Mai’s Reflective Essay: A Note to Future Self

Word count: 2,200 (excluding Table of contents and reference list)

Hey Mai, how are you keeping? How is your feeling after securing a seat at Goldman Sachs as an analyst after graduating Kingston University? Oh, look at your face. Have you been gotten told off by making a mistake at the bank? And you too, Mai-in-2030, an aspiring entrepreneur. Why don’t you both sit down and reflect upon what have you learnt during the Design thinking for Start-ups module, the module that you felt it has transformed you academically and emotionally.

What is design thinking?

On the 11th of October 2019, we were introduced the five-stage Design thinking model developed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (, n.d.). There are 5 stages in the model as presented in the chart below, and evidence suggest that those 5 stages is not always sequential. It is strategically key to understand these steps thoroughly and have an overview outlook of those phases to get a clear understanding of how each phase contribute to an innovative project.

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation (2009).

The table below explains each step of those 5 stages in couple with its application that our company, Future Dream, employed during the process of making Easy Out – our business idea:

(Sarah in her process of making our very first prototype)

Here is our finished phase 1 Prototype:

A closer look:

While prosecuting the project, we employed the Lean Canvas to gain an insight of our key metrics. Lean Canvas is a tool that helps the users deconstruct a business idea into its key assumptions. Lean Canvas is adapted from Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and optimized for the Lean Start-up methodology with a big emphasis on finding customer problems worth solving (Maurya, 2012).

The concept of the Lean canvas is that instead of writing up a business plan with a 5-year financial projection to forecast the complete unknowns, that only venture capitalists care, using a lean approach is considered to be a far more quickly ,cheaply, and less risky than traditional methods (Blank, 2013). In short, the Lean Canvas gives you a more flexible way to understand the user, challenge your assumptions, and redefine problems. This reflects business’s recognition of the need to see the world from the consumer’s viewpoint, not the producer’s.  (Levitt, 2006, p.55). In other words, entrepreneurs should vigorously embrace consumer sovereignty to increase the chance of market success. The following picture is our filled Lean Canvas. The orange stickers are for Easy Out.

3 different prototypes phases presented at trade fairs:

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

Moultrie and Livesey (2014) have demonstrated that there is a link between the use of Design Thinking and firm performance. However, the banking industry has its own legacy with complex process and hierarchy level. Technically, big banks traditionally do not consider human factor when it comes to design their products and services. They just produce products and services that fit within their internal processes and operational efficiencies. As an aspiring investment banker, it is crucial for me to incorporating Design Thinking into my strategic planning in order to foster creativity and ensure that the final outcomes will meet objectives and client requirements. The contribution of design thinking shows its advantage when it is employed practically within the mix of relying on data, intuitive thinking, as suggested in the graph below (Siota et al., 2017, p.4).

In due course, as an aspiring entrepreneur, adapting design thinking into my future endeavours will help me select a right course of action after a process of trial and error.  

Asking the right questions

During the process of making Easy Out, the questions we, as a team, witnessed ourselves asked the most were “Do you think it is a good idea?” and “Would you buy this tray that would help you eat in a more comfortable way?”. Oh boy we got several compliments and they said they liked it!

The above bullet points are either just basic technical questions or half-hearted compliments and promises that they will buy Easy Out when it is launched. Well, someday; that does not mean they will as there is no concrete commitments. Their money is not arrived at our business bank account yet. Compliment makes us feel good; but you’d probably not learn as much as you would when you have a constructive criticism.

As I am reflecting upon our process of conducting the market research for Easy Out, I realise we asked questions that did not help reveal customers’ lives: their problems, cares, constraints, and goals. As a matter of fact, I found myself often times simply assume rather testing the value of Easy Out. A new product or invention is bound to fail unless it addresses a particular customer need (Nijssen, 2014, p.9). An early customer development interview can be considered as effective if it can provide us concrete facts about customers’ lives and world views (Fitzpatrick, 2013, p.15). This implies that one ought not to rely necessarily on what the customer says (that is, customer research), but rather on what the customer actually does. Executing a market research may allow one to know the facts, but it does not reveal the rationale and mechanisms driving these actions if one relies exclusively on data (Siota et al., 2017). You want facts and commitments to avoid false positive. Having said that, I have learnt my lesson of asking the right questions when conducting a market research to verify how much potential business is really out there and take anything nice either a compliment or a promise they make with an extra grain of salt.

In short, the question is not “can this product be built?”. The more pertinent question is “How can we build a sustainable business with this product?”. Ries (2019, p.55) argues that almost any product that can be imagined can be made in the evolving economy. If you ask the wrong questions, you’ll probably get the wrong answer. Asking the right questions help enhance the effectiveness of information exchanges (Trull, 1964).

By learning to ask the right questions to get the right information, it will help me gain credibility as an aspiring investment banker. Importantly, it helps me detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning and leverage my ability in analysing problems systematically. In the longer time, my skills in evaluating the evidence for and against a hypothesis in an attempt to understand the market segment and the key customers, as well as identifying the relevance and importance of ideas will be improved so that I can go on to either making implementations and test again, or kill the idea.

Working in team

(Left to Right: Sarah – Tsana – Mai – Elham). Picture courtesy: Shreya

I was fortunate to be in a team of people who are adult, creative and responsible individuals.

During the project, I had a proclivity of being a deviant amongst other team members by questioning why we were doing such and such every now and then. Admittedly, it did raise unnecessary anxiety within the group. I was very lucky to be with a team full of adult and responsible individuals who would not try to get me to stop asking difficult questions.

