Step 2: Starting from the beginning.

Part of the Series: “Creating Sam the Guide”. A series of stories to chronicle the experience of going from idea to app.
Chapter 2: Step 1, Deciding what to do

“I think it is time to start at the end and validate that we have the right solution.” — I told Sam as drank my coffee during a video-conference with her.

“What do you mean?” — She said, leaning into the camera.

“Well, the results of the LDJ was to show an example to potential users.” — I replied.

“Yes, and I have a great business plan and pitchdeck. Don’t you think I jump into deals just with a crazy idea, right? I did my homework, I have my business plan, my pitchdeck and I did a market analysis. So, actually what I understood, is that I would be leading market research with potential customers to validate the idea.” — She said, I could not see her, as she stood and did not move the camera. I think she was annoyed that I was suggesting that she did prepare.

I took a sip of my coffee and began my spiel to clarify what I meant.

Obviously, I was not questioning her preparations or her business chops. A customer and a user are not necessarily the same person. You want to sell something to your customers. You want to understand your user. Even though the idea behind “Sam the Guide” (StG) comes directly from Sam, we need to understand why a user would engage with it. The old mantra of building it and they will come is just not true unless you are building something vital and you have the monopoly.

The market analysis shows there is a space for a product like StG, but we need to transform that idea into an actual product, and we need to give it to users to see that they understand it and ticks all the box. The users have a reason to use StG or any other product for that matter. Do you know it? You know why you are doing StG and you see the space in the market. But, do the users want it? and, can you implement it appropriately?

Simon Sinek has a wonderful TED talk about the golden circle. He defines three questions that you need to answer when you are the leader of an organization: Why? How? What? As a company, you need to define them. It will help you rally the troops and get people on board with your philosophy. It is not the same to tell them a What: you are here to sell this manual to businesswomen; a How: we want to train women with easy to digest guidelines to survive in business; or to tell them the Why: we want to empower women in business. Of course, I am just summarising. But if your team understand why, they will be your partners.

Now, the golden circle does not only apply to businesses. It also applies to products. You need to understand the needs of the user, and those three questions will guide you to get there, not for you to apply, but for you to find an answer from the point of view of the user. Why would the user need your product? How are you addressing the needs of the user? What are you providing the user?

I was on a roll, taking my time, talking to the computer and looking at the camera. I noticed that Sam stopped fidgeting around and looking angry and started paying full attention to me.

“Well, that sounds great, but it also sounds like it will take a long time. I still don’t understand how that will let me show an example to the users. I thought my pitch deck was enough.” — Quivered Sam.

“Well, instead of going on abstract concepts, why don’t you tell me how Richard run the previous project. I can then compare what I am proposing to do. Because you are right, finding out your user needs takes a long time and it is a never-ending loop. But there are things we can do to speed things a little without compromising much.” — I told her.

So she started telling me the story. From the beginning, because she said I have convinced her that I needed to understand why.

Maria, Sam’s daughter, had invited her to give a talk about women in entrepreneurship to her highschool. The same highschool Sam and I had attended many years ago. She used her talk to narrate her business experience, how she started up in the same high school with small projects that required, more than investments, connections. She had made a profit of the yearbook, and some other smaller projects like organising parties, sports tournaments, etc. Most of the time she did not need any money to start those deals. She had the idea and found a way forward. She was always hustling. She talked about her experience in university, creating her first proper businesses, meaning, she had created a legal entity with fiscal responsibilities. And of course, she mentioned that as women, she had to deal with discrimination, sexual harassment and having to fight twice at hard just to be heard or believed as a real business-person.

After her talk, she felt very emotional. She would usually not speak about those aspects, as she considered them part of the deal of being a woman in business. But things have changed for the better, although there was no solution to any of those problems, she was now free to talk about them and point them when she felt it was needed. So a few weeks later, Sam asked Maria about her friends, and if any one of them was thinking about becoming an entrepreneur.

Our high school is for upper-middle-class families or families with scholarships. It is not cheap to study there. So money is not necessarily an issue.

Maria told her that most of her friends were not thinking about becoming entrepreneurs because they did not have the money to do it or they had to fight against a discrimination culture, sometimes in their own families, and that they did not know how to do it.

Sam was in shock. That was not the result she was expecting. She wanted to show that it could be done, that she was the example. Same high school, same upbringing, it could be done! So she created a mentorship program for Maria’s classmates. One of the participants, Ana, was there on a scholarship. She mentioned that the program would be amazing for her friends that were not in the same school. That was when Maria realized that Sam needed to create an app to help her coach women.

