The End

Prologue

The transformation began the day I decided to quit my ‘financially lucrative’ (so said my manager) career option to be in the IT industry and chose to join the MA in Creative Economy, specialising not in management or advertising but music. A choice which I considered as a leap of faith has until now been quite a learning experience. Being a programmer who believes logic drives the world but at the same time being a drummer who thrives on improvisation by playing on the edge of the beat, the experience of this course has tweaked every skill I thought I had and taught me so many others that I never expected to learn.

To put the experience into perspective it should suffice to say that before this it was my dream to start my own business someday and now as I write I have a plan in place, to start my own enterprise, with all the basic research completed and heading into the prototyping stage to eventually turn into an innovative venture in the coming months.

The story so far…

Before I talk about the last seven months let me rewind by a full five years. April 2005, I had just started with my final year in engineering college. Music was on the top of my mind, closely followed by the excitement of graduating in a year and already having bagged a job in one of the world’s top information technology company. My band’s demo CD was ready; we were playing often and slowly gaining popularity. Had anyone asked me then where I saw myself in five years, I probably would have said, in a managerial position in some big software company while at the same time touring with my then band and selling out venues around the word. As you may already know that is not where I am now, but far ahead of where I had imagined I would be.

I have just wrapped up a meeting with our client to develop two tutorial games that he can use in his class to demonstrate to his students the importance of word of mouth marketing or as we now call it viral marketing. Towards the end of the meeting, after you have given your price quote for the work, the words ‘do it for me’ and ‘good presentation’ is nothing short of music to the ears.

But before our big pay cheque, we must prepare to shut down the business that we started under Young Enterprise in October 2009.

The business evolved rather organically into two divisions, Tales Upon Thames that is the name for the business’ pop-up game activities within the University campus and Togather, which is the parent enterprise under which we developed tutorial games for an academician from the university. The feeling now is of utter euphoria that I am able to define in two sentences what our business is about. Needless to say it wasn’t this clear till very recently.

In the months of March and April the team finally found a strong footing about who we are and where we are headed. This was achieved mainly due to our various exercises on branding and prototyping our ideas that until then were resident in our heads and seemed practical and achievable from the word go but in reality were flawed. The big learning in these months was that doing on most occasions is more productive and time saving than thinking over and again. Playing the games among ourselves made them easier to explain and also pointed out all the areas where things could go wrong or issues we had not thought about before.

Let me go back to the start and trace how we finally got here. October 2009, after our team was formed we faced our first mammoth task, the one to decide on what our business would be. We find ourselves in our first meeting and though initially we all thought we were on the same page, within minutes of the meeting, after all the pleasantries, the war began – a tussle among five individuals from very different professional and cultural backgrounds. From musical instruments, to electronic devices to furniture to random everyday objects; each wanted it their way. By the end of that meeting we had decided on a stool that one could use as a percussive instrument as well. In effect a more comfortable and portable version of a cajón. We had made our first mistake. We had thought of a product based on our interests or lack of, we thought we could create a market for this product, we were worried about the design with no thought to the target customer or need for such a product. We were going to build a community one portable cajón at a time.

My team since day one has been consistent with one thought and that was to spread cheer (Volkswagen 2009) and create a community. With the cajón we were going to create a community, at least we thought we could and so was the case with our subsequent idea that emerged from our second meeting. Maybe it was the excitement of the start, but when we met the second time we all had our doubts about the outcome of the previous meeting. In the meanwhile we had learnt about the stages of design thinking and quickly realised we skipped all of them. We did start with the need, but very superficially. The human-centric approach, supported by the set of tools and environments, that comes into problems ‘through the route of people’ (Brown 2006) was not considered by us. Among the three stages of Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation (Brown 2006) we more or less jumped to implementation.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard the following statement in the last couple of months – ‘fail early, fail often’ (Brown in Sosa and Bhavnani 2005). We were on our way to being successful entrepreneurs we were prepared to fail. The second meeting appeared more professional; the team was starting to work well together. We had left our egos at home and were prepared to arrive at a common area of interest. We started by thinking about our target customers, for simplicity we chose the university students and then went on to the needs they might have, even though portable furniture seemed like one we were in no frame of mind to compete with Ikea. We wanted to spread cheer and build a community. The sterile environment of the university and a grey rainy London afternoon added to our determination to make the environment more appealing. The drab wall opposite the library caught our attention and we immediately wanted to paint it.  The painting was to be a piece of art, a way of creating opportunity for engaging the various campuses of the university. Making it a social event rather than just making the environment more appealing, we always looked to enhance the benefits from one task. The obvious difficulties of obtaining permission from the university management and other such negativity was left for later and I believe rightly so. We had identified a need, an audience and we had a product. There were multiple spinoffs from the activity and we could think of more ways than one to turn it into a business. It happened to be a university open day and we did our first set of market research by interviewing current and prospective students. They all echoed our point of view and were enthused about our idea. We were excited to tell everyone about it.

