How do you synthesize years of courses and experiences into one semester while still adding new value? The I&E Capstone did so through projects. From learning how to identify a problem to inventing and iterating solutions for it, we spent the semester working on projects that solve problems for others. My team’s journey was by no means linear, and through our experience, I learned how to think about innovation as addressing the “job to be done” and how fluid the entrepreneurial journey can be.
After working at a startup, innovating inside a corporation, leadership positions on innovative teams, and three courses on evaluating ventures, customer acquisition, and creating benefit for others, I knew innovation and entrepreneurship worked to address the needs of others. One of our first readings introduced us to the job to be done: customers have problems and the best solutions are those that solve them. Adopting this way of thinking when creating solutions guided my efforts throughout the course and shifted how I think about marketing. There’s no point in highlighting features or tech specs if they don’t speak to how your product solves your customer’s problem.
Many of my opportunities to design and evaluate potential solutions arose from the variability that came from our four-month entrepreneurial journey. At the beginning of the course, my team found that people don’t wash their reusable water bottles enough. From our interviews with potential customers, we learned that most people do not think of their own water bottles as unclean and thus only wash them every few weeks. In reality, reusable water bottles quickly accumulate harmful bacteria and should be cleaned far more frequently.
When we realized that people don’t think of this as a real issue, we decided to pursue a marketing campaign instead of a cleaning product. By informing water bottle users of the health concerns posed by a dirty bottle, we hoped to push them towards healthier habits. We were successful in creating this problem in their minds. However, people reverted to disposable water bottles instead of developing healthier habits.
In response, we returned to the “job to be done” way of thinking. The real problem wasn’t focused on water bottles—it was that people do not want to get sick, and they will not put forth extra effort for smaller tasks to do so. We addressed this job not with a marketing campaign or a water bottle device, but with a subscription box that delivers wellness items when you need them. Over the course of one semester, we moved through three different solution stages to our problem before finding one that addressed the job well. I learned that entrepreneurship is rarely straightforward. It’s much better to iterate and make important realizations about your customer before you invest significant resources in a solution that hasn’t been tested. This course helped me rethink how people solve their problems, and as a result, how my entrepreneurial work should fit that process.
You can find my team’s final project presentation here. We pitched our subscription box, focusing on our journey with the problem we identified. We ultimately came to a solution that was congruent with human behavior, instead of trying to change it completely. We worked together to brainstorm the product itself. My work focused on the research on market size and the narrative arc of the verbal portion of the presentation.