Sociologist Robert Freed Bales (2000) acknowledges that there are two types of team member: those that focus on the task the group was dealing with and those that sustained, strengthened, or weakened interpersonal relationships within the group. As an introvert myself and as a task-oriented person, I am the type of team member that once given a task, I’d be happy to go to my corner and do the task, which result in having less interaction with the group. I have a tendency of solving and finishing tasks on my own and on my own time. This, on one side would help me more focus on the tasks with less distraction. But on the other side, a deep communication gap might happen over time coupled with the decrease in engagement between the other team members and I. Undoubtedly, I would be considered as difficult to work with within the team and it may scurry people away. In any case, group members are linked together not only by the collaborative tasks that they must complete collectively but also by friendship, alliances and inevitable antagonisms (Forsyth, 2014, p.4). Interestingly, there is always a set of structures that regulate actions and outcomes beneath a surface of a group which in turn, form a complex web of interdependencies and influence (Forsyth, 2014, p.10). And in doing so, groups essentially require a modicum of cohesiveness or it would disintegrate otherwise (Dion, 2000). Thankfully, my group members have enriched my outlook on how to build a connected relationship, not just functional relationship, in group setting and how to own that relationship in a proprietary way. I have learnt to how to interdependence, interrelations, and share goals. A collective perception is proved to be fundamental when you are working in group because if all the roads lead back to you, your group success will be capped as you are just one man, you are just one woman (Carla A. Harris). That said, I have learnt that it is predominant to setting a group goal beforehand so that we, as a team, can all be clear of what success looks like and can move forward and achieve victory efficiently since goals refer to future desired outcomes and it makes way for attention, effort, and goal-relevant activities (Locke and Latham, 2013, p. 266). However, it should be noted that goal conflicts may occur among the group’s members due to its complexity which includes differences between individuals (Seijts and Latham, 2000).

Moreover, it is crucial that you’d need reciprocal feedback and find new challenges in each other’s company (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009, p.188). And in doing so, team members must be comfortable to challenge each other idea in a constructive manner to success in the innovative business environment. Without a doubt, there is no monopoly on intelligence. The lessons I have learnt help leverage my level of emotional intelligence and improves my interpersonal skill. It is beneficial for me to be an effective team member as communication plays a key role in most significant activities that happens in an organisation, including hiring and training staff, providing feedbacks, purchasing supplies, solving problems, dealing with customers, and dealing strategy (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013). This is particularly important when working in team as it would be so helpful for me to learn the right way to liaise, coordinate with others. The advantage of this learning curve becomes more significant when it comes to client relationship management for my future career as an aspiring investment banker. Generating sales is important to climb the career ladder in the industry. A strong communication skill would help win clients and land deals in order to generate sales and meet client’s needs. In the long run, as an entrepreneur, I’d need to cosset and coordinate with my colleagues. Therefore, to eliminate the unfavoured circumstances which includes human factor that may occur from a weak emotional intelligence mindset, it is indispensable for me to continuously exercise my emotional intelligence.

Moving on to technical skill, I recall the incident happened when I performed the financial projections for Easy Out project as a finance director of the company. I made few mistakes that resulted in a flawed financial assumption and a missing cash flow forecast. Consequently, my defective performance affected group performance. Such mistake could have been spared if I could spend a few more minutes checking. In reality, this kind of mistake would not be easily forgiven. In order to make a career in investment banking industry as an analyst, one requires to be highly skilled with maths and financial modelling. Imagine that if I make a mistake sending out an email with a wrong figure to a large number of senior partners (who usually have over 20 years of experience at the firm). Every time event like this happen, it diminishes the trust level. You would need to try harder to then rebuild it. But remember that not everyone gets the chance to say sorry. Just get it right the first time. Remember to check your work again and again. Print it out and read words for words. There is no limit to checking, there is no limit to “being right”. Once things go wrong, it can go really wrong. I need to earn trust and to become someone that my colleagues and my senior partners can entirely rely on, and trust on my execution.

In short, remember to listen carefully, read between the lines, maintain velocity, and always take the ownership of what you do.

Reflection on strengths and weaknesses when it comes to entrepreneurship:

Make sure you reflect on what you have learnt from this project often and remember it. If you do fail or make mistake, and I am sure you will, try to recover from it quickly. That failure will inform your next decision. And hey, maybe next time you two should tell me what you have learnt so that this younger self can learn from you.


Bales, R.F. (2000). Social Interaction Systems: Theory and Measurement: Book review. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 4(2), pp.199–208.

Blank, S. (2013) ‘Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything’, Harvard Business Review, 91(5), pp. 63–72.

Catalyst Inc. (2018). 2018 Catalyst Awards Conference: Carla Harris. YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2020].

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow : the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper [And] Row, p.188.

Dion, K.L. (2000). Group cohesion: From “field of forces” to multidimensional construct. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 4(1), pp.7–26.

Fitzpatrick, R. (2013). The Mom Test: how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everybody is lying to you. Create Space, p.15.

Forsyth, D. (2014). Group dynamics. 6th ed. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, p.4.

Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Standford (n.d.). An Introduction to Design Thinking: process guide. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 May 2020].

Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D. (2013) Developing global management competencies – Personal development. 8th edn. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, p. 222.

Interaction design foundation (2009). What is Design Thinking? [online] The Interaction Design Foundation. Available at:

Levitt, T. (2006). Ted Levitt on marketing. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, p.55.

Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P. (2013). New developments in goal setting and task performance. New York: Routledge, p.266.

Maurya, A. (2012). Why Lean Canvas vs Business Model Canvas? [online] Medium. Available at:

Moultrie, J. and Livesey, F. (2014). Measuring design investment in firms: Conceptual foundations and exploratory UK survey. Research Policy, 43(3), pp.570–587.

Nijssen, E.J. (2014). Entrepreneurial marketing: an effectual approach. Routledge, p.9.

Ries, E. (2019) The lean startup. Penguin business, p. 55.

Seijts, G.H. and Latham, G.P. (2000). The effects of goal setting and group size on performance in a social dilemma. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 32(2), pp.104–116.