The most valuable lesson we have received is about empathy, to not assume a need and create a solution, but to find out the need and work a solution together with the customer.  Following the principles of ‘Empathic Design’ (Leonard and Rayport 1997) first we observed, then we interviewed and conducted a survey and we were students ourselves so the analysis lead us to realise that there was very little inter-campus interaction within the university. We wanted to create an opportunity for art students to interact with business students, musicians with designers and so on. We were going to start by a social gathering to paint the wall and in effect also change the sterile feel of the campus.

The next question we needed an answer to was that if students would really participate in such an activity, we improvised and prototyped.  A simple activity where we put post it notes on a wall and asked passersby to write or draw something to make the reader smile. After the initial hesitation people willingly participated, they were excited and hung around that area to read what others would write. We had gathered a crowd within minutes, we interviewed more students about the university, the environment, the activities and what they would like to be changed or not and if they had liked this activity.

At this point I would like to highlight the importance of prototyping and how it makes validation so much easier and time effective. From my past experience we never prototyped mainly because of the lack of knowledge of quick and easy ways to prototype. It always seemed faster to design and then implement, which on many occasions did cost a lot if a flaw was detected very late in the stage of implementation. I know now that prototyping can be achieved with anything as long as you can be creative with the material and it helps to understand the problem and thereafter the solution much better. In Stanford D-School, two students needed to prototype hospital emergency room situation, where patients usually have to wait for unknown lengths of time, that they could not with real users. They created the emergency situation by rounding up a group of friends and making them drink lots of water till they had to use the toilet, it was an emergency room now. A simple but effective example about how one can prototype with anything by just being a little imaginative (O’Connor 2008).

Since I have already mentioned what the business is now, you certainly know this idea of painting the wall did not work out. Which is true and the reason is the obvious problems we had initially decided to leave for later, permissions and the likes. A week before the trade fair in December, Togather decided to start again, well we like failure and we were raring to go. Many brainstorming sessions later we decided to run social reality games. This session was a very rigorous one dedicated to coming up with solutions and options. We followed strict guidelines about finding solutions (Sutton 2006). Brainstorming as an activity was not our team’s strongest points, since we would throw a lot of ideas but not build on them. Though we did concentrate more on theory than practice but we worked well under constraints and pressure to come up with a working solution that did eventually last till the end. We were still trying to build a community and create opportunities for interaction. The initial idea was to have a game where in participants would be in mixed teams and would be hunting down other teams. Each would look for one and once they successfully eliminate their target they take the eliminated teams target as their next target. The last surviving team won. This was meant to be a long running game, but would fit within the university timetable. Then came the Christmas holidays and we all went complacent.

We worked on the game design in January and our main focus was story telling. My personal favourite tool for marketing has to be story telling, used in anyway a compelling story can always sell (The Girl Effect 2008). Storytelling found its way into our design process of the game in way such that the entire game was around a theme. We tried co-creation of a story on Facebook, which did not work the way we had liked it to but the reason for that was that our online activities were not appropriately supported by offline activities then. There was a visible gap in how we perceived things should work and how we actually performed actions to make them work.

The months of January and February were spent in designing the game, finding sponsors for the final prize, devising marketing strategies which included building a website, Facebook group and then engaging people to communicate. The last bit we assumed would be easy but it turned out not to be so mainly because we did not prepare well for it using the tools of empathy and prototyping. We re-branded a number of times in these months that impacted all our activities. Things seemed to be stalling again, but the upcoming trade fair and our numerous meetings pushed us towards March and April.

