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Insights from Hosain Rahman, Josh Reich, Heather Payne, & More at the 2013 99U Conference

More insights on making ideas happen from the 2013 edition of the 99U Conference, presented by GE.

Hosain Rahman

Photo: MACKME.COM

Photo: MACKME.COM

Founder & CEO /// Jawbone

Hosain Rahman was in a difficult position after the first version of his company’s product, the Jawbone Up bracelet, ran into grave problems—ultimately resulting in a recall—during its launch in December 2011. He and his team had to do some serious soul-searching about how to handle the snafu and how to keep moving forward. Ultimately, they decided to rally by “locking themselves in a room for six months” and re-emerging with a stellar v2 product. Here’s what he learned in the process:

  • Cut through the noise and revisit your core principles. At any crossroads, it’s important to go back to square one and ask yourself, “Why am I creating this? Is it still important?” For Jawbone, the goal was to make a wearable computer. Knowing they were still on track helped Rahman motivate his team to adjust and execute.
  • Don’t levitate before you can crawl. Rahman warns against shipping too soon. “We were all living in the potential of what this product could be. We were levitating before we could crawl or walk.”
  • Design is a consideration of the details. Although the concept will be your beacon throughout, truly great design considers all the combinations of how a product can be used – and designs a solution for each one.

Nikhil Arora

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Photo: MACKME.COM

Co-Founder /// Back to the Roots

Nikhil Arora truly believes that business can be used for good, and his company, Back to the Roots, an urban mushroom farm in Oakland, California, is all about giving back. Arora shared what drives him to pursue work that matters:

  • In marketing, transparent is the new clever. The mushrooms grown using the Back to the Roots kit can sometimes come out looking… funky. Arora and his company chose to embrace the ugly by unabashedly sharing photos of misshapen mushrooms. As a result, a large community developed around sharing photos of their product, and they realized they had a highly enthusiastic, untapped demographic—kids.
  • Even in business, the more you give, the more you get. Back to the Roots is constantly teaching sustainability workshops, giving away products via their Facebook page, and donating a portion of their profits to charity. Arora argued that the new relationship for businesses isn’t a one-way street, it’s a two-way street: The more you give to your community, the more you get back.

Heather Payne

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Photo: MACKME.COM

Founder /// Ladies Learning Code

Ladies Learning Code, a Canadian not-for-profit, is all about empowering and educating young women interested in computer programming and web development. The movement was started from scratch, and founder Heather Payne shared some tips for starting something new:

  • Create momentum by committing to a timeline publicly. In the early days, Ladies Learning to code committed to organize 1 workshop a month. One of the best ways to create and harness momentum with your idea early on, is to share your timeline publicly. Once others are expecting an update or a release by a certain date, there’s no turning back.
  • Let your team find you. By liberally sharing your ideas, you’ll find that likeminded people will flock to you. This way, you’re more likely to end up with a team that shares your passion, values, and truly understands what you’re trying to accomplish.

Joshua Davis

Photo: MACKME.COM

Photo: MACKME.COM

Owner /// Joshua Davis Studio

What happens after the “I did it!” moment? A few years ago, Joshua Davis, the renowned designer and Code and Theory creative director, was experiencing explosive success. But while he was regularly being commissioned for pieces by clients like Apple and BMW, he was feeling uninspired and couldn’t find a new direction. “That moment of being amazed by the unknown had left me.” Davis shared how to avoid “the sluggishness of the comfortable”:

  • “Escaping success is how I stay in a state of wonder.” The downfall of the “I did it” moment is its vibe of finality. “Success is not final.” Each of us must always remain a student.
  • Fear is where the greatest thinking occurs. Davis got out of his creative rut “by taking on a project I didn’t know I could pull off.” Diving into creative challenges that are scary and uncomfortable forces you to do your best work.
  • Never let success get in the way of your creativity. Davis cautions that the industry will want to replicate rather than innovate, so while you may have to do familiar work for clients, push yourself to develop your voice and direction in personal projects.

Josh Reich

Photo: MACKME.COM

Photo: MACKME.COM

CEO & Co-Founder /// Simple

Josh Reich, co-founder and CEO of Simple, embarked upon a herculean task: re-invent the bank to make it an honest, transparent, and “more human” experience. It took several years to build Simple from the ground up. Along the way, his team questioned everything about the current banking process in order to “take it apart and put it back together again.” He shared his learnings on start-ups and teams.

  • Design for how people think, not how our current world works. If you start designing your product by improving upon other similar ones, you’re missing an opportunity. Step back to design for how people think – this will revolutionize the product.
  • Customers want simplicity. Even when they say they want complexity (like in a bank), doing an exercise like asking “5 why’s” to get to the root of their initial answer will reveal what’s underlying: simplicity.
  • “Our design process is that we don’t have a design process.” Don’t structure your team in a certain way just because everyone else does. At Simple, there are no designers, “just a bunch of people who make shit.”

More 2013 99U Conference Recaps:

Part One: Brené Brown, Cal Newport, Gretchen Rubin, & More
Part Two: A.J. Jacobs, Joe Gebbia, Charlie Todd, & More
Part Three: Ramit Sethi, Leah Busque, Jeff Sheng, & More
Part Four: Hosain Rahman, Josh Reich, Heather Payne, & More

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