Siota, J., Klueter, T., Staib, D., Taylor, S. and Ania, I. (2017). Design thinking: the new DNA of the financial sector. p.4

Siota, J., Klueter, T., Staib, D., Taylor, S. and Ania, I. (2017). Design thinking: the new DNA of the financial sector. p.5.

Trull, S.G. (1964). Strategies of Effective Interviewing. Harvard Business Review. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Apr. 2020].

The final Dragons’ Den

The 13th of March 2020 saw us, Future Dream, heading to our final Dragon Den, where we pitched our business idea to a panel of judges. The judges include:

  • Jose Ivars-Lopez – Country Manager UK & Ireland Ria Financial
  • Martha Mador – Head of Enterprise Education
  • Cassian Opara – Digital Leader and product designer
  • Amanda Baker – Project Manager, HackCentre Kingston University

We practiced our pitch several times beforehand and tried our best at the event. The feedbacks we received are as followed:

  • The marketing strategies that we employed were good
  • The challenges and lessons learnt that we reflected upon were well-thought
  • The financial part needed to be made clearer
  • Our online advert was on point
  • There was a little concern of how the final product would be made and look like as it appeared to them that our latest Easy Out prototype was not firm and flat enough when wearing around the neck
  • And they suggested that the price might be a little high and asked if we knew who our target customer would be

Their advices are very useful, no textbook theory advice, but practical.

I remember judge Cassian asked that when we said Easy Out was made to order, does that mean our product would be a bespoke one. Actually, the idea of Easy Out made-to-order was that we waited to see how much interested our customers have in Easy Out so that we can manufacture it in a cost-efficiency manner. This is a lesson for me to be more aware of what we present to avoid unnecessary confusion.

The 6 months of doing the project with my team was a great learning experience:

  • Make sure you are solving a problem that does exist.
  • Know who will be your customers, and by this, I mean prosecuting market research several times to define, redefine, and test your hypothesis. By doing this way, you make room for either valuable improvement on your innovative idea or discard it more quickly and more efficiently.
  • Do not just assume you know what your target customer wants. Put yourself out there and try to connect with people who might be your potential customers with engaging and meaningful interviews and conversations. Do not just rely on data. Try to get specific on what your customers really want, not just haft-hearted compliments.
  • Setting a group goal is indispensable to achieve a desired outcome. Your group should be well aware of what success looks like for the team. In order to do this, a genuine commitment and a willingness to adapt are essential as it will create a psychological safety for your team members to show their authentic self so that a mutual arrangement might occur.
  • You and your team members need to be comfortable to challenge each other’s idea in a constructive manner so that the group can be beneficial from each other intellect as there is no monopoly on intelligence.

(Left to right: Sarah – Tsana – Mai – Elham)

Further reading and watching:

Winning Shark Tank Pitches:

Editorial team (2018). 39 powerful sales techniques to turn your prospects into customers. [online] Entrepreneur Handbook. Available at:

Mortensen, M. and Haas, M. (2016). Rethinking Team Boundaries. Harvard Business Review, 94(6), pp.70–76.

Transformational leadership in start-up: A mini case study

The past couple of months witnessed me searching and digging information about a challenger bank named Revolut. Revolut probably is the most famous challenger bank as its CEO Nikolay Storonsky turned his start up value from $350million to a $1.7bn valuation in just 6 months (Smith, 2018). For anyone who does not know what Revolut is, Revolut Ltd is one of the UK’s most promising and fast-growing financial technology (fintech) start-up that was established in July 2015, and was founded by Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko, former equity derivatives traders at Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse (Browne, 2018). The start-up first started off by offering an app with a pre-paid card product focused on offering free currency exchange to customers (Makortoff, 2020). The app allows travellers to switch between euros, dollars and pounds with a little cost and no hidden fee and complex fee, unlike the traditional banks. In short, Revolut is created mainly to provide a medicine from a personal pain point – the inability to easily minimise the cost of spending money overseas (Nguyen, 2019).

Revolut, which is now valued at $5.5bn after its latest funding round, plans to strengthen product development in a bid to increase user activity (Earley, 2020). Following the fresh funding, Revolut is now one of the highest valued fintech companies in the world.

Source: Redesigning Financial Services, 2018. 

When I was still a group member of Future Dream being around doing our Easy Out project, yes I was in constant meetings and frequently joined group discussions on WhatsApp. Admittedly, I did feel a bit overwhelming from time to time due to its workload while juggling between other academic commitments and my part-time job. I understand in the reality of working in a real start-up would require much more of my time and effort than what we were doing in the Design Thinking module, to get the job done, to not be eaten up in the market, to scale and thrive. It does make me think that start-up is more than a full-time job. The idea of being your own boss is not that fancy as one may think, including the thought of you can be flexible regarding when you can work and when you can postpone it. At least that does not happen at Revolut. Nikolay Storonsky, co-founder of Revolut, asserted it very straightforward in an interview: if you do a 9-5 routine at Revolut, it won’t work (Smith, 2018). And I completely understand why. In an interview with Stewart Rodgers, Analyst-at-Large at VentureBeat on February 2018, he stated that “I work probably 14 hours a day and works in the weekends. A lot of other people do the same… My point to people who object this culture is no one can push people to work this amount of hours. It is more up to them. If they really want to achieve something they can go to their limit and if they stay in their limit for a period of time, their limits are increasing…Same as going to the gym, you just increase your weights slowly”.

Revolut’s culture values include:

  • Get it done
  • Think deeper
  • Never settle
  • Stronger together.

Get it done is probably the most important culture value. It is understandable that the company wanted to achieve their agreed KPIs and that is why they are able to grow so fast and mark their presence in in 36 countries worldwide and let their users exchange over 150 currencies (Cherowbrier, 2020).

The chart below displays the percentage of employees add in the last 6 months at several big challenger banks:

Source: FXCintelligence, 2018

The chart below implies that knowing which style of leadership and how to be flexible with your leadership style is underline the importance of assertive leadership and collaboration between staff and their seniors in a start-up context.

