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VETT: Launching our Indiegogo Campaign

We are Veterans Empowered Through Technology. We teach veterans how to use industrial machines by teaming them up with younger "makers." Project Sidekick is all grown up. Introducing VETT! (UPDATED 8 Feb 2015)

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Check out our Indiegogo Campaign!!!

Link to campaign: 

Here is our Service Journey Map:




These are questions people have asked me over the OpenIDEO platform. If you are reading this and have any more quesitons, write them below and I'll be more than glad to answer them!

How did you meet Robert Slack?
I met Robert Slack while doing research at Techshop. A crucial part of my research process was to find our as much as possible about the existing Veterans program at Techshop. I interviewed Miles, a U.S. veteran who works at techshop, at the front desk and When I told him about my idea, he said that there was another guy named Robert who was working on the exact same idea as I was! I immediatly contacted Robert over email and told him to check out Project Sidekick. We met the next day and have been working together ever since.

What age group is Robert?
Robert just happens to be a U.S. veteran AND over the age of 50. This blew me away because I found the perfect person to prototype Project Sidekick with! Robert and I are proof that Project Sidekick works.

What is / was his job / professional focus?
I really liked Robert when I first met him because he is entrepreneurial minded just like me. Aside from working as a designer and working at techshop, he also has started several other businesses.

What is he focusing on currently? (besides VETT)
From my knowledge, besides family, Robert is 100% committed to VETT. 

What are you doing besides VETT?
When I'm not working on VETT, I am a full time student at San Francisco State University. I am majoring in Visual Communications. Outside of class, I spend most of my time on experience design.

How much of your time is VETT taking and how do you fit this in with anything else? 
Spending my time on VETT feels more like play, and less like work. This is my first real-world experience with UX and service design, so I try to spend as much time on it as possible.
     As much as I love it though, the reality is I have limited time as I am a full time student. One of the main reasons I wanted to work with Robert in the beginning was I knew for this idea to take off, someone else would have to be involved. There is no way I could have done all that Robert has done so far, especially if I would have had to take my classes at the same time. 

How did you get the space for VETT? (& how is the space funded?)
When I met Robert, it turns out that he was already working on an idea nearly identical to mine, and he had already rented out a 400 sq ft space in the same building as techshop. As a student, a space is way out of budget, so Robert is paying for the space.

Are you getting mentoring for your business modelling? (it rocks!)
No, not specifically on business modeling, but I have read as many books on UX/UI that I could get my hands on. My favorites are IDEO's HCD toolkit, Method Design's book Experience Design, This is service design thinking, and the's Book, Make Space.
     My secret to business modelling is to print out gigantic service design diagrams and then laminate them with a whiteboard lamination. (see picture example above) Once the whiteboard diagrams are created, I facilitate a co-designing session. (see picture above) I have created about 8 of these whiteboard diagrams for different business modeling purposes. 
     I am constantly coming up with ideas every day, and I am always asking people what they think. Its almost like a little game where I ask someone to critique my idea, and I time them to see how long it takes for them to find a significant flaw in my idea. I probably have the most debates with my uncle Ron who works at Apple. Sometimes, I come up with a pretty solid idea, but most of my ideas only last about 30 seconds before he can find a flaw. Like that time when I told my uncle I wanted to make a business based around QR codes. 

Ron: “Donji, when was the last time you ever even scanned a QR code?”
Me: “Ummm, never...” (Didn't get very far with that idea)

Can you give me some specifics of how TechShop is helping at this stage?
Techshop provides the facilities and covers the insurance costs of running those facilities. Techshop is also letting us officially use their name in support of our cause.
     Could you imagine how much of a nightmare it would be to start up a whole studio from scratch? We would have to pay tons of money for insurance, buy over $100,000 in machines, and would have to create a database system for keep of which veterans are authorized to use which machines. I think the biggest contribution of Techshop is the culture.  Everyone there is always bouncing ideas off of each other, networking, and building awesome things I have never seen.

Are you interacting with your end users at your space or TechShop's?
We have three spaces where we operate. The first is our off-site office in foster city where we build things like the perks for the indiegogo we are starting. We do not work with veterans at this location.
     The next location we opporate in is the office space that we are renting from Techshop, that is in the same bulding as techshop. We hold our one-on-one veteran assessments here with the veterans where we figure out their interests and figure out a curriculum accordingly. We also have computers in their space where we can teach the veterans computer related courses like photoshop. 
     Right down the hall from the office in the Techshop building is all of the machines and tools. This is officially TechShop's facilities and it is here where he veterans learn how to physically use the various machines. There are many areas to spread out the projects they are working on, and we are there whenever they need us for help on projects.

