Use Design Thinking When Starting Your Company

Use Design Thinking When Starting Your Company

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more.

So what do those 25% companies do differently than the rest? There are plenty of processes and business recommendations available but one that is popular is called “design thinking”.

This entails knowing or empathizing with your customer. Learning insights that maybe you didn’t realize before and testing to see if there really is a need for your product or idea. Design Thinking is defined as the following: “It’s an iterative process in which knowledge is constantly being questioned and acquired so it can help us redefine a problem in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.”

IDEO is a design firm credited with starting “design thinking” and which has thousands of breakthrough inventions, including several products designed for Apple. They talk about the importance of incorporating human behavior in all of their product design and services. IDEO describes it this way:  “This approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.” 

Following are the five stages of design thinking in order to test out an idea:

Empathize: In this stage, an entrepreneur focuses on understanding the market. She begins her investigation by questioning and surveying the market or the people that are most likely to use a product/ service. Shee understands the pain points of the people with the existing solutions in the market.

Define: The underlying knowledge of the customer helps the entrepreneur to define the problem better. She now understands what the customer dislikes and likes in the current scenario.

Ideate: Once the problem is defined, the company can begin ideation. In this stage, they map the journey of the user in steps. Once the company maps a user’s journey, it can then categorize the previously learned pain points and gain points of the user. The startup then prioritizes the most critical pain points that must be solved.

Prototype:  The most crucial pain points are the features with which prototyping begins. The first version of the product does not solve everything. Why not? Because the product is not tested. In every version of the product, one or two new features are added or improved, and then the product is launched. Key insights are received from users, and this feedback is then used to design version 2 of the product. And the circle repeats throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Test:  In this stage, a version of the product is ready. It is launched, customers buy and use the product, and feedback is received. This feedback is then used to design the next version.

At the core of Design Thinking is the intention to improve products by analyzing how users interact with them. Human behavior is the key. Design thinking offers a strategy for digging deeper to uncover ways to improve the user experience. Companies that apply design thinking have a better chance of succeeding than those who merely create products without assessing and validating market needs.

One designer, David Fastuca, wrote that design thinking can be looked at this way:

  • Design thinking is a human-centered approach.
  • Design thinking identifies opportunities by looking at prospective data and identifying gaps in the market.
  • Design thinking uses observational techniques to uncover problems and issues that people may not be aware of immediately.
  • Good design requires people to believe in possibility and to think in the abstract.

There are many different ways to test and ideate about any kind of idea. These steps can be overlooked when one becomes so married to the original idea. Being open to feedback and living in the customer’s shoes will help any company realize the obstacles as well as the opportunities in front of them.

Reviewed & Recommended:

One of my favorite articles by McKinsey defines ten key steps to follow in order to validate your idea.  If these steps are achieved and there are still doubts about your idea, it is critical to go back to the drawing board to figure out the human needs for your product or service.

IDEO, an internationally known design firm and known for working with Apple on several products, discusses in depth what it is and why it works:

What is Design Thinking? – IDEO U

This article by Forbes discusses each step in the design thinking process for your company:

How to Implement Design Thinking 


Courses on Design Thinking:

Design Thinking | Free Online Courses

Design Thinking for Innovation

Top 10 Books for First-Time Entrepreneurs

Top 10 Books for First-Time Entrepreneurs

So you’re thinking about starting a company, and you’re trying to sift through the thousands of resources out there to help you get started. We at illume hire want to make it a little easier for you with our Top 10 Books for the First-Time Entrepreneur list. 

Our goal with this list is as much to introduce you to the different topics and angles as you consider taking the leap into running your own business as to help you pick specific books. In addition, we plan to keep this a living list as new books come out over time. 

1. The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank.

While Blank’s Four Steps is clearly targeted toward entrepreneurs focused on technology businesses, in our experience it provides one of the most widely applicable roadmaps for starting a company. Blank is widely credited with launching the Lean Startup methodology, which has since germinated countless other books and adaptations of his approach.

