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by Andrew Muir Wood

Estonia's got Tallinn(t)

Mentoring with Google Launchpad x Startup Wise Guys in Tallinn

Andrew running a workshop

What happened?

In early December I went out to Estonia with a group of design mentors assembled by Google Launchpad to provide UX guidance to eleven teams taking part in the Startup Wise Guys accelerator. We were housed on the roof of a converted munitions factory in the Kalamaja industrial district near the north shore of Tallinn. It’s never just a normal building!

Tallinn is a pretty darned cool city. I loved the nordic hipster chic of Telliskivi, the Christmassy glögi-stalls in the old town and the most hygge airport I’ve ever been to. Estonia is a very business-friendly country, with their e-residency scheme, openness to technological experimentation, and general bureaucratic efficiency. We’ll probably set up shop there when it all goes to shit in this country.

The mentors looking cosy

How and why were Muir Wood involved?

I have mentored hundreds of startups, across three continents, mainly through Google’s Launchpad program (thanks Google!). I’ve led the design component of their events in London and Milan. Muir Wood also has a number of startup clients who we help to build research capabilities. We love the energy and pace of early-stage companies and know that our experience can make a huge impact on their journey.

What did we notice?

As a wise old startup mentor and, having worked in two early stage software businesses when I had more hair, I see the same challenges and blindspots come up repeatedly. They mainly concern how teams learn from their customers, what questions they are asking and how they respond to that data.

1. Startups don’t look far enough up and down-stream in their customer journeys

How do your customers end up needing your product? What were they doing beforehand? What factors influence their choice of solution? What do they do once their problem has been solved? These questions help you design more intuitive onboarding and flow for your software, but also uncover barriers to adoption, buying behaviours, integration requirements and so on.

How we addressed this: Service design mapping

I gave a talk on mapping experiences, then we helped the teams to visually document the steps of their customer journey, showing their problems and how customers currently solve them. This allowed the teams to understand how their product should improve this journey and customer outcomes. It also showed where they need to do more customer research to fill in gaps in their knowledge.

2. B2B startups find it difficult to recruit participants to test out product ideas

We frequently come across startup teams that can’t find people to participate in user testing because they don’t want to ask potential customers naive questions or admit that their product is unfinished. But I’ve also met countless startups that wish they’d asked these questions earlier (although a rare breed exists who’ve found a way to balance learning with selling).

How we addressed this: Recruitment workshop

I led a discussion on the pros and cons of different ways of finding participants to take part in research and incentivising them to do so. There are no shortcuts to doing this but, from my experience, making time to get this right early on can make product development (and selling) far easier.

3. Startup learning cycles are too long, which adds risk to product releases

We find that startups can become attached to one solution without exploring and testing other possible approaches. This puts a lot of pressure on the first release to be successful. If idea generation and validation can be sped up, then teams can be more confident by the time they enter the market.

How we addressed this: An intro to design sprints

Design sprints are an efficient way of working as a team to solve problems and test ideas in days rather than months. My fellow Design Sprint Master Avi Ashkenazi gave a keynote on the Design Sprint methodology and ran a training workshop on the idea generation and selection phase.

Participating in the Design Sprint workshop

What’s next?

One of the main pieces of feedback from the startups was that they wished they’d met us earlier in their program! I didn’t pay them to say this, but it validates the need to be thinking from a customer perspective from a very early stage. The later you leave it, the harder it is to change. We equipped the teams to learn from their customers and look forward to hearing how they grow in the future. As mentors, we are also constantly learning and reflecting on how to adapt to the needs of the teams we are faced with.

The challenges that I encounter through mentoring large numbers of startups help us to improve the capability building solutions that Muir Wood offers to clients. If any of these topics resonate, give us a shout at hello@muirwood.co.uk – we are happy to come in and run training with your team, or we can do a product research project together, preferably in some kind of painfully trendy converted workspace.