Starting from scratch: how we built v1 of our product

Ole Mahrt
The Hedgehog Blog
Published in
5 min readFeb 22, 2023

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Ole Mahrt, Head of Product @ Hedgehog

I was introduced to Rob and Michael in June 2021 by a former colleague of mine. They were interested in hearing about my experience building products from scratch, particularly those that reimagined ways of doing things. As we got talking, I became increasingly excited about their mission to make investment opportunities, that today are restricted to institutional investors and the very rich, available to normal people like myself, all while using blockchain technology.

In the early days at Monzo, everyone in the company was driven by the same mission: creating a banking experience that’s built for the customer rather than for the bank. Why should you have to wait 2 days before you can see a transaction? Why is logging in to your account made so difficult if all you need to do is check your balance? And why are you charged huge fees for using your card abroad when it doesn’t cost the bank much to provide that service? The answers to those questions were typically “that’s how banking works”. But it didn’t have to.

In many ways, it’s the same with investing in real assets. Why is it only institutional investors and the very rich who can invest in commercial real estate? Why is the minimum investment amount typically counted in millions and not thousands? Why is my ability to decide what I want to invest in so limited when it’s proven time and again that the banks are not to be trusted? Hedgehog envisages a world where we all have better opportunities to invest in what we care about.

The Hedgehog mission, together with the fact that we were not going to build an empty investment platform but had partnered with an asset owner with a portfolio of attractive assets that I myself would love to invest in, convinced me to join as the first employee.

Product discovery

In the first months after joining, I studied the investment industry, analysed what a successful product in the industry could look like and tested the first prototypes. As we didn’t yet have designers in house, I hired Littlevoice for a couple of weeks to build our first prototype and test it with friends and business connections (I know Dmytro and Vlad from our time together at Skype and they did a fantastic job). Collectively, we worked on reimagining investing in real assets from the lens of an individual.

The main things we wanted to test were:

  • How do we present the assets in a way that makes potential investors want to consume all the information they need to make an informed decision without drowning them in data?
  • How do people react to the assets being tokenized?

It took us several iterations to get the asset presentation right. For example, in the first version, we tried to come up with an intuitive way to visualise projected returns, but combining the regular income payments with the potential for capital appreciation, which typically will only materialise at the end of the investment period, turned out to be a rabbit hole that led us back to depicting returns numerically, as opposed to visually.

The application of blockchain technology was another departure from the industry norm of offering fractionalised investments as shares. To my surprise, none of our early testers had any concerns about the blockchain aspect. Recognising that we weren’t exactly speaking to crypto enthusiasts, our testers just wanted to understand what the implications of using blockchain technology were in this context.

Building a team

While we were doing the product discovery work, we also started hiring a team. The first hires in any startup are always crucial and it is really important to get it right in each area. We got lucky early on with the first engineering hire but we struggled to find the right designer who could help not only design a good user experience but also create a strong visual identity. We were having advanced conversations with design agencies (the expensive option!) when we finally got a breakthrough and found a world class Head of Design so we could do it all in-house. At the beginning of 2022, we had a small but strong team of designers and engineers, all of whom were guided by the same mission as we sought to build our MVP.

Building an MVP (and learning from it!)

The first decision we had to make was what platform to use. Iterating on multiple platforms at the same time is a nightmare and you need to make a lot of fast iterations as your product takes shape, so we decided that the first version of Hedgehog would be a mobile optimised web app. This way we didn’t have to deal with the App Store’s slow release process. Also, making an investment involves reading large investment agreements and doing your own research, which is likely to be partly done on a large screen device, so limiting the product to a mobile app felt too constrictive.

While we designed and built the MVP, we ran our first investment round for friends and family on an external platform to learn how to further test our UX/UI assumptions as well as to manage the operational side of things. It was the smallest property in our partner’s portfolio, but an early refinancing led to attractive returns and a successful investment, or “beta offering”, as we refer to it, for everyone involved.

Given the nature of our business, our MVP not only consisted of the investment platform where investors could sign up and invest but also a back office system so that we could support investors through the KYC process, reconcile payments, etc. By mid-April 2022, we were ready to take investments in the first assets on our own platform, end-to-end.

Reflecting on our journey to an MVP, we delivered the easy-to-understand investment experience that we were aiming for, not only unlocking new investment opportunities for individuals but also making those investments feel accessible. We can of course always improve, and our product has evolved since we released our MVP last year. We’re looking forward to sharing those updates, so stay tuned!

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