‘It is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting on this experience, it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost.’ (Gibbs, 1988)
These past seven months have been a roller-coaster ride to be honest. It started from the day I left my beloved city Lahore for London, as it was a childhood dream to do my masters from London and I got that chance through Kingston University. Leaving home was not easy as I left my rugby career in Pakistan to focus on the life ahead. I left behind a huge social circle for a place where I was unknown and that was the first time in life I relies I had to start again and this time in an environment which was unknown to me at that time. I motivated myself by setting few goals for the next two years. For me this was start of a new life by leaving everything behind for a hope of better future and with an aim of returning back to Pakistan as a different person as I needed change in my life which felt as if it has been paused but not at a point where I wanted it. I learned that you do not miss the place as much as you miss the people as that’s what you are really attached to.
As I arrived late, I had already missed the first two weeks of the university because of a delay in the visa process. The first day in Kingston University motivated me as it was a totally different experience as compared to my previous university, in a good way. I tend to settle in new places quickly as I have always been found of travelling. But this time it was different as I knew this place would be my “home” for the next two years. To be honest the university accommodation has not been a place to be called home from my experience, but I overcame that by joining a local rugby club to feel connected to the place. Life takes a person to new places and it is up to the person to grab as much from it. London gives you a chance to witness and learn new cultures because of its diversity which has been a huge learning experience. As meeting new people from different cultures widens your view on lot of things.
After the first month I had made new friends and had started my new life motivated to achieve good grades which surly is the last degree of my academic life. I had chosen this course as I felt it would give me the much-needed experience to run my own start up one day, as I look back into the past few months it makes me relies the decision has had a positive effect as made me learn new things and taught me how to live on my own.
The design thinking module played an important role in reshaping my personality. By the time I had joined the class, people had already formed their groups for the module. I may have been late, but I formed a team with four other people from the lecture. After a month of brainstorming together in the class activities and as well as in group meetings. We all came to know each other very well in a short time, our group was really diversified as everyone was from a different part of the world and this brought a lot of ideas to the table. As roles were divided among the group members, I was chosen as the director of operations. We looked to work on the five stages of design thinking Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
By the start of November, we had decided our group name Yobbafic, which was formed by the first alphabets of our names. And by the end of the month we had finalized our product and we all agreed on calling it flushies, which is an environment friendly toilet cover tissue which dissolves in the water. Working with people from different backgrounds was a huge learning experience and the activities in the class played an important role. One of the activity involved us taking a wheelchair with us and using it the business department to see what challenges a person on a wheelchair faces and what changes should be made to help a person on a wheelchair, this is how we learned body storming by going through the process and experiencing it for a better understanding. We later implemented our learning from the class by going to super market as group to look into things we can improve. We came up with an idea after noticing people have shopping bags in their homes but most of the time they forget to bring them along and have to buy a new one which would be off no use to them as they reach home. We came up an idea if supermarkets had an option for its customers to bring in all their shopping bags and store them on their supermarket club cards so next time if you forget a bag at home they can use the one on their supermarket club card without paying extra for it.
Our next step was to come up with a prototype for our product, we were lucky to have a person in our team who was good at designing prototypes. As he designed it, now it was our responsibility to find the products which were needed. We got in touch with different peoples from the tissue industry and researched on the things which would be needed. After spending another month on figuring out and testing different products, we came up with idea of making the product with Mycellum, which is a bio gradable and water-soluble byproduct derived from mushrooms. We met different peoples from the tissue industry and had a positive feedback. That whole process helped me learn a lot and made me experience new things.
The next step was to look into the financial aspect of the product and had to come up with a selling coast for our product, this was all new to me but working in team made it much easier and I learned a lot by coming up with the price for the Flushies. We decided to launch our product in dispensers which would be placed in the public washroom, this decision was made after taking feedbacks from experience people in the industry.
The dragons den rehearsals helped me improve how to communicate the product to the audience and how to market it. The remarks from the experienced judges helped us to improve our product. One of the group member had a sales background and she helped us all how to sell the product. I took part in my first trade fair, it started with me being confused in the start as it was my first time but as the day went on I had gotten the much-needed confidence in me. The presentations really made me more confident as a person in life and taught me how to sell an idea as compared to when I started this program. The opportunity provided with the help of Young Enterprise which helped all the groups was a wonderful chance to try the product in real life without the fear of failure.
The final dragons den and the final trade fair did not go according to our teams plans, as were not shortlisted for the finals but the experience that came with it will surly help in the future. We were also not able to achieve our target grade on the final report which made me think what was lacked and how to improve in the future. One thing I have learned in my life until now is never to give up. When I look back there are many things which could have been done in a better way, first mistake which we made as a group was taking a lot of time to come up with an idea and even after that we did not managed our time while looking into the production of the product. For me if you learn from your failure then it’s more of a gain than a loss as I learned how I need to manage my time in the future.
As for the Flushies goes, it may not have been successful academically, but with the session coming to an end and everyone has its own aims for the year ahead, it is good to see two of my team members are still working on it with one of the judges from the final trade fair who had a knowledge in the industry has motivated them how to relaunch the product. Working with my group taught me a lot and every person worked as one and helped each other. As for me I decided not to carry on with the idea as I feel now is the time for me to find a placement for the next year so that I can experience what it is like working in London before returning back to my home country Pakistan.
The whole experience of starting and managing the startup made me look at the Lean Startup approach for future use. As for me these were the tools missing from the attempt in the module as we took a lot time in our process to achieve the final product. As this approach eliminates uncertainty as it about putting a methodology around the development of the product. It focuses on working smarter instead of harder by looking at “should this product be built?” instead of “can this product be built?”. Its core component is to build on the feedback after the establishment of the minimum viable product which we lacked. It helped me relies that you can start a startup from anywhere and it’s all about managing it. The most important thing I learned from the start up module and the startup experience was that the boring stuff such as measuring the progress plays an important role and this approach focuses on accelerating that process.
“The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration.” (Ries, 2011)
As I look back at my time at Kingston University it has been a life time experience, which has taught me a lot. Each module helped me develop for the professional life ahead and played an equal role. My main focus now is to get a placement opportunity in a good firm for an experience and after that I would evaluate myself and see where I stand, should I look for a job or start my own startup. As I believe that experience is the main thing especially after this year in London. For my personal development the key intake has been to manage my time properly as time stops for none. I believe now I understand myself more and see myself as person who can work better in a team. The biggest plus point which I found in my personality in the past few months have been my calmness in stressful situations, which I believe would help me a lot one day if I start my own startup. As I look at my life in London, it took me time to feel at “home” but now it feels like I have been living here for ages. As I end my last blog sitting in the library, a feeling inside of me keeps telling me that I am going to miss Kingston University a lot and somehow feel thankful to the whole institute for my development.