Neeraj Joshi


Design Thinking for Startups

PushInterview 03:

A Candid conversation with Nitin Sethi of Quikr on Design Thinking for Startups

Eight out of Ten entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. That accounts for a whopping 80%.

But why? Why do you think startups fail? CB Insights says this:


The number one reason why startups fail, which accounts for 42% of failures, is because there is no market need, for the product or service developed.

Yes, it looks like a million dollar idea. Yes, it looks impressive. But unfortunately, it is not solving a core problem for which people would pay.

This is where Design Thinking kicks in.

I got a chance to interact with Nitin Sethi of Quikr on “Design Thinking for Startups”.

In this interview, Nitin shares critical insights and learnings that he acquired from being in this domain for the past 17 years.

This is the third interview of the series “PushInterview: Interviews that helps you Pushstart” powered by Pushstart.

Check out my previous interview on “How I built one of the most active startup community of India” if you had missed it.

1. Tell us about your journey till now?

I am a Product Design and UX enthusiast with 17 years of rich experience in startups across sectors.

Nitin Sethi, VP Product Design & User Experience at Quikr

I have seen three generations of digital products in my professional journey so far. I am currently heading as VP Product Design & User Experience. Previously headed and Info Edge (The Group company).

At the initial stage of my career, I have worked for brands like Bharti Airtel, Indiatimes, Rediff and as a consultant for various national and international consumer-centric digital players.

2. What is your take on Design Thinking and How it can help the startups?

Design Thinking is all about finding the problem worth solving. It is a systematic approach to framing and solving problems based on close and empathetic observation of customers.

Design Thinking is all about finding the problem worth solving

Design Thinking forces people to think broadly about users’ needs and be generative rather than purely analytical. It is always a collaborative and non-linear process.

Design Thinking, when done right, results in the launch of successful products that delight customers. Designers can achieve so much when they stick together and share helpful knowledge, tips and feedback.

A high-performance team of Design Thinkers is obsessed with creating great outcomes. They test and validate until they create a great product that meets business objectives and makes the customer happy.

“High-performance team of Design Thinkers practices a continuous cycle of building, measuring, and learning against an outcome. They focus on outcome rather than output.”

Design Thinking can improve the success rate of startups. By embracing it in the correct way, one can fail fast and know exactly what is going wrong with the product or service from a consumers perspective.

“Lack of customer-centric approach, user research and product testing is hurting startups the most.”

Validating startup ideas at the right time with real users is very critical. Most founders lack the “problem seeker” approach.

“You don’t have to be a designer to think like a Design Thinker.”

Design Thinking is just a buzzword unless it is used as an approach to focus on the right problem and deliver meaningful and highly-functional solutions which are supported by traditional business metrics to drive the right ROI.

3. Which ingredient of design thinking is most important according to you and why?

According to me, Customer Empathy will continue to be the most important attribute.

Customer Empathy is the most important ingredient of Design Thinking
“Someone in the organization should represent the point of view of the customer.”

And who can be better than a Design Thinker for this role?

“Design Thinking requires a team to walk into their customer’s shoes. It encourages them to think out of the box, enabling rapid prototyping and testing of ideas in the market, and iterating appropriately.”

This means that the end-consumer is ultimately shaping the final experience; since they are part of the process from the start, the experience will resonate.

“At its core, Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation.”

Jobs Alerts are the most critical piece of any job portal to get back the users. Matching alerts need to be done in a personalized way with a ‘One in a Million’ approach to customized user experience.

We worked really hard to improve the overall experience of Job Alerts at Naukri and kept up with the iterations and testing. I am sure the process still remains same.

4. What is your general Design Thinking process?

The basic pillars of Design Thinking

The basic pillars of Design Thinking remain same across verticals and sectors.

  • Empathize: Establish a shared understanding of who the customer is.
  • Define: Align with the core problem to be solved/jobs to be done.
  • Ideate: Have structured ways to generate ideas in quick succession.
  • Prototype: Turn those ideas into testable prototypes.
  • Test: Validate the prototype with real customers.

With tons of failures and few successes, I have learned this and kept it close my heart:

  • Design for users, Not for the geeks: It needs to make sense to everyone.
  • Do your research: Understand your users and their requirements.
  • Integrate UX from the start: It is not a last minute add-on.Test with real users at every stage.

5. How can a startup implement Design Thinking?

“Make design a critical accentual function while forming a team and not an afterthought.”

Design Thinking is as important as Technology or Operations for which you usually plan the budget and scope of your business.

In India, Design Thinking is not valued when compared with Technology. Many startups still limit themselves to UI or Visual Design when they think about design.

I started as a Visual Designer moved to UI Design, then migrated to UX and now I embrace Design Thinking.

“If your products are solving problems and making sense to the consumer, you will sail through. One should always keep his/her eyes and ears open for feedback.”

At Yatra, we did many customer-centric initiatives which revolved around improving customer loyalty and reducing the cost of acquisition for new customers.

