Why The Design Sprint Is PERFECT For Every Startup

Let’s not sugar coat it. Running a startup is hard work. Long hours, short timescales, tricky stakeholder relationships and making the most of limited resources mean that 90% of startups 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 startup.

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 love it when it finally launches.

Luckily, design sprints are the perfect framework for startups for a whole host of reasons.

Read on for our top 5 reasons why every startup should be harnessing the design sprint framework for a greater chance of success.

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 should every startup know about the design sprint?

1. Sprints are fast and time constrained

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

With a set amount of investment or fundraising opportunities, you want your team running as efficiently as possible to get your product to market before investment, investor confidence and momentum, runs out.

This often leads to two approaches:

  1. You could practice a traditional, unconstrained design process – months of endless meetings, back and forth, but (maybe) getting what you think is right ready for build by the end.
  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 your concept isn’t fully formed and risking failing when it’s reached the market.

A start-up can use a design sprint to define problems all the way to testing realistic prototypes. Here's a workshop we held where teams defined problems as a team, prioritising their focus

While both of these methods are either inherently slow and/or extremely risky to a startup, a design sprint delivers rapid solution validation at an earlier stage of the product cycle, reducing costs while setting a fixed timeline for validation.

No more overrunning Gantt charts or budgets!


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 perfect first time, the resounding answer would be “no”.

James Dyson, founder of global vacuum company Dyson, said 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 learn something.

Ultimately, design sprints are about creating momentum, favouring fast action over endless fine tuning for a MVP.

Now that doesn’t mean a startup can run a design sprint and get the right answer. By the end of the week, you’ll have gathered vital user feedback from your audience early in the product lifecycle, whether that’s good or bad.

But that’s the benefit of a design sprint, it gives the startup a glimpse into the future before you make a more costly mistake.

  • Is it usable?
  • What do the target audience 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, the sprint has allowed you to reflect on feedback and refine the solution or go a different way entirely, 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. It just needs to inform your next decision and how you can make a product they’ll eventually love.

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

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 is the underlying cause, leading teams to isolate themselves in thinking what’s best for customers, rather than what customers have said they want.

The Design Sprint limits this risk by building in user testing at the end of the week.

By using problem definition, ideation and storyboarding exercises, an agreed prototype is then used with real users to approve or disapprove of the concept.

This not only allows you to refine concepts earlier at a less costly stage, but also avoids product failure at the most costly stage (between development and post-launch), reducing overall risk.


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 startup. Startups need to energise teams, empowering them to go the extra mile and know their work is meaningful 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, creates a shared vision/goal and results in better project outcomes.

In a design sprint, rather than working on your own or in your silo, you work as part of a multi-disciplinary team, sharing different experiences and the issues you need to address.

  • E.g. Customer Support could say we’re taking 40% of queries by phone, how can we minimise it?
  • E.g. 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 a design sprint, a startup can come together to solve problems faster, with greater motivation, and with different perspectives that they couldn’t have seen alone.

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.

5. Design sprints are repeatable

The final benefit a startup should know about the design sprint is that they 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 Design Sprint Guide at the following link.

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