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Mike Macadaan likes identifying problems. In fact, the first product he created solved a problem that most of us had simply accepted as an unavoidable life frustration: tangled cords. As founder and CEO of leather-accessories brand This is Ground, Mike offers goods that organize creative and tech tools. That first product is called the Cord Taco, and it’s still his #1 bestseller.
Mike discovered the tangled cord problem as a casual people watcher. “If you watch close enough, frustration eruptions are all around us,” he told me. Once the Cord Taco took off, he knew he was onto something — and that problem-solving approach became his business philosophy.
Turns out, tangled cords were just the beginning. Whether you’re traveling across the country or just commuting to work, chances are you’re toting around many tools you need to get your job done. Mike saw a chance to create fashionable accessories to prevent people from being bogged down with their gear. Being properly — and stylishly — organized is the first step in embarking on a creative journey!
Mike told me that noticing problems through observation isn’t very challenging. “Observing without looking like a creep is the hard part,” he jokes.
One way he widened his observations was to hone in on his own frustrations and then expand on these issues with other designers. He created a set of sample personas (a photographer, a designer, an illustrator, and so on), and then found real people that matched them on Instagram. After conducting interviews, Mike would determine each individual’s unique gear and daily habits and then prototype a solution for their everyday carry needs.
“In some cases we would take lists of the types of gear that they carried and then construct accessories for them to test,” he says.
Then they’d expand the test base and share photos on social media and crowdsource even more feedback.”Using your community to help define features requires some discipline so you don’t run off and implement everything you read.”
This Is Ground’s Problem-Solving Process
1. Identify the problem: “Identifying problems in the travel space is not hard. We just watch people struggle at airports, on public transportation, at their travel destinations, and so on, investigating why, what, how, and where problems are occurring.”
2. Research: “We evaluate if and how that problem has already been solved. If the problem hasn’t adequately been solved for modern needs, we move into design.”
3. Design: “We design for utility and usability to allow people to easily find their tools and show off their work in an easy-to-carry fashion.”
4. Test: This Is Ground finds real people who might experience the problem at hand and constructs accessories for them to test. Then they circulate their prototypes across the globe to get user experience feedback. “It’s always great to have a sounding board just to get an initial read on prospective products before investing a ton of money into building them.”
Finding a problem is the easy part. It’s designing a functional solution that people actually want to buy that’s the challenge. Luckily, Mike has created a brand that people love. Just search Instagram for #thisisground to see what I mean: