Return to site

Want your business to thrive? Design it with a purpose.

· growth,design,business

By Roy Lamphier

I recently made a visit to San Francisco to unpack some learnings from our first year serving small businesses and to think about where to take our services in the year ahead. We had a lot of data around issues and behaviors, but that didn’t mean we knew exactly what kind of product or service these businesses needed. So to tackle the problem, we enlisted the help of some former IDEO folks to employ design thinking into our product design process. It turns out that design thinking is useful for a range of purposes, whether it is designing a product or crafting a business, and all the rage in a town known for rapid innovation and fast moving startups.

What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is a creative problem solving approach that involves the people you’re designing for at every step of the process. It asks you to set aside your own assumptions to learn about your users’ unique perspectives and needs. In our case, we were focusing on the small business owners and the challenges they were facing. Other businesses would focus on their customers and internal departments.

Every designer or company has a slightly different process for design thinking. Here’s a simple three-step approach we used: Learn, Ideate, Try.

We started by learning. We used the feedback we had received from small business owners engaged in our challenges and interviews. We sought out different customers and had countless coffees and informational meetings. We did a great deal of outside research.

We learned from this first round of discovery that the pain points that a small business owner felt varied as they grew. Pros seemed to encounter new problems when they went to scale, so there was a cyclical nature. There were also variations in urgency and level of confidence depending on where they were. That told us our solution would need to be more dynamic than a one size fits all approach. It also told us we needed to drill down to a specific issue or time point versus the whole lifecycle.

We also learned that a lot of people were interested in a better way. People were genuinely excited to share and we found that besides time, a big issue of being a business owner was that it's sometimes a lonely and draining experience. But we also discovered that when people had a chance to re-engage their initial vision (which was usually something different than get rich) they tended to bring new energy to their work.

Next, we ideated. Our team had several brainstorms, including a big-picture, visionary brainstorm where we asked questions like, “What does it look like in 3-5 years if EA is the most badass, life changing, entrepreneurial resource”. We also held a more specific brainstorm where we asked, “What initiatives do we want to implement right now that would make the biggest impact and most exemplify what we wanted to achieve?”

Those brainstorms generated a bunch of ideas. Many of these ideas may never come to fruition, but it was a terrific way for our team to get on-board and share in the thinking of where we want to go and how we want to get there.

Finally, we tried. The “try and test quickly” sentiment was what we wanted to take into our product design process. How could we understand if our assumptions about small business pain points were valid and our solutions valuable? How might we lean into this clumsy process to define and grow the grow our service in an authentic way, with our small business customers at the center of the problem solving process? If done right, these folks will become our core group of users and the catalyst for our growth. The key is to design small, lightweight pilots and test quickly before building. We focused on not building for scale until we knew we were building the right thing.

Some Key Takeaways
1) Embrace a messy process.

It's okay to iterate on initiatives and not have a comprehensive solution straight away. Remember, if someone had it nailed, you would just copy it. Innovation is doing something new and it can be messy.

2) Include a team and embrace different perspectives.

Design thinking is about process, not about craft. Talk it out with your team. Create fun ways to test hypothesis. Invite folks to brainstorms.

3) Do what works for your organization.

Problems varies and cultures differ. We present one application of design thinking, but you can use this design process to develop your own unique and innovative solutions.

Once you have a deeper understanding of the problem and people you are solving for, you can generate a bunch of ideas based on what you learned. Go big. Explore all your possibilities. No idea is too big, too small, or too bad. Design thinking asks you to set aside your own assumptions to learn about your users’ unique perspectives and needs.

Treat ideas as tests to figure out what’s working and what’s not working. It’s okay to be wrong (yes, we mean it!). You want to learn from the things you tried and then iterate on the ideas by continuing the cycle.

Roy Lamphier is Founder and CEO of Excelerate America, the ultimate resource for entrepreneurs. Roy's passion for entrepreneurship, tech and helping small enterprises succeed are central to the Excelerate America ethos. If you'd like to share your thoughts on design thinking, or to share your business' approach, shoot him an email at

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly