Startups: Start with empathy

Startups: Start with empathy

I had the pleasure of sitting down one-on-one with Steve Chamberlain, senior innovation lead at IDEO’s Chicago office, while he was in town for a two-day JOLT session.

Steve feels that entrepreneurs and startups are not focusing enough on empathy. He says that startups should focus on their brand story right away—to answer the question of “why?”and that they should keep that story as a focal point while building their businesses. “The empathy piece is so overlooked and is often the most important thing you do,” he says.

Here is some advice for startups Steve shared with me during our conversation.

1. Anyone can be a designer.

Entrepreneurs should stop thinking of themselves as just engineers or developers, and should start looking at themselves as designers. They should be looking for the “whys” in the world.

There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on research and funding when a startup can get the same results from identifying clear insights early on in the creative process. It’s about testing early on to validate the behaviours you’re trying to change.

Start with design thinking, which is a way to get to ideas. Design thinking is often an afterthought rather than a core idea; however, design thinking should be the process and the story should be the result. The “how” and the “what” come from the original idea and they’re always based on observation, rather than just the technology that exists.

Founders need to have a real clear view of things to be able to bring a voice to their story and to what they’re doing. The brand story is just as important as the experience you’re building.

Steve Chamberlain, senior innovation lead at IDEO’s Chicago office, giving a lecture at JOLT
Steve Chamberlain, senior innovation lead at IDEO’s Chicago office, giving a lecture at JOLT

2. Build credibility with your users.

As you’re writing your brand story, there are several stories you’re telling as part of your experience. Steve explains that people lose that point of view: they lose the why of why they’re doing what they’re doing. Startups need to think holistically and need to develop a narrative that is just as compelling as the experience that they’re creating.

Do your own research. Go to the environment you’re trying to change and spend time with your potential users and customers. Learn from watching others and use your special knowledge to gain insights. It’s important to get out into the real world and to live in the shoes of your users and consumers in order to gain ideas from their experiences and to organize them.

3. Test often with rapid prototyping.

Startups should use rapid prototyping. It’s important to get feedback right away when building. Time is money and you lose time when you create products that are too polished. Do this throughout the entire startup process and iterate as much as you can. Keep testing.

Everything has insights tied to it. Get to failure faster. Failure is determined by making something, putting it in front of people and allowing them to see it, feel it, touch it and experience it on their own, so that you, the entrepreneur, can learn from their experiences.

4. Tell your story.

Startups should speak in the voice of their users. Spend more time observing the behaviours that you’re trying to change. Not many startups are currently doing this. You can’t design a truly groundbreaking experience without being observant.

Collect quotes that resonate with you in terms of what you’re trying to influence. That is the true vision of empathy.

Design thinking is integral to a brand, says Steve Chamberlain

Why bother doing all of this?

Having a clear point of view brings in empathy from users, consumers and the audiences you’re trying to reach. It helps you to find a clear direction, which is one of the most important steps for a startup. It’s easy to identify a business opportunity, but it’s not as easy to clearly identify what the point of difference might be, what experience you’re creating and what problem you’re solving.