News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Building Girls Guild

(or, How We’re Making a Community of Makers)

But first, a shameless plug.

We’ve entered Girls Guild in the GOODMaker Art Everyday Challenge in hopes of funding our pilot and launch, and voting ends soon (03/30 at noon PST). Please, pretty please, lend us your vote.

Girls Guild

Thank you!

Anyway. What is all this? How did we get to this point? Three months ago Girls Guild was a nebulous idea manifested only on Post-it notes–thousands of them, whole walls of them, but a flimsy, fluttery foundation nonetheless. Mere weeks ago it had graduated to become a design, a fledgling prototype taking its first steps into the wide world… or at least, the world wide web. Now, it’s a service. It is (although personally I still feel wildly audacious saying it) a business. At least, it will be, once we pilot.

For right now, what it really is, is this: Girls Guild is a community bringing together girls with artists and makers for an apprenticeship in the skills and practice of making.

That could change tomorrow. Pieces of it probably will. But that’s what we’re working on this quarter: refining the business model to its essence so that we can pilot it, test it, and then continue refining and testing until we’ve found the seed of something we can grow.

This is not an easy process.

We didn’t expect it to be, but still. It’s hard to expect the emotional grip of the roller coaster until you’re on the ride. I know that’s a clichéd metaphor, but I like it anyway because it’s really very apt:

roller coaster

The above is a generalized diagram of our process. The specifics, for us, include repeated refocusing of our service to hone in on making the connection between girls and artists/makers, while cutting out ourselves as mediators as much as possible. That has required us to rethink our pricing and revenue model, which was hazy to begin with, then oversimplified for a while, but is finally starting to take shape, we think. Maybe. Meanwhile we’re actively recruiting artists to lead pilot sessions over the coming month, and pursuing contacts at schools and youth organizations who might be able to help us spread the word to teenage girls and get them interested.

Along with all of that, we’re also trying to look a little further down the road to plan our launch after we graduate in May, which means putting together a solid business model, practicing our pitches, and thinking about possibilities for funding. We expect to have to get creative about this, since typical investment tracks seem much better suited to profit-driven tech start-ups than to a social enterprise like ours. That’s what leads us to things like the challenge posted above. We’ll continue to explore our options as we look to launch and grow, but for now even a small amount would be a big help in getting started.

Wanna lend a hand?

Please vote. ;)

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Pitching our Businesses

Hello friends! This week at AC4D we are learning how to pitch the social businesses we have been working on. Here is my first online attempt. Is there any way I can make the pitch clearer? What do you think I should consider adding or removing? I would love to hear your feedback. You can e-mail me at benjamin.franck@austincenterfordesign.com or tweet me at @bdfranck. Thanks for your support!

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Founder Thoughts

Alex and I always talk about how we need to write more, do some writing first thing in the morning before diving into emails, get things out of our heads onto something tangible. Yet, it still doesn’t happen as often as we would like.

But here’s a start, some raw thoughts from the week.

On taking money
We’ve gone many months without outside money. We came this far by putting in our own savings and a ridiculous amount of generous help from friends and supporters. Well, money is running out and we need to raise some. But we’ve always had a lot of hesitations when it comes to taking other people’s money. Since day 1 we’ve always wanted to learn to make money, not raise money. The idea of bootstrapping was always more appealing to us than the idea of “being funded”. At the same time, I think we are also just nervous. Nervous about the responsibility. Here’s a thought I had the other day: I probably wouldn’t be as nervous if I was borrowing the exact same amount of student loan to pay for a 2 year master degree. It would’ve felt like the most normal thing to pay a huge sum for my education as an investment, and I’ll pay it back through years of hard work afterwards. When it’s viewed that way, investing in my own startup all of a sudden feels like a much better deal. I have control over what I want out of it, and I’m learning more everyday than any degree would be able to give me. Speaking of defaulting the responsibility to someone else – “I paid you tuition so now you’re responsible to teach me everything to be successful.”