Source: Greiner, 2014.

The positive sign is that Nikolay Storonsky insisted that “The reality is that a company of 20 to 50 employees is very different to one of 500 employees. Now we are 1,200 and our culture changes all the time…Each step that you take, your culture changes…We made mistakes in the past but we are a very different company today, and in a year’s time, as we scale, we’ll be a different company…Culture changes every day, and at scale your culture will need to change again – that’s just a function of growth” (Fawthrop, 2019).

But it also caught me wondering if it is possible to find at least a minimum balance on this controversy as I think it does not provide a healthy outlook for the company in the long run. Trying to scale at the expense of your own staff is not an ultimate way. The company needs talented individuals, and those talented individuals who want to contribute their creative ideas and hard-earned knowledge/perspective just want to make sure that they are not killing themselves by doing the job and get shit done. High staff turnover should not be a setback on the way of being a global bank at Revolut. It is extremely crucial for Revolut to retain key talents as the company asserts on their company website that “Hiring is absolutely our priority because without those key individuals we wouldn’t be at where we are today”. To be not eaten up and able to scale and earn growth is absolute important for start-up. However, trying to scale at any price at the expense of your own staff may be not an ultimate way. As a result, the company may reduce their chances of building breakthroughs.

Further reading and listening:

A little quiz to help you identify the style with questions based on psychologist Kurt Lewin’s Leadership Styles Framework  – a model developed in the 1930s that is still popular and useful today:

Carla A. Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, on An inclusive leader:

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action By TED Talk:

Zaech, S. and Baldegger, U. (2017). Leadership in start-ups. International Small Business Journal, [online] 35(2), pp.157–177. Available at: [Accessed 4 May 2020].


Browne, R. (2018). One unintended consequence of Lehman collapse: The birth of a new kind of bank. [online] CNBC. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Cherowbrier, J. (2020). Key figures for Revolut bank Group UK 2018. [online] Statista. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Earley, K. (2020). Revolut to focus on product development after $500m raise. [online] Silicon Republic. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Fawthrop, A. (2019). Revolut has moved on from past mistakes, says boss Nikolay Storonsky. [online] NS Banking. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Greiner, L.E. (2014). Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Makortoff, K. (2020). Digital bank Revolut becomes UK’s most valuable fintech startup. The Guardian. [online] 25 Feb. Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2020].

Nguyen, V.A. (2019). Revolut Product Review. [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Redesigning Financial Services (2018). Revolut strategy breakdown: can Revolut become the Amazon of banking? [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Smith, E. (2018). Revolut boss Nikolay Storonsky: ‘I’ve never seen a big bank do something cool – if they did, we wouldn’t exist.’ The Telegraph. [online] 10 Apr. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Smith, O. (2018). How Nikolay Storonsky Took Revolut From $350m To A $1.7bn Valuation In Just Six Months. [online] Forbes. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Webber, D. (2018). Why Revolut, Remitly and WorldFirst are hiring (and firing). [online] FXCintelligence. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

The Oscar

We had an Oscar assignment, which mean we had to shoot a video to advertise for our product with the length of within 1 minute and then upload it on Youtube. The requirements of the video ad are as follow:

  • The advert must be around 30 seconds long. Maximum is one minute.
  • Emotional: Show why the product is fun, or relaxing or clever. Think about the personality of your company.
  • Physical: Show how it works.
  • Cognitive: Show why it makes sense to buy it or use it.

Our business idea is a smart foldable tray that can assist consumers with their food and beverage, called Easy Out. We did not have a final product yet at that time, but we had 2 different phases of prototype. Here it is:

Easy Out – Phase 1

Easy Out – Phase 2

We then chose Easy Out – Phase 2 to be in our video as it is more concrete and more polished than the Phase 1 one.

During the group meeting to discuss how we would film the video, I suggested that we could show various situations where Easy Out could be used to illustrate the benefit of Easy Out, such as we could film 1 scene at McDonald as a way to act out what we witnessed that became our inspiration to make Easy Out: a young lady who could not secure a table to sit down and enjoy her Happy Meal during busy hour in an afternoon; another scene could be filmed at Kingston market to show that people can use Easy Out when they found themselves busy holding food and drink and there is no bench available for them to rest. I had to thank Jayne Chace – Advisory Board member at Citicourt & Co Limited, one of the coaches I was fortunate to meet during the Bright Idea Sprint weekend back in January. She was the one who recommended me that, in her own words, “Just on your website, the way you are promoting it, people can describe it on words, but a picture is worth a thousand words, think of the different situations and put  those kinds of pictures someone is sitting in front of the tv, some is at the BBQ, and people will immediate to relate to the situations and if the price is right we can use a few of those” when we make our business website for Easy Out in the future. And I thought that was right, that was the best way to show our potential customers the benefit of Easy Out. Luckily, my group members supported that idea and we agreed that we could make changes when needed to adapt the situation we would encounter while filming. Interestingly, we also agreed on who would be in the video and who would be support the team by filming and checking the right angles for a good view for the video.

The scene at McDonald Kingston went well without much interruptions, apart from those moments when I was a bit shy to pretend that I was eating the chip while standing in front of the store around 5pm, which was extremely crowded! The second scene was filmed at Kingston War Memorial Gardens which is not far from Kingston Market Place. There were Tsana and I in this scene and boy, we had so much fun. Undoubtedly, the filming could not be done without the help and support of Elham and Sarah with choosing the right angles and directing our facial expressions! After that, when we headed over to Kingston market, it was late and almost all the food businesses in the market were closed. We had to improvise quickly as we wanted to have about 3 scenes for the video. Sarah then suggested us to go back to her place where we could craft a scene in her living room, where one of us would sit on the sofa to show that Easy Out could facilitate the user not only outside but also in the comfort of their own home.

