For this series of entries, I will be explaining the steps I take in developing my startup during my placement year at the Northumbria Business Startup Hatchery. This entry is a reflective summary of my achievements and the difficulties I have encountered, in the form of a quarterly report. This includes identifying new skills or competencies I have acquired as well as explaining which existing ones I have applied or developed. To conclude I will explore areas for improvement, plans and actions for further work (e.g. learning, tasks, projects, etc.) which will inform my action plan for competencies and activities for the following quarter.
Achievements & Difficulties
During this past quarter, I have worked through the business model canvas, utilising the and lean startup methodologies. This gave me multiple ideas to explore as I look to develop a virtual reality (VR) focused startup.
My main focus at the start of the quarter was to begin prototyping a VR product using the knowledge gained from The Art of Game Design and AGILE Game Development with SCRUM. I used this to help me practice and measure self-management of my time, as well as my ability to apply innovative solutions to overcome the limitations of working alone. This exercise helped me identify the need to expand my business before continuing to produce a quality product using my own intellectual property. Using my network of contact across the north of England I then tried to enlist the help of developers who would be willing to collaborate with me. However, getting people to seriously commit without any funding was beyond my ability.
Not disheartened, I have continued to attend industry relevant networking events and have sought advice from wherever I could take it. I spoke to founders of similar businesses who a focused on VR to improve my awareness of the local business landscape, which gave me insight into ways existing businesses were taking advantage of me VR. I also contacted the event organiser for VRTGO, the largest local VR-focused event, to try and see what opportunities there were for me to get involved with businesses in their cluster. These exchanges led to me becoming more proactive in my approach to seeking freelance work, as their advice was generally to sell the benefits of VR and market my knowledge and experience of developing for it to potential clients.
My ability to communicate concisely with the large businesses I was targeting quickly became an apparent weakness, so I refocused my efforts to target a wider target market, including smaller businesses and educational institutions who were already invested or involved in VR. Approaching this pool of clients eventually paid off and I managed to get responses from the Northumbria University Virtual Reality and Visualisations (VRV) studio, the Gateshead College games department, as well as a local retailer and former employer, Grainger Games. Discussing their needs and expectations with them, in turn, started to develop my ability to communicate my potential value more effectively, and this ultimately led to agreements around products and services I could offer.
With Grainger Games the goal was exploring a pivot in my potential customer segment, that is, working for them (business to business) to demonstrate, promote and subsequently sell VR hardware to their customers, through the use of in-store demonstrations. Desperate for a foot in I agreed to run a free trial to promote my service. This proved successful for them, increasing their orders for VR hardware which had been almost stagnant before. However, this ultimately backfired for me as by providing the service for free I failed to validate whether they were willing to actually pay for it; a cornerstone in the methodology I was trying to practice. So when I was asked to extend the service to more stores for them, I found that they ended up backing out as soon as I tried to negotiate a price for my service.
I feel that I have directly learnt from my mistake. Though, I am glad to have followed the lean methodology best I could, in the fact that I was able to provide the service at a low risk, thus reducing the impact on my resources. However, with a desire to succeed and experience under my belt, I believe I may be able to use this opportunity to approach other potential clients, such as GAME.
Overall, I feel the activities undertook in this quarter have positively developed my long-term professional image. Be it through the pro bono work I did for the Northumbria University VRV, to transitioning my website from a solely personal portfolio page into a startup landing page, complete with an active blog; where I included coverage of the events I’ve attended and written about my initial success with the VR demonstrations I held. I’ve also made sure to fill any downtime between projects by producing my own business cards and attending relevant talks and workshops, such as learning search engine optimisation at the Google Digital Garage and learning about protecting my intellectual property at the Business & IP Centre.
Late in the quarter, I acquired valuable co-working space at the university’s business hatchery, which gave me a city centre base of operations that could act as a springboard for rapid idea testing, collaboration with other like-minded student entrepreneurs and networking hub. Through this, I have not only increased my awareness of the business opportunities available to me, but I have also been able to make myself get noticed. For example, during the entirety of the quarter, I had been applying for relevant freelance vacancies, which hadn’t garnered any responses. However, since being able to approach local businesses in the city with a more developed professional image, I have had two interested parties get back to me, which gives me more avenues to explore in the future. Going forward I will now be looking into developing my startup through the exploration of products and services I can provide for educational institutions as well as hardware vendors/retailers. This will mean acting with integrity to continue chasing up leads and propositioning more businesses, using the knowledge I have learnt so far to help me make better decisions.
New knowledge and skills learnt:
- Professional networking in person and online
- Researching and propositioning potential clients
- Event planning, management and evaluation
- How to analyse cost and price my products and services
- Marketing strategies and intellectual property rights
Existing knowledge and skills being applied and developed:
- Lean and AGILE business practices
- Project planning and delivery
- Animation and video editing
- Negotiation, collaboration and communication
- Developing a professional presence online
- User experience (UX) and feedback driven design
ACTION PLAN FOR THE NEXT QUARTER
- Create a professional web presence for my services to demonstrate the value of my services to the target audience.
- Secure regular paid work that can provide an income to sustain the business
- Complete a VR prototype that demonstrates my working knowledge and skills, that can be used to encourage potential clients and attract investment.
- Use this year’s experience as an opportunity to identify dissertation research topics, i.e.; find a problem within the field of VR which I can make the subject of my final year dissertation project.