Design Your Startup By Seeing the Signs

In December 2015, I embarked on a startup journey with my co-founder (and husband Jack) to build an online fantasy sports platform (PilipinasHoops)for Philippine’s national basketball league — the PBA.

Like any other tech startups, we started focussing all our attention on the technical areas first. Little did we know that there is more to a startup than just building the app.

The next part of my startup life chapter is Growth. Growth is the most exciting and heartbreaking stage of building a startup. This is the place where most startups will propel or die.

But how do you know that you are on the right track? How do you know that you are gaining traction with your customers?How do you know that the winds of opportunity are going your way and not against you? Do you get given a sign? If so, what do the signs look like?

Here’s an insight into the earliest part of our startup journey in building our fantasy sports platform.


Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

When it comes to design, PilipinasHoops is influenced by three essential factors:

1. Our target users

As we build PilipinasHoops, we have to keep in mind the nature of our market and our target users. In the Philippines, the concept of a fantasy basketball game for the PBA is not very well understood (yet). So we decided to have a simple design to create a basic platform layout.

The essence of the game itself is that you as a user will be able to build a Superteam of basketball players. You can compete against other Superteams registered in a contest. And, you win if your Superteam’s total fantasy points are higher than anyone else in the contest.

2. Our business guiding principle

We knew that in time, we would be iterating the design of the game and its components as we grow. So, none of our approach to the design is sacred. The only guiding principle we have is to keep our users coming back.

3. Hypothesis

In creating PilipinasHoops, our primary hypothesis is that at some point — our users will pay us to play the game.

Not all Features Are Created Equal

One of the unique game features we have introduced in PilipinasHoops is the concept called Boost Pack. A Boost pack adds 10% boost to your Superteam’s total score.

Boost packs to the rescue!

Initially, we designed the boost pack as an incentive to get our current users to invite their friends and then have them join a contest. Its primary purpose is to encourage growth organically through our existing network of users.

Months passed afterwards, we start seeing signs of traction when we noticed the following behaviours from our users:

1. We received numerous messages about boost packs being unfair to the people who did not have one.
This is a game of skill and those boost packs are unfair!”, one user said. 
Get rid of boost packs! It’s ruining the game!”, another one says.

2. We also received a constant question of how boost packs work and how to get them.
3. Then something interesting happened. Or scary depending on how you look at it. A small set of our users started gaming the system. They would go out of their way to create dummy accounts, go through the process of inviting these dummy accounts, and enter a Superteam for the dummy accounts. All because they wanted boost packs.

As it turned out, boost packs got very popular within our user groups. We based this on the sheer number of questions, protests, and people gaming it.

We took this as a sign, and maybe it’s time to look more deeply into Boost packs.

Here’s how we reacted to our user behaviours:

1. Complaints about being unfair.

At first, we were worried. What if boost packs are hurting the experience of our users to enjoy the game? Is it that unfair?

A closer look at the people who were giving these comments and we saw that they are people who know how to play fantasy basketball already. The concept of boost pack is non-existent in the traditional fantasy sports games. We know it sounds unfair to the skilled users, BUT to the beginners, in fantasy Filipino basketball — we think it’s working.

To validate this claim, we looked into our analytics, and our user numbers didn’t look like it’s suffering. In fact, it was growing!

We also looked called upon our business guiding principle — keep our users coming back. So with this in mind, we decided to keep the boost pack.

2. Questions about how the boost pack works

We took this as a good sign that many of our users are interested in using the boost pack. It means that the information they need to use it is not readily available or easy to understand.

This one is on us, so we created campaigns and how-tos to make all the information about boost packs easy to access. We also streamlined the experience of acquiring boost packs. Making it easy to access and understand by our users.

3. Users who are gaming the system with fake accounts

As admins, we thought this was unfair towards us. Our first reactions were to ban the users who were doing it. But when we looked into this behaviour carefully, we noticed that they were crazy about our game. These users would go out of their way to create Superteam using their other dummy accounts. This behaviour took lots of manual work. Meaning, they have to be pretty nuts about the game to keep doing it.

In the beginning, we decided that if some users go to the effort of creating dummy accounts, then we will let them. But we will observe them. My initial reaction was to punish these offenders, but later I will learn that they will be the most prominent advocate of our gaming platform.

Eventually, we corrected this design on the next evolution of the Boost packs.

Boost packs 2.0

In just over a year, we have increased our user base to 400 active users. The boost packs have helped us gain traction with our users.

It’s now time to use boost packs to test one of our primary hypothesis in creating our game. That is, our users will pay us to play the game.

For us to test this hypothesis, we needed a vessel to get our users on board with this new idea of payments. Our answer came in the name of Boost packs.

Now, there’s a whole lot of constraints in the market, including the construct of our target market and users to consider. With these in mind, here’s how we designed the Boost packs 2.0

1. Reset boot packs

In resetting the boost packs into its next version, we have to make sure we keep our existing users happy. Most of them have gained boost packs by inviting their friends to PilipinasHoops. So as a current user, they get to keep all the Boost packs they earned.

We then introduced new rules of earning Boost packs which then cleared out the boost packs collected by users who were gaming the system.

2. Here come boost packs and power-ups!

We modelled the Boost pack 2.0 to have another layer of applying boost to the Superteam’s results. We called them Power-ups.

Boost packs will now be applicable on the team level which will help in the overall Superteam’s total. While the power-ups can be applied on the basketball player level.

3. Beginners luck and boost packs

The concept of beginners luck is essential for designing PilipinasHoops. We want to encourage our users to keep coming back. 
So for all first-time users, we give out a once-off free boost pack that we immediately apply during their first contest. Helping them achieve excellent results during their very first experience playing the game.

4. Introduction to Payments

Payments are the cherry on the cake for us. The goal is to prove our core hypothesis that is — our users will be willing to pay us to play the game.

For this evolution of Boost packs, they will now ask our users to spend a small amount of money to apply the boost packs and power-ups.

*** The result***
In September last month, we launched the new version of the boost pack v2.0, and we started receiving payments from our users. Boom!

Next, I’ll write about how we introduced the habit of paying for our game to our users.


In designing PilipinasHoops, we had to be very clear on our three influencing factors:

1. Target market — who are we building this product for. 
2. Business guiding principle — what principle should we use to guide us in considering any re-design of the game?
3. Primary hypothesis — what must we prove first, so that we can keep progressing.

We also could not overlook our current environment and see signs of traction through questions, feedback, and behaviours of our users towards this little unique feature in our game called the Boost packs.

In the end, we ended up using the concept of boost packs to test our primary hypothesis — that our users will eventually pay us to play the game.

Hey! Thanks for reading! I’m Juliet Lara, I write about life, learning, tech, startups, and communication.

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You can get in touch with via twitter @julietlspeaks