“If you can build features to make repeat purchases happen, you will be able to grow your business and outplay the competition.”

Yatra’s eCash is a very good example in this context.

6. Is applying Design Thinking too expensive for a startup?

Yes and No: No, if you start it from Day Zero and Yes if you plan it at a later stage of the marketing budget.

It will not give you a direct ROI from day one but in long term, it will make a difference. Although, you can measure and link it to the ROI like many successful global companies do.

“It is like a SIP (Mutual Funds). Keep investing systematically at regular intervals for long-lasting returns.”

The discovery phase is critical in Design Thinking. Most of the work should be focused on developing a human-centered understanding of the problem before going into the solution mode.

It is like wearing a seatbelt while you are driving on a highway. Many startups redo their products as they haven’t invested in Design Thinking from the start.

7. One startup which has successfully implemented Design Thinking?

I can name at-least 10–15 startups from India which have successfully implemented Design Thinking.

We have emerging leaders and many unicorns in Payment, E-commerce, Travel, Auto, Pharma, Classifieds, News, Food-Tech, Delivery, Logistics etc.

As an ecosystem, we have just started our journey. There is so much to be done in the field of Solar, Water, Air, Health, Education, Last mile commute and Food at mass scale.

“The startup which has Design Thinking as a culture will outplay the competition by multiple notches.”

It gives you that competitive edge as you have critical insights coming your way at the right time.

Knowing what works and what not plays the most crucial part of any startup’s journey.
“Nowadays customers expect a different experience, one that is simple and delightful, where Commerce is seamless, and Technology is invisible.”

In Today’s Global Economy, a company’s brand is primarily driven by the experience and not by the advertising money behind the message.

Organizations have to get closer to their customer needs, motivations, and expectations to better determine how the Technology or Platform can deliver the best possible experience.

8. How to build a team which thinks in the language of Design thinking?

Hiring the right talent in this field is still very challenging.

“India needs 10,000 Design Thinkers to help create a better startup ecosystem.”

It is about hiring the right partner with a long-term perspective. There should be someone in the core team who becomes the voice of the consumer and put the foot down in favour of them to make things better.

“The language spoken in the company should be around the benefit of consumers. This can only happen if the right set of people get enough empowerment to work on user goals.”

I am lucky to be part of Quikr’s growth. I got a free hand to build the core Product Design & User Experience team.

We do a lot of A/B testing across platforms at Quikr and keep a very close eye on the customer experience.

In a company, it is super important to have the right set of people with diversified complementary skills.

9. What metrics should a founder consider if he/she is embarking on the journey of Design Thinking?

The inherent risks in the traditional way of doing business, “Build first, Find customers later” are too high.

Two new age Design Thinking approaches for founders (needs change):

  • Fail fast, Fail cheap.
  • Integrate different perspectives.
“The most important outcome of the successful implementation of Design Thinking process is more happy customers.”

Key metrics differ from case to case depending upon the type of business. For transactions led business, it can be CTR, Conversions, Repeat Orders, Direct Traffic, Cancellation Rate, Social Ratings, Brand Recall etc.

When developing a product, take a human-centric approach for responding to feedback and take the product through multiple iterations and testing cycles.

10. One sign which kills Design Thinking?

Is the team sitting around a conference room table and listening to the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion)?

This is the biggest sign that the team is not embracing Design Thinking.

“Building a feature is easy. But building the right feature for the right audience is challenging.”

Life is too short to build something nobody wants. In the ever-evolving age of powerful customers, efforts to embrace Design Thinking must be the top priority.

11. Any useful tips for startups?

Few Handy Tips For Startups:

  • Translate your content into more local languages for organic growth.
  • Do a lot of A/B testing.
  • Understanding the UX as a critical component is imperative.
  • Lack of customer-centric approach can kill your business fast.
  • Design Thinking is the stage zero of your product development lifecycle.
  • Be curious, keep exploring and thrive to improve.
  • Treat customers like assets, not like transactions.
“Last but not the least, Design Thinking is not a Magic Wand.”

12. Any books or online resources you would recommend to get started with Design Thinking?

I prefer Smashing Magazine, Medium, Boxes and Arrows, Dribble, DesignTAXI and Slideshare for the richness and depth of free content they offer.

One can get a lot of free material online. But I feel that the real learning happens when you do it and get your hands dirty.

Attend workshops and seminars happening on the topic to begin with, while you start reading to get well versed.

Few books/resources that I would recommend:

“ One big step forward to become a Design Thinker is to improve your listening power and take criticism on product positively.”

13. How can we get in touch with you?

You can reach me @ Linkedin, Twitter, Skype, Facebook or Email.

Thanks a lot for reading! :) If you liked it, please support by clapping 👏🏻 and sharing the post. Feel free to leave a comment 💬 below.

Hey! Neeraj here, the founder of Pushstart, India’s most active entrepreneur community. I release interviews with successful entrepreneurs every week.

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