For our starting entrepreneur out there this reading could give some new inside to product development. The successful entrepreneur Hester Hilbrecht tells her story. She is 33 years old, born and raised in Berlin. She has mainly worked in the US and Germany exploring the intersection of Tech & Design Thinking. After 6 years in the corporate world at SAP, she decided to join the start-up scene and start her own business Mermaid Studios.
Mermaid Studios is a User Experience Studio. They conceptualize, design and develop digital products that make peoples life easier by focusing on the users’ needs & constantly test with their prototypes. Besides that, she is a passionate speaker, and loves to share her experiences and stories and already had the honour to give Design Thinking insights at stages such as TEDx and Xerox by PARC. To find out how her founders journey went, read along.
How did you come up with this idea and what motivated you to create your own business?
Mermaid Studios came about after spending many years studying and working in the fields of User Experience and Design Thinking. I saw that still most companies blindly run into half-a-million-euro-projects without thinking about the user until the market launch and I wanted to change that, but I wanted to gain as much experience as possible first.
In the corporate world, I always felt like I was a cog in the wheel where I didn’t see the impact I was making as quickly as I would have liked. However, when working on your project, you see results almost instantaneously, get feedback right away and based on this you can iterate promptly and improve. As far as I could tell, the only way to do this was to found my own company and applying what I had learnt from my various experiences.
Together with our clients we conceptualize, design & develop awesome software solutions
What were the most challenging moments while building your company and how were you able to overcome them?
One of my biggest challenges was unexpected bureaucracy, especially when dealing with larger companies. Definitely, one of my biggest lessons – everything takes longer than you think! Also, in the beginning, I experienced that being a founder means coordinating so many different aspects at the same time, such as team building, customer acquisition, accounting etc. which was definitely quite taxing.
I believe it is important to remember that there are always going to be challenges and problems, but that there is also a solution to literally every problem, even though it might not seem so at first. Overcoming the challenges needs a lot of self -love and care, balance and perception and I found yoga and meditation very helpful. It is also important to be mindful – ask yourself why you are doing this and what the worst that could possibly happen is, and whether you would be able to live with yourself if it happened? If yes, then go for it! 🙂
When was the first time you come across the design thinking process? How did this change your view on innovation?
The first time was when I was looking for topics for my oral exam while studying. I didn’t know anything about it back then, so I picked it out of curiosity. Quickly I fell in love with it doing research about it. I was so fascinated that I did my exam, even wrote my thesis about it and also applied at d-school. It showed me that the “standard innovation process” you learn and that most companies use is not sustainable.
The direction for a new product should not come from managers and internal politics, but from end-users. Otherwise, the results are likely to be a product nobody is going to use. Because we never know our target group as much as we think.
How have you incorporated the design thinking process, while building your own business Mermaid Studios?
A large part of Design Thinking revolves around quick prototyping & constant iteration and this is what we do since day 1. When starting a new company millions of ideas floating around on how to approach tasks and challenges. To find the best way we tried different approaches to check what works and what doesn’t. Some ideas we improved others we dismissed. And this is an ongoing process in our business. It also implies that we don’t get attached to our designs and processes. It is super important to objectively rate the performance of what we are doing without getting attached to our ideas.
Also, we take customer feedback very seriously. The companies we work with are our end-users and we need to find what their and problems are in order to give them the best experience with our services. Based on their input we change and adapt what we are doing.
What kind of client comes to your design studio more startups or corporates?
We have clients from both sides, but I would say rather corporates. Start-Ups often just go for it and start quick and dirty with the first idea. Corporates on the other side have big innovation projects connected to significant investments – and therefore risk. They often face bureaucracy and outdated processes within the company which increases the benefit for them to get an external expert who acts unbiased & agile.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
Being out of my comfort zone! I did not like this in the beginning but once I realised it is what made me grow and improve, I wanted more and more of it; it is kind of addictive! In the past 2 years, I have experienced the biggest personal growth and learnt so much about myself and naturally, this has also carried onto the company.
Which learnings would you share with other starting female founders?
In the beginning, I struggled with being too hard on myself and soon realised how important it was to love and be kind to myself; it is so easy to focus on what I didn’t get right and minimise the positives.
Another thing: Don’t be afraid to do it – if an idea has crossed your mind, even just for a split second it has the potential to be amazing. Find people who have done it already, ask them questions, listen to their stories and learn from them! And of course, surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire you, and then go for it!