China Startup Pulse – Lean Startup Machine: How Design Helps to Validate Your Ideas

China Startup Pulse, one of the BEST startup podcasts in China recommended by Forbes, is coming back this week! This is an insightful podcast organized by the leading accelerator in Asia – Chinaccelerator and hosted by Ryan Shuken, Program Director of MOX, which is designed to give startup enthusiasts from around the world a behind the scenes and on-the-ground understanding of what’s happening in China’s startup ecosystem. Listen full episode here and come subscribe to China Startup Pulse on iTunes.

In this latest episode, we invited Grace Ng as our guest and had an incredible discussion for all design needs and all design focused ideas, which can help you learn more about how you can validate your own ideas, build it better and right. Grace Ng is one of the co-founders of Lean Startup Machine, the world’s leading bootcamp on Lean Startup Methodology.

Grace has a lot of interesting ideas about optimisation in design needs for questions. In this talk, she shared how and why she built the Javelin board, the ultimate solution for testing new business ideas with customers, pivoting and discovering a viable business, and how she feels being a female entrepreneur in this constantly changing world.

In this article, we’ll share several excerpts from this episode. 

Show Notes: 02:24 Grace Ng Introduction 04:18 How Grace started design work in startups 09:35 The framework works effectively in International startups 12:34 Difference between Chinese entrepreneurs and International teams 14:24 More opportunities for female entrepreneurs all over the world 17:39 Drop your ego out of the door 21:14 Become the biggest support for your co-founder 22:06 The next step for The Lean Startup Machine Methodology

How did you start design in startups?

Ryan: What were some of the first moments when you were building your first startup or even thinking about it? Were you driven by the design aspect? To get fix solution or to solve the problem?  

Grace: Yes, so I got started in startups pretty early on when there wasn’t much information about design’s role in startup. At that point, a lot of designers, even engineers and other talented people just all about optimisations. So I came from this background, optimising and creating the deliverables.

But in a startup, design has a very different role. In a startup, your problem is still unknown. You still have to validate it. You can’t just jump into optimizing the user experience. I was driven by creating experiences people can resonate with, so that’s the driving factor that I bring to my work.

When you’re focusing on the design, the biggest design challenge is to validate the customer’s problem first. So that user research is to really understand the needs of the users, so that’s when design comes in. It’s not a visual design standpoint, it’s not really anything tangible at this point. It’s more about understanding the needs and that’s the design’s role in an early stage startup.

But it also depends on what kind of startup it is and what stage they’re in. Because if it’s a startup that is just optimizing that’s really out there in the marketplace where there are a lot of competitors, then that’s a design challenge, then that’s designers’ role out there to optimize user experience and conversions. If it is something that maybe there is not a lot of competitors, then the designer’s role is about finding the need and really bridging the gap.

Ryan : When you’re making the first validation board, and you are designing it out… How did you go about initially even thinking about designing a process to solve startups’ problems?

Grace: Well, this is where a designer can be more aware of user needs. I think, traditionally, a lot of designers again are visual designers who are likely to make things pretty without really addressing what the core problem is. And as a designer, especially with the lean startup process, what you can do is that you can be very sensitive and in tune to what people need in the marketplace and also what the opportunities are. And that’s something that designers can really bring to the table.

I think the user empathy, as well as keeping your ear closed to the ground are part of the user research, just like going into the forefront where the customers are really trying to understand what the user journey is and how the potential users go about their day-to-day lives. You know where you can start out by just being in tune with the potential customers. And once you notice that they are doing something inefficiently, then there is an opportunity for you to solve that.

What we notice was that at that time, when we created the validation board, and people, even with the lean startup machine at that time, there was not much education around. So what we did was we came up with these frameworks so that entrepreneurs can take time to run their first experiment. And that was a major success. The first workshop took a few hours to get out of the building to talk with the customers, come back with data, and we reduce that. So now we take 5 minutes to design experiments to get out of the building. So you identify the opportunity and then create a solution for that.

Work as an female entrepreneur

Ryan: There are not a lot of women in startups right now. And it’s an industry that has been for the silicon valley days. There is a stigma, there is an old guys club like that. What’s your perspective on that, and how is that changing in your eyes?

Grace: Well, it’s changed so much since when I first started. Again, back when I started, I didn’t really know many other female entrepreneurs. I really didn’t have any kind of community to work with. Or you know, the boys club. It changed a lot I have seen this kind of feminism movement go cross the world. For example, accelerators around the world, I have seen them have requirement that, ok,we will only take your startup if you have at least one female co-founder on board.

I think Startup Chile did that. And I was like, Oh, that’s nice, we need to raise that awareness. Because it was definitely something that people were not aware of before. Traditionally, I guess, it’s just not something people are cognitive of. So now, I think in the whole world, there is a lot of awareness around it. So people are taking steps to incorporate that.

It has been very inspiring to see that when I visited entrepreneurs in India. And I had this kind of notion that entrepreneurs women in developing countries would not have as much access and opportunities as a woman, let’s say, in the States. But you know I met many entrepreneurs in India and they are female entrepreneurs in India. They are also building their business that are something really amazing as well as Bahrain.


Sanofi Workship with Lean Startup Machine Organized by Chinaccelerator

The Next Step for Lean Startup Machine Methodology

Ryan: Are you doing a lot of futuristic art and ideas for visualisation of your brand ways and data? Are we gonna see something like an extended javelin board into deeper concepts of what it is to be a startup? Maybe to a co-founder level. What is the next step and how far you can go into designing a process to help startups entrepreneurs globally?

Grace: I think the future is just like a kind of personal fascinations of mine. I’ve been working on that and I think what’s really interesting about working with futuristic art is just again I’m still using very rapid experimentation process even as I develop my art which I don’t think it’s really common for the art industry. But again, it goes back down to really understanding what the market needs and being in tune to that. I think some big feedbacks from people who are opposed to lean startup, it’s just like if I have followed the lean startup, I can’t do this. That’s not true cause I am still applying for the same experimentation process for development with virtual reality and in the very futuristic art projects.

Ryan: So what’s next? I mean, you have all these amazing track records. What do you think is next for the next few years, in terms of you are in China, you are developing lean startup machine methodology in China for all the startups. It’s working great. But what’s gonna happen next year?

Grace: Well, I think it’s an exciting time to be in China. I see so many opportunities. So entrepreneurs could stand here. We offer entrepreneurship education and there are just more need than ever. With regards to the future of work, I think a lot of people would be working remotely over the computers just like more accessible for anyone with ideas to start their own businesses. So what’s really exciting is to be tailoring Lean Startup Machine and the javelin software for Chinese market and bring that to Chinese entrepreneurs here.

  • Grace Ng

Grace Ng is the Co-Founder & CPO of, and the Co-Founder of Lean Startup Machine, a 3-day entrepreneurship education workshop in 150+ cities globally. She has helped thousands of entrepreneurs around the world start new businesses, been a guest speaker at The U.S. White House, and coached Fortune 500 companies on new product innovation.

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