And the big one: what do you mean personally when you use the term 'veteran'?  (Is it an age bracket – and if so what bracket? Or is it more about military veterans?
When I say Veteran, I am talking about anyone, (both men and women) who have been a part of the United States military at any time in their life. It just so happens that a huge majority of those Veterans are over the age of 50, which is a big reason why I chose to focus Project Sidekick on Veterans. 

Finally – how did you find the 2  veterans who have been through your program at this stage?
They both did extremely well. I personally worked with Luis Paponis, a 91 year old Veteran. We taught him how to use photoshop elements, and the lasercutter. Lou thought our program was insanely great, and told us whether we like it or not he would be our program's spokesmen. 


My Design Process
I have a very particular design process just for service design. Because the there are so many different aspects of a service, as a designer, I could not possibly be an expert on everything. I found these awesome templates online of business diagrams and I had them printed out, and had them finished with a whiteboard lamination at kinkos. 

These whiteboard diagrams are essential because they foster collaborative design. I know many people who just do this with post-it notes, and I like that method too, but not everyone can think in the form of post-its. I find these diagrams are an easy intro to beginners at design thinking because they give the post-it note brainstorm context. I can also re-use these over and over again. 

This is a picture from a brainstorming sesh:

Project Sidekick recap
Project sidekick is a veteran training program funded by companies looking to hire skilled workers, and supported by younger mentors with the goal of getting these veterans jobs, all taking place at various maker-spaces like TechShop. 

VETT and how is it different
VETT stands for Veterans Empowered Through Technology. Unlike Project Sidekick, VETT is for all veterans. While I originally had my heart set on focusing just on older Veterans, I wanted to team up with Robert, and had to make a compromise to include all veterans (I'll go over that in a little bit).

Under the umbrella of “all veterans” We have identified 3 groups of veterans that could benefit greatly from our service and we call them the 3 R’s: Rehabilitation, Rejuvenation, and Reintegration.  

Rehabilitation represents veterans with injuries and disabilities. These are veterans with injuries who could benefit from rehabilitative services. These injuries could be physical, mental, or emotional. 

Rejuvination represents our older veterans who need something to do to keep them young. This group may also include veterans who did not grow up with computers and who may need extra help with learning technology.

Reintegration represents our younger veterans coming back from war and who need to be reintegrated into society. These younger veterans come back from war and need to learn the skills needed to get a job while at the same time making that mental transition from the military mindset to the civilian mindset.   

Another big difference from Project Sidekick is the branding. Project Sidekick was cartoony and fun. It had bright colors and a friendly metaphors. I was informed by Robert, a veteran himself, that this doesn't fly in the Veteran community, including people who sponsor veteran programs. I had to redesign the branding to be more serious, and tailor the logo to things veterans associate with.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Wow Donji. I am blown away! Amazing collaborative effort and project. Kudos to all involved! Thank you for sharing your story and the updates. How have you been recruiting Vets into the program thus far?

Good luck as you continue to design/build Vett. (Thanks for posting about your design process. Great ideas in there!) Will keep my eye out for your Indiegogo.

Photo of Donji YD


Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Donji!
Happy New Year!
How is the VETT program progressing? There are some posts about maker spaces on the current Financial Longevity Challenge and my thoughts came back to your inspiring project!

Photo of Aaron Dolak


You should reach out to

Also, I thought maybe contacting a military bases to have old vets talk to soldier getting out of the military.
When they take TAPS:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Hey Donji – I was wondering more about your partner in crime, Robert Slack, given he hasn't got details on this OpenIDEO profile. When you say he's a 'veteran' – is he a war veteran or something else? What age bracket does he fall into? What skills has he brought to your team? I'd love to learn more about this exciting partnership.

Photo of Donji YD

Thanks for the feedback! I'll update it with that information.

Photo of Donji YD

Thank you for the questions! Just updated this post with the answers.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Freaking awesome stuff, Donji! I just stumbled on this now and am blown away by all your progress. Keep up the stellar work.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

I'm incredibly inspired by this story on collaboration and what it really takes to bring an idea to reality. Keep up the great work!

Photo of Donji YD

Thanks guys!