Top takeaway: Don’t treat your new business like a smaller big business. Know what stage you’re in, and follow Blank’s four steps to minimize cost and maximize your chances of finding success.

2. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.

While on the surface this may feel like a book that’s more appropriate for leaders in large companies, Christensen’s core focus on the idea of disruptive innovation is critical for anyone considering starting a business. It doesn’t matter if you’re building the next great software-as-a-service startup or thinking about starting a design consulting business: the ideas laid out in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” provider a critical foundation for thinking about identifying and executing on new business opportunities.

3. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.

Moore’s book is a must-read. It provides a simple, intuitive framework for thinking about the different phases associated with launching and scaling a business. It’s a great companion to Blank’s “Four Steps”, as it helps provide additional context around the concept of ‘product-market fit.” Moore has several other books worth looking at, but we would recommend starting here.

4. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.

While not specifically a book for entrepreneurs, Ferriss’ we think the core value of Ferriss’ book is to challenge the normal way of thinking about and approaching our professional lives. Using the concept of work/life hacks, Ferriss will get you approaching challenges in new and creative ways, a fundamental skill for any entrepreneur.

5. Principles by Ray Dalio.

Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, is famous for the concept of ‘radical transparency’, through which we accept that we are all wired differently, and that effective teaming requires that we are open about, and account for those differences in how we interact. Part of what we love about “Principles” is that it applies to much more than a business setting, providing a platform for embracing differences, and employing deep reflection to learn from what has happened to navigate best what will happen.

6. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

Written by one of the founders of juggernaut venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz (A16z), this is a great window into all the practical lessons you don’t learn through traditional schooling that are core to starting and running a business. This book is great because it gets down into the details of the challenges you’ll face, and honest advice based on Horowitz’s own journey.

7. Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profit by Greg Crabtree

This one may seem to be a little less exciting, but it’s fundamental nonetheless. As a founder, your business will ultimately live and die by numbers, and this books provides a great, no-nonsense look at what you’ll need to understand in terms of the money-side of your business.

8. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Guillebeau’s book makes the list due to its focus on how you can turn what you love to do into a living to support how you do it. Part of what makes this book great is the examples of what are essentially accidental entrepreneurs who manage to turn hobbies, challenges, and strife into viable businesses. 

9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Ok, this may seem like it’s more self help than entrepreneurial, but Covey’s book is one of the most-referenced in its domain. Covey’s advice will help you take control of your life during the tumultuous times of starting a business. It will help with interpersonal communication, relationship building at work and in your personal life, and remains foundational book for building better habits for success.

10. Crushing it! by Gary Vaynerchuck

Gary Vaynerchuck is a social media maven, and no top 10 list would be complete with a book focused on the art of social media marketing. A follow up to his original book, “Crush it!”, this time around Gary focuses not only on how to dive deep into each social media platform to make money, but how to do it while having fun doing what you love. Here’s a great quote to get you inspired at the end of our list: “Sometimes you just have to jump into the pool, even when you're scared.”

Why Start a Company in Midlife?

Why Start a Company in Midlife?


Uncertainty is inescapable - especially right now.  Figuring out a career destination after a layoff and focusing on ideas on how to launch a business are on many midlife professionals’ minds.  While this group of people tends to have the skills and experience needed to become a consultant, others have the desire to solve a problem with a new product or service.  According to the Kauffman Foundation, data indicates that the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55-64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34. 

However, the pandemic may have a negative impact on attitudes about risk-taking and starting a company.  Since small businesses have been hardest hit, some people would rather find a job that provides benefits and steady income.  That’s understandable but several people in midlife are looking at this time as their chance to do something that makes an impact.  If this global crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we only have one life and we should live it to the best of our ability. Obviously, it’s a big jump to start a company. Why would anyone in midlife want to take that leap?  Here are a few reasons:

Make a meaningful impact

Many older professionals are highly motivated to make a positive impact on the world. They might be considering the legacy they’ll leave behind and what they can do now to create change and do something meaningful. Psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about the 8 stages of life and in the 7th stage, he refers to people ages 40 to 65. In this stage, they are driven to engage and be productive and they question where they will derive their sense of self-worth. They have an urge to create, to generate a life that counts and this is what compels people to innovate, even when it’s lonely and scary.

