IDEO Design Consultant Alison Wong And The Story of Gusto (Women 2.0 Startup Weekend)

By Alison Wong (Participant, Women 2.0 Startup Weekend 2011) I had an idea about creating an online classes service a few weeks before Startup Weekend. My friend and seasoned developer, Dean Mao, also thought it had potential and we started talking about it in more detail. He thought about development, while I conducted user research in the field to gather insights and user needs.

After Dean and I decided we were going to pursue the idea, we realized that Women 2.0 Startup Weekend was coming up and signed up last minute. We hadn't written any code or decided on our business model, so we thought attending would challenge ourselves to think about those areas and produce a working MVP in just a few days.

The first night was a little hectic as we wanted people to join our team, but realized that it might be efficient to stay small. After some designers went to other teams, I realized that I knew enough about design to get us started, and we had an eager recent CS graduate also help out. We had realistic expectations -- we wanted to make a portal for small businesses to input information and also to hash out the business model and pitch.

I spent all day Sunday just thinking about how to tell the story, and what our business strategy was. Dean worked non-stop on writing code and implementing the designs using HTML5 and Rails.

I know how important storytelling is with my background being an IDEO design consultant. Luckily we had done some user research and had assets from those interviews to include in the pitch.

What worked for us:

  • Know your customer needs enough to tell a good story.
  • Have realistic expectations about what you can develop in two days.
  • Be organized and know what everyone is working on.
  • Be passionate and concise in the pitch.

As presentation time approached, I felt a little apprehensive. What if people didn't like the idea? What if the judges asked about market estimates? What if someone steals our idea?

Well, I stuck to showing the facts, told some good stories, and Dean showed our working demo. (Of course I forgot to load our website so that caused an awkward technical delay.)

Things turned out great in the end, and we won second place from the judges.

Even more importantly, we are almost done with our MVP to start testing, and have the motivation to pursue the idea. The benefits far outweighed any drawbacks. I think we fast forwarded our development and thank Startup Weekend for motivating us and providing such a great environment to do so. The energy and the people there really made it a memorable experience.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Alison Wong is a product designer and innovation consultant. After working at IDEO for over five years years, she now designs and manufactures her own products and advises Fortune 100 clients. Alison holds a BS in ME from MIT, an MS in product design from Stanford, and conducts innovation workshops around the world. Follow her on Twitter at @ahwong.