A Fine-Tuned Strategy from the EMBA Business Strategy Project

Alldesign is a new startup bringing positive disruption to the interior architecture market by making professionally designed interiors more accessible and approachable for individuals and businesses alike. Alldesign’s strategy, business model, and go-to-market action plan were honed to perfection during an Aalto Executive MBA Business Strategy Project.

Joanna Sinclair, 03.12.2018

Alldesign is the brainchild of Kristiina Michelsson, an established interior architect who has been a successful entrepreneur for nearly 25 years. She founded her interior architecture company – Studio Arcibella – in 1994. Throughout her career, Michelsson has worked mainly with large commercial projects for hotels, restaurants and other public spaces in Finland and Russia. The unique interiors of Långvik congress center in Kirkkonummi, the GLO hotels, and the flagship store of Marja Kurki in Helsinki are examples of Michelsson’s vision and talent.

In 2015, Michelsson enrolled in the Aalto Executive MBA program to enhance her business skills.

“My passion has always been creating interiors that help my clients succeed in their own businesses, whereas crunching numbers has not been my strongest suit. I decided to pursue an EMBA degree to gain new insights in business after over two decades as an entrepreneur,” Michelsson says.

I decided to pursue an EMBA degree to gain new insights in business after over two decades as an entrepreneur.”

“The Aalto Executive MBA was such a rewarding experience. All through the studies, you could easily see why Aalto EE is ranked amongst the top 50 schools globally: every professor and every module was just fantastic,” she reminisces.

During EMBA studies, participants divide into groups to pursue a unique challenge in the Business Strategy Project, or BSP, as EMBA participants call it. Michelsson knew from the start that she wanted to pitch her idea for a new startup called Alldesign, and hopefully win a place in the BSP, so she could gather a team of EMBA peers to work with her in developing the startup.

“I was thrilled when Alldesign was picked as one of the BSP projects. We had about 20 competing projects, out of which 6 or 7 made it. Alldesign was the only startup, all the other companies selected for the BSP were large established corporations,” Michelsson describes.

A diverse and talented BSP group

Michelsson has a great deal of praise for the peers she recruited for her BSP group. In addition to Michelsson, it included five other members, representing four different industries. Two experts had considerable experience from the telecom sector: a professional board member and seasoned executive. In addition, the group had an MD with extensive administrative experience, another skilled entrepreneur like Michelsson, and a top lawyer who had recently set up his own law firm in Tallinn.

“The diversity and talent we had in our BSP group were superb. I could not have hoped for a better group,” Michelsson says with a smile.

The diversity and talent we had in our BSP group were superb.”

“To top it off, we were extremely lucky to get Professor of Practice Pekka Mattila as our BSP group’s tutor: his insights and enthusiasm toward our work were invaluable to us all through the project. He was so dedicated and passionate that each time we met, we needed four or five of us taking notes, Pekka offered us so many marvelous ideas!”

The BSP group soon found that while ample data is available regarding the construction industry, there is very little research on interior architecture.

“In addition to his great tutoring during the project, Pekka also helped us find statistics about earnings in the field of interior architecture and also guided us to a few excellent master’s theses relating to the industry,” she says.

Much more than a go-to-market strategy

Michelsson points out that the task her BSP group faced was far from easy. Interior architecture as an industry has not seen any major changes for decades. Pencils have been replaced by CAD software, but business models and earning logic have remained near unchanged ever since the field was established in Finland in the 1960s.

“There is considerable interest in Finland toward interior architecture in general – the sheer volume of international interior design magazines sold here is exceptional. But for some reason, interior architecture has often seemed as an unattainable luxury. My vision for Alldesign was a company that could provide conceptualized interior architecture service in a way that makes it accessible to a much larger audience, and ease sales,” she explains.

She got much more from the BSP than she had imagined.”

Initially, Michelsson had envisioned the BSP group helping her develop Alldesign’s go-to-market strategy. As it turns out, she got much more from the BSP than she had imagined.

