Internal startup innovates and tests the solar market, one phase at a time
Solarhood is a mobile and web app targeted at environmentally conscious individuals and businesses who want to leverage the power of solar on their properties. Sitting internally within engineering giant Black & Veatch, Solarhood guides users through the education, bidding, and installation process of solar panels. It provides a free, virtual assessment — without commitment — creating easy comparison of the options before continuing down the sustainable path of solar.
Over the last three years, Solarhood has grown from an initial concept to an iOS, Android, and web app that helps promote a future where more people rely on the sun to power their properties and businesses.
What sets Solarhood apart
- Solarhood connects users with expert solar assessment technology and top-tier local installers to help save people money and go green.
- It leverages their parent company’s global workforce and nationwide presence to help customers get going on their solar journey.
- As an industry expert, they understand how solar works today & how it will be shaped tomorrow.
- Assessments are completely free and don’t require any commitment. Better yet, quotes are more exact than the competition’s, because installers are providing bids on specs instead of vague estimates.
- They’re dedicated to customer happiness, education, and success — ultimately creating a future where more homes and businesses are powered by solar.
Business challenges hindering growth
As the Solarhood team was forming inside the larger organization, there was a desire to create a distinct solar brand and validate that the concept would be welcomed by consumers. With growing competition from tech powerhouses, the Solarhood team wanted to move quickly and efficiently and decided to hire an outside team. That’s where Crema came in.
Over the course of several years, our two teams collaborated on multiple phases of the Solarhood product. Each of these phases have presented market opportunities that are continuing to evolve today. The phases Crema was involved in broke down as follows:
Phase 1: Product Branding, Prototyping, Validation
Phase 2: Mobile Development Revitalization, B2B Exploration
Phase 3: Mobile and Web Development, Continued Validation
Objectives & goals of the work
Phase 1: Product branding, prototyping, validating
When our two teams began working together in late 2016, the original focus was to further refine the Solarhood product concept and design unique product branding that is still being used to this day. By creating a high-fidelity mobile prototype and testing it with real users to glean feedback on the application, we were able to measure a response on the product in two solar markets — Kansas City and Portland.
The outcomes of this 5-week phase were:
- A defined business model and unique value proposition
- Initial brand direction, including brand logo, iconography and brand guidelines
- A high-fidelity, clickable prototype that was tested with real users in two solar markets to ensure the mobile experience is intuitive, efficient, and enjoyable to use
- A high level product roadmap and budget for initial release of the application, leveraging a dedicated product team at Crema
- Recordings of all user testing sessions and access to all assets created
At the end of this, the Solarhood team decided to shift their resources and allocate some of the development to an offshore team. We remained in touch & kicked off conversations for phase two almost 18 months later.
Phase 2: Mobile development revitalization, B2B exploration
This phase of work, beginning in late 2018, opened up a new type of partnership between Solarhood and Crema. Crema was asked to continue to support the Solarhood product with a lean, full-stack team, made up of product strategy, design, development, test engineering, and product management, to reach core metrics for their mobile app.
The product had been built, but there were some hurdles to overcome with the code to move the roadmap forward. Features like push notifications, in-app chat, and more robust functionality all needed to be implemented, fast. With this information in mind, our team recommended that Solarhood native apps be rewritten in React Native. After thorough deliberation, that suggestion was approved.
This pivotal decision required a significant effort, but ultimately led to:
- Much-anticipated features implemented within the application
- Iterative and frequent app updates using Expo
- A more stable environment to build upon & demonstrate value
- Money and time saved in the long run
During this phase, our teams also started to explore what a B2B solution could look like for Solarhood. Crema offered strategic guidance and technical planning for these potential opportunities, including:
- Implementation of necessary backend and API updates to ensure product longevity and health
- Initial user-focused interviews & workshops to ensure approach is aligned with market needs
- Creation of high-fidelity design prototypes, followed by additional interview and iterations
- Suggested technical and strategic solution roadmap for the B2B product.
As the 3-month engagement drew near, there was a mutual understanding that collaboration would continue. This brought us to the next phase.
Phase 3: Mobile and web development, continued validation
Our teams continued to lean into the product development process and made improvements to the B2C mobile app and backend, all while exploring opportunities on the B2B side of the coin. Our dedicated product team collaborated with the Solarhood team to identify priorities on a weekly basis and make decisions together about what needed to be worked on at any given time.