Post the trade fair in March, we had finally figured our uniqueness and the way forward. The success we achieved in the short time after made sense of the entire process that we had gone through and made all the failures worth our while. We built a good brand image during the trade fair which got us our first client for developing a game for him. This was the most important success since this activity could financially support us for the running of the games that were not profitable until now.

Initially our roles within the business were not well defined, but later we decided to streamline the process and assign role-based responsibilities. This activity improved our performance in terms of time and quality. The role-based responsibilities followed directly from our past expertise where we had a primary role and everyone was assigned a secondary role that was to assist someone in another role. This had two fold benefits of expanding your current expertise and learning from the secondary role of assisting. For the business we had better quality results since the final word was always of the expert in that domain (Bilton 2007). I was involved in the branding exercise and the online presence for the business and then for the game development and presentation to the client. While the branding experience was frustrating at times, the final product worked for us.

Epilogue

The experience of running this business has infused in me a new confidence to go out in the market and start one of my own. The valuable lessons learnt about the process, the challenges and practically overcoming some of them; will be valuable in realising what once was just a far-fetched dream. April 2010, my goals at this point are in a different direction from what they were five years ago. As mentioned earlier, my goal is to start my own enterprise. This is going to be an artist management company for independent musicians based out of India. With the global turmoil in the music industry with declining recorded music sales, change in technology, the ease of communication the traditional models of the record companies are going through a sea change. While the major labels are finding it difficult to survive, the independent labels which work more like artist management companies and embrace technology are starting to thrive around the world. This is mainly due to the new advancements in digital technology, where the future of music is digital (Kusek and Leonhard 2005).

In India, there was never an organised music industry apart from the one dependent on Indian films. With the change in global scenario there is a huge gap waiting to be fulfilled. With more and more artists going the ‘Do It Yourself’ way, they are on the lookout for help with all the management work.  Technology has made recording cheaper which was one of the main reasons why the major labels had a monopoly until some years ago. Technology is shaping a new landscape and more and more artists are out there competing for their share of the market, which has enough room for a lot more. Niche markets are easily approachable and are forming a major chunk of the industries revenues (Lathrop 2007).

With my past experience in this area of music as an artist and self-promoter, I have the background knowledge about the market. Armed with my newfound tools of design thinking enable me to think creatively and laterally to find solutions for problems, which for years had gone unexplored. I have an established network within the desired area of the industry and I am updated with the latest trends, opportunities and needs. Many musicians are taking up music professionally, which until now was very limited.

The main obstacles in this path are the slow monetary reward and very few successful examples. The option could be to work with an already established company in the field until I am financially confident, or I can use the remaining months of my time as a student to prototype the models and test the waters. One other major obstacle is the uncertainty of the industry, finding the right musicians to start with is also a crucial aspect.

Despite the obstacles, the next few months provide me with the right opportunity to prototype and test my ideas. Also my final research being related to the importance of live music to propel the careers of independent artists will provide valuable insight into the current scenario. Apart from feeding in as market research it will also provide an opportunity to build and expand on my current network within the industry. Even though the needs have been identified, a more detailed research is necessary to validate the findings. Being a musician myself, I understand the needs from a musician’s point of view; the research will also help me understand the needs from the point of view of venue owners, event promoters and the audience. This would help in refining the goals before prototyping.

A year ago I was not ready to take the risk or trying out a business, but after the business under Young Enterprise the challenges seem like problems waiting to be solved. Even when I say this, the real reason is what I intend to do it what I am passionate about and will pursue it for the sole reason of passion.

References:

Bilton, C. 2007. Management and Creativity: From Creativity to Creative

Management. Blackwell Publishing. Oxford, UK.

