How to build successful products? Steve Blank, well-known author of books like the startup owner´s manual or the 4 steps to the epiphany knows it and summarized one central pre-condition for this in one sentence: “Go out of the building”.
Well – we did it and went in our second week of our Social Impact Net project out of the building to learn more about social entrepreneurs and their challenges and motivations. And which location in Germany would be better for this at the moment than Berlin – the “German Silicon Valley”?
With a lot of help from our project partner iq consult we planned and did over 25 interviews with social entrepreneurs in different phases during their founding process, with coaches and various experts helping them and with colleagues from iq consult to better understand their needs, wishes and current way to work and live. We were well prepared for this as we had both visual and “standard” questionnaires with us. Not to follow them step by step but more to have a framework of interested topics. As most of the team did never before real user interviews and user observation this was also very helpful for them during the first interview sessions. The goal was “getting empathy” for them – and therefore not the “what” was really interesting but the “how”. One interview took us in average 90 minutes and the collected information fill now a lot of pages in our notebooks.
But we learnt a lot: e.g. about the big benefit to have a “real” workspace instead of “offices” in the kitchen or a public library. Or how important an ongoing communication and exchange with other (potential) founders is – to develop the own idea further, to create a business plan out of it or to even merge with other founders and entrepreneurs to even run better with “joined forces”. Besides such really concrete topics we got also a much deeper understanding in the general problems the social entrepreneurship has to solve (in Germany): How to to get venture capitalist into the game? How to overcome the very “innovation unfriendly” and “historical” structures in the German “Wohlfahrslandschaft”?
We talked also to several experts and networker in this area helping social entrepreneurs to get connected and to support also the importance of this topic on a real global level. We discussed what a (social entrepreneurship) community is needing to “get alive”, how to combine offline and online events and capabilities down to concrete technological challenges like secure document sharing or virtual coaching sessions between coaches and entrepreneurs.
Interesting for us was also the clear need for the (social) entrepreneurs to get more technology support as most of them are not the typical “nerdy” Internet startup guy but more a “technology free” social person, who is motivated to “improve the world” in some way. They have ideas for this but (perhaps too) often no understanding if and how this idea could be realized technology-wise.
Besides that we observed a lot and get inspired but visiting well-known centers of collaborative working during the founding phase. The betahaus was on our list for sure and also the rallypad and the Telecom creation center, where we also get insights how such an idea and innovation hub could be integrated into the corporate reality of a big enterprise.
And we went to the place where design thinking was started in Germany some years ago – the d.school, the school of design thinking at the Hasso-Plattner-Institute (HPI). We had the pleasure to discuss with Claudia Nicolai, who is leading the school, about corporate design thinking reality and we took the opportunity to start our synthesis in a one-day story-telling day in the team-spaces of the d.school.
And yes – we did it again. We did warmups. Our tip of the day is for sure some iimprovisation dance in the morning which helps to come “into the mood”.
Berlin was great. We learned a lot and the next challenge is to bring together all the knowledge we collected and to find the “golden nuggets” during a first iteration of synthesis and ideation we planned for the next weeks. Which we by the way plan and run in sprints of two weeks – with regular reviews with our customer and our users – the social entrepreneurs and their coaches. Keep you posted …