If by some freak accident I was taken back to the beginning of the academic year and came across myself at the time when I was considering starting up The Work Shop, having reflected on my experiences so far, I would have this to say:
Start something, Do it today!
Guinness ads proclaim that “good things come to those who wait” and they have it all wrong. “Things may come to those who wait…but only the things left by those who hustle.” (A. Lincoln) Procrastination is “suicide on an instalment plan.” Don’t live the rest of your life dying!
Knowing when you are procrastinating is easy. If there is no positive intent in putting something off that is procrastination. You will always know without exception. Identify the mechanics of your avoidance triggers and deal with them. This is an interesting blog by Dr bill Kanus that identifies the underlying causes of procrastination and sets out effective strategies for dealing with it.
We have benefited from starting this venture in ways we could not have imagined at the start. The Greenbus campaign, our involvement at ECO-Build 2011 and DOK#1 to name a few. I found Richard Branson’s approach quite refreshing. He is known to his colleagues as DR YES for his tendency to respond positively to new ideas.
The best approach is “Fail early fail often” as the IDEO man Bill Moggridge says and how true that is.
Day dream in your own time and don’t let it get in the way of seeing what’s in front of you. It will go hard but it will save you a lot of heart-ache at the end. Dreams and goals are not the same. One is rooted in fantasy where as the other is rooted in reality. Dreams can be useful when you are looking for motivation but nothing can be done to realise them until they have been transformed into goals that is the route to achieving them has been mapped out. A great way of keeping on track is to use the Gantt chart. I did a stint as and intern in project management support in a construction company and using these charts is the norm there but recently this is something that I am coming across more and more amongst designers. The options vary from the low-tech free MS-Excel solutions to the high-tech and expensive professional packages like primavera (Which I wouldn’t recommend but for complex construction projects).
Curb your enthusiasm
Be prepared to understand if others aren’t as enthusiastic about your ideas as you are. When negotiating remember that those sat at the other end of the table might not share your aspirations. They are looking out for their own interests. If you are caught out by their lack of enthusiasm you might inadvertently put yourself in the position of giving too much away to try to bring them onboard. That is partly why our negotiations with KF nearly collapsed. Put that energy to use elsewhere and find another way.
Have an exit strategy
Another reason why we ended up doing more that we had hoped to bring Kingston First round was the fact that we committed ourselves mentally to the site and could not figure out another way of achieving the same goals. People can smell your desperation and will just hold back while you promise them the world to persuade them to give you what you want. Corrine suggested 3space (www.3space.org) to us when I first mentioned that we were having difficulties with owners of our intended site. 3space who offer “meanwhile use ” short term tenancy agreements on empty commercial properties would have been a great avenue to go down in hind-sight but we had already put the blinkers firmly on were well and truly fixated on the target building. As a result we got bogged down in lengthy negotiations in which we ended up committing to more than we could comfortably deliver and prevented from putting in the strong foundations on our supply side on which we would come to rely on when we would eventually launch. At the end part of the reason we managed to get what we wanted was by threatening to walk away and that is a useful card to have. Of course we were bluffing and it would have been much easier on our mental health to genuinely possess the option to do so and go with an alternative solution.
There is always another way
Although we managed to make our lives difficult by the way in which we engaged Kingston first in our negotiations we managed to find a compromise at the end which involved doing the kind of work that we had not set out to do. Having said that we came out of it having made a profit before we had even started trading as The Work Shop. Perseverance does pay off, eventually.
We were badly hurt by the fact that we didn’t properly document our negotiations with Kingston first. Taking minutes makes it easier to hold people to what they say. Without documentation you are at the mercy of their whims. If you work hard to gain an advantage don’t let it slip away. Besides negotiations it is often very useful to be able to retrace your actions to better judge what to do next. You will be surprised how much information will be lost if you rely on your memory alone and you will never know when you be asked to report on your progress.
Mind the gap
We have become aware that there always exists an enormous gap between the projections whether in terms of time or funds needed to start a business. Although we have been down this road before our first foray was very much a low intensity affair which was something myself and Alex did in our spare time and with no particularly challenging deadlines or targets. With The Work Shop we set ourselves ambitious targets for opening the shop and were confronted by the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t care about our deadlines. Contingency planning is key.
Supply chain is king
Whatever else is involved in a retail business is meaningless if you have nothing to sell. We should have scaled back our expectations from the students simply because by their nature they are unreliable. This is something we should have spotted sooner having been students ourselves and having spent most of our adult life in the company of students. It has been hard work and to be truthful a little off putting which is why we are putting customer care especially as far as the retailers are concerned at the centre of our other business NUU. To remedy this problem we have placed greater significance on sourcing work from graduates who are on the whole more experienced and more professional.
Want something done? Don’t do it yourself!
Delegate as much of the work to others as is possible. You would not believe what people are willing to do for free to be involved with a positive project.
If you try to do everything you’ll end up burning out and not getting everything done. Besides when you become too involved in the project (to the point of spending every waking hour working on something or other) you will not be able to stand back and make objective decisions. We were hurt badly as a result of this. 60 hour weeks aren’t good for anybody. To my shame I had read jeff howe’s book on crowdsourcing but failed to put it into practice. This was a mistake for sure.