Brown, T. 2006. Innovation through Design Thinking. MIT. [Online] Available at:

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/357/ [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Boxed Water is Better. 2010. [Online] Available at:

http://boxedwaterisbetter.com/hello/ [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Green Thing. 2010 . [Online] Available at: http://www.dothegreenthing.com/ [Last

Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Kusek, D. and Leonhard, G. 2005. The Future Of Music. Boston: Berklee Press

Lathrop, T. 2007. This Business of Global Music Marketing. Billboard Books. New

York

Leonard, D. & Rayport, J. F. 1997. Spark Innovation through empathic design. Harvard

Business Review Nov-Dec. [Online] Available at: http://col-tech.org/coltech/members-only/innovacion/Spark%20Innovation%20Through%20Empathic%20Design.pdf [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

O’Connor, C. 2010. Prototyping emergencies with a glass of water. D-News. Stanford

D-School. [Online] Available at:

http://dschool.typepad.com/news/2010/02/prototyping-emergencies-with-a-glass-of-water.html [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Sutton, R. 2006. Eight Tips for better brainstorming. Business Week July. [Online]

Available at:

http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jul2006/id20060726_517774.htm [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Sosa, M. & Bhavnani, R. 2005. Fail Early and Fail Often. Management Today. [Online]

Available at: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/search/article/548074/fail-early-fail-often-ideo-service-design/ [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

The Girl Effect. 2008. The Girl Effect. [Online] Available at:

http://www.girleffect.org/ [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Volkswagen. 2009. The Fun Theory. [Online] Available at:

http://www.thefuntheory.com/ [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

Walker, D. 2010. What I Learnt From an Old White Man I Never Met. Advertising Age.

[Online] Available at: http://adage.com/bigtent/post?article_id=142174 [Last Accessed on: 08 May 2010]

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are we there yet?

So it has been a while… a long easter vacation. Some travelling and a lot of unwinding.

We had our last class with Corrine, only the presentation is next. The last class was a mish mash of ideas, but served as a good recap of what we have learnt so far. Most time was spent in talking about the coming assignments and presentations, but when we got beyond that there was a lot to assimilate about design thinking.

As for the business, we have just designed two games for a client. This week is when we meet him and present our ideas. If all goes well, we will have made a big sale before we shut shop. We are going to be doing some more small pop-up games this week and next.

More to follow…

The open book of social innovation by NESTA

After going through many of my favourite tips, choosing some over the others and knowing that Walking (#29) is an amazing way to visualise problems and think of ideas, i finally will go with:

310) Platforms for pro-ams, that is, people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards. Examples range from WordPress to projects like the School of Everything that blurs the boundary between formally accredited professionals and others that provide similar services.

I personally believe these are the solution providers (apart form the specialised research and innovation groups, which are more expensive), since they are passionate about what they do. They may not be professionals but the quality of their work is of professional standards and they do what they do for a simple reason which is that they like doing it. When budgets and time are a constraint, these pro-ams can provide some brilliant solutions.

the work so far…

After being stuck for a while about our next steps, we arranged for a meeting with Corrine. Got some ideas flowing and decided we just need to start doing stuff.

In the virtual world the website is looking better…

We have got rid of all the unnecessary logos now, the clutter has been replaced. The content is being given more importance. We dabbled with having the website look like a magazine but finally settled with more colours and a blog like feel.

Our announcements for the games are working… we are going to be acting more now.

The tasks accomplished is the brainstorming and design for more smaller games as opposed to one big one. The games are being designed so we can take them to people and require minimum time commitment from them. The branding exercise and coming up with the features that define our brand. Fun, colour and mystery being at the top. Also we shot the advertisement and I spent some time editing the video.

The trade fair is coming and we are going to be ready for it, with all our branding in place. The team looks stronger now, it’s time to earn some money.

lets please all…

The first of the three apprentice challenges… GRM.TV… An IPTV launching a new channel or program (i am still confused). What they wanted from us – an awareness marketing campaign. What they had – a set of confused ideas.

From what i gathered, they had a concept and a pilot. Concept seemed very novel, a music channel/program online to showcase new independent up and coming bands free of cost to the bands and the audience. But beyond this was just a mish mash of a lot of unclear ideas or so i understood. The pilot seemed like a ‘lets please all’ attempt… a woman in a posh drawing room and then a gig in a dingy club? What is the image here… are u locked in your cosy home or are you out on the road? Are you approachable and a people’s channel or are you for the classy with big homes and luxury cars?

After this course if I ask someone what their target audience is and they say 18-25 year olds, I am not going to take them seriously! Not because i did not understand who their target audience is, but because they have not cared about their audience to study them and note atleast their main characteristics and have a more targeted approach. Today the target audience stated was 18-25 year olds.

