Starting a groundup can be incredibly empowering, as you get to see the immediate effects of your actions. If you’re always full of ideas and want to see change happen, starting a groundup might be just for you! Here’s how you can get started.
1. Identify a problem you want to solve.
Problems, problems, everywhere! But sometimes when we’re are actively looking for problems to solve, they suddenly all just disappear from sight. Some simple ways in which we can identify social problems:
Observe. Sit down on a bench at your neighbourhood estate and watch the happenings around you. Take a break from your phone and watch as people interact with one another. Often, we can pull out interesting snippets of information by simply observing our surroundings with a keen eye.
Volunteer. Care passionately about a specific cause? Volunteer with an organisation in that space and immerse yourself in the cause. By proactively putting yourself on the ground, you get access to first-hand accounts of where the problems are. But don’t just go through the motions of attending volunteering activities. Be inquisitive as you listen to beneficiaries share about their day, speak with the staff as they go about their routines, and interact with fellow volunteers to hear from them too. Not sure where to find volunteering opportunities? Check out giving.sg.
Read. You’ll be surprised at what you can find by simply scrolling through news feeds. Stories of people sharing about their lives, thought pieces that reflect the author’s experiences, and even local everyday news. News feeds have become a treasure trove of bite-sized insights, so dive in and discover. One of my personal favourites is CNA Insider and their On The Red Dot series.
Reflect. Think back on your journey throughout the day. What problems did you face? What did you see or experience that evoked strong emotions in you? Was there a pet peeve that kept popping up? Chances are, you’re not the only one facing that issue, so that might be something worth looking into.
2. Develop a plan.
Now that you’ve identified the problem, there are two key questions to ask: Why is this happening and what can I do about it?
To find out why the problem exists and to get to the root of it, ask. Conduct interviews with practitioners in the space, have casual chats with the beneficiaries of the non-profit you volunteer with, co-share knowledge with peers who have a keen interest in the same area. It’ll also be good to arm yourself with conversational techniques to get to the root issue – one of those that I’ve found to be quite effective is The 5 Whys, borrowed from the school of design thinking.
Once you have that, then it’s all about coming up with solutions. Go crazy with your ideas! Don’t limit yourself to what can or cannot be done at the current moment, and build on each other’s ideas if you’re doing this as a team. When you’ve generated a bucket of crazy ideas, put on your rational hat and drill down on those crazy ideas to turn it into something implementable and feasible. And when you have your solution, do a sanity check and test it against the problem you were trying to solve – very often we fall into the trap of falling in love with our idea without realising that it evolved into something that doesn’t solve our actual problem. Oh, and keep bouncing your ideas off others, the more you talk about it the more your groundup idea gets refined.
3. Find partners.
This may be listed as the third step, but it’s actually quite a fluid step. Finding partners can take place anytime during your groundup journey – in fact you may even find someone like-minded to work with even before you guys have an idea to work on! You could also choose to go at it alone, but I’ve found that having the right partners makes a world of a difference. Partners can offer different perspectives, helping to cover some of your blind spots. Having partners with complementary skillsets also means that you’re able to accomplish a wider range of tasks together, and they’re the best people to provide moral support and mutual accountability. And if that isn’t enough… well, having an extra pair of hands and legs is always great!
How many partners should you have? Well, this isn’t something that has a definitive answer, as you’d find with many of the other questions you’ll have along the way. Analyse what skillsets you will need to carry out your idea, and weigh that against the inertia of having too many people involved in decision-making processes.
Don’t sweat it if you can’t find suitable partners right away though. Continue working on your idea, attend networking sessions, and keep talking to people!
Time to put your plan into action! But instead of committing a large amount of painfully-sourced resources into a plan that may or may not work, keep your first piece of action small but realistic.
Use pen and paper if you’re developing a card game for patients with dementia, test your idea within your estate if you’re working to improve neighbourliness, or get permission from the non-profit you’re volunteering with to test-bed your idea with a couple of the beneficiaries. Watch as people interact with your product or service, and get feedback from them. Another important test to carry out would be to “sell” your idea to a small pool of your target audience. See whether people get the idea and if they sign up or register for future sessions. This is also a good time to find out what their considerations are and how you can further improve on your idea.
Where possible, avoid purely using surveys as validation of your prototype – what people say they will do and what they actually do can be drastically different at times. It’s important to bring your idea to the ground and test it through action.
By the end of the pilot, you should be able to get a rough sensing of how it went. Take note of indicators like how many people showed up versus how many you reached out to, as well as how many people who attended indicated interest for more of what you’re doing. Be objective, even without specific numbers to measure against. Look at things like whether it was difficult to obtain users, did people understand your product/service, and whether you had to talk till the proverbial cows came home to convince people to come back.
There’s absolutely no shame in determining that your project wasn’t a success. Be honest to yourself and go back to the drawing board with your head held high – it’s nothing more than a learning point in your journey towards success. It’s perfectly normal to not get it right on your first try, just like everything else in life. Iterate on your idea and figure out the parts that didn’t work so well, or even scrap the idea and come up with something new altogether. Rinse and repeat till successful! (On a sidenote, try not set perfection as your benchmark for success)
Starting a groundup can be a really fulfilling process, and it’s highly achievable for anyone that sets out to do it. These steps are a good start to making a difference with your groundup efforts, but realise also that it requires consistent effort and being open to changes along the way. Keep an eye out for the movements on the ground, stay curious about the changing needs of the people you’re helping and keep tweaking your solution as you go, and you’ll be on your way to making the world a better place.