After filming, Tsana volunteered to edit the video and to upload it on YouTube since the rest of us were not familiar to those techniques. And bless her, she stayed up all night that night to finish the editing for the group!

Have a watch at our 1-minute video ad:

A day after the filming day was the Oscar day when 11 video ads of 11 groups would be screening in front of the entire class for the first time. And boy, Janja did bring an Oscar to the class!

Photo courtesy: Fazilon

Before the screening time, we were given the following templates so that we can use it to benchmark each advert.

And congratulation, Future Dream (it is us by the way ;)! We brought the Oscar home!

(Left to right: Elham – Sarah – Mai – Tsana) Photo courtesy: Gareth

I have learnt that:

  • Online video advertising provides viewers with the combined effects of the branding power of traditional TV commercials and the interactive power of the Internet.
  • A good advert is memorable, easily to recalled, provides information quickly and succinctly, does not confuse or overwhelm the viewer, and includes a clear, prominent brand logo.
  • In my next opportunity in making an online advert, I will make sure to feature the company contact information including website so that it creates a clear call to action
  • While advertising on YouTube is more expensive compared to other social media platforms, it certainly pays off, which is why marketers expect an increase in usage of YouTube for advertising purposes in the following years (Elflein, 2020). In 2020, 92% of marketers say that video is an important part of their marketing strategy. This has grown from 78% in 2015, showing that the importance of video is only growing (Carter, 2020).

Recommend reading and watching:

Brown, M. (2008). Do’s and Don’ts of Online Video Advertising. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2020].

Kujur, F. and Singh, S. (2018). Emotions as predictor for consumer engagement in YouTube advertisement. Journal of Advances in Management Research, 15(2), pp.184–197.

Lee, J., Ham, C.-D. and Kim, M. (2013). Why People Pass Along Online Video Advertising: From the Perspectives of the Interpersonal Communication Motives Scale and the Theory of Reasoned Action. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 13(1), pp.1–13. – Our Blades Are F***ing Great Advert:

10 Famous Funny Commercials:

Reference list:

Carter, J. (2020). Video marketing statistics to know for 2019 | Smart Insights. [online] Smart Insights. Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Elflein, J. (2020). Topic: YouTube. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2020].

Trade Fair at Kingston Eden Walk

A windy and rainy Saturday 22nd February witnessed us; a class of Design Thinking 2019 attended an annual trade fair at Kingston Eden Walk. We were made aware of this important event months in advance, and understood the importance of this event as this was an opportunity for us to firstly, to test all our assumptions of our business idea and customers hypothesis; and secondly testing our selling skills, and more important, organising and coordinating to prosecute as a team.

Prior to this trade fair, we knew that we would re-use the trade stand, poster and flyers along side with other Easy Out prototypes that we already made for the first trade fair at Kingston Business School back in January as shown in the following pictures:

After our meeting with Hannah Silverstein – a postgraduate student currently studying Marketing and Brand Management at Kingston University and one of our mentors, and after Hannah asserted that a business card would be a great opportunity for us promote our company and Easy Out, we went ahead to print out our business cards:

(All credit for card design goes to Tsana, our marketing director)

Here we looked at Kingston Eden Street Trade Fair:

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

A customer visited our trade stand (Photo courtesy: Tsana)

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

One of the judges visited our trade stand (Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

(Photo Courtesy: Claudia Weaver)

In all fairness, we did not have much luck in grabbing people attention at trade fair. This was due to:

  • First, it was a rainy Saturday
  • Second, we did not have the final product to show them how it will look like. Without the final product, their imagination had to work hard coupled with what we visualised to them, hence it might get lost in translation.
  • Finally, we would need to improve our sale skill

Lessons learnt:

taking the time to walk around and visit other exhibitors so that you can learn from your peers by observing who does well, or not so well.

Know your audience: Practicing open and closed questions, rhetorical questions and leading questions to communicate more effectively and leave a better impression.

Employ a more proactive approach to get people’ attention rather than waiting for them to walk to your booth.

Regarding the prototypes, we should have been on website like to look for someone to make a 3D design so that our carpenters/suppliers can have a better visual design of what we had in mind of how to make our desired Easy Out. As a matter of fact, by showing people our simple and minimal prototypes (which were a great work anyway and all credit goes to Sarah) sometimes the conversations between us and the carpenters just get lost in translation. A picture is worth than a thousand words.

Recommend watching:

Open Ended Questions For Sales That Get You Outstanding Results by Ago Cluytens:

Don Draper’s Sales Pitch – Funny Yet Effective Way To Sell More:

Asking the right questions

On the weekend of 18 and 19th January this year, our group attended the Bright Idea Sprint weekend that would help us on gaining more knowledge of design thinking and entrepreneurship and business subjects, meeting and listening to the guest speakers shared their journey on how they went through their education and business, and more importantly, having the chance to discuss and pitch our business ideas to the guests who are experts in their respective industry.

Joy and I at the training day. Picture courtesy: Joy.

I had a chance to discuss our business idea to 6 coaches who are experts in their respective industry, including:

  • Robyn Todd – Senior Manager at Encompass
  • Subash F J Tavares – Head of Programme Controls at Exyte
  • Alan Clayton – Entrepreneur and Start-up Mentor at HAX
  • Paul Shaw – Business Adviser at Business Doctors; Former and Time Out Director.
  • Jayne Chace – Advisory Board member at Citicourt & Co Limited
  • Paul Das – Founder and Managing Director of

After presenting our group idea, those are the advice, feedback and questions that I got from them:

  • Where will you manufacture them?
  • It sounds crazy but it sounds so good.
  • The fact that it is foldable it is really good
  • I was afraid that people would not have space to carry it as they’d have to carry everything else, but the fact that it is foldable and it will be light and perhaps you can considers stores such as McDonalds if they want to have a few of those
  • I can see people use it at BBQ, Just on your website, the way you are promoting it, people can describe it on words, but a picture is worth a thousand words, think of the different situations and put  those kinds of pictures someone is sitting in front of the tv, some is at the BBQ, and people will immediate to relate to the situations and if the price is right we can use a few of those

As a co-founder of Easy Out, it was pleasant to receive compliments and positive feedbacks on our business idea from the industry experts. However, I noticed we received a similar pattern of compliments and feedbacks when we were doing a market research for Easy Out. One thing that struck me that it seems people do not ask for more details about Easy Out and sometimes it seemed we just received haft-hearted compliments.

