Tom Harman is a Designer

The $1,000 Assignment

This semester, there’s one class that stands out from the rest. It’s called Entrepreneurial Design. There are ten assignments but no deadlines. As long as you finish everything by the summer you can bend / break the rules as much as you choose and team up with anyone to help you. The assignments range from self-discovery to networking to audience building, culminating in the grand finale: making something that earns you $1,000. Inspired by Airbnb’s Obama O’s story, our instructors, Gary and Christina are keen to cultivate our ability to make enough runway to work on the projects we’re most passionate about without having to concede to freelance or paid work. A bold vision and a fascinating experiment to be part of.

Rather than taking a gradual, sensible approach, I decided to aim high, straight for the $1,000 mark with the intent of working backwards. This blog post is intended to give some background into that process and mark some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

Approach A: Subscription services

Inspired by a conversation with Giff Constable about Birchbox I started brainstorming possible subscription services. After extensive reflection and note taking on the products I encountered throughout the day I closed in on activities around eating, drinking and cleaning. Then, the fun really begun, name-storming with instant domain search. Following a plethora of ridiculous names, I chose the ever-refined: A soup subscription service! Who doesn’t want soup delivered to their door on a regular basis?

Admittedly, I put very little time and effort into the design of the landing page, but as soon as it was up I lost motivation to carry on. As much as I appreciate soup for it’s occasional warming and homely qualities, I wasn’t excited enough to dedicate the time required to drive the idea forward.

Lesson #1: Only make things you really care about

Approach B: Embrace the absurd

Reflecting on my first approach, I decided I was being too serious and what I really needed was something that spoke to me on a more whimsical level. Further exploration and brainstorming took me on a path to Know Your Meme, and got me thinking about potentially ridiculous concepts that might gain traction, purely for their stupidity.

This time I decided to start with the domain name and from there work back to a concept. The two names that I just couldn’t help myself but buy were:

… and the concepts that followed:


Are you looking for a unique surprise for that special friend? Send a mariachi band to their door to show them you care! Strippergrams are so passé.

Cats Explain

Complex subjects explained through short cat videos. Think, visuals from Maru with (cat-pitched) audio from RSA Animates.

As excited as I am for these websites to exist, the joke would wear thin pretty quickly and a realistic business model was very deeply hidden, if there at all.

Lesson #2: Simple playful concepts are great but substance is required to sustain user and/or maker interest

Approach C: Connecting the dots

Back to the drawing board, I started speaking with Tash about re-igniting an idea from last semesters Strategic Innovation class. The project, called Beam, was around re-imagining how people think about and control home lighting. Although the specific definition is broader now than our original pitch, the idea of taking steps towards making this a reality is really exciting to us, and on reflection, the intention and point of this whole exercise.

Rather than tackling the grand vision head on, we decided to focus on smaller ideas that would be quicker to execute, allowing us to learn the process of iterating and developing a physical product. After numerous lighting and home design ideas (not to mention spending endless days and nights in the studio) we found ourselves gravitating towards drinking. How could we re-design the drinking experience? And how broadly can we think about drinking as an activity? These are far grander questions than the simple idea we came up with, but I feel they speak to the perspective we’re approaching this from.

So, the current idea is Coastermatic. A service that prints personalised stone drinks coasters and mails them to you in packs of 4. We’re starting with photos and specifically targeting Instagram users but hope to expand to other formats and photosharing services as we learn what gains traction. We’ve made a landing page, spoken to potential printing partners, started on a visual identity, sketched out user flows and yesterday, finished knocking out 100 hand-crafted promotional coasters, which Tash has taken with her to SXSW. It’ll be a lot of work, but the early lessons feel like they’re already paying off and now that the elements are in place we’re excited to take aim at the $2,000 May 1st goal; that’s $1,000 each for those who are keeping count.

We’re a ways off launching but if you’re interested in following along with the journey, or you’d like to get your hands on the first coaster runs, add your email address on Coastermatic or follow updates on Twitter or Instagram. If you’re at SXSW, track down Tash for an exclusive, limited edition cardboard coaster!

  1. haveyouseenmyblog reblogged this from entrepreneurdesigners and added:
    I’d really like to see this at Babson
  2. entrepreneurdesigners reblogged this from tomharman
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