Our team posed a simple question to a few 18-25 year olds… ‘Do you care about discovering new independent musicians?’ … a good percentage said they did not care. I agree our survey was very crude and had a very small number of participants, but from my past experience i know the figures would not change drastically for a large population as well.

Another thing which seemed very wrong was the notion about the kind of music they would showcase on their channel… every kind as long as it is good is not acceptable to a listener. From personal experience, I like rock and i don’t watch vh1 cos it shows hip-hop for most part and throws in rock music once in a while, I do not have the time to sit through stuff I am not interested in. In the age of abundant information, the youth with an ever shrinking attention span has no time to wait for their favourites to appear. You give it to them right away or they go somewhere else.

One last aspect which seemed a little skewed was if they knew what their purpose is? Are they a TV channel/program or are they artist promoters? The two cannot merge, though they may assist through one medium for being a full blown artist promoter/manager they will need to do a lot more things and each costs money! If you are a TV channel/show then your aim is to get people to watch your show and every activity you do should drive people to your website to watch the show.

There were some brilliant ideas thrown around today and personally i loved each one of them, but for different purposes… i am going to comment on a few i thought which excited the corporates though they seemed to be more expensive and achieving less:

Why be a ground partner in a festival when you can be a media partner and achieve your purpose. A separate stage at a festival makes sense when you are signing bands, otherwise you be a media sponsor and shoot the bands on all stages… spend less get more!

The idea of a bus is brilliant, even channel V has gone around in its own van/bus, but people notice because it is channel v. With the abundance of media channels now, the number of media vans with big logos are not scarce and it’s more a part of life… you wouldn’t notice it unless you knew what the organisation was to which the van/bus belongs. A bus is fun, but why organise your own shows when you can piggy back those of bands.

I was most surprised with the eagerness shown to keep money aside for a launch party… i’d like to say very little on that and point to a blog for some experienced advice: Seth Godin and a followup

I seem to have said enough for today… these are not direct comments to the ideas but how they are perceived to be used by those who have the authority to… views and comments invited

If the name is Grass Roots… the strategies should be grass roots… 🙂

isn’t being practical being creative? enough for the day!

tech support

Team meetings and a lot of bickering later, we are stuck with not finding a design for the website that is acceptable to all.

In the non-virtual world we are planning and ideating a lot about the things we are going to do, and our focus lies on getting registrations through the website. The website needs to attract and then keep attention enough to have people register. How we are going to make the website noticed and known remains an all together different question.

In my role as the technical guy, i have gone through a lot of iterations and different versions of the website… for a while now we have liked this one…

Personally i like the minimalist feel of the site, but it does not suit us in all aspects. We discussed its sterile feel, which we have been fighting against since the start of our business.

The colours help and are a result of a big branding exercise we have had and discussed the colours and feel that we would like to have. The logo has finally been finalised with this version, which is more grunge and has some neon colours in it. The colours have been inverted as well and we now have black on white.

Things are taking shape… the website will need more work. And the amount of work every new template requires in fitting the content and making the menus where we want them to be and all the broken links is keeping me quite busy these days.

Apart from this we are going ahead with our marketing exercise, where we would use leaflets and also do some impromptu games to publicise the final big game.

ideas flowing…

tips and tricks

After the brilliant class in the morning with Piers and his eccentric personality and teaching style, it was time to learn some website designing the quick and easy way with handy tips and tricks. This is the way i have always liked it. In the DIY scenario we have with hard deadlines, if you do not need a big fancy flashy website or do not have the budget for it, then do it yourself as explained in my previous post. Costs incurred are only for the domain name, which is very cheap these days. With a little bit of imagination and skills of making things look right for your requirement, one can have a very professional looking website which is easy to manage.

There is a little fight that always goes on with the technical brain and the designer brain… but one has to draw a line somewhere and understand what is required and then have the technical brain give you that to the best it can. How much of design advice should the developer accept… its a personal choice, but whatever has everyone smiling should be right.

Today’s class was all about that and more… where the more includes good design features, how to get the most out of the limited space one has available on the screen. Also the most important one was about google analytics, which is a great tool when used right. There is a lot of information that google present to you, but by interpreting the right data according to your needs we can get insightful information on the use of the website and tweek it just right to get the right balance.

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