I often have to justify why Design Thinking is important for Start-ups. After all, start-ups have innovation at the core of their business model.
If nowadays we keep hearing about start-ups isn’t it because our society need to break the straightjacket they have built century after century to protect themselves from changes? The proportion of young people in start-ups is phenomenal and it reflects the need for them to change the future and if not, to influence it. They all have dreams to become the game changer in their category like Airbnb, Uber, Zyloc or Blablacar. What is true in the US or in Europe, is also true in the Middle-East. Interestingly the environment is different especially here in the Emirates. I would bet it is also true in other emerging markets. However the Emirates are even more different with HH Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum who, as a leader has set a clear vision for Dubai: He wants Dubai to become the most innovative nation in the World by 2021. At least the intention is clear.
So why start-ups need to embrace Design Thinking?
The environment is quite helping with more and more incubators welcoming start-ups in their early days. At the same time, Design Thinking is being used by large corporation (IBM, P&G, 3M, GE) to successfully innovate and prove this is the right way to do it. But what makes specific the Design approach. While R&D is led by technology and Marketing is led by understanding the market, Design has this unique capability to start with the user. That makes the difference and leads to new perspective. The innovation is not based on a technology (by no means innovation has to be technology based), nor by understanding the market (i.e.. 53% of the male population likes blue, so lets make our product blue!). Innovation is led by understanding the unmet needs, the non-explicit tension which users experience in their daily life. This is where all starts.
Often start-ups profils includes engineers (technology driven), developers (technology driven) and sometime marketeers (market driven) not even mentioning PhD. Very recently John Maeda (Partner at KPCB) has shared a report on Design In Tech and start-ups founder profils in Silicon Valley. Here are some of the sharing:
• 27 startups co-founded by designers and 10 creative agencies were acquired by tech in the last 4 years.
• 5 startups co-founded by designers have raised more than $2.75 billion, and more are out there.
• 6 venture capital firms invited designers onto their teams—for the first time—in the last year.
This concluded by: Businesses started by designers have created billions of dollars of value, are raising billions of dollars in capital, and VC firms increasingly see the importance of design.
At the same moment, McKinsey has acquired Lunar Design, the famous and oldest design firm in the Sillicon Valley.
In conclusion, Design mindset is fundamental to innovate as it requires to start with the user in mind. Start-up should either invest in a designer with the capability to bring this mindset at the center of what they do, or they should outsource such capability by investing in Design Thinking, at least from the beginning to set the path and influence their development strategy… with users in mind.