I’m Mara, the VP of Design and Marketing at Chowbotics, the company that’s building the World’s First Fresh Food Robot. I work alongside some extraordinarily talented colleagues with the goal of disrupting the food and robotics industry to make fresh food accessible for everyone, anytime, anywhere. I’ve worked in the creative field for the past 20 years in different types of organizations, some with renowned brands, and a number of startups. All of my past work had their nuances, but I have found that establishing a brand for a food-robotic company is pretty unique. Launching something unknown with new technology is challenging, so I thought I’d share my experience with others. Here are some steps that you may want to consider when you are building your creative team, your brand, and a great experience in any industry:
1- The first step is understanding what stage your company is in. Are you ready to hire an agency or are you prepared to have your own team? Agencies can be amazing allies. They can fill several players’ roles, and they can provide interesting solutions to your problems. However, agencies are not embedded in your team’s day today, so they might not understand all your struggles. This means that their suggestions sometimes are not applicable, or that your reality might change after they present solutions and ideas to you. It’s possible that at one time these solutions could have worked great, but after reviewing a few weeks of data you may realize that the issue they were solving is no longer relevant. That’s why it is essential to hire an agency only after you have the resources and/or the team to execute on those ideas or to keep the agency absolutely in the loop so their work is relevant.
In the beginning, you could consider hiring a few key people with the support of a few freelancers and agencies, but it all depends on your goals. This is the approach I took at Chowbotics, and it’s helped us tremendously. We have great partnerships with agencies, an amazingly talented team, and freelancers to fill in when there’s too much work to do internally.
Now let’s talk about internal teams. When hiring a team for a small startup, you need to consider that each individual needs to be multifaceted in their field and also be a doer. Yes, they should be experts in marketing, design or UX, but they should be capable of jumping from one project to the next–from events to social, to email marketing, to project management, and even printing posters–maybe everything on the same day! Of course, you also need them to be self-sufficient, creative, organized, hard-working, selfless, willing to help and produce amazing work with a very small budget, friendly, honest and–why not–charismatic and hungry to grow. You get the picture. In the creative world, this talent is hard to find. Sometimes you must sacrifice a bit here and there but, believe me; you should always strive to find honest and friendly people who want to do the work and feel proud of it. Trust is vital when building a new company, and having an atmosphere where people feel compelled to go to work is critical, so creating a good culture must be a priority.
3- With a great team and/or agency, the next step is to find what’s unique about your company, the reason it exists. In our case, it was easy, our founder was very clear on the company’s mission and that helped immensely shape our brand. We dove as deep as we could into the soul of our company because the closer we got to the core, the more cohesive our brand became. (We will talk about this topic more in-depth in a future post.)
This was such a novel product that we needed to understand what helped tell that story. Design played a critical role in this phase because we learned that different designs shaped the way people felt about the product. We didn’t only trust our instincts, we tested them, through focus groups, surveys, asking friends, and even our neighbors. It’s fascinating to see how intricate design can be. There can be a world of untapped opportunities if you don’t explore it well and in-depth. We tried to learn as much as we could: what spoke to consumers (B2C) and to our customers (B2B). And so, we started to shape our brand and to bring it to life after doing tons of research. Please understand that you can’t please everyone so, don’t try to be or do everything. On the contrary, be unique, be bold and try to always stay true to your voice so your users can understand who you are.
It’s crucial that you don’t dismiss this step. Share it inside your company and outside. Sometimes due to tight deadlines, we omit to share the new projects with our internal team, so we implemented new processes to avoid this for happening. Be mindful and correct the flow when needed.
Other times, due to resources, you think what you’ve got is great, but take the time to share it: print it in your home printer and go out to the streets and ask others if they understand the message. In our case, we show our work at our doctor appointments, to our car mechanic, in line at chipotle, you get the picture: we look for a similar profile that the work is tailor to, and see if the message works. It doesn’t have to cost anything, and you will learn a lot, saving you money down the road!.
4- Now, it’s time to dive deeper into your customer/consumer experience. Defining and shaping a brand and its strategy is not sufficient, you need to understand in-depth the pulse of your users and what touchpoints you need to deliver based on their reality and their pain-points. In our case, we developed personas and flows by vertical so that we could understand our customers better and connect with them via targeted messaging. We were all truly obsessed with delivering the best possible experience for our customers (B2B) and to their consumers (B2C). It’s ingrained in our culture and I think it’s important every startup does the same.
The best feedback comes from the field, but as a creative team, we couldn’t connect with customers as much as others due to our type of job, our very small team, and startup budget. Instead, we hosted regular events to see consumers interact with our product and, at the same time, we developed systems for our field team members to share their knowledge and to help us understand what they saw at customer sites and what problems we needed to tackle. We call it our “issue and idea tracker” which enables us to keep an eye, in an organized way, on what we hope to do in the future and what we can do now by measuring its impact.
Data is critical in this stage. Oftentimes in startups, some people are louder than others, and the company may prioritize issues based on what the loudest people say. But in reality, data should be your guide. Both quantitative and qualitative data are equally important as they let you truly understand what’s happening with your product.
All of these potential projects and deliverables that arise from the “issue and idea tracker” should always be evaluated by different teams but led by your creative team so they can prioritize and start working on things that genuinely matter. Just because you saw one customer having one issue (it’s common in startups to stop everything and focus on that one issue), doesn’t mean that it’s a priority. Instead, look for trends in user issues, and listen to your internal teams as they have the most insight and expertise, then prioritize issues accordingly.
5 – Now it’s time to ingrain the brand. This is the phase where creativity takes the stage, but not only from the creative team. In Design School at Stanford, I learned the value of bringing ideas from different teams. Getting other teams involved in your brainstorming sessions is a great way to find new solutions to the same problem. Share the data so that they can understand the problem, educate them on how to speak to your consumer in a consistent way, and avoid saying “No”. Instead, try to add to those crazy ideas and let your creative team be the guide. You hired these amazing talented experts for a reason. Now, let them shine! With this new process, you can start generating new deliverables to tell a better story at different touchpoints.
6- By now, you need to tell the world what an amazing product you have. Here is where PR, Social Media and even referrals (which we haven’t nailed yet) can be your best allies. What’s better than having others talking about your product instead of you trying to convince them? But this is such an important topic, that I will talk about it in a future post.
7- Finally, you should always go back to data: See what happened with those fantastic ideas and executions and check out how they are performing in the field. Keep track of the different experiments and try to do continuous checks and balances with new ideas.
And don’t be afraid to fail: It’s ok! Don’t try to get it perfect the first time. Instead, try to learn from what you did and how you can make it better. One of Chowbotics’ core values is “leave your ego at the door” and we try to practice it with every project. We all aim to pursue the extraordinary!