Sam talked to Richard, who was already part of her companies, and he said he could do the app. He asked to be discharged from his duties to be able to do it, Sam agreed to that request.

Richard took Sam’s pitchdeck and made it into a requirements document, which took him about 2 months. She shared with Sam something called a UML diagram and some other things that she was not understanding. So she let him continue. After 6 months he showed her the worst app she could think off. It looked horrible, and she was not sure where anything was. When she confronted him, maybe not in the best way, all he could say was that he had also configured the server and added security. Sam was not convinced but continued anyhow.

Richard claimed that the only thing missing was adding a bit of User Experience (UX), so they got someone from the graphics department to help improve the app. Somehow, the app looked worst now. It looked that every screen was a poster or pin-up. It did not feel like an app. Lots of drawings and colours.

But it was not only how it looked. It did not work, it was slow, and simple things like recovering a forgotten password was a pain to do.

Sam showed the app to her mentees. They did not like and they did not understand it.

And then in a finance strategy meeting, Abraham told her how much Richard was costing, plus all the equipment he had purchased. That was the last straw, she summoned Richard and gave him the boot.

“Wow, so much to unpack there. To be honest, that is usually the way you learn to develop in University. Richard had a developer point of view and a very junior developer for that matter. He did not see the product or the user. He tried to do everything from scratch, which is not needed. And don’t get me started on adding UX to an existing product, that is just wrong.” — I replied.

I cut straight to the chase and told her I wanted to run a Design Sprint workshop. That was the tool that was going to help us provide an example to the users to validate the product.

The Design Sprint was created in Google Ventures to launch its new digital products. It comprised the Human-Centred Design cycle in just 5 days. The objective was not to create a complete product at the end of the week, rather create an example of the product by the end of the week. There are now different approaches to the Design Sprint, in particular one called Design Sprint 2.0 which reduced the time to only 4 days, and it was created by the same team that gave us the Lighting Decision Jam that we used last time.

The objective of the Design Sprint is to first make sure you understand the problem you want to address and you decide on the solution that you want to provide. Then you find inspiration and sketch a solution. Then you create a Wizard of Oz approach to that solution, which you test with real users.

I had to clarify what it meant the Wizard of Oz solution. It was inspired in the original movie, where it turned out that the powerful Wizard of Oz was just an illusion. Anyhow, it was a useful technique to test prototypes, to bring concepts to the user without having to do all the actual hidden stuff.

But before we could a Design Sprint, which I was happy to facilitate, we needed to define the team that would be taking part in it. The wrong team could be lethal to the project.

We agreed that the team that took part in the previous session was good enough. But I made Sam promise, that besides Abraham and she, everyone will be dedicated to participating during the full workshop.

We needed experts on Women Empowerment, Education and Mentoring. I told Sam that I was going to find people that could fit this profile. I also added that I wanted to invite some of her mentees, either as experts or as users.

Finally, we are going to need a UI designer to help me. Not a normal graphic designer. Rather, someone with the expertise of creating interfaces for apps. Again, I could find someone to do this, but she will be charging independently for this.

The last thing to agree on was on the date to run the workshop. I told her that I needed hers and Abrahams full attention for 2 days. We could adjust, but I did not want the whole thing to last more than 2 weeks overall.

I understood that the ideal plan of running it on 4 straight days did not always work. So, I had run other Design Sprints which I split over two weeks. But more than that made things harder as the longer they lasted, the more uncertainty it created.

Design Sprints use a lot of the same tools we saw during the LDJ. Sticky notes, dots for voting, and almost no discussion. Sam had loved all of this.

“So, instead of waiting a whole year, as I did with Richard, after a week I would be able to tell you that you suck?” — She said with a big laugh.

“Exactly!!! And that is the whole point!” — I replied — “But I need to warn you, that is not the final the product. But we will know if it is worth pursuing in that direction, or if we need to adjust. We will need more time to convert it into a full product. But don’t worry, it won’t be a full year to deliver value.”

Before we disconnected, it looked that we should be able to meet in person in a week or two, so it made sense to make the workshop then. It would also allow her some time to reshuffle projects and make sure they will be available as promised.

Product Strategist, UX Researcher & Entrepreneur. Based in Berlin (DE). I work with UX Research Methods, Design Thinking, Agile, Gamification & Design Sprints.

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