I witnessed our group, including myself ask people the following questions when we were carrying out our market research:

  • Have you ever found it difficult to secure a table/place to sit down and enjoy your meal after purchasing the meal at the restaurant/food hall/ food truck?
  • Would you buy this tray that would help you eat in a more comfortable way?”.
  • How much would you pay for the tray?
  • Do you think it is a good idea?

And the answers we got were almost always positive:

  • I would definitely buy that
  • That’s really cool. I love it.
  • Cool. I’d love to try it when it launches.

However, Fitzpatrick (2013. P.15) infers that with the exception of industry experts who have built very similar businesses, opinions are worthless. You want facts and commitments, not compliments. Especially, he argues that the question “do you think it is a good idea?” is an awful one as only the market can tell if your idea is good. Everything else is just opinion. Unless you’re talking to a deep industry expert, this is self-indulgent noise with a high risk of false positives. This is because people who tell you that you are having a good idea and people who would buy your product may not be the same people.

I then rewrote the questions that we should have asked when conducting the market research to remember my learning curve in this regard:

Lessons learnt:

A useful conversation when you conduct a market research needs to reveal (if it is possible) about your customers’ lives: their problems, cares, constraints, and goals.

One ought not to rely necessarily on what the customer says (that is, customer research), but rather on what the customer actually does.

Asking the right question is at the heart of effective communications and information exchange.

You can decide quickly if it is good to redefine your idea and test it again or to discard your idea as you get better at asking good questions and as you get to know the industry. By doing this, it will avoid your risk of building a product/service that nobody would buy.


Fitzpatrick, R. (2013). The Mom Test: how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everybody is lying to you. Create Space, p.15: E-book version:

Further reading:

The mom test – A book for founders By Feel Inspired:

Marketing strategies – know your target market! By Evan Carmichael:

Bulut, A. (2015). Lean Marketing: Know who not to advertise to! Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 14(6), pp.631–640.

Our Eureka Moment!

I think it is safe to say that we all know what to expect when we signed up for this course. I knew the module Design Thinking for Start-ups was expected to be tough and challenging. The module conceptually is expected to expose the learners to identify how creativity and innovation can be combined to help create new processes, new products and new business. I have been instructed several times that we, as individuals and groups, can have an ability to think differently and may find ourselves generating novel ideas, but without a clear commercial outcome.

In Design thinking for Start-ups, we, as team that grouped voluntarily from the very first semester, would have to develop a product/service that we will develop it step by step, day by day, week by week, month by month in a “life lab” under the guidance of our module leader.

We, as a group, went to Kingston town centre to search and scan the external environment in order to filter and evaluate potential opportunities/business idea. A major challenge for us at the time was that we were pretty much unfamiliar to pick up relevant trigger signals that may potentially could be transformed into a business idea. Additionally, I think it was fair to conclude that we did not have enough time to enhance our creative cognitive capacity to recognise serendipity to translate ideas into new processes, products, services, or businesses, given how much of knowledge we have gained and how much practices we have done so far.

Stage 1: As we all have different schedules outside university, we agreed to shoot our ideas in a group chat. 3 weeks passed and we came up with 2 business ideas: a silicon-made pad to help ease the shoulder pain resulted from wearing heavy shoulder bags and a smart tray that is foldable and reusable for those who cannot secure a table/place to eat after purchasing their meal during busy hours at a food place.

Stage 2: We had an opportunity to present our business ideas we had in mind alongside with its challenges during the class. Janja advised us to go ahead with the idea of our smart tray and encourage us dig deeper our potential customers and how we should vision the product on the market. We had our phase 1 Prototype of the smart tray at this time thanks to the talented Sarah. We named it Easy-out.

(Sarah is in her process of making our very first prototype)

Here is our finished phase 1 Prototype:

A closer look:

Stage 3: We officially introduced our story of Easy-out and phase 1 prototype to the class and an external member named Sanif Momin who is excellent finishing the module “Design thinking for Start-ups” in the previous year and have triumphed several entrepreneurship competitions with his team. The feedback for us after our presentation primarily focused on our fidgeted presentation performance; certain phrases that we should make change to avoid ambiguity.

Stage 4: The most important and anxious day has arrived – Dragons’ Den-style pitching day! Our judges included Fazl Hasnain FCA – Chairman of the Governing Board of the Tiffin Girl’s School, Amanda Baker – Project Manager, HackCentre at Kingston University, and Dwain Reid – Entrepreneurship Project Officer at Kingston University. Prior to the date, our group practiced and practiced and practiced until we knew everyone’s bit by heart. After pitching our business idea, we felt glad that it was approved! Judges Amanda shed some light on a new customer segmentation that we did not think of!

Look at us pitching our idea!

Here is a YouTube video of some techniques you may want to employ to proactively produce your Aha experiences: The Science Behind Eureka Moments – The Art of Improvement:

The Lean Canvas

In a class of Design Thinking for Start-ups module, we were introduced the Lean Canvas in order to understand our group potential business idea. It looks like this:

(Image Courtesy: LeanStack)

Lean Canvas is a tool which is showcased as a 1-page business plan template that helps the users deconstruct a business idea into its key assumption of problems, solution, key metrics and competitive advantages using 9 basic building blocks, including Problem and Existing Alternatives, Solution, Key Metrics, Unique Value Proposition, High Level Concept, Unfair Advantage, Channels, Customer Segments and Early Adopters, Cost Structure and Revenue Streams. Lean Canvas is adapted from Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and optimized for the Lean Start-up methodology with a big emphasis on finding customer problems worth solving.

