Office Hours: I teach design thinking at Northwestern and work in product for a B2B marketplace startupFeatured

Hi everyone! Thanks in advance for your thoughtful questions. I’m Gabrielle Ruiz-Funes, on the product team at Torch Technology, a Bessemer backed startup revolutionizing the b2b marketplace for healthcare supplies. 👩‍🏫I am also on the faculty at Northwestern University, teaching design thinking and doing.💼Previously, I was head of the digital innovation lab at Home Chef and led the Operations Technology group that helped us scale to acquisition by grocery giant, Kroger Co. Prior to Home Chef, I was a software engineer at Razorfish (now SapientRazorfish) and lead manufacturing engineer at ITW. 🎓I earned two engineering degrees from Northwestern University - industrial engineering and management science (IEMS) and manufacturing and design engineering (MaDE).😎In my free time I'm on the board of an innovative education nonprofit called Prismatic and love creating products that use technology to help women better understand themselves and their bodies.❤️My mission is to help people thrive individually and collectively and I believe we can do that through 1) education innovation 2) authentic connection and 3) collaboration. I'm passionate about elevating feminine qualities as essential to business, and I give talks and workshops on helping women identify their authentic feminine qualities as a platform for success. Check out the latest talk at ChiWitCon 2020:✨Why am I doing this? Because I believe in Shine Theory! A rising tide lifts all boats!! ❓Ask me anything about design thinking, innovation, product management, leadership, teaching, technical management, startups, prototyping and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @themightygaby!Elphas – please ask @themightygaby your questions before Friday, February 26th. @themightygaby may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @themightygaby! Wow and wow wow wow!! so impressed and inspired!
The very same to you, @danielagduca! Your bio is amazing - I admire anyone with the persistence and patience to pursue a PhD.I'm a big believer in Shine Theory so thank you for your positive energy!
What are your recommendations for encouraging others at your organization to incorporate design thinking into everyday decisions? I've found it is often a stated intention but not practiced in the day to day. Thanks!
Logan, I love this question, and wish I had an awesome answer. This is tricky because you're absolutely right - design thinking gets lots of lip service! For me, it's helpful to consider why it *isn't* an organic part of everyday decisions. Is it because of a lack of true understanding of how to apply design thinking - or what design thinking is? Is the reason a function of how the organization or team is structured? Have people had bad experiences with design thinking projects?Here are a few tactical approaches I've tried with success:1. Reframing design thinking in terms of the ways in which your organization currently makes decisions. For example, if you regularly create product briefs, perhaps you could take some time to interview customers, host a brainstorm with some cross-functional stakeholders. and use those as inputs to the brief. The value of design thinking is the outcome. so having informally incorporated some design thinking methods into your thinking will more likely than not translate into a strong product brief.2. Organize training sessions that involve a real project - become the design thinking expert in the organization!3. I created "labs parties" at Home Chef - this was essentially condensing design thinking into a 1 or 2 day event. I would do the research and some ideation up front and then gather a cross-functional team to produce a prototype in one day.4. The most impactful way to infuse design thinking into an organization is to practice it yourself! When I worked at Home Chef, I would often go and work on the production line or work with associates who used the technology we built. This may not translate exactly to your organization, but walking the talk will not only produce better work (as you thinking works!) it will also start to permeate the culture around you.
One other thought - a point of friction can often arise when someone gotten emotionally attached to their own idea. When this is a colleague or superior, it can be tough to convince them to abandon this idea in favor of some discovery or ideation sessions. When this occurs, I find it helpful to adopt a "yes and" mindset - include their idea in user research or when evaluating ideas from a brainstorm. Having someone's idea included as part of design thinking does everybody a service - it may be the winning concept, and if not then it's subject to the same rigor and user-centered standards as all of the others.
Thanks!! This is an awesome answer :) you’ve given me a lot of great ideas. I especially love the yes and mindset - I think that goes a long way and can be contagious. And the ideas about working in ideation sessions. I also try to say “how might we” as often as possible and hope it catches on!
