6 Things We Learned Acting Like a Service Start-up in a Large Organization

One of the reasons I came to Capital One Labs was the potential to make a big impact and the opportunity to make banking feel more human. I never get tired of hearing that we have the space to help millions of customers. That’s huge!

During my first year at the Labs I was able to achieve that goal, even though it was on a small scale. My team and I successfully piloted a service, The Get Set, in 3 months. In 3 months! To this day, I’m still in awe that we were able to accomplish something so quickly. In my mind, you don’t normally associate Fortune 200 companies like Capital One with quick and flexible.

To give you some background, The Get Set is a personalized, 1-on-1 financial coaching service. We tested this service in the Capital One Café in San Francisco for 3 weeks, where customers met with a financial coach to explore and talk about financially-related life events and goals. They left each session with increased self-awareness and a list of action items to achieve their goals.

Megan, our financial coach, with our first client!

I was inspired to write this post because a few people have asked us about our process and how we were able to launch so quickly. Here are six insights we learned and want to share with you that may inspire your work and give you hope that it’s possible to put something into the world.

1. Involve them, don’t just talk to them.

We were successful because we involved all of our stakeholders to align on the same vision. Not just our immediate team (members from both Labs and Adaptive Path), but our partner Consumer Bank, the Café Ambassadors, leadership, and many others. When it came to sharing a vision, we made it aspirational but also tangible. We didn’t sit with our stakeholders and show our vision in a Powerpoint deck. We facilitated a coaching experience with them. This gave them a sense of what it felt like, what it looked like, what it sounded like, what it tasted like. Seriously, food was part of the experience. We recreated the look and feel of the café during our presentation and provided snacks. Once they saw the value in our idea, we didn’t need to do more convincing.

My boss’s boss in a coaching session.
We got our partners so excited that they voluntarily put on our Get Set temporary tattoos.

2. Make it [as] real as you can, as fast as you can.

Once we decided financial coaching was our direction, we quickly designed and sketched our paper coaching tools to test with people. We wanted to validate the idea before investing a lot of time and effort into building something polished. Personally, this was my favorite part because we got the chance to be creative and scrappy.

Testing our paper tools.

We didn’t have a lot of time to use a third-party service to recruit participants, so we went out into the field. We sat in the park with our hand-crafted but endearing sign that said, “Free conversations and free cookies” to prompt strangers to talk to us and try our tools. We sat in the Capital One Café to test our tools with existing customers to get a sense of their needs, and we invited our friends to a brunch and a happy hour to observe group dynamics in conversations about money.

Me and our endearing sign.

When it was time to pilot, we didn’t have any engineers or developers on our team to help create back-end processes, such as a customer database or scheduling system. So, we frankensteined our ‘back-end’, similar to what many start-ups would do. We used third party services like Instapage to create a website to market our service, Typeform to get feedback from our clients, and good ol’ email for scheduling. It wasn’t the most seamless experience, but the goal of this project was to validate our concept.

3. Create value for everyone involved.

Initially, our main goal for this service was to provide value for our customers. In the earlier stages of research, we facilitated a co-design session with millennials where they got to design their ideal financial advisor. This was important because ultimately these were the people that were going to use this service.

We brought in a few millennials to help us design their ideal financial advisor.

While it’s important to think about the customers’ needs, we often forget ourselves and others involved. While I truly believe that diverse perspectives lead to profound solutions, not acknowledging and celebrating those differences can lead to unhealthy tension. In order to get through this, it was imperative that we were honest and transparent with our communication every step of the way. This wasn’t always a smooth road for us but we did our best to make everyone feel valued as a team member. We reminded ourselves that this was in service to our broader mission: Human prosperity, regardless of financial status. Collectively getting behind that statement made collaborating and compromising much easier.

While we designed the service from behind the scenes, the Café Ambassadors (who guide customers through our various products and services) manned the front, interacted with customers, and spread the word about The Get Set. Without their help, we probably wouldn’t have any people to test with. Not only did they help market our service, they gave us feedback on how to better integrate into the Capital One Café to feel less disruptive. Learning how integral the Café Ambassadors were, we designed The Get Set to include them as part of the experience.

Taking an Ambassador through the coaching experience.

4. Integrate your product or service into the ecosystem.

Taking one step back, we also had to think about other projects that were going on throughout the broader organization. We wanted to avoid duplicating the same work and instead leverage these projects. We made sure to be in constant communication with other teams.

This is really important when thinking about how this product or service can live on in the company. A common challenge in large companies is keeping everyone in the loop. We were interested in integrating our project with current projects to create a cohesive system, in order to increase value and impact. Service Origami and Service Blueprints are great communication tools in visualizing the ecosystem around a service. Both tools can be used to map out the system, people involved, the interactions, and touchpoints. The great thing about both tools is that they can be done collaboratively. You don’t need to be a designer to join in!

Mapping out the service using the Service Origami method.

5. Know thy constraints, and be ready to change.

Although we had a ton of help, we were still left to our own devices. We navigated through new processes, learning what was feasible and what was not, while simultaneously making and testing. Certainly, not an easy feat. We had more constraints and regulations to work with than we initially thought. We could have easily thrown our hands up in the air and given up, but we learned to be flexible by design. We initially planned 3 different pop-ups in San Francisco and Boston but reduced it down to one in San Francisco due to constraints due to time and feedback from our customers. For example, by the time we found a third party company and a potential pop-up space, we were unable to lock it down due to regulations and our short timeline. It was hard to keep up with the speed at which these smaller organizations moved.

The outcome after countless iterations.
Our first iteration of the pop-up.
We downsized to a smaller space in the cafe based on feedback we received.

6. Make smart and bold decisions.

This was the most important insight we learned. It’s one thing to be bold and take risks, it’s another to be smart about taking risks and make every step intentional. We learned what it meant to be risky in a risk-averse environment, which gave us some clear lines not to cross. Once we had those guardrails, we didn’t cross those lines.

Through this process, we learned to be comfortable in the structured chaos of the industry and trust our gut. If it seemed like we were making some impact, we kept going. The only way we knew, was to try.

So, where is The Get Set now? The Get Set has transitioned to a permanent location in our Boston Café. If you’re in the Harvard Square area, stop on by and sign up for a session!

Come by and say hi!

If you have any questions about our process or want to know more specifics, please feel free to email us at pamela.jue@capitalone.com, ayla.newhouse@capitalone.com, minh.tran@adaptivepath.com, gabrielle@adaptivepath.com.

Special thanks to Ayla Newhouse for collaborating on content for this post!

Follow me on Twitter@pamjue and Instagram @pamelajue!

Opinions expressed here are of those individual associates quoted, and not necessarily Capital One. Any third party companies mentioned or marks used are solely marks of those third parties.