The Business Model Canvas, which was proposed by Alexander Osterwalder based on his earlier book: Business Model Ontology, starts out like this:

(Image Courtesy: LeanStack)

The Business Model Canvas enables both new and existing businesses to focus on operational as well as strategic management and marketing plans and more suited for established products . And to be redefined like this by Ash Maurya as a Lean Canvas:

(Image Courtesy: LeanStack)

A Lean Canvas is designed for entrepreneurs and innovators, not consultants, customers, advisors, or investors in order to be more suited for new innovative products.The significant of using a Lean Canvas is that unlike a business plan that takes too long to write, a Lean canvas is designed to help us create a quick snapshot of our idea, share it someone for feedback, and then refine it iteratively.

In the class and the following group meeting, we as a group analysed the key aspects of our potential ideas as entrepreneurs. We had ideas that we considered to propose which were a shoulder pad and a smart tray. Although the Lean Canvas has been designed to be simple and straightforward, we found it a bit challenging as first timers. We tried to fill in each box with sentences that were specific and concise to sharing our train of thoughts and hoped it would all flow and make sense where every step is linked.

The orange stickers are for our main idea which is a smart tray. The green ones are for the shoulder bag’s pad idea which was our back-up plan. The story the Lean Canvas of the smart tray is telling:

Our smart tray is created to assist those who want to consume their meal straight away and/or those who are parents and travel by bus and carry a buggy with their baby in it (customer segments) could not secure a table or chair to consume their meal after they bought foods and drinks from a crowded restaurant or food stalls during busy hours (problems) and it is designed as a mobile, foldable, reusable tray made from bamboo woods and it has a deep compartment with few separate section and cup holder to secure your items, and it also has a strap in its tow side in order to carry it around the neck (solution). Our target customers will know about Easy-out through bus shelter advertising, Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (channels) and they will be convinced to use Easy-out because it is a reusable, foldable which is convenient to bring with them and to eat everywhere (value proposition) and because we believe that there is no other tray like ours are already available on the market (unfair advantage). We will charge them by retailing it at a price range of £2.50 – £3.75 (revenue) and we consider that this will cover our fixed and variable costs that include the manufacturing, design development, marketing, PR, legal and management costs (costs). We will measure our performance by tracking how many people buy our Easy-out, how much revenue per month and the reviews that are recorded by those who actually bought the tray and experienced it (key metrics). The below picture is our filled-in Lean Canvas:

You can read more of what Ash Maurya has to say about his train of thought in this blog:

Medium (Feb 2012, by Ash Maurya): Why Lean Canvas vs Business Model Canvas:

A YouTube video features one of his interviews about the Lean Canvas:

Ash Maurya: Business Model Canvas vs. Lean Canvas – Running lean @ Lean Start-up Night Frankfurt –

Another YouTube video to give you more insight of how you can create your Lean Canvas:

How to Create your Lean Canvas – Alanis Business Academy:

A trip to the Design Museum

We had a group task before heading to our reading week, which was a trip to the Design Museum in Kensington, London to discover the most innovative design across fashion, architecture, digital, transport, product and graphic design from the past 12 months, as nominated by the public and design experts from around the world. We were asked to visit two exhibitions at the Design Museum, including Beazley Designs of the Year 2019 – the annual celebration of design, and the Designer Maker User. The main purpose of this visit was to pick 3 designs that we found interesting and inspiring and then proceeded to gather all relevant information about those 3 designs in order to answer those following questions:

  • What problem(s) or need(s) does it solve?
  • What is the setting for it?
  • Who is it for? What are “the characters” who experience the problem or the need?
  • What trend(s) is it based on? Why is it relevant? Research and provide examples.
  • Write a statement that captures the design challenge.
  • Why have you as a team chose these designs?

Look at us posing outside the Design Museum!

(Left to Right: Tsana, Sarah, Elham and I).

I’d have to say the trip was remarkable as those 2 exhibitions have something for everyone’s taste. In respect of Beazley Designs of the Year 2019, simplicity, the futuristic and the necessary are the main themes on display in a menagerie of design that enthralled me. Especially, this year’s iteration of the competition is celebrating ideas grounded in usefulness. Many nominations are centred on accessibility and utility. I am sure there is enough to keep visitors walking around the six rooms for a good couple of hours, and enough to make me think for days on end afterwards.

We, as a team, chose the following designs that we found inspiring and innovative:

  1. Lia Pregnancy Test:

Here is a YouTube video featuring Lia: Lia, a Pregnancy Test you can flush – VOA News:

US start-up Lia, which was founded in 2015 by Bethany Edwards and Anna Simpson – made up of an all-female design team, has developed a flushable pregnancy test that is made from sustainable, biodegradable materials.

Lia is the discreet pregnancy test made with zero glass fibres, batteries, plastic or nitrocellulose – elements found in nearly all single-use diagnostics available on the market today. While offering more secrecy for women testing for pregnancy, Lia also marks a shift towards a more sustainable solution for modern health products. The release of Lia highlights changing attitudes towards female health products, as seen in the Nixie Girl menstrual cup which aims to normalise periods, and the growing trend towards more sustainable female health products such as the mCycle tampon which can be turned into compost.

 “How might we offer women a more private alternative to pregnancy testing while also creating a more environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic methods currently on the market?”

2. AlterEgo:

AlterEgo is a wearable neural interface that allows humans to command a virtual assistant by articulating words through thought. By reading neuromuscular signals sent from the brain to both the face and jaw during internal speech, the headset can identify the words you think and translate them into a response. The device sends audio feedback via bone conduction, without disrupting the user’s auditory perceptions or unplugging them from their environment. The device is in prototyping stage and, once rolled out, could be fundamental in helping those unable to speak out loud due to illness or injury to communicate.

