DSV Week Two: Empathy in Design, Vintner’s Daughter, Carbon 3D

Brendan Quinlan/ June 4, 2018/ 2018

“Choose someone you hate. Now, put yourself in their shoes and reason why they would act this way.”

Many of the volunteers who took on this task at the start of class had a difficult time setting aside one’s emotional bias against the hated person.

Professor Azhar started our ethnography section of our course with this request. We learned that anthropological studies provided crucial data to understand the customers.

It was a transformative experience because it forced us to empathize with other people. You know, really REALLY put ourselves in another person’s perspectives and that is the core of what a business should do. Businesses have to understand every detail of what the customer wants, needs, feels, hates, and appreciates. The product should not solve a problem that is not validated by customers. This exercise was very useful in removing ourselves from the normal tendency to believe that we as a business know everything about the customers.

April Gargiulo, founder and CEO of Vintner’s Daughter, a skincare company, visited our class on May 31stto speak to us about her experience in the start-up field. The company is five years old and grew organically without any funding or marketing costs. She emphasized “brand over revenue” and how she wants to focus on making her one product to be a category-defining, game-changing product.

Her experience captivated the entire class. She started the company while she was pregnant believing that she could do anything as a mother. I was very intrigued by her intrinsic motivation. She was not motivated by money or glorious exit opportunities, but her passion and trust in the ability of her product to change lives. I believe in order to start a successful business, you have to have some sort of greater purpose and vision for the company.

She had a very unconventional way of running the company. She only has 11 employees and never spent any money on marketing. She rejects all investment offers in order to keep control of her company and maintain her vision, which is also very different from the goal of other Silicon Valley companies. She was not motivated by money at all. Most companies want global domination, or to be the next Facebook. Mrs. Gargiulo wanted to maintain organic growth, ensure high quality, and most importantly provide a game-changing product.

I realized how important it was to understand the gaps in the markets as well. The beauty industry is saturated with products made of cheap materials with high prices. Mrs. Gargiulo connected the need of the customer to maintain healthy skin with the desire of high quality, safe, effective products. I believe that connection is where her success lies.

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One of the most memorable company visit for me was Carbon Inc. Carbon Inc. was a revolutionary company. They were radically changing manufacturing with their 3D printing technology. What surprised me most about this company was definitely the technology. It felt like magic when they would pull the printed material out of the water, as if something was being created from nothing. As they told us about how the company started from a garage to an almost 300 person company today, we were all inspired to start our own ventures and pursue our dreams.

I felt as if Carbon Inc. was one of the most organized companies I have ever encountered. Everything was going at the optimal pace from manufacturing, business deals, and R&D. It appealed so much to me who loves organization and precision while passionate about the freedom to create any idea that comes to mind.

Duke in Silicon Valley has been a very rewarding program so far, and I have learned so much about how companies work and what they work for. It motivated me to eventually sit at one of these companies one day or even better make one of my own.


Mark Kang is a rising sophomore at Duke University studying Economics and Computer Science. He is interested in pursuing a career in product management and software engineering and eventually going into venture capital. He is the VP of Pledge Education for Delta Sigma Pi and a coach for Duke Tae Kwon Do.

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