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Real problems, real solutions
Companies attempting to solve big problems tend to get stuck at some point. Sometimes it happens in the very early days when they’re just tinkering with ideas. Sometimes it happens years into running the company, when they have new ideas to new problems they’ve uncovered. It doesn’t matter how you categorize the company — big or small, early or late, tech or toilet paper. If you’re tackling a problem that many people care about, the right solution won’t always be the one you assumed, the one others have built or the one your customer told you about to begin with. You may need to experiment until you’ve found a fit your customers truly value, and in many cases, will pay for.
For instance, do any of these bumps in the road sound familiar?
- You can’t decide what to name your company or product.
- You can’t decide which problem is the most important to solve.
- You found a problem to solve but the founders are too busy clashing over the right solution.
- You launched your MVP and getting lukewarm (if any) reactions.
- You launched out of beta and MAUs fell off the table.
I come bearing two pieces of news that should excite you and your cohort. First, every other startup that’s ever mattered was once in your same position. Second, this series of articles is designed to give you the structure you need to push through those roadblocks, launch solutions your customers want and build a real, sustainable business.
So then, let’s kick off by learning about the basics of design sprints.
Getting familiar with a design sprint
The guiding framework we’ll be leveraging to help your startup progress is based on Google Venture’s Design Sprint.
At New Haircut, we’ve led lots of sprints. We believe in the process. More importantly, the startups we work with believe because of the results we’ve been able to achieve together. In an upcoming article in this series, we’ll hear from one such startup founder who praises the sprint we ran together.
The birth of the design sprint
Before they were called design sprints, entrepreneurs and inventors, since the dawn of time, had been conceptualizing ways to cheaply and rapidly prototype ideas.
One such entrepreneurial-minded chap was Jake Knapp. In the early 2000’s, he was working as a product designer at Google. He was surrounded by smart people who had their own promising product ideas. But with limited time and priorities weighted toward products that dominated Google’s revenue Googlers’ pet projects rarely moved beyond ideation.
Jake realized the lost opportunity. He’d need to design a process for rapidly building, testing and iterating solutions. Things would need to happen in days, instead of weeks and months. Then he spotted his first chance when he and 2 others were able to concept a video chat app over a weekend. That app was quickly adopted throughout Google offices around the world and eventually launched to the public as Hangouts.
The success of Hangouts spurred other sprints. Gmail was launched as the output of another sprint. Sprints were becoming the de facto means of testing & building products throughout Google.
Google Ventures adopts sprints
The partners at Google Ventures (GV) witnessed this trend within Google. They realized that the startups inside their portfolio could equally benefit from running sprints. So when Jake was asked to join GV as a Design Partner, his challenge was to leverage this process to help their portfolio companies make bold, empowered, data-driven decisions. Quite simply, he was the guy tasked with giving each company their best shot of launching products to market that would take off and produce significant returns to the fund.
The GV team leveraged that same sprint process to launch companies with the likes of Product Hunt, Uber, Nest and Slack. They succeeded by taking Jake’s Google-vetted sprint process, modernizing it, testing it and refining it to the point that nearly any company could prototype solutions to just about any problem.
Optional reading for companies
GV was able to apply the success of the sprints they managed for their portfolio companies and package the steps required and lessons learned into a book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. And while there’s no substitute to participating in a sprint, reading this book will certainly give you a jolt forward in figuring out the right problem to solve and getting that solution to market.
If you can’t quite get to reading it cover-to-cover, or you’re the type of person that falls asleep after reading 17 words on a page, try the audio version. You’ll also find some additional references at the bottom of this article that complement the book well.
Design sprint 101
If you’re at all familiar with concepts like lean, agile and MVPs, a design sprint is like a best of from those playbooks. It’s a 5-day process that ends in your team collecting actual customer feedback from a prototype of the product you intend to bring to market. It combines the strengths of business strategy, innovation, science and design.
Here’s an intro to how those 5 days break down:
- Day 1: You may first want to kick off by reviewing this slide deck with the team. Afterward, decide upon the most important problem you’d like to solve.
- Day 2: Individually (but together) sketch out as many solutions to that problem.
- Day 3: Vote on the best solution and then add additional details about how that solution would work, start to finish.
- Day 4: Design your Goldilocks prototype — not too complex, not too simple, just right.
- Day 5: Test the prototype with customers and capture reactions & feedback.
- The more organized and prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of these 5 days. Below is a summary, direct from the gang at GV that bullets how to spend your days leading up to day 1
- You’ll also want to purchase all of your sprint supplies in advance which can be found in this sprint kit shopping list.
Design Sprints are a weapon startups of all shapes and sized can use to discuss, concept, prototype and test solutions they’re interested in bringing to market.
Teams like GV and New Haircut have validated that the sprint process works. We’ve seen it produce results most would write off as too good to be true. Now it’s your turn to set things in motion within your team and realize the same benefits.
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