Do talk to strangers
As often happens in Startup Experience, the team members didn’t know each other beforehand. The teams are formed by the teachers to assure not only mutual interests but also diverse backgrounds in each group. This can make some students nervous, but we think a little nervousness is a decent price to pay for the new perspectives people from different backgrounds can bring into teamwork.
The group admits they were a bit worried at first too, but feel that they got really lucky with their team. “At first there were some challenges in communication since we’re quite different, but in the end, we worked really well together,” says Linda, who is studying Industrial Engineering and Management and has a background in renewable energy. “Diversity really paid off I think,” says Björn, who came to the course from working in supply chain management and logistics to learn more about entrepreneurship. “Our different backgrounds complemented each other more than clashed, which led to good results. I think we did more reflecting as a team as I’ve done in 20 years in working life.”
Alaa, who is doing his Ph.D. at Aalto University on building technology and construction and Daiyan, who’s studying material science as an exchange student, wholly agree. “Everyone did their job seriously, but not too seriously, and we managed to have fun too,” Alaa sums up.
Keeping it simple
Once they were all teamed up, it was time to find a problem to solve and start working on an idea. In Startup Experience, all teams must work on a problem related to the Sustainable Development Goals as defined by the United Nations. In their team, everyone had expressed their interest in SDG #3, Good Health and Well-being, so it was natural to start finding a problem from that area. Alaa already had an idea in mind about an app that would connect people through doing sports, and after voting between all the ideas they had, the team decided to start working with Alaa’s suggestion. “We wanted to contribute to both physical and mental wellbeing”, he says, “and making new friends while doing sports seemed like a perfect way to do it.”
Their solution — Pick ’n Play — is a platform that allows users to define a sports activity they’d like to do and find new friends to do said activity with. The team initially identified three user groups: people who are already into sports, people who are lonely and ex-athletes looking to get back in the game. They intentionally picked a simple idea even if it wasn’t that original. “If you want to play tennis with someone, the app finds you a partner — it’s that simple. We thought that’d make our lives easier in the ideation phase,” Björn says.
And right they were. “In the beginning, the other teams seemed to be working a lot more and having trouble, but not us,” says Daiyan. A simple idea gave the team more time to reflect, get to know each other, and really focus their efforts on the problematic parts. User surveys also proved easier to conduct when the product can be explained in one sentence. Of course, good things rarely last, and the team eventually ran into problems. After the first couple of pitches, the judges suddenly started stating out flaws in the team’s plan and giving quite critical feedback. “I felt they started to treat us like a real startup team and we no longer got off easy by being just students,” Björn says. And like a real startup team, they too took heed of the advice and made the necessary adjustments. “We got criticized for our ability to create a user base, so we simplified the concept and narrowed down our potential users to people who are already into sports,” Linda says. This way, the team could focus on one type of people and provide the best possible experience for them instead of trying to please everyone. In the end, they were praised for the very same elements that were criticized earlier. “Really shows how important it is to listen to feedback and be ready to make adjustments,” Björn says.