Prototype Iterations Insights

Last week, I organized one group discussion with Lower East Side small business owners and a second group discussion with West Village business owners. Here are my insights from these meetings, and a new explanation of my problem space and area of focus.

Business owners and employees participate in the second West Village group discussion on November 30, 2018. Left to right: Zoe Broad (Village Gyrotonic), Kyung il Lee (Jeju Noodle Bar), Peter Godhard (Merriweather Coffee + Kitchen), Laurence Edelman (Left Bank), and Leslie Polizzotto (The Doughnut Project).

Problem space

Gentrification and high rentals are making it nearly impossible for NYC small businesses to survive.

The key insight from user research

I discovered that business owners who have strong local community engagement tend to succeed in business because they add to the local community by doing events and collaborations with other businesses, while the ones that are not as engaged may struggle and go out of business.

Area of focus

Knowing that local community engagement can influence the success or failure of a business, I decided to focus my solution on increasing community engagement.

Opportunity

From my user research, I also learned that:

“Being a small business owner can be lonely.” –Person with 10 years of experience in the hospitality industry.
Photo by Ellicia on Unsplash

With very slim profit margins due to high rentals, NYC small business owners often work alone or with very few employees. They don’t want to share their business problems with their employees because they don’t want to concern them. And they want to be positive with their customers, so they can have a good experience in their establishments.

Leslie Polizotto (middle), the owner of The Doughnut Project, shares her challenges during the first West Village group discussion on October 9, 2018.

What if small business owners could share their challenges and brainstorm ideas together? Since they all share similar problems they can relate to each other more than anyone else.

Solution

HelpLocalBiz is a community building platform that will provide tools and guidelines to empower NYC small business owners to organize and/or participate in group discussions with other local business owners in their neighborhood.
HelpLocalBiz Toolkit to perform the group discussions.

The group discussions are designed as a co-design workshop specific to local businesses in gentrified neighborhoods to increase community engagement.

Target audience

Owners of local small businesses with storefront spaces in NYC and with 10 or fewer employees.

Hypothesis

I believe if small businesses owners have an opportunity to meet other business owners to share challenges and brainstorm ideas together they will have better opportunities to solve their businesses’ biggest challenges.

Prototype

To test this hypothesis I created a co-design workshop specific to local businesses owners.

5Es user journey of group discussions

Iteration 1: Invitations

As you can see the first invitation on the left was very basic. To entice more people to come in the second and third events I included testimonials from the first event and also possible outcomes to the invitation.

For the second West Village group discussion, the same participants wanted to participate again, and with their permission, I included their names in the third invitation, and this gave more credibility to the event.

I also created an Eventbrite invitation for the second and third group discussions which also helped to get more exposure.

With these changes, I received more RSVPs for the last event, compared to the first one. It was about 13 RSVPs, 3 new people showed, and some people wrote me back saying they couldn’t make it, but they would like to be invited for the next one.

Group Discussion flow

As participants walked in, I asked them to:

  • Sign in the sign-in sheet
  • Use and write their name on a name tag
  • To set up the tone of the conversation, I asked participants to write their challenges on the board as they walk in.

Introduction

I then, introduce myself and go over the agenda and let them know the activities were timed.

Iteration 2: Agenda & Activity Challenges

In the first and second events, I noticed that participants started talking about their challenges right in the beginning during their introductions so I changed the flow of the meeting, instead of asking them to write challenges after their introduction to save time, as they walk in I asked them to write their challenges in a post-it note and put on the board, and share these challenges when they introduce themselves.

Activity 1: Brainstorm ideas

During the first activity, I asked participants to brainstorm ideas for the challenges they shared.

Business owners and employees are brainstorming ideas based on the challenges they shared in the board during the West Village group discussion on November 30, 2018. Left to right: Laurence Edelman (Left Bank, Esther Moreno (Village Gyrotonic), and Kyung il Lee (Jeju Noodle Bar).

NEW | Activity 2: Elaborate an idea

From my first workshop, I learned that although it was successful because the discussion was relevant and productive, participants didn’t take any actionable steps after that.

For this reason, I created this worksheet for them to explore how their idea would work in real life and what actionable steps they could take to implement it.

On the left, it is the first worksheet I created and the one in the right I used in the last workshop.

The first version of the worksheet. Idea by Jamie Hinojos (North 3rd Street Market), during the Lower East Side group discussion on November 27, 2018.
The second version of the worksheet. Idea by Zoe Broad (Village Gyrotonic), Kyung il Lee (Jeju Noodle Bar), and Peter Godhard (Merriweather Coffee + Kitchen), during the West Village group discussion on November 30, 2018.

I revised it because I felt that the participants needed to go through these questions to understand the root of the problem in order to create a feasible idea that could address their problem. And make a real plan for their next steps.

The second version of the worksheet. Idea by Laurence Edelman (Left Bank) and Leslie Polizzotto (The Doughnut Project), during the West Village group discussion on November 30, 2018.

NEW: Thank you note and surveys

Besides telling participants to take their worksheets home, I gave them a thank you note to stay in touch, and possibly find people interested in organizing the next meeting.

And also wrote a thank you email, share photos of the event and asked to fill out a survey.

Outcomes

  • They gave each other advice based on their different knowledge and experiences.
  • They left with a plan to implement the ideas they created on the 
     last activity.
  • They are all interested in meeting again for another group discussion.

Challenges

  • Timing
  • Guide people back to the topic, for instance, when I asked each person to introduce themselves and share a challenge, some would already talk back with an idea, and the introduction part took longer than expected.
  • Enticing people to become organizers of the next group discussion.

Next steps

Next prototype, facilitation cards for an organizer.
  • Design facilitation cards and instructions for an organizer.
  • I’ve been the one facilitating the group discussions, so I’m planning to meet with some of these local owners one-on-one to test the instructions and facilitation cards of how to run workshop.
  • Think about the website where the tools and guidelines will be available.
  • Think about creating an app with activities for organizers to use during group discussions.