There's a lot you can learn about UX design from the man behind the mouse.
Sibjeet Mahapatra is an entrepreneur and a recent alumni of BrainStation’s accelerated UX Design course in New York.
Sib is the cofounder of an early-stage startup, Bureau, and found time in his busy schedule to chat about his experience at BrainStation and how it’s helping him excel as an entrepreneur.
BrainStation: Can you tell us a bit about your company and how it was founded?
Sib: Bureau helps companies furnish their office space. If you’re the owner or office manager at a growing company, it can be hard to create a comfortable, functional environment for your team without breaking the bank. And so Bureau sells great, affordable office furniture and we provide end-to-end service: delivery, assembly, maintenance, and disposition.
What was your motivation behind taking the accelerated UX Design course?
I have a business background; I started my career in finance and worked for a big real estate tech startup in Seattle. When I founded Bureau, I wanted to broaden my UX skill set and really dig into the product experience that we were hoping to create.
A product manager has a few essential toolkits that they bring to bear on a problem. The first is understanding the business requirements a certain problem involves. The second is understanding users. The third is bringing those things together and crafting a solution that integrates user needs and business objectives. That third element: how to generate a tangible product from business and user research, was something that I wanted to get better at.
What was your favourite part about taking the Accelerated User Experience Design course at BrainStation?
I’m kind of a nerd, so I love that the course was grounded in some theory. I liked the lectures a lot, I liked learning the concepts; I finally had vocabulary to describe different user experience goals and different features of user interfaces.
The other thing that was great was the class. It’s nice to be able to learn in a collaborative way with colleagues and friends who are interested in the same thing. The project we all worked on together was awesome, I enjoyed that a lot.
Could you tell us more about the final project you worked on?
We had to build a transit app. Basically, a new app that would make getting around in your city easier. This is a good way to go through the entire process of designing a user experience. First figuring out: what problem we are solving? Who are we solving it for? What are the key needs that matter? And then actually sketching out solutions, testing them, getting feedback, and finally wireframing our app. It was great to apply these theoretical concepts to a tangible product and really get going within the first day.
What were some of the most valuable skills you gained during your User Experience Design course? Why were these skills important to your role as an entrepreneur?
Here are the two most valuable things I learned. The first was best practices for conducting effective user research. As we develop our product, it’s important for me to be able to build empathy with the customer that we’re serving. And also to make sure that our product strategy is addressing the right needs. I have a basic intuition for how to interview and learn from customers, but knowing the right questions to ask and guarding against bias is one of those things where it’s easy to do, but hard to do well.
The second thing was translating the research to mockups and prototypes that you could then begin to show users. It was really helpful to learn design tools like moqups and InDesign; tools that I had been aware of but never used myself. Some of these tools have a steep learning curve, so it’s great to be walked through how to start.
Was the learning experience different at BrainStation than your previous education? How so?
I studied ethics, politics, and economics in undergrad. I definitely didn’t have any formal training in any of this. I had lots of on-the-job training at my old job and other startups I’ve been a part of, but the combination of theory and hands on experience at BrainStation was very valuable.
Will you bring the concepts you learned back to your team and implement them at Bureau?
Absolutely. I’m doing user research right now, I’m mocking up different experiences for our MVP, and I’m applying just about everything I learned at BrainStation day-to-day here at Bureau.
Can you describe your day-to-day activities as the co-founder of Bureau Office?
It’s kind of cliché, but the best thing about being an entrepreneur is getting to do a bit of everything. That’s especially true at an early-stage startup: you touch every part of the business on any given day. Today I spent the morning working with an agency to help craft our brand, this afternoon my co-founder and I met with an investor, and currently I’m developing our launch strategy and mapping out different growth channels to decide what’s most important.
There’s always more to do than hours in the day. Deciding what matters is an important skill.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill an entrepreneur can have?
Really wanting it. This is not the easiest path in the world, but working on a problem that you care about will help you weather the tough parts. You’re going to have setbacks, and you have to be able to persist through them. If you can do that, you’re probably most of the way there.
If you’re interested in learning more about UX Design, check out BrainStation’s part-time User Experience Design course.