August 2020
Startup Ecosystem : Opportunity in Crisis
<a href="" target="_self">Jeevak Badve</a>
Jeevak Badve

Principal, and Director of Strategic Growth

If you’re a startup, an entrepreneur, or an intrapreneur in a big company, this is the best time to be you! The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on our economy, yes. However, we’re seeing a really exciting need and already an explosion of startups and entrepreneurs across industries in this time. Their ideas and products are the new currency for change and pivoting in this crisis. Startups have the agility and fresh perspective to react in the changing economic and social landscape in ways that few others do. It follows that larger companies who are having to pivot, try new things, and invest in the new areas are looking at startups and entrepreneurs as their “new hope” in many cases. As a studio, Sundberg-Ferar is very involved in our local and national startup communities, as well as with large enterprise companies too. We’re seeing this crisis only accelerate the role of startups in the flow of our economy through the conversations and projects we have with these businesses.

Aligning your product & business to survive the pandemic ecosystem – and beyond

But let’s face the grim market reality. Even in the US, one of the most innovation-advanced countries in the world, we have to admit that the odds are against startup success. 85% of startups in the US fail within the first 3 years! That’s a huge percentage of startups who don’t make it. At our studio, one of our goals is to do our part to change this statistic. We believe an important missing link in startup development is design, and specifically, industrial design thinking. This discipline encompasses looking not only at whether the product is “cool” or “good”, but also how the product aligns with the company’s business model and the other products within its ecosystem so that it can survive the gauntlet of the commercial forces. Looking at the product from these macro-level perspectives is so important for its success.

Humans tend to follow the path of least resistance; i.e. humans are lazy by nature

Yep! Every human in the world will try to conserve energy and follow the path of least resistance. It’s one thing to just make a new product. It’s another thing to make a product that convinces people to change their behavior or habits, or change the way companies have to organize their workflow or invest in their products just so they can use your product. That’s where you have to understand the path of least resistance. Companies and users will not want to change their habits or dislodge their entire business model just to accommodate your product. Ideally, you want to make it so they don’t have to. Sundberg-Ferar has worked with clients on many products and strategies that would disrupt current industry paradigms, or require a change in the user’s behavior. We’ve been able to navigate these cases to mitigate these barriers to adoption, and optimize the value-add of the product for all its multi-users in the supply chain so that even a novel product can be a success on the market.

You’ll make money only once other business can make money off your product design

It’s simple but important. If you have a B2B product, for example, your customers must to be able to naturally fit it into their existing ecosystem and generate money for it. That’s the reason they’ll buy your product. If it doesn’t fit and make more money for them in some way, they won’t buy in. It’s not rocket science, but you have to be cognizant that a good product will fit into not just a good business model for you, but also the business model of your customers. You have to make it solve their pain points. Does using your product mean your customer has to worry about different insurance costs? Are there policies in place that would restrict them from using your product to its full advantage? These some of the pain points we help startups consider and uncover to develop a product that easily adoptable by their users.

Just having a good idea is not good enough. There are so many market parameters and constraints you have to understand. It might be distribution, looking at HIPPA regulations or data privacy /security etc. Industrial Design Thinking aims to take as much of these different factors into account as possible when you’re developing your product. To be fair, we are designers, so we’re biased towards the importance of good design, and there are many other parameters and constraints you’ll have to consider, but ultimately your product still has to be a natural fit in its larger ecosystem. Industrial design thinking will take you a long way in making your product a natural solution for the market.

So you want to be Mark Zuckerberg?

Oftentimes, startups have the idea that since the Yeti’s and Patagonia’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world made it – and they just made these products for themselves that became hits overnight and made them billionaires – that their startup can do the same thing. Instant success by fluke. However, in cases like these, even unbeknownst to these entrepreneurs at the time, there were very specific circumstances in the market and socio-cultural landscape that created the perfect conditions for their products to be the hits they were right when they were.

In addition to that, each of these instant-success entrepreneurs were Super Users – the lead users in their ecosystems. The Patagonia brothers were experts and the lead users in their rock-climbing ecosystem. They weren’t sitting at a desk job, for example, or some other area unrelated to rock-climbing and then deciding “we’ll make products for rock climbers”. They weren’t in one ecosystem and deciding to create a product for an entirely different ecosystem. Also it was NOT overnight. This took over an decade of hard work, tinkering, experimentation, and gallons of sweat and tears. There are geniuses and extreme minds that are experts in their ecosystems and then create a product that’s a superstar, but that’s just one type of innovation. There’s evolutionary innovation, accidental innovation, the genius innovation of people like Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, and then there’s structured Innovation. That’s what we do here at Sundberg-Ferar. It’s a proven and scientific approach to innovation. We take into account the same over-arching human behavior, macro-trends and economic factors that played into the success of Yeti or Patagonia, and apply them to make your product successful.

Have a healthy skepticism of “aha” or “hero”moments in your product development

It’s nice when you do have an aha or hero moment and discover a new technology or idea for a product. You shouldn’t however base your entire product or business strategy on that spark alone. You have to understand the fundamental needs and desires of your real users in the reality of the market rather than just pushing your product on themDo notinvent problems that nobody has! Take it from us as a design studio who has been solving pain points through products for 86+ years – there are plenty of problems already out there. Identify those! Solve for those with your great product!

That thing called Confirmation Bias will cripple your product design

Here’s one big thing that will help with this. When you present your hypothesis that will drive your product idea saying, “I think there is an opportunity for innovation in [this] area through [this] solution”, you should immediately follow it up by identifying and also presenting the knowledge gaps inherent in your hypothesis. Then use what you don’t know to plan and execute rigorous design research. Not the other way around. If you develop your product idea based on what you think you do know, you’ll likely to fall prey to confirmation bias in your design research. You have to make sure that early on in the product development process, you’re identifying and filling in your own knowledge gaps so that you’re not blindsided later on in development.

There is hope for your startup’s success!

In the statistic we mentioned earlier, yes, there are still the 15% of startups who do succeed. However, just keep in mind that the average startup isn’t led by the genius super user of that product, and they don’t own the exclusive expertise critical for that product. That means you have to make sure you’re triangulating your product based on what’s happening in the human behavior, economy and pop culture around you.

It’s not just about being trendy. If you just base your product on emotional aspects, it will be trendy but it will die out like a flash in the pan. Similarly, if you base your product solely on functional aspects, you’ll be immediately caught in a sea of commodity and enter the death spiral of a price war. However, if you blend emotional and functional attributes together in your product, then we’re talking about a sustainable good product and hopefully a sustainable business.

Increasing your chances of success with Industrial Design Thinking

As a design studio, we have to be vigilant about this. Every inventor loves their idea, but we have to make sure we’re building your product to be a market success and drive value for your business. Design certainly doesn’t 100% guarantee your business success. (If you hear anyone saying they can guarantee that design alone will make your business successful, run the other way!) BUT investing in design does greatly increase your likelihood of being successful.

For some more in-depth tips, read our article on Design Thinking for Startups.

If you want to talk more about how you can take advantage of Industrial Design Thinking for your business, or you have a million-dollar idea you want to talk to us about, drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you!
Email us at or call us at 248.360.3800


Jeevak Badve

Principal, and Director of Strategic Growth

Jeevak, Principal and Director of Strategic Growth, brings energy, passion & curiosity to his role at Sundberg-Ferar. With his unique blend of education and experience in industrial design, engineering and business, he is a rallying voice for the alignment and optimal inclusion of the end user’s un-met needs, and unspoken wants in the core value proposition of a company’s products & service portfolio to generate sought-after shareholder value.

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