Venture Design for entrepreneurs – think first, then act

Design and business. Two things that have more in common than you might surmise at first glance. Anyone toying with a good idea for launching a new product or service is often told to hit the ground running and go to market quickly, with the underlying idea being “just give it a try”. This involves a process of trial and error, and sometimes investments do not always have the desired results. Venture Design works the other way around. It requires you to stop and think, then develop an overall concept so you can launch your product to market with a substantial lead. 

Many entrepreneurs have yet to discover this method. “It’s a case of its being unknown and unloved. So we thought this was a good reason to choose Venture Design as the topic of the most recent Vlerick Venture Talks”, says Vlerick researcher Yannick Dillen. He is coordinating this new series of free inspiration sessions, where entrepreneurs share their insights with current students and alumni. For this session, he invited Peter Van Riet and Johan Van Mol, founders of the creative design agency Before the Wave. They explained the concept using a specific case.

Stop and think

Venture Design means applying the whole design mindset to a business context to arrive at a unique and innovative overall concept for your start-up. But this involves much more than the development of new products and services. Johan van Mol explains: “Together with the customer, we follow a programme that starts from a holistic approach that covers every aspect. A unique product or service experience, an attractive brand, a go-to-market strategy and a future-proof business model. Of course, we always start from the customer’s needs and experience. Our approach is also very ethnographic and is based on field studies and real-life observations. Although this type of approach requires you to slow down and think, we believe that a longer analysis phase has its benefits. What is the customer’s actual need and what should you offer to provide the best possible response to this need?

A crucial thinking phase

This slower approach definitely has its advantages”, Yannick Dillen confirms. “There are many people out there with good ideas, but there is a major and extremely crucial step between generating ideas and effectively selling a product or service. We have noticed that many start-ups tend to gloss over this aspect too quickly. In some cases they even skip this phase altogether. They develop a minimum viable product, which they tweak when they notice that it isn't performing as expected in the market. This has its risks of course. So it may definitely be worth your while in the long term to think about a number of vital questions first. What story do you want to tell? Which identity do you want to develop? How do your brand and the design of your products and services reflect this? Which distribution channels will you use to approach your customers? And finally, who is your customer?

Patience is a virtue

Can this make the difference between success and failure? “There are plenty of factors that have an impact on this, but I do think so, yes”, says Yannick. “You can only spend each euro once. If you look at a product like Yun (see insert) and decide to focus on sales through chemists, only to realise that e-commerce would have been a better option, then you will have lost a great deal of time and money. Some entrepreneurs are forced to abandon their venture because they run out of cash. If you start by thinking about the overall concept, you can at least be sure that the foundation is rock-solid and that the story behind your product or service is consistent. Even though it may be two years before you can actually launch it.”


So what is the best approach? “There’s something to be said for both approaches. Move fast and you can beat possible competitors with similar ideas to the chase. And the results are immediate and tangible. The downside is that you often end up having to test various approaches. If you take your time, on the other hand, you will be better prepared at the end of the process and have a stronger position to start from. Investing in a long preparatory phase can also save you a lot of money. What matters to me, however, is that entrepreneurs who are just starting out learn about Venture Design and realise that there is an alternative to a quick launch. This will enable them to make a well-thought-out choice right from the start.”

The YUN case - or how to use bacteria as an ally

Traditionally, dermatological problems such as acne and athlete’s foot are treated with antibiotics and antifungals. Tom Verlinden, the founder of YUN Probiotherapy, developed a foot spray, using good bacteria or probiotics, which restore and maintain the skin’s natural balance in a much gentler and less harmful way.

Instead of quickly launching and testing his product, he chose to think through the entire process from the product’s story and identity to the corporate style, packaging, distribution channels and business model, to develop a consistent and powerful overall concept. In addition to foot spray, YUN now also sells a complete line of skin care products, all based on the principle of good bacteria. 


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