Generally, the first 8 weeks of the engagement were dedicated to improving the B2C experience, which included:
- Enhancing on-boarding and post on-boarding flows, such as password reset
- Metrics & milestone tracking
- Additional features determined by customer and client needs
- Creating a style guide that helped to set the standard moving forward and create less friction when design resources are low
Later in the phase, while our development team supported the existing product, our teams focused on the B2B opportunity. We leveraged design & strategy resources to prototype and test the solution. In addition, our teams:
- Identified a business model
- Evolved and affirmed factors within the realm of demand solar and the necessary algorithms needed to grow the product
- Documented and prioritized the updated experience
- Determined metrics to track product economics and payback for B2B consumers
- Created high-fidelity prototypes that visualized key workflows of the application
- Conducted interviews to discover outstanding questions that motivated B2B customers
Ultimately, this B2B opportunity picked up steam within the organization and is currently being socialized with internal and external stakeholders. They own a wealth of valuable data that can be used across a wide variety of applications.
Throughout the years, our process has evolved to support our clients and business and varies to fit the unique phases of an engagement. There were several key processes that we used to create meaningful outcomes together with the Solarhood team.
One of the hallmarks of Crema’s process is User Testing. With Phase 1 of Solarhood, we collaborated to recruit users to test the prototype with in two markets — Kansas City and Portland. We targeted 2 rounds of testing, with 3–5 testers per testing iteration. When user tests are conducted with individuals outside of Kansas City, software is used to connect the user to the prototype to interact with it.
Testing is typically facilitated by Crema staff, but the client is welcome to listen in throughout the process. All parties remain neutral during sessions to allow for honest and raw feedback to come from the person experiencing the prototype. Each user is walked through a series of prompts to unveil their assumptions about the platform, highlight key areas of refinement, and ultimately validate — or invalidate — the product experience.
In the instance of Solarhood, user tests informed many elements of the UI/UX in terms of what information was important to consumers & how they wanted to interact with that data. Later, user tests were conducted with B2B prospects to understand their solar wants and needs, which would greatly inform the product strategy.
This is all done in a series for 2–4 weeks, before a single line of code is written. After user testing sessions have been completed, our teams work to solidify the product experience, finalize all assets, and create a development plan of attack to bring the designs to fruition.
Prioritization & delivery
Through our extensive product development and launch experience, Crema has crafted a process to ensure we’re working in a partnership with our clients to achieve goals on a sprint-to-sprint basis. We understand that over time, priorities change, and our teams can quickly adapt to the demands that our clients are up against.
We do this by working from a central, prioritized backlog of items that range from development, testing, design, and discovery tasks that undergoes regular review between the Product Strategist, Product Manager, and client. The Crema team offers objective, expert input into how items should be prioritized, in line with the client’s desired direction. Best of all, it can be quickly reprioritized if need be.
Throughout our engagements, there is a regular meeting with the entire product development team to estimate the effort to each priority item in the backlog. These estimates inform how much work can be accomplished each sprint. Ultimately, this leads to a mutually-agreed upon scope of work that the team works on, frequently demoing and asking for feedback from the client team.
These processes — reminiscent of scrum rituals — require a high level of collaboration between our internal teams and the client stakeholders involved in the engagement. It produces a clear picture of exactly what is being worked on and what is to come. Crema maintains an open dialogue between all teams to effectively develop, maintain, and support our clients throughout the course of these engagements.
Crema’s technical team doesn’t start writing code on day 1 of the engagement. Oftentimes, we’re incorporating development team members into our project kickoffs, so they have a front row seat to the discussions and decisions being made. One of Crema’s core strengths is providing expert technical recommendations based on the needs of our clients.
During our engagements with Solarhood, there were several opportunities for our technical team to explore the best technical approach for the product builds — one of the major moments being moving from native mobile apps to React Native. This is done by uncovering any dependencies, architecture needs, and third party resources, and solidifying that recommendation against time, budget, and other requirements.
Based on what’s uncovered in the technical planning period, Crema’s recommendation is summarized and presented to the client — fueling them to make the decision that is best for their team and business.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help your team strategize, design, build, and test digital products, let’s talk.
Originally published at https://www.crema.us.