Having clarity and understanding the purpose you want to serve is key. It's never too late to press the restart button on your career and create a work-life you have always envisioned. If you’re unsure of what a meaningful job would look like,  I recommend reading Dream Year: Make the Leap from a Job You Hate to a Life You Love by Ben Arment. In it, he provides a series of questions to ask regarding fears, frustrations, and what you value most.

Space for Transition and Growth

Joining a startup or building a business offers an opportunity to disrupt yourself and begin something new. A person’s identity tends to be tied to what they have done in their career and that’s why pivoting is difficult. Building a company offers a way to take on new challenges, a new role, and new skills. According to Herminia Iberra, author of “Working Identity”, career changes happen through a series of small steps and people mostly learn through experimentation and taking action rather than introspection.  Shifting one’s identity definitely has its advantages if one is willing to put in the work and be uncomfortable.  Illustrating the steps taken in order to make the switch can be accomplished through a blog, a certification, or by getting involved in a related organization to gain credibility in your new domain.

Using Experience and Wisdom

Asking questions such as, “How does my experience benefit and support a new set of skills that I want?”  For example, a friend of mine was in media sales and he wanted to transition to public relations.  It’s a talent to pitch skeptical reporters successfully and he knew PR was actually one type of selling.  He searched people on LinkedIn who have a background in PR and learned about Muck Rack Academy which is a free PR certification course. At 56, he co-founded a media company focusing on healthcare and became their VP of Communications.  He was able to make the connection between sales and public relations and knew having his sales experience would translate perfectly. Creating a roadmap by answering the question, “What steps are needed to make that transition?” will lead to a more successful outcome.

Your Networks are (likely) More Influential

Midcareer professionals tend to have a resource-rich network. Why does this matter?  Your network will have access to other people who are experts in their field and may be willing to help you, join you, or be an advisor.  It’s just as important to network with younger professionals as well and to help others and introduce them to others when it makes sense.  Using platforms such as and Shapr are some easy ways to do this during the pandemic.

As Emily Oster, a Brown University economist said in the New York Times recently, “A downturn is an opportunity to revisit inefficiencies.” And the coronavirus is likely to cause a much larger version of this phenomenon than a typical recession.  

What if I Fail?

Many companies actually search for people who have created their own companies because they realize they value that type of mindset. As Andy Chan wrote in his Medium article, “Why You Should Hire a Former Entrepreneur”, “... an individual with such a mindset will experience — if encouraged — a push for innovation, which can especially work well for organizations that underscore continuous R&D, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking...The key is that innovation is easier when there are people on board with entrepreneurial mindsets.” So although it might seem counterintuitive, illustrating initiative and showing your body of work is impressive to many enlightened employers - even if the company doesn’t take off.

Entrepreneurship Without the Risk

It’s not always feasible to take the leap into the unknown and start a company. If innovation is something that drives you and you’re currently working for an employer, it could be an ideal time to explore becoming an “intrapreneur”.  Intrapreneurs are people in the company whose job is to promote innovation and make improvements on processes. If your company embraces new ideas and is open to failure, it’s a perfect opportunity to experiment and illustrate how something new could help streamline, save money, and/or increase revenue.  

A few approaches:

  • A Pitch:  Present your idea with leadership as a proposal on why you’d like to pursue it and how it could make a positive impact for your employer.  If you show insight, initiative, and plant the seeds for something that could take off within your organization, it would most likely be seen as positive.
  • Leverage your Company’s Resources:  If there is no intrapreneur program and your employers are not receptive to innovation, find alternatives. There might be training opportunities in skills like public speaking, WordPress, HTML, or graphics, that could help your company.  Offer to give a presentation to others on your team about what you learned. If they have a learning and development budget (L&D), by all means take advantage of it and increase your skills.


