myCryptoHippo -My Journey as CPO
Role: Chief Product Officer
Time: October 2017 — August 2018
Skills: Product Management, start-up/entrepreneurship, financial technology, competitive analysis, product design, software architecture
Result: 1000+ users, 420% company ROI, international pitching from South Africa to Atlanta, over $100,000 in awards.
Website is not online anymore, but you can view the designs here
My name is Mathurah Ravigulan and this is my journey as Chief Product Officer for myCryptoHippo.
myCryptoHippo is a startup dedicated to making cryptocurrency easy, fun, and accessible for Gen Z. We have built this company through the Junior Achievement company program sponsored by Deloitte. We exist to create a world where bitcoins and blockchain are easy to understand, where participation doesn’t depend on the stock market price or the level in your bank account, and where students and young adults are equipped with what they need to enter the world of cryptocurrency — all while having a little fun. We built a crypto-currency market simulator that uses virtual dollars which makes the learning accessible to our generation, fun, and risk-free.
As Chief Product Officer at myCryptoHippo, I managed both the product and technology teams to collaborate together going through an agile process of ideating, designing, building, debugging in a cycle to turn an idea into reality. I used project management tools to ensure the team was meeting deadlines, and also led the UX/UI work through inspiration and design thinking by managing the director of design and production in my department.
The Misconception about the Chief Product Officer Role
I knew I wanted a leadership role in the company so I can really make an impact, build up my skills, as well as inspire others. I was the Chief Technology Officer of my company last year. I already knew how to code but I wanted to expand my skill sets and make the most the Junior Achievement Company Program.
I remember a while ago one of my best friends and I were talking about how much we enjoyed the Junior Achievement Company and what we want to do next year. We did the company program together at SAP Scarborough last year, where she was the VP of HR, and I was the VP of IT. My friend being such an outgoing individual with perseverance, I told her she should do sales next year. While I was thinking of doing marketing, my friend said:
“I don’t know. I know you love marketing, social media and stuff but I feel like you’d do an amazing job as Vice President of Production.”
My immediate response was:
“Chief Product Officer? No way. I feel that as CPO I’m always going to be at the back of the company, -doing boring stuff like counting inventory, project management, timelines, but unable to help in other aspects such as marketing, sales, and also be an advocate and leader of the company.”
The funny thing was, my friend ended up becoming the Head of Sales at her company and I became the Head of Product at myCryptoHippo as we both predicted.
What changed my mind? The mentors around me. I was completely unaware about the potential and how tech is involved with product design.
I didn’t realize that Chief Product Officers in technology companies are among the most important people in the company. They lead the charge of taking an idea from the initial conception to complete implementation. From ideation to execution. All tactical operations of the company.
Farwa Kazmi, one of the amazing advisors for the product team held a product ideation hackathon. We learned about design thinking, “How might we questions”, and different ways we can arrive to a solution. This hackathon really opened my eyes to the whole process of design.
Here I am ideating at our mini hackathon. My group decided to focus on educational technology, where our design challenge was:
“How might we make it easier for students to learn skills that aren’t taught in the classroom?”
I already knew about the How Might We as well as the design thinking concept as I was introduced to it through my involvement in Teens Learning Code as well as SHAD Waterloo. But it was definitely reinforced during this session. I’ve been to several hackathons where I’ve worked on an idea with a team for three days; we had to create a prototype, present it, and sometimes we would win an award for our hack. However, in the Junior Achievement Company Program, we actually needed to come up with a business/product idea that is:
I also learned what the true meaning of design is. Design isn’t just there to make things look pretty.
“Design is about progress. It is the conceptualization and creation of new things. It involves coming up with solutions.”
Problem solving is something I love and as an aspiring engineer I realized how design/product creation plays a part in entrepreneurship.
