Role of Mentor

Design and innovation are placed in the intersection of Business, Human Values, and Technology. in this beautiful Venn diagram. (Image credit: Stanford D-school)

Design and Innovation for product or service

Product or Service offered by any organization can use this formula of the three facets to ensure valuable innovation delivered. For a successful innovation, product or service needs to consider all these three parameters for sure.

  • Technical feasibility,
  • Business need, and viability,
  • And not to forget Usability and Desirability

Startup businesses should also to follow these three parameters for innovation

  • Technical feasibility = Technical capability
  • Business need, and viability = Business acumen
  • And not to forget Usability and Desirability = Design professional

By nature, most startup teams are lean and small, and sometimes even they lack the decades of market experience. Onboarding, Coaches or Mentors could definitely strengthen the three pillars of innovation for the startup organization.

I think an ideal startup team should have primarily these three skillsets, Technology, Business, and Design. I have met up with startup teams of 2 to 10, and sometimes even larger groups, depending on the maturity of their business. having at least one person having each of the skill will be a great way to start.

What kind of Coach is good for your startup?

Technology, Business, and Design are the three pillars of innovation, in my mind, a Coach should have a mastery over (at least) one pillar, from the above, and additionally should have an adequate understanding of the other two.

  1.  Technology Coach:

    • Professional who has a deep understanding of the technology involved, most relevant to your product or service. A Software or Cloud Architect, Web or mobile technologist, or an expert in specific cutting edge technology you are using for your solution like AI, ML, IOT and so on.
    • The technology Coach should surely have some basic understanding of how Business works and should be at least sensitive to human needs and design

  1. Business Coach:

    • Experience of doing business, mastery over the top business concepts, marketing, promotion, operations, management, and finance to name a few. Solid hands-on experience with either of the facets and of course a deeper sense of almost every aspect of the business is the way I will characterize the Business Mentor
    • Apart from being a guru in business, the Business coach should also know, just enough about technology, and primarily what to expect from specific technology.
    • People having decades of business experience, generally sensitive to design, and are aware of how to consume design.

  1. Design innovation Coach:

    • A Professional having solid hands-on design experience in appropriate fields of design. The coach should primarily be an expert in understanding the human needs, establishing a clear problem statement, and ability to envision solutions. Having knowledge of the matured iterative process of design and development is definitely a must-have skill. The buying decision today are influenced by the quality of experience the product or service offers, hence the coach should have adequate knowledge about the complete lifecycle of a user, or a customer.
    • In addition, having creative thinking skills, and user behavior understand is a huge plus.
    • Design coach needs to have adequate understanding and knowledge of business and technology

I have tried to formulate a brief characteristic of 3 types of coaches, those could be really useful. Depending on the skillsets in your own startup team, type of product you are developing, you should choose a Coach, or mentor who would bring on board specific expertise, and actually train your team members in his area of expertise.

An external coach brings in an outside-in perspective.

I think an external coach is like a teacher in the school. Sometimes, the parents love their kid so much that, they are not able to bring up the outside-in view, to evaluate and review his progress. Similarly, the external coach probably has seen many other startups and has a matured perspective of evaluating, criticising the product or service.

A frank upfront opinion, concern, if any about the problem space, or the scope of the solution or just the appropriateness of the solution could be easily judged with an outside-in view.

What to expect from the coach?

Experienced coach or mentor would have seen many product development cycles, for a variety of products and services, across industry types, and may be different maturity levels and scales.

Startup groups could expect following inputs from the coaches, depending on what stage of maturity your development is you could specifically ask the coach to focus on specific areas.

  1.  Evaluation and validation of the problem space, Understanding of users, customers, and what problems, pain points are they having.
  2. Evaluation and validation of the solution, whether a visionary solution which is not yet detailed out or a specific feature that addresses a very specific problem, try and get your solution validated by the coaches. Coaches are the best ‘bouncing boards’ to quickly share, new ideas, get feedback even before the development starts.
  3. Ideation, brainstormings, Coaches should be part of ideation for solutions, alternatives, and options. their wider experience would surely come handy
  4. Define, Validate technology used, Decisions if the appropriate available technology is used, from a technical and economic perspective.
  5. Define, validate the MVP of your product or service. prioritizing the right features for the entry in the market for better adoption.
  6. Define, evaluate the development process that you plan to have before even starting off the project. Coaches with tons of experience might be able to foresee some process challenges in advance.
  7. Evaluate your product prototypes, beta versions, Mentors could quickly validate concepts or designs. These validations will never replace the validations with the real users, but still,  experience does bring benefits.
  8. Revenue models and Product market pricing, and revenue models at large should be validated by an expert, startups today need to innovate and explore a variety of models instead of getting fixed on one from the beginning.
  9. Business model design, Get help in creating, modifying rethinking the business model for your product, or service. Decades of experience surely helps to see the big picture
  10. Hiring the right skills for your startup, get the mentors to evaluate the skill sets in your organization, and get their thoughts on what skill set will be needed for success.

Experienced Coaches could help almost every startup. selecting the right coach, or coaches might be a great idea, whether you are a new startup or a seasoned startup, with few years in the market.

Do share thoughts, comments if you agree, or disagree with anything I have stated above. Happy to have that conversation.