A Healthier Lifestyle Helped Lead This Tech Exec to His Next Venture

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that couldn’t afford to bring on a senior engineer or executive full time. Soon, he discovered a demand from more mature startups and larger businesses who needed help solving problems with specific products they were developing. Ferguson began applying the principles outlined in the book “Sprint” by three employees of Google’s venture capital arm, GV, including Jake Knapp, who Ferguson says he has previously worked with.

Knapp developed the process, now known as “design sprints,” at GV and used it with numerous businesses the firm backed. It requires small teams to spend five straight days working to solve a specific problem, anything from how to bring on new customers to the best way to develop a new analytics feature. Over those five days, a small group from a company will map out the problem, develop prototypes, and test them out to create a solution, Ferguson says during a phone interview.

“It forces people to turn an abstract idea into a concrete solution,” Ferguson says.

In a city like Austin, where startups, technologists, and consultants are a dime a dozen, it can be tough to stand out, especially if you’re applying a concept anyone can read in a book. Ferguson says he has gained traction with his business, however, in part thanks to the connections he developed over the past couple decades in Austin—one customer has been travel rental company HomeAway, where he facilitated the development of a new product. But Ferguson also argues that his technical expertise and experience has earned him business, in particular from companies that tried to run similar product development projects on their own and failed.

“I’ve seen a lot of these things—I know where they can go wrong,” Ferguson says.

If a company uses someone internally to facilitate one of these workshops, the person can easily be aware of and get caught up in office politics, he says. Having decision-makers involved is necessary for the process, but a staff member who is facilitating can be influenced by the current executives, whereas Ferguson can work with less bias. “It’s not going to impact my 360 review,” he says.

Ferguson says he now keeps a list of about 20 contractors he can use to work as facilitators to help him with demand. His past customers have included Favor, the on-demand delivery service acquired by grocer H-E-B last year; Austin-based ZenBusiness; a large credit card company; and his former employer, Twyla, among others.

The process of shining a light on a problem, revealing inefficiencies, and improving them, is what Ferguson says he loves about working in user-focused technology design. Starting his own business and improving his health have helped Ferguson develop professionally and personally, he says.

“I still have difficult days, but I’ve made tremendous progress. I used to dread working out; now I crave sweat,” Ferguson wrote in Austin Fit. “This transformation made me less self-conscious and things began to fall into place,” he tells Xconomy.

Now, Ferguson says his decision to move out on his own surprises him—he had no idea what it would become or how much he would love it.

“Every new thing I learn is a stepping stone to the next opportunity,” Ferguson says. “Working outside of a specific organization allows me to seek companies that are facing one of these moments, help them through it, and then move on, instead of sticking around and waiting for the next opportunity for change.”

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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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