This is a quick story about how I started working with the Blackstone Launchpad in NUI Galway, and how we created an extremely effective user experience with just two buttons.
I walked in the door in early September. It was bustling with activity and I was curious to see what all the fuss was about, but my expectations were low. My experience with ‘entrepreneur types’ in Galway was less than encouraging. Within 10 minutes I was sitting down with a mentor discussing my business and how I could grow it. I knew then I wanted to work with the Launchpad.
As it happened, my relationship with the Launchpad was mutually beneficial — I needed help figuring out the details of my business, and they needed to rescue a failing booking system. I soon got to work.
Blackstone is a big company. Like 31.5 billion US dollars in assets big. And the launchpad program, their campus based entrepreneurial program, has over 500,000 students around the world receiving mentorship and building businesses.
A program of this magnitude requires a lot of management and unfortunately for the program team, the software system they had in place was not up to scratch. The UI was terrible. There were massive security holes. Data was going missing on a regular basis. Nobody was happy.
By the time I began working on the system for Galway, the Washington DC based startup that had been providing their software had stopped answering emails, their website was offline, and they had lost most of the data they required for their annual report.
The launchpad in Galway faced further challenges. They wanted to help students become entrepreneurs in a university where entrepreneurship is the exception, and in Ireland’s most bohemian city. Sure, there are 17,000 students on campus yearly, but of the fraction that came through the Launchpad door, few were booking mentoring sessions, preferring to show up for casual ad-hoc discussions which lead nowhere and helped nobody.
Our main focus had to be the user experience for booking mentoring sessions. Unlike most university systems, where a student’s degree or exam results provide an incentive to log in and use the system — no matter how abysmally designed — we had to encourage students to use the system by making it easy.
A few short revisions later, we had a design that worked exceptionally well. By paring down the UI to just two big beautiful buttons, we focused attention directly on booking a mentoring session. Bookings were being made more than ever before.
The next challenge lay in presenting this information clearly. All of the following information had to be presented to students, staff or admins in some form:
- A personal schedule of meetings
- Individual meeting notes, details of who was there and what was discussed.
- Projects which can be discussed in many meetings with many different people.
- Aggregate statistics and reports for staff showing the number of signups, meetings, and progress over time.
All of this information must also be secure and only available to the authorised people within the launchpad.
The staff at the Blackstone Launchpad in NUI Galway were model customers. They communicated their needs exceptionally well and were open to advice and suggestions that could help the UI, UX and overall aesthetic of the system.
We had a working system in place within 2 weeks that was field tested by the staff and interns for over a month. Continued effort was made to refine the system and add new features iteratively.
By the time annual reports were once again due, Galway was the only Launchpad with a working system in place, data gathered and reports prepared.