Reviewed & Recommended:

Book:  Why Bother? Discover the Desire for What’s Next by Jennifer Louden

Midlife career change – 3 reasons smart people like you stuck

Entrepreneurs Get Better with Age

5 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Careers at Midlife and Triumphed

5 Ways to Know You’re Ready to Start Your Own Company

5 Ways to Know You’re Ready to Start Your Own Company

There are lots of articles out there focused on what it takes to start a company. Most of these focus on things like ‘you’re passionate about your idea’, or ‘you have a solid business plan’. I’d like to provide a slightly different look at some of the aspects that people don’t talk about when it comes to deciding on whether or not to take the plunge:

Know Who You Are

This may sound a little fluffy, but in my experience, this is perhaps the most important question, maybe even more important than whether you have a good idea. Without knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you won’t know what resources and complementary skills you’ll need to bring on board, and if your idea has a high chance of remaining just a good idea.

How do you know who you are? Ask trusted people, both personal relationships and professional connections. Think back through past performance reviews and social feedback. Successful founders need to have the right blend of confidence and humility: without introspection and self-awareness, you won't have a reasonable sense of your skills and how you can move your idea forward.

You Have a Growth Mindset

Yes, growth mindset is trendy, but it’s also dead-on-point. A huge part of founding a company is having an unflinching ability to turn hardship into learning; to look past setbacks and think about how you’ll do it differently tomorrow.

Remember that having a growth mindset is NOT about always being positive, working hard, and praising or rewarding effort. It’s about turning experiences - good and bad - into growth. In addition, as a founder, you’ll need to lead and inspire others. Help them see that you have the ability to turn experience into movement forward, even if you take a few steps or sideways on the way. Dr Carol Dweck professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote a book called "Growth Mindset" and if you have felt stuck for several years, it's eye-opening.

In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than thinking, ‘Oh I'm going to reveal my weaknesses’, you say, ‘wow, here's a chance to grow’."

Dr. Carol Dweck

You Have a Support Network

As I’m sure you’ve heard before, starting a company is hard. Really hard. You’ll need people ready to pick you up, or call you out when you’re headed down the wrong path. Your support network should have a mixture of people who are ready to remind you that you’re special and courageous, as well as those who won’t be afraid to tell you you’re wrong.

You’re Certain that Uncertainty Doesn’t Scare You

This one ties back to having a growth mindset, but it’s worth calling out on its own. The one thing you can be certain of is that you’ll face many moments of uncertainty. Embracing that uncertainty, and developing strategies for managing through uncertainty, is critical for navigating the different twists and turns you’ll take as you launch your business. Think back over your experiences at work and in your personal life. If you see evidence of embracing and working through uncertainty, that’s a good sign.

You Don’t Have a Clear View of the Finish Line

This one may seem counterintuitive. Don’t get me wrong: when you get in front of your first potential investor, you better have an air-tight story for different potential exits for your business if you plan to raise money. But the reality is that the real finish line for your business will look quite different from what you imagine now. Imagine multiple finish lines, and understand what are the signs you’ll see along the way to help you know which ones you’re headed towards and which ones you’re heading away from. 

A good friend of mine, Dr. Peter Scoblic, recently published a great article in the Harvard Business Review on strategic foresight. One of the pillars of his approach is imagination. If you love imagining possible futures, then bring that same practice to your new business. It’s easy to get consumed in the day-to-day stresses when you start a company. Your imagination will serve you well as you navigate the uncharted waters of starting a new venture.

Startup Curious? Take A Startup Course

Startup Curious? Take A Startup Course

A friend said to me, “What are you waiting for? Just go for it.” 

If you want to validate your business idea and go beyond reading about startups, one way is to apply for startup courses provided by what are called  “incubators”.  Some programs last a few months and it’s a great way to figure out how to get started and if you have a viable solution.  If you’re an underrepresented Founder (female, a veteran, person of color), you are especially encouraged to apply.  Why?  Because the world needs more people who have a different perspective and who see gaping problems that others may not see.  It’s a chance to have a spot at the table and to make an impact. There are loads of startup courses available (TiE Bootcamp, Founders Gym, Kauffman FastTrac, Techstars are a few). 