Hi @themightygaby Thanks for being here. I’m also an academic-entrepreneur. I’m full time faculty at a medical school and working on my startup. I’m curious at how your division of your work week goes. How do you divide your time? Which do you rely on for income?
You're a total Rockstar @ThereseLCanares! Thank you for asking about income! This is a topic I would love to see discussed more among entrepreneurs. women, and most especially female entrepreneurs.I'll answer your second question first: I rely on my current role at Torch for income. Previously, I relied on my job at Home Chef. I am paid for teaching, but it is not my main source of income.Right now, my time roughly breaks down to30%+ day job5-10% teaching 5-10% my own product developmentThe rest of my time is spent on my relationships, my health, relaxing (it's important!) and involvement in the Board I serve on. It's worth noting. this can look very different week-to-week based on the demands of work, inspiration I have on my projects, etc.One thought that might be useful to you: full time employment means that the majority of my week is spent on my job. As someone with a deep entrepreneurial spirit, that is something I've struggled with philosophically - not because my work is boring...quite the opposite! I'm stimulated and engaged every day, so that means I have less mental bandwidth for developing my own products and other endeavors. While there are endless examples of entrepreneurs who took the leap and jumped into full time entrepreneurship. it's taken me a while to appreciate that everybody has different risk profiles as well as financial and personal demands. I offer this as encouragement that working on a startup while having a full time job doesn't mean the idea or business is illegitimate, it just means you aren't yet at the point where you can reallocate your time.If you ask anyone who knows me well, they'll consistently tell you time management is a huge weakness of mine, so I'm always looking for systems of accountability for my projects outside of work. I would love to know your methods!
What are the biggest challenges in growing a B2B marketplace (on the demand side)? And how do you overcome those challenges?
A helpful resource our CEO shared discusses the notion of appropriately matching buyers and sellers in a scalable way is the hardest part of a b2b marketplace. See
Fantastic question! I'm new to Torch (2 weeks!) so this is a question I'll flag to revisit as I learn more.Right off the bat, one major challenge that I've noticed is building trust with a business. At first blush, this is more difficult than building trust with an individual consumer. If I'm disappointed by a new app, product, or service as an individual, all I have to do is stop using it, unsubscribe, or decide not to repurchase. It's much more complicated for a business to decouple their processes from a b2b product. Because of this, the stakes are higher for onboarding new tools, so it's incumbent on the b2b marketplace/product/service to establish a much deeper level of trust. Torch specifically does a fantastic job of building a personal relationship with our customers - we know that's something technology can't automate away!
Hi @themightygaby! I’m the founder of an e-learning platform that focuses on online business! We’re looking to start approaching universities to purchase access for their students. Do you think it’s best for us to approach professors directly (maybe someone in the business or entrepreneurship department) or try the student affairs department?
Hi Eman! Congratulations. What's the name of your e-learning platform?I think both professors and student affairs departments are great inroads - you'll learn something different from each group. Student governments are also a good channel for demonstrating the value of your product by getting students to engage with it.From a faculty/institution standpoint, professors are likely to give you a faster feedback cycle and they can also be great early champions of your product. University departments may move slower but having some traction with a few faculty could help accelerate your conversations with the institution.
Thank you so much! It's called Terrain ( That's super helpful, thank you! Time to start emailing professors, hah!
Hi Gabrielle,Thank you taking the time to answer all of our questions!I’m particularly interested in your faculty role at northwestern. How did you get into teaching? And have you noticed a shift in what traditional universities are looking for in their professors?I work as a PM now and would love to eventually have the opportunity to teach!
