Of late I have started to describe myself as a business designer in response to the usual question of “What do you do?”
But what do I mean by the term?
A Business Designer, as I intend the term, is someone who uses the techniques of design firms, such as IDEO, to design new businesses – whether entire new startups or within the context of an existing, larger business.
I have been highly active online since 1991 and working on the web since the mid-90’s so a great deal of my work does involve the application of technology, especially web technology, to business problems. However my process starts before deciding what the solutions will be, it starts with the discussions about the specifics of the business, the resources available, and objectives.
Only then do we address the specific solutions required, in many cases applying technology both purchased, open source and customized to the business objectives.
So what is my process?
Earlier this week I attended the SanFran Music Tech Summit and over the course of the fantastic conference I had many long conversations with entrepreneurs and business people who were attending the conference. In these short conversations and discussions I practiced a shortened version of my business process.
- Hear how the current business, or the business idea, is described today.
- Explore what is behind the business, what technology if any current exists, what are the current clients, what is the current business process.
- Get a quick sense of the business objectives of the team at present – new customers, investment, partners etc.
- Brainstorm. In this process I leverage the diversity of industries and companies I follow closely, seeking examples often from unrelated industries which can help us decide on direction and business models for the business.
- Make concrete suggestions of next steps for the business from simple text copy changes to complex shifts in business model.
That is the shortened process, at times taking only a few minutes, other times taking an entire lunch.
What I follow
At the moment I pay very close attention to a number of industries and technologies, these include:
- The music industry, especially the emergance of the online, digital music industry.
- “New Media” from the business models of old media applied to the new digital world to the emergance of new businesses and media leaders
- Web 2.0. I define Web 2.0 as the shift to a data centric view of web applications. Practically this means more open web sites, api driven services, dynamic flows of information, and in many cases user generated content
- Mobile applications. In particular I have been an early adopter of smartphones, currently heavily focused on the iPhone.
- Gaming. Though I am not an active game player, I have a longstanding and deep interest in games and gaming. I’m very interested in the application of gaming elements to serious purposes.
- Social Networks. I started Meshforu, a conference on the study of Networks in 2004 and have been an early adopter of online social networks. I also follow closely the academic study of Social Network Analysis as well as related fields of Network Science.
- Advertising. I believe that advertising, across all forms, is in a major transition. In particular I am a passionate proponent of Brands and believe that brands need to adapt to the new, digital landscape
- Internet Radio. While I follow the whole music industry closely, many of my current ventures relate to the new forms of Internet Radio.
- Community. Most successful businesses are driven by a community both online and offline. I’m an advisor to a number of startups focused very much on the support of specific communities enabled by the new digital media world. In many cases these cross over many types of media including online websites.
- The Food Industry. My father is a leading food technologist who has designed new products and business processes for most of the major food companies around the globe. I am a passionate foodie and follow emerging trends in the food industry, including restaurants very closely.
- Social Entrepreneurship. I run a small non-profit, MeshForum and am passionate about new models of business which include a strong social mission and purpose.
There are many other industries and specific technologies which I also pay attention to on a regular basis, I have worked for some of the largest banks in the world. I’ve also designed and build AI driven automated data applications and other complex pieces of enterprise software. But at present the above list of industries are the ones I follow most closely and where, primarily, I seek clients.
How I work
My preference is to work with clients over an extended period, typically via a monthly retainer with at least a three month minimum. In three months any business whether large or small can see specific results from the engagement. A retainer, instead of the more common hourly or day rate, allows for the wide range of ways I work for and with each client.
For most clients I will meet with the client, often onsite for a series of meetings and observations each month. I am often a part of internal discussions and meetings with partners and external vendors.
I am based in San Francisco but will work with clients anywhere in the world, combining in person meetings with extensive online collaboration.
Every engagement is different but a few specifics you can expect from working with me.
- New Ideas – a primary part of my job is offering a new, interdisciplinary perspective on the challenges of your business. A key part of this is carefully suggesting specific, implementable new ideas and approaches.
- Simplification – much of my practice is around paring ideas and processes back to identify what is most key and value creating. Many startups, as well as large companies, build technologies and processes which are overly complex. By focusing on simplification we end up with greater value.
- Clear processes and designs – After we have focused and defined clearly the specific business objectives, my role shifts to achieving those objectives. There my job is to define and often help manage the business processes, including working with development teams, to build and design the related parts.
I have over a decade of experience as an Open Space Facilitator and use that as part of my consulting. The result of a facilitated open space event is usually clearer understanding of both the business opportunities and the resources available to address them, as well as focused groups of employees (and often external partners including customers) to address each business need.
If you are interested in working with me, email me at shannon AT nearnessfunction.com or call me at 1.800.454.4929.