On building supporters
It’s easy to want to stay in the studio. All the work that needs to be done! Someone’s gotta do it right? Recently, I have a new found appreciation for getting out and building connections. And I don’t mean the “networking” sessions where you exchange business cards but in reality everyone just really want to talk about their own startups (us included!) I mean building deeper connections and a group of supporters in Austin, with other groups that are doing amazing work such as PeopleFund, Center 61, The Next Fest, Aunt Bertha, Urban Roots, Four Teachers, to name a few. As much as sxsw has been overwhelming, because of our active outreach lately, we have met some really great people and felt that we are much more rooted in Austin than we were two weeks ago. Starting a business is an emotional journey. Having people around who understand makes you not die.

I have thoughts on some other topics, but haven’t articulated enough to write about yet.

I feel fine. Recovering.

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HourSchool wins the SXSW Pitch Some Good competition!

AC4D alumni at HourSchool competed in the Pitch Some Good competition at SXSW, and took away first place with a cash bounty and some great mentoring and community rewards. Alex Pappas presented for HourSchool to the crowd at Center61. You can read about the win in the Austin Business Journal.

Congratulations!

Posted in AC4D In The News, Startups | 2 Comments

Design Snacks, #7

Jon Kolko describes how to manage and facilitate group creativity.

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Wicked Problems in Stanford’s Social Innovation Review

You can read an excerpt from our new project Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving over on Stanford’s Social Innovation Review. Stanford Social Innovation Review is an award-winning magazine and website that covers cross-sector solutions to global problems. It is written for and by social change leaders in the nonprofit, business, and government sectors who view collaboration as key to solving environmental, social, and economic justice issues.

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A letter to AC4D

Dear AC4D,

Recent events left me feeling a mix of thoughts and emotions so I decided to write you a letter.

You are an 8-month graduate program, but you’re also a solid community. You are great mentors, but you are also all makers. The group of people coming in and out all day provide constant reassurance but they also never hesitate to jump in to challenge why we are doing what we are doing. You provide tools but not answers. You’re a safe place to learn like how a child learns – you know, start doing something, make mistakes, ask dumb questions, repeat, and eventually all of it become tacit knowledge. People go work on different things and have different definitions of success, but you welcome them with open arms as long as they’re still trying to change the world.

AC4D never really ends. For us alums, having the current students around in the same space keeps us on our toes. Accountability easily goes out of the window when the 8-month program was over. It’s too easy to not follow through, to come up with excuses, to let life get in the way. Watching new projects emerge is inspiring and it almost becomes your engine of innovation to ensure we never stop asking “what if’s”. In return, I hope we alums provide comfort for the current students that all of this is possible. It’s still fun, and I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. The energy is contagious so no one ever feels like they are fighting a lone battle.

You don’t leave your students graduate with just a “good idea” either. The audience who came to the Q3 presentations today asked tough questions. “What are you actually doing? What is your role? Why would people want to use this? What are all the touchpoints? How do you build trust and protect your people? How do you change perceptions and create brand? How do you build expectations and instill responsibility and create delight? Who is paying who? How do you build a collective? Where do you start?” My heart beat really fast as I watched the students think on their feet with all eyes on them tackling every question being thrown at them. I’m so impressed and blown away with their work and how far they’ve come.

I have every faith that they will figure it all out and make it happen, as will all of your future students because of what you have created. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Love,
Ruby

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Austin Center for Design Publishes Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving; Gives it Away for Free Online

Hi,

I’m pleased to announce the availability of my next book, provided for free in its entirety online at http://www.wickedproblems.com.

Titled Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, the book is presented as a handbook for teaching, learning, and doing meaningful disruptive design work. The book includes an introduction to wicked problems, describing some of the challenges and opportunities of design-led entrepreneurial activities. The text describes the skills necessary for successful entrepreneurship, and offers both methods and curricula for learning how to engage with large scale humanitarian problems.

The book is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, which allows anyone to use the contents for their own non-commercial purposes.

Jon Kolko

= Edit: Here’s some nice press we’ve received on the book launch:

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