Hi Sam! Great question.My journey into teaching is likely not traditional - A few years ago, I taught at a 2-week Design Thinking bootcamp in China ( One of the designers I taught with became faculty at Northwestern (Pam Daniels - founder of Pam and I developed a friendship and shared excitement about teaching, design. innovation, etc. and she was gracious enough to ask me to teach a section of her class and develop my own curriculum.I'm not sure if universities are looking for alternative faculty - I imagine varies by industry and university!Like you, I had aspirations for teaching, so I do believe it it will come your way if you want it!A few pieces of advice that helped me prepare for this:1. Reach out to teach workshops or bite-sized topics! You can do this on youtube, through local product organizations. etc. Teaching a 10-week course is very different from a workshop. but smaller teaching engagements will help prime your teaching muscle.2. Try to speak at conferences or meetups! Learning how to translate your skills and expertise into a format others can connect with is an important ingredient in teaching3. Develop (or deepen) your relationship with your alma mater! Volunteer to mentor students or get involved in annual career coaching etc. that most universities offer students. You might not directly be teaching, but you'll soon be a go-to for panels and this can be a great path to teaching (this is something I have done since graduating)4. Reach out to organizations like General Assembly or bootcamps. They're always looking for instructors for workshops etc. One caveat here - often times you won't be compensated. I personally take issue with this since they're making money off of your knowledge, but if you want a way to get experience through established organizations this is a good avenue. I have not done this myself but I have participated on panels and spoken at GA events.Good luck :)
Thank you for the incredibly thoughtful answer!
Thank you for the very insightful response!
@themightygaby thanks so much for hosting office hours! Can you share some of the highlights from your workshops? What do you most commonly recommend? How do you work through hesitation/skepticism? What are some easy (but non-obvious) ways women can get started defining their feminine style, then use it as a super power?Also if we have a company or group interested in a workshop, how should we get in touch?
Thanks @Rache for asking about the workshop highlights, what Gaby commonly recommends and how to stay connected for any upcoming workshops she may have.@themightygaby Just want to add that I am always so happy to see women in STEM, and the fact that you have TWO engineering degrees = 👏👏👏
I'm so glad you're interested to know more, Lauren! I'll post a more thorough response to your/Rachel's inquiry about my workshops shortly. In the meantime, you can check out the most recent version of my workshop from ChiWitCon 2020 on Youtube - (This was a modified format because we were remote! Typically, attendees get worksheets and it's more focused on the exercise of personal branding)
Hi Gabrielle @themightygabyMy name is Irene, I'm a third-year Ph.D. student in Economics and currently, I'm working with a team on a startup. We are at the early stage, meaning we've built a team and made a prototype for our service. We've started writing a business plan and working on MVP, nevertheless, I'm concerned whether a startup that has not been tested on market may seem not attractive to the accelerators or angel investors. Is there a chance that we can still be founded only with a business plan, team, and MVP? Do acceleators in 2021 accept such startups or do they expect companies that have already launched their product?We are in process of applying to the Innovation Hub at the University, but it seems they are aiming for already established companies. I would really appreciate your feedback! Thank you!
This is a great question, Irene! I'll break this answer into a few parts because you touched on a few really important topics:1. Will a concept that has not been tested on market seem unattractive to the accelerators or angel investors?> If you have a prototype, why not use it to test on the market?! Your early-stage prototype can be a great indicator of who your early adopters will be, and getting that in front of prospective customers will tell you a lot about how far you are from MVP, and whether you found that product/market fit. I'm not an investor (yet!) but to me, a company that ins't afraid to take action, get out there, and test their product would be far more attractive than the company with a perfect business plan. A few years ago, my friend and I were developing a fertility wearable. We actually found folks who were trying to conceive on Facebook groups and sent them our *very* rudimentary prototype to test. We learned so much about their thinking! Don't be afraid to show your work in progress to people who you want as future customers.2. Is there a chance that we can still be funded only with a business plan, team, and MVP?> A team, an MVP, and a business plan is more than many successful businesses have when they start! Don't forget a Minimum Viable Product is still a product! 3. Do accelerators in 2021 accept such startups or do they expect companies that have already launched their product?> This depends on the accelerator and your product. For example, if your product is a major advancement in technology, it may require an investment in an idea instead of a proven product. I would encourage you to form relationships with people at the university who can be strong advisors to give feedback on your application. Also remember that if you don't get accepted to the accelerator, you should push forward! When I experienced setbacks in products I created, it was hard for me to push forward because I didn't have a plan B. Think about what alternatives there are to accelerators in case that doesn't work out! Believe in yourself and your team :)
Thanks for being here! How did you move from manufacturing to media to grocery and finally healthcare? What advice do you have for someone looking to change industries?