Read everything you can about things that interest you.  Not only about startup founders but also about business news and read as much as you can about trends.  In order to gain more insight about what it’s really like to put yourself out there and take the leap, read the book, “Lost and Founder”, by Rand Fiskin.  It’s brutally honest, exciting and humbling all rolled into one.

Here are a few things I learned during my TiE XL Bootcamp experience:

  1. Honest Feedback.  Some people thought my idea was terrible. Others thought it was disruptive and awesome.  Embrace all the feedback and keep going.  When one advisor challenged a student and asked him hard questions, he never returned to class.  And that was on day three. 
  1. Expect a Rollercoaster. I’d go from delusions of grandeur to crippling self-doubt on repeat a thousand times.  I’m told this is normal.
  1. Do your homework.   I had access to really bright advisors and took every opportunity to ask them questions.  Practice.  When they say the pitch is only 5 minutes, they mean it.
  1. You will not sleep soundly.  I wondered if I was meant to be on this path and couldn’t sleep.  If you are thinking about quitting a full-time job to be “all in”, expect even fewer REM moments. 
  1. Put yourself out there. I’m a firm believer that magic happens when you go outside the lines.  Do all the scary things. Meet interesting people and have no regrets.

People of all ages are starting companies.  When applying for a startup incubator, remember that the judges do not care how old you are when you apply.  They want good ideas and want to hear you articulate a problem you are passionate about and how you’ll move forward towards a solution.

Also, older founders tend to be more successful.  A 2018 study* found the “batting average” for creating successful firms rises dramatically with age. “A 50-year-old founder is 1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30-year-old founder” the research concluded. 

If you’ve always been startup curious, midlife is a great time to start.

*Source: by MIT, Northwestern and the Census Bureau Center for Research

"Fuzzy" and over 50?

"Fuzzy" and over 50?

How a non-tech professional can launch a tech business

Have you ever wanted to solve a big problem using technology but felt it wasn’t possible because you don’t have any technology skills?  You’re not alone.  My friend, Jennifer, had an idea for a technology business but never thought she’d be able to get it off the ground since she was an English Literature major and worked in sales for 25 years.  She decided to plow ahead anyway.  Stanford University entrepreneur business school coined the term “Fuzzy” to describe a person who lacks any kind of technology background founding a tech company. Fuzzy founders include Brian Chesky of Airbnb and Katelyn Gleason, the Founder of Eligible, who was a theater major before building a successful healthcare tech platform.

 "It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing” commented Author Scott Hartley of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World.  He explained, “Fuzzies are helping to bridge divides between specialties, making unexpected connections between problems and the technological means of addressing them and building the cross-functional teams required to pursue the most promising areas of innovation.”

More technology companies are realizing how critical it is to have people with a liberal arts background working in technology in order to develop automation and artificial intelligence through an ethical process.  Companies such as HP have talked about being confronted by their liberal arts employees because of ethical or safety issues pertaining to the implications of using artificial intelligence.  Many non-tech employees who work in ethics in AI for example have a background in either anthropology, psychology, or sociology.  HP and other companies recognize that engineering employees should not be the only ones making impactful AI product decisions and often bring in employees who have a humanities background as well.

No Developer & “No Code” = No Problem

Even though you might need a developer to fully realize your product vision, you can still create a professional and interactive first draft of a technology idea without technology chops. By using what is called “no code” tools, there are several applications that allow you to build a tech product for lay people who are not developers. Jennifer took the initiative to ask her tech-savvy friends about productivity tools and figured out what she’d need in order to map out her idea.  She learned how to use Slack, Trello, AirTable, and, ultimately, Figma to create a professional sketch to illustrate her idea. Each of these tools is free for a basic version.  Whether they are used to create your own business or you want to ramp up your technology skills for your resume, learning a new tool is a great way to build your knowledge, skills, and relevance in a quickly changing market. Search online to find and watch the free tutorials available for the tools you need. Although she was reluctant at first, Jennifer quickly learned how easy many of them are to use. If she can do it, So can you.