“How might we develop a way for humans to command a virtual assistant by articulating words through thought?”

3. JUMP: An Electric Bicycle and Scooter

In recent times, the popularity of e-scooters and e-bikes has increased substantially. If you have spent any time out and about in a major city in the UK you are likely to have encountered one (whether you realised it or not). For those interested in travelling by a means of transport beyond ‘conventional’ scooters and bicycles, there are already a significant number of motorised two-wheeled options to choose from. In addition to e-bikes of various shapes and sizes, there are a number of other contraptions, collectively grouped as “powered transporters.”

Similar to the bright green Lime bikes that arrived last year, the red Uber’s electric JUMP bikes is a new way to get people around town. The bikes have adjustable seats, as well as a basket for your belongings and a phone mount so you can display your route easily. More importantly, the bikes feature an electric pedal-assist of up to 15mph so you can cycle to work without breaking a sweat. Not only would that mean less congestion on the roads – particularly roads into and out of the urban cores, but reduced air pollution and less need for parking spaces.

“How might we provide commuters a green way to travel around?”

You can read one of my blog posts mentioning the important embedment of AI into design thinking in here to get to know more of as to why AI can enormously enhance the future of design.

The Empathy Map

We, as a team of 3, did a role playing blind, deaf and mute during a class of Design Thinking for the Start-ups module. After having decided who would play which role, we then started our mini trip to the nearest bathroom to experience the trip as per role we undertook. I’d have to say that mini trip was one of the most challenging, daunting experiences I have ever gone through yet the trip shed some light on my perspective of experiencing and feeling as a blind.

Essentially, we may often think we would try our best to be sympathised to other people in a specific situation in which we don’t share the same experience. The phrase “put (oneself) in (someone’s) shoes” to be advised and told too often that I think there will be time and place in which we’d forget that its easier said than done. By having put myself to pretend to be a blind person and had to rely on the assistance of the deaf and the mute, I found myself panicking and scared during the journey to the bathroom. When I first left my seat started heading to the bathroom, that was when the loneliness and physical anxiety kicked in. I was forced to rely on my other senses to absorb information hence out of sudden the blind-me version developed a more heightened of smell and touch.

I was slowly guided to the bathroom with the help of the deaf and the mute. When we were about to enter the bathroom, I just felt like the bathroom main door was too heavy that you had to push it and have a matte finish that if I were an individual that has a real severely sight impaired, I would not have known how to open the main door without help. Statistics shows that Approximately 1,564,340 people in the UK are living with sight loss (RNIB 2014) and only Around 2.5% (5,000) of people who are sight impaired or severely sight impaired have a guide dog. I am aware that facilities at Kingston university are designed for students with all different needs but I could not help to let my mind wonder to if there are places where people with severely sight impaired could not able to get help with a facility layout and design like this one.

After I got inside the bathroom, my nose detected the distinctive strong scent of disinfectants and that was the thing to tell me that “ah I am in the bathroom now”. At that moment I still did not know how to get the best use of my 2 companions, so I relied on my sense of touch by touching the wall to follow the path to reach the toilet itself. After getting myself inside the toilet, I got down to business and then there was the moment when I started panicking as I was unsure if I had locked the toilet door before. I was reaching out in vain to find the locker and it was not easy to look for straight way as I recall it was a little high up for me at the moment and the door did not feel like it was locked at the time. Luckily, I locked the door! After having finished “the business”, my following concern was if I made a mess afterwards. I could not see anything, so I had to literally use my hand to touch the toilet seat and to check it. Now thinking back, I thought I could have checked it by using the toilet paper and cleaned the surface of the toilet seat. The mini journey of getting out of the toilet and reaching to the basin faucet a little challenging as I found the tap was low for my reaching and I had to open it slowly as I did not know if that single handle faucet was already on the hot or cold side. I did not burn my hand with the help of the mute and the deaf. The journey of getting back to the classroom was pleasant as I got to used to the feeling of being a blind. We then introduced The Empathy Map. The Empathy Map, shown below , was created by David Grey, of XPLANE and author of The Connected Company and Gamestorming. The Empathy Map consists of essential four quadrants which reflect four key traits, which the user demonstrated/possesses during the observation/research stage, including Said, Did, Thought and Felt.

It looks like this:

We then asked to fill in the four quadrants by describing our feelings and experiences as a deaf, a blind and a mute throughout the trip. Below image is the result!

The group task really gave me a strong sense that any products or services that are and/or going to be on the market should be designed and tested with the focus of putting customers at the heart of a company’s growth strategy. This is to avoid the circumstances when business owners get too focused on solving a particular problem that might be important to them, but maybe not their customers. Additionally, scopes of personalised user experience should be frequently tested and tried to address specific customer needs and demands. More importantly, rigorous testing and evaluation of the products in respect of customer satisfaction should also be regularly carried out. By integrating the empathy map when designing or launching a new venture, we will be able to identify insights about our potential customers that we did not know were there. Therefore, we will produce better services and products for them. Having empathy for our potential users and using that to guide our design decisions would essentially help us as entrepreneurs meet evolving customer demands and achieve better customer satisfaction. 

The empathy map is an excellent tool to understand your ideal customer’s mind. It will help you know how they make decisions, who they are influenced by, what they want to achieve, what their pain points are, and more. By using The Empathy Map, I have learnt that it is vital to build a customer-centric philosophy rather than a sales focussed mindset.

Here are the similar activities you can do as a group to become more creative and to practice the use of an Empathy Map:

Harvard Business Review (Nov 2013, by Tom Kelley and David Kelley): Three Creativity Challenges from IDEO’s Leaders:

For a clearer explanation of empathy map, you can watch this: What is an Empathy Map? – Playbook UX:

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