Design Thinking for Startups

Startups are a leap of faith, faith that my business idea solves problem/s for the target market & market is willing to pay for it.

Many of these leaps of faith land fair & square at the desired target, however a majority don’t.

A quick study of reasons for failure to land points out that – the problem was not validated; the solution wasn’t accepted are the topmost reasons.

We believe that using design thinking early in the process – can improve the probability of success. Yeah! probability – it’s still a leap of faith

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
– Albert Einstein

We will stick to problem space ( Empathize & Reframe steps only) and walk thru the steps. For an overview of design thinking, please see here

So, let’s begin with the goal of a startup, as Eric Ries says in his book Lean Startup.


“Is to figure out the right thing to build – the thing that customers want & are willing to pay for – as quickly as possible”


Key is to figure out what they really want – NOT – what they say they want or what we think they should want

How does one find out – “what they really want” ... let's start.

Collaborative process 

This is a collaborative process – so, involve the team. No team? No worries, get friends, acquaintances are better (Friends are many times like you and have the same biases), family (get different generations in the play)

“If they don’t disagree with you, they probably have the same biases, as you”

Preliminary Steps 

  1. Start with your business idea & what problems do you think it solves, go on, list them. Let people do this on Post-its.

  2. Next, which customer segments, do you think this problem relates to? Who would be willing to pay for your solution

  3. Rank the customer segments, according to the severity of the problem they face OR alternatively what’s the appeal of the idea for them


Story Talking sessions (Interviews)

Let’s go out and do some interviews…. I like to call them story-talking sessions … why not interviews – well in interviews we have biases for the answers we expect and are in a hurry to get to them …. In interviews, we want to decide, here we want to listen, suspend judgment, we won’t put words in their mouth. More tips

Take a team member along with you to places where you would find the target customers, talk to them – this is not a survey, so ask open-ended questions. One may converse and the other may be the scribe.

We are doing this to:

•    Gain empathy for the user - figure out what drives user’s behavior

•    Uncover latent needs – find unmet needs

•    Be surprised – notice the differences between what they say, do

•    Tag the user – early adopter or late adopter

Now let’s go back in a room with the team

Empathy Map

Use the empathy map canvas – get the team around you and start to use post its. You may use the questions in the map below as a guide to deriving questions for the interview. The team members should talk about what they saw, heard, expressions …other team members question and then add it on to the map.


You may end up making quite a few maps, basis the segments of people you met. For this initial pass through pick the one/few that you feel, would be the first one to buy your product

Empathy Map Canvas Dave Gray

This empathy map is by Dave Gray ... get more info on how to and download from here.

When shall we consider that the empathy map is done – When you / third party can easily relate to the persona, relevant to your product /service.

Define / Reframe

Now that we believe that we understand the customer – let's draft a POV statement, a point of view statement.

We are trying to refer to the empathy map and derive needs & insights.

Let's take an example first (to read this complete elaboration with the example - please read it here)


A brief persona that we are taking in the example (we discovered these thru interviews and empathy mapping)


Monica, a 30-year-old UX design professional, mother of one 3-year-old, works in an IT firm, & uses the metro (tube) to travel to & from office. Her house is 1.5 Km away from the station She is a go-getter, had taken a sabbatical when the child was born, now wants to balance family & work. She loves her work and feels that when she works on various social initiatives by contributing via better User experience. She is worried about her lack of exercise, due to long hours of sitting

Now Point of view statement

Monica, 30-year-old UX professional NEEDS a healthy way to commute BECAUSE she is worried about her lack of exercise and its effect on her health

Further elaboration to insight can be added as, pollution is a problem, so she doesn’t want to walk.


This particular POV statement could also with regular officer goers … their insight could be traffic, predictable commute times …

As we saw –

Step 1: Identify and personify the user

Step 2: what does the user need …we have to write this as a verb

Step 3: what’s the insight that we have gleaned from our empathy work


The format is pretty simple


< User> NEEDS <User’s need> BECAUSE <surprising need>


I like this video – to draft a good POV statement.

POV statement gives us a problem to solve. We were in the problem space – where we first empathized, understood the user, then defined a problem statement from the perspective of the user.

We can now move from the problem space to the solution space – does that mean we won’t come back to problem space – No. Design thinking steps are iterative. Empathy gained in step 1, can’t be dropped as we move to ideation, prototyping, and testing, the steps in solution space.

If you are a startup, reach out to us - let's discuss, how we can help you, use design thinking to not only validate your problem but also help you ideate, prototype & test.