.
At the very beginning of the course I was pushed outside my comfort zone, I was asked to write blogs and be a very active person on social media, only to realize that there are no comfort zones in this course. As the course progressed I started understanding the several dimensions this course underlines and new environments I was exposed to. Writing blogs is not my forte and I do not completely enjoy it, but somewhere along this journey it has been boosting my confidence and preparing me to present to the outside world. It has also been an avenue for me to accept criticism and has made me realize that I would never be able to please everybody. Forming a team to work with was probably the easiest part of this module for me, fortunately I ended up with some great people who have become my friends for life. Of course, we had our own minor disagreements and conflicts but always looked at the bigger picture and the goal we wanted to achieve.
Eric Ries’s The Lean Start-Up has been a template and a guide to initiate the start-up process. He explains the primary activity of a start-up is the transformation of an idea into a measurable product in coherence to the feedback received from the target customers. I could understand the role a customer plays in the development of a product which introduced the concept of prototyping and ‘Minimum Viable Product’. Being a chef, it is mandatory for me to constantly experiment with new ingredients and recipes to be able to present a dish that is not just palatable but enjoyable. I would not be successful if I only create dishes that I cherish but have to incorporate the customer tastes and preferences as they will be my end consumer.
Entrepreneurship is perceived differently by people; and an entrepreneur is defined as an individual who assumes risks in a business and is responsible for its growth (Knight, 1921 and Drucker, 1990). Thanks to Young Enterprise and Bright Ideas I have reassessed myself and have been able to interact with experts who have taught us and showed us what entrepreneurship is and how we can develop ourselves into being efficacious entrepreneurs. David Knull, Ashley Clark, Fazl are a few mentors who have contributed to my team considerably and their advice has been one of the major reasons for us being able to participate in the Bright Ideas Final and be chosen as a finalist for the Young Enterprise Competition.
We were constantly taught to think with our hands and come up with prototypes of even the most adolescent ideas we had. Through the initial weeks, we had numerous ideas but only when we got down to prototype it did we realize the practicality of it and how flawed most of the ideas were. The 3D workshop was a new opportunity for me to physically be able to create things and have an insight into the mechanisms of a workshop. I started paying attention to minute details following the workshop, small details can have a huge impact on the finish and presentation of the product. We had made so many prototypes for SimTrap using plastic and card stock to have an idea about the design and features of the product. We even used the prototype during the first round of Dragon’s Den where we received a lot of feedback regarding the aesthetics and design of the product.
Fazl, from Young Enterprise asked us to focus on the design and packaging of the product which attract customers and further add value to the product. This was reiterated by Yash and Omar who run a Design company themselves. It was during that lecture did I understand the nuances that goes into the logo and branding of a product and the significance it holds. I have taken down notes with respect to typography and the details that needs to be kept in mind while designing a logo. I would incorporate these pointers when I start my own food business in the future as what meets the eye is what customers instantly relate the product to. We took the next few weeks to design the logo and packaging for SimTrap. Our logo was inspired by the circuit lines on a sim card chip and we used gold foil to add some dimension to the typography.
Even today I shy away from sales people who try and persuade me into doing a survey or sampling out a product but I was put in the same exact spot of the sales people repeatedly during trade fairs. In spite of me not enjoying the process I had to do it along with my team to increase sales and acquire customer feedback. I have never been a part of trade fairs nor have I been actively involved in selling a product directly to the customer, this environment was completely new to me and gave my team and me the opportunity to engage with consumers and conduct market research. This has been a trial run in teaching me how to ask relevant questions in order to receive coherent comments about are product. I can further develop this skill which will enable to understand my target customers for my personal food business and keep me involved with the customers.
The prospect of interacting with peers from different walks of life and having mentors from the business world has made this module more engaging and has taught me how to network and widen my circle. Some of the mentors we met during the Trigger Weekend and Bright Ideas Final have been pivotal in steering Sim Trap into the right direction. These industry experts have motivated us to think big and have a larger vision to achieve more in the long run and to keep the flame burning. One significant point I have learnt is to have additional revenue streams, even though SimTrap is a simple organizer we were pushed to think about the future of the product and different revenue streams to broaden our horizon.
Coming from conservative backgrounds, it was rather challenging for me to put myself out there to share my experiences and be active on various social media platforms. Communicating with target audiences and bringing together a community to help travellers travel hassle-free and bring together like-minded individuals was not easy, perhaps the most difficult out of all the tasks given to us. It is easy to be enthusiastic the first few days but the key to a growing business and retaining followers is consistency (Cohen, 2014). To constantly be in touch and post relevant, yet unique and exciting content has kept us on our toes throughout the semester and even though we tried we failed miserably at maintaining active social media pages. I personally feel I have not put in my best efforts into this but will soon have to, as this enhances communication skills which is substantial in the success of any business. We have learnt important aspects of social media strategies and catering to a niche market rather than posting generalised content that is redundant.
This course has aided me in identifying my strengths and weaknesses as a team player and the contributions I bring to the table. It has been an opportunity for me to reflect on myself and develop new skills which I would otherwise never had the chance to. Creativity is the idea generation process that is unique and relevant (Hennesey and Amabile, 2010). I am not a creative person but through this module I have teamed with creative people and explore a little of my own creative side that has motivated me to think differently and along new lines. For example; in my personal business, I will be able plate dishes creatively and introduce new ingredients and flavors that are unique to the market.
In all, the whole journey has been a roller coaster ride with a myriad of experiences which was strenuous but extremely intriguing and engaging. The practical skills along with the theories has been a unique blend which has developed me individually as well as academically. It has given me significant insight about the start-up process and touched on various components that are essential for building a successful career; such as, advertising, marketing, creativity, team building and entrepreneurship. The entire course has been extremely valuable and has equipped me the knowledge and skill preparing me to step out of my cocoon and fly into the business world.
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