"Critical for startup success": Design thinking during the entrepreneurial journey

3 min read
20 Feb 2019

tartups can run into problems in the early stages if they don’t take the time to understand their customers’ needs or clearly define the problem they’re attempting to solve. Sebastian Müller, cofounder and COO of MING Labs, offers his advice on how companies can steer themselves in the right direction using a design thinking approach.

“At its very core, design thinking is really just a toolkit,” Sebastian tells Startup Guide.

“It’s a collection of methodologies and useful tools that can be applied in various stages of the entrepreneurial journey to ensure that a product or service is solving problems for real people,” he adds. “From our point of view, this is a critical element for startup success.”

Sebastian explains that in the early stages, when startups are focused on transforming their idea into a product or service as quickly as possible, they often overlook crucial aspects of the business that can lead to suboptimal solutions and affect their strategy in the long run.

For instance, they may not have made the effort to actually try to understand their target customers’ needs or may not have clearly defined the problem they’re attempting to solve.

This is where a design-thinking approach, when done right, can come in to help founders better empathize with their customers and steer the company into a more impactful direction.

Cofounder of MING Labs, Sebastian Müller. Photo: Startup Guide

For startups that want to apply design thinking in their business, Sebastian shares three important pillars of this approach: At the very beginning of the process, it’s crucial to understand your customer and gain insight into their problem.

“Start by getting out of the building and interviewing at least ten target customers. Learn about their needs, pain points, motivations and behaviors,” he says. “Founders are often projecting themselves when creating customer personas, which can lead to flawed assumptions. It’s important to speak to people face-to-face and verify your assumptions.”

The next step is to carve out time to describe the problem in a way that creates the most value. Although it sounds like a simple task, it’s actually incredibly challenging to do it right. Not only does the problem statement need to be customer-centric, it should be specific enough that it can be addressed, but not so specific that it sounds like a prescription.

“This part is really tough,” Sebastian says. “For some of our shorter design projects, defining the design challenge is half of the project because the way you talk about a problem, in fact, frames the kind of solutions that are possible.”

The main thing is to get customer feedback throughout the entire prototyping process to test your assumptions and validate your ideas.

Once you have a clearly defined a problem, it’s all about developing ideas and prototypes. “A prototype can be anything from a product brochure to a sales presentation or role play,” he says.

“The main thing is to get customer feedback throughout the entire prototyping process to test your assumptions and validate your ideas. This will help you reduce risk during the production process and gain clarity about your direction, as well as help you when talking to investors.”

MING Labs is a global digital venture builder that places a strong focus on UI and UX design and regularly utilizes design thinking when working with startups and corporates.

Founded in 2011, MING Labs now has offices in Singapore, Shanghai, Berlin, Munich and New York. The team has a strong design-thinking background and works across strategy, design, development, launch and support.

The company works with digital innovation units from notable brands, and their clients include BMW, BOSCH, Lufthansa and Siemens.

Additionally, the team works with startups such as BottlesXO and Pumperlgsund to further develop their ventures in a partnership that sees MING Labs taking equity in the company, which significantly reduces the cash portion.

“For us, digital innovation and transformation are two sides of the same coin,” says Sebastian.

“Since we work with both corporates and startups, where the corporates are looking for startups to collaborate with or buy, and startups are looking to team up with corporates to expand their customer base, our business can be very complimentary for both parties."

This article is published in Startup Guide Singapore, which is set to launch in March 2019.

Main photo: Bady_qb/Unsplash