“The group was extremely talented – and delightfully skeptical. We all ended up putting what must have been hundreds of hours into the project, meeting up every few weeks and creating a 100-page project report,” she says.

“We developed the entire business strategy and business model, and paid special attention to profitability and earning logic, in addition to creating the go-to-market action plan I originally envisioned. The effort and insight everyone put into the project was truly remarkable,” she states.

Michelsson gives special thanks to Aalto EE’s Academic Director Dr. Mikko Laukkanen for arranging a group of Aalto University students to conduct a survey on interior architecture markets for her BSP group.

“The market research showed us how people would be interested in buying interior architecture services and what kind of market there was for Alldesign: For example, which customer groups wished for consultations online, what kind of interest there was for providing initial information through a website, and which customer groups were keenest to meet face-to-face,” she remarks.

Ready to disrupt the market

Michelsson says the greatest reward she got from the Business Strategy Project was sharpening Alldesign’s strategy and earning logic.

“Our group also had excellent ideas on how the company could obtain the greatest networking benefits. The business model canvass we created for Alldesign provided a strong foundation for building the startup,” she affirms.

Today, Alldesign has just been launched and already has its first recruits and customers. Michelsson’s plan is to first test the business model in Finland and then swiftly grow the business to the Swedish and Norwegian markets.

The greatest reward from the Business Strategy Project was sharpening Alldesign’s strategy and earning logic.”

“I have already had talks with a few Swedish colleagues who were very intrigued by the concept. The idea is to bring positive disruption to the field and also offer a way for young interior architects to gain a name for themselves from the start, as Alldesign’s website will offer them a channel for showcasing their work,” she says.

The Alldesign website directs potential customers to a visual quiz, where they can select interior design styles they prefer from options available, and give background information to interior architects about the scale and style of the project they might be interested in commissioning. The website also offers the possibility to book the first meeting with an interior architect, free of charge.

“The quiz helps both customers and interior architects. It gives great background information about the customer’s taste and preferences and provides a good basis for us to offer a price and timetable for the project. In the future, our intention is to utilize the information gathered on the website further and bring analytics and automation to the service,” Michelsson emphasizes.

An outstanding experience

Looking back, Michelsson describes the Business Strategy Project as an outstanding experience.

“Having a group of such brilliant professionals dedicate their time and effort into Alldesign was immensely beneficial,” Michelsson says. “One of my BSP group members is now a Board Member of Alldesign and another is on our Advisory Board.”

It is easily worth tens of thousands if you properly utilize the project outcome.”

“My startup company Alldesign gained incredible benefits from the Business Strategy Project. I find it quite unbelievable that selected companies have the opportunity of receiving this kind of help completely free of charge, providing that their project is chosen amongst the many alternatives that EMBA participants pitch during the BSP. It is hard to put a price tag on the value, but it is easily worth tens of thousands if you properly utilize the project outcome,” she ponders.


The Aalto EMBA Business Strategy Project

During Aalto Executive MBA studies, participants take part in the Business Strategy Project (BSP). The project can be described as the EMBA participants’ final thesis, although the BSP report is not expected to be as academic as a master’s thesis or a research paper.

Each Aalto EMBA participant can suggest a topic for a project, providing that they are able to identify a relevant and tangible strategic business challenge within their own organization, and the organization is willing to have a fresh, even critical, outsider’s view about the challenge, and offer their support for the project.

The EMBA participants vote to choose which topics will be included in the BSP, after which EMBA participants are assigned to projects based on the participants’ individual preferences and competencies, as well as group diversity and dynamics. Confidentiality issues are taken into consideration when assembling the teams.

Each project is assigned an academic tutor, most often a professor from Aalto University, to provide academic support and specific expertise within an area that is useful and relevant for the project in question.

Depending on the number of participants in an EMBA cohort, each cohort works on 6-10 different BSP cases, executed by separate teams.

The end goal of the BSP is for participants to exploit the knowledge they have accumulated during the EMBA program in order to construct an analytical solution or a tool for the strategic business challenge that the BSP group is working on.

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