Mayday Mayday Mayday!
Don’t be an idiot, ask for help! Ask for help all the time and from everyone. People aren’t going to think any less of you for that and the worse that can happen is that they would say no. Concentrated especially on identifying who else benefits from your desired outcome and make them contribute towards the achievements of your common goals.
This is something we identified early on when we produced the start-up canvas[Business model generation]. We had identified FADA as a beneficiary of the project but we failed to squeeze out as much assistance as we should have from them.
We went running for help to Kingston University when we recognised that our negotiations with KF had stalled and got what we wanted. The university threw their weight around and their involvement dramatically changed the dynamic of the negotiations. Being a BID partner (essentially a contributor to Kingston first’s funding) provided much needed leverage in the negotiations. Especially since they were able to put pressure on people higher up in the food chain within the KF hierarchy, people we would not have necessarily had access to.
Netwrok, network, network
We made the mistake of not starting early enough with building our network of creatives that was what we should have done right from the beginning. Had we built a network first we could have an asset in the bag right from the beginning. This is especially true with the students. The student’s capacity for carrying out extra curricular work is limited and seasonal due to their academic commitments. Had we started earlier we could have had them working in the background while we were busy putting everything else in place. We missed our window.
Aside from that oversight we have met a great deal of people who were ready to help and/or offer advice through this experience. The advice is have a pitch ready and talk about your project with as many people as you can.
Beside the obvious advantages of having a wide network you also have the added benefits that are peripheral to the core business we would never have been offered to represent Kingston in the Green Bus campaign [see earlier post] and we would not have access to the creative talent we plan to represent at DOK#1 [see earlier post]
Get out more
Do what is necessary to enable yourself to spend some time looking from the outside in. When you do look from the outside in the clear light of day will reveal shortcomings and opportunities that you would not have necessarily spotted .
Chasing the grade, Chasing the dream
The perennial student dilemma is always whether to go for delivering an assignment to please their academics or whether to realise its full potential in terms of creating value. Or so we thought. The fact is that the thought of commercialising their work hasn’t even crossed the minds of most students. Here lies the problem. As far as the students are concerned we have found that the difficulties we have faced in sourcing market ready merchandise is a symptom of an underplaying problem. That is the students find it difficult to see the usefulness of their work beyond meeting their academic obligations and the prevailing culture of working to deadlines rather than working towards a finished article. We are increasingly finding ourselves in a situation whereby we have to coach students on how to prepare their products for a retail environment. This is especially true with product design students which is odd since the discipline is primarily concerned with the production of good for sale. Thus the scope of the project has been dramatically extended to include advising the participants particularly the undergraduates on preparing their ideas for market including packaging, ease of assembly etc. but aside from the load it places on us in terms of time spent coaching the students it is something we are very proud of. We can already see the positive impact it is beginning to have on even on those at the early stages of their undergraduate degrees. We can see that this ability to be selfsufficient will be increasingly more important as the number of design graduates continues to increase at an astronomical rate and the size of design practices become ever smaller. (Design council report)
That internet thing
The importance of using the internet as a tool to for raising the profile of the business and attracting business opportunities is something that has become clear to me through this experience. Having said that it is sometimes difficult to find the time to be active online while running four projects and working six and half days a week to survive. Perhaps it comes down to integrating this activity in your daily routine much like answering emails or the actual design, development and production of merchandise rather than an afterthought. Admittedly, this is not something that I have got to grips with yet. Perhaps this is a time management issue. Whatever the problem is it needs to be sorted out soon.
Fix the tribe
Think of something that you would like to change and do it. Well we are trying but we are receiving resistance from the one place we thought we could expect support. What I mean by resistance isn’t wilfully hindering us indeed the students are vocal in their support of what we are doing and there may well be intent but we have found that so far this has not translated into action. Seth godin states that “essentially what we all do now is assembling tribes that spread that idea until it becomes a movement”. Well there is something wrong with this tribe. The idea seems like a good one and we seem to have identified a “group that is disconnected and has a yearning””but something isn’t right and I can’t put my finger on it. I thought that what we were doing came from my empathy for those who are struggling with the same issues I dealt with when I was a student and recent graduate. Maybe what we need is place to assemble a place outside of the current system. Soon we will have that and it will remain to be seen whether that has a positive impact on things.
The goal moving forward from here is to firstly ensure that The Work Shop is a success. This is the primary target that needs to be achieved. But beyond this We have found that while we enjoy designing and producing our own line of products. The level of competition on the market means that the smart money is on businesses that help creative people reach the market. It is for this reason that we are branching out into organising collective exhibitions for small design outfits in return for a percentage of their earnings from any resultant sales. It is a new revenue stream that was born out of our experiences in this module. See earlier post on DOK#1. Essentially this is taking the work Shop to the next level. We have already set our eyes on a bigger target and we now see The Work Shop as a test bed for this new venture.