5 Reasons Design Sprints Are PERFECT For Start-ups

Let’s not sugar coat it. Running a start-up is hard work. Long hours, short timescales, managing stakeholder relationships and maximising limited resources mean that 90% of start-ups fail in the long run. Not good reading right?

Making the most of your time and setting yourself up for success are the cornerstones of a well run start-up. After all, putting your time into coding an idea straight away is a recipe for high costs and wasted time, especially if you don’t know if your customers will resonate with your concept.

Luckily, Design Sprints are the perfect tool for start-ups for a whole host of reasons.

Find out the reasons why start-ups should harness Design Sprints for a greater chance of success below.

Jump to section:

  1. Sprints are fast and time constrained
  2. Sprints make failure okay
  3. User feedback is gathered early (de-risks launches)
  4. Sprints align your team to an objective
  5. Design Sprints are repeatable

Why are Design Sprints perfect for start-ups?

1. Sprints are fast and time constrained

A study of 101 start-up post-mortems found that multiple reasons were cited for the failure of a start-up. In 29% of cases (2nd highest), the start-up ran out of funds to keep the company going (Statista, 2017).

With a set amount of investment or fundraising opportunities, using your team’s time efficiently is crucial to getting your amazing product to market before investment, investor confidence or momentum runs out.

This often leads to two approaches:

  1. You could practice a traditional, unconstrained design process, which could take months of endless meetings, back and forth but get the product right by the end. This would result in a lot of cost due to design and testing dragging along the way and you may have missed your window as your competitors have caught up.
  2. You could cut straight to development as soon as the first prototype has received positive feedback. This means you can get to market quicker, but can mean your concept isn’t fully formed and falls flat once it’s reached the mass market.

Design Sprints offer start-ups the speed of validating solutions to big problems fast at a lower part of the product cycle and at a lower cost.

Using Design Sprints start-ups can produce testable concepts in as little as a week, with the time constrained format keeping pressure and focus on the project throughout to deliver the best results.


A Design Sprint in action

We think this [design sprints] is especially valuable for startups because typically you've raised a certain amount of money which buys you a certain amount of runway.

You have a certain amount of time to prove that you have product market fit to prove that the thing that you're making is the right thing for some customers.

And so the faster you can do that, the more quickly you can find out if you're on the right track...

2. Design Sprints make failure okay

If you ask any entrepreneur if their first idea was executed perfect first time, the resounding answer would be “no”. James Dyson, founder of global vacuum company Dyson, had even stated that he’d had 5,127 attempts at a prototype for a bagless vacuum cleaner before getting it right.

Failure can be okay if the circumstances are right and you can take something away with you.

Ultimately, Design Sprints are about creating momentum, favouring taking action over getting things absolutely perfect first time.

Now, running a Design Sprint doesn’t mean that start-ups can run them and not feel inclined to try. The Sprint will not do the work for you, but Design Sprints can help you gather vital user feedback from your audience early in the product lifecycle, whether that’s good or bad.

By testing your prototype at the end of a Sprint, you can find out how investors, customers or your target audience react to your prototype before you spend a penny on development. Is it usable? What do they like? What do they dislike?

If the feedback is positive and you want to continue exploring the idea, a Design Sprint can be a great foundation to launch into the next step.

If they didn’t like the product, don’t see a use, or have feedback, you can take this back to your team and regroup to take their ideas or concerns onboard, e.g. testing shows our product isn’t easy to navigate, how can we improve on that?

A single Design Sprint doesn’t need to affirm your product is what it should be, just that you know where you need to go from here to make the product your customers will eventually love.

3. User feedback is gathered early (de-risks launches)

Remember how we mentioned running out of cash was the 2nd most cited reason for start-up failure? Number one was ‘no market need’ (42%).

This is the hardest reason to take. Putting all your time, money and energy in, only for it to fall flat once it hit users because it didn’t fulfill a need, the utility wasn’t there, or maybe you were just too early to market.

In many cases, a lack of user research and an understanding of the target audience can lead teams to isolate themselves in thinking what’s best for customers, rather than what customers have said they want, focusing on their own ideas until they’ve launched the product to a mild reception.

Design Sprints try and limit this risk by using expert insights from your team and by gathering user research by the end of the week. This means that the Sprint will be influenced by what your marketing team have seen through market research, what your support team have received from customers as pressing issues, and what sales are hearing directly from customers.

This then plays a part in ideation and prototyping until the idea is validated against real customers, helping gather research before committing to more costly activities like development and marketing, de-risking the chance of failure at launch dramatically.


4. Sprints align your team to an objective

A 2017 study showed that only 15% of workers are engaged in their work, showing a desire to do just enough to get through the day. This isn’t ideal for a start-ups as you can imagine. Start-ups need to energise teams to go the extra mile and know their work is directly contributing to company success to maintain motivation and momentum.

Emphasis on team alignment can be a remedy for this. Team alignment is the extent to which different departments and roles communicate and collaborate to achieve a set of wider goals or objectives. Better alignment also equates to a greater likelihood of buy in from team members, building commitment to the shared vision and the end goal.

How well aligned your team is matters, with 97% of employees believing a lack of alignment influences the outcome of a project.

In the context of a Sprint, rather than working on your own or in your silo, you can work as part of a multi-disciplinary team that have different experiences and issues to address. Support for example could say we’re taking 40% of queries by phone, how can we minimise it? Marketing could say user research suggests it takes to many steps to get to this one stage. How can we streamline it?

By working collaboratively through Sprints, start-ups can come together to solve problems faster, with greater motivation, and with different perspectives than they could have ever done alone.

5. Design Sprints are repeatable

The final benefit for start-ups is that Design Sprints are repeatable. Benefits mentioned earlier in points 1 and 2 (the speed and ability to make mistakes faster), make Design Sprints ideal for iteration and continuing the product’s evolution.

Although committing a block of time to an objective can be daunting with other business activities going on, the benefit is that you won’t be creating pockets of time over the course of weeks and months where this time would otherwise make up. Time is invested straight away.

As the first Sprint is often centred around the core functionality, repeating the process can refine your ideas and screens, while also giving an opportunity to build out the rest of your product through the same methodology and expert input.

Knowing how many iterations to take though is dependent on your company, objectives, budget and time. An article from Medium discussed how you could calculate product iterations, with fewer being an obvious red flag.

It’s should also be noted that having iterated the product before launch and gathered feedback is positive for investors. Through every iteration, they can see that the product has been tested on multiple occasions with a target audience before being built, instilling greater confidence in key stakeholders.

Let’s get Sprinting!

PixelTree are an award winning UX Design Agency specialising in Design and Product Sprints. Want to hear more about what Sprints we offer? Check out our in-person Design Sprint, Remote Design Sprints, and Product Sprint pages.

To learn how you can run your own Design Sprint, download our Sprint guide at the following link.

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