Running for Chief Product Officer
What can I take away from this? -Stop making assumptions. Just go for it. Right now as Chief Product Officer I have reached beyond my goals, motivating me to aim higher and I can clearly see how much of an impact I’ve made on my company. I was able to combine my technical experience and entrepreneurship passions through this role as I played a large role in turning our company idea into a minimum viable product.
Here is a photo of me presenting my speech for the executive team election. I made my presentation a little different, and as you can see I was able to capture the attention of students and advisors around me. I told my story. My journey. My passions. I made a video about my Junior Achievement and entrepreneurship journey. How I will make this company my passion and my priority, as well as my mission to build and deliver on a product we can be proud of.
The Challenge: Product Ideation
Personally, I believe product ideation was the hardest part of this journey. We had hundreds of sticky notes relating to different problems we wanted to solve ranging from life balance, financial literacy, health, accessible education, public transportation, and more. Finally, we broke off into groups and decided to develop potential solutions to the pain points and present our pitch.
My team decided to pitch Pump it!, which solved the problem of beginners getting into fitness finding workout buddies. I was really passionate about this idea and here below are the mock-ups of what our potential idea would have looked like. A lot of people like this idea and we thought there would be several opportunities for expansion as well as revenue channels. We spent so long developing the pitch, creating an execution plan, developing the mockups… and to our dismay, our idea was not chosen.
We pitched this idea to the company and we came second during the votes.
The problem was I was so set on this idea. The idea that won was the Crypto Cards idea, which wasn’t as developed but sounded cool. As Chief Product Officer I was confused and upset because I wasn’t sure how to lead my team on a product I didn’t believe in and didn’t completely understand. This is the problem of working in new spaces. Everything is ambiguous, there is so much uncertainty. The market is volatile and everything changes daily in this industry.
I knew to move forward I had to get onboard and also get the rest of the team onboard as well.
From this experience, I learned the importance of being adaptable and resilient as a leader. At the Junior Achievement Governors Dinner, Amanda Lang mentioned the importance of adaptability.
“Innovation is uncomfortable. We don’t want things to change — it goes against our makeup. So step number one is just to be comfortable with discomfort.”
-Amanda Lang, Beauty of discomfort
Trying to move forward
We went along with crypto cards -we were all intrigued by the crypto space and this seemed like the perfect way to get into it. Our product was crypto cards, the gift that keeps growing. People would purchase crypto cards as gifts, and the user can enter the barcode online to redeem their cash in different cryptocurrencies. They would go through the process of creating a digital wallet as well as registering with an exchange. Along with our product of crypto cards, we would also offer a resources section to help users get started.
No one in the product side was experienced with cryptocurrency at the moment so it was a challenge to develop a user flow of our product. It also worked to our advantage as well because we were able to understand our users’ perspectives better, without making any assumptions on their knowledge.
We had countless late-night sessions working on the user and tech flow as well developing a research plan with suppliers to order the physical cards.
Road Block: The idea wasn’t feasible
I organized a product design sprint in December with the core team involved in the product so we can get started and have our version 1 of the crypto cards to be ready by the new year. I met up earlier with my advisors to find out… our product was not feasible at all. There were several legalities behind it which we were unaware of as students.
Since our product was dealing with real crypto currencies there were a few specific challenges. The onboarding process for our platform would not be as simple or accessible because of KYC, which stands for “Know Your Customer”. It is a process by which banks obtain information about the identity and address of the customers. This information includes Name, SIN, ID, License, Employer info, and more. As a company we would have to make sure we had an extremely secure database which could cost thousands of dollars.
The second part is that we had to be AML compliant (Anti-Money Laundering) in which we did not have registration for and we weren’t sure how the process would be. Since our product would fluctuate in value, it would be considered a financial instrument, complying us to these regulations.
The last part was, the company was confused. Frustrated. I had so many goals for that session — I thought the product team would be able to start white boarding and wireframing, but we went back to square one, only with less hope and excitement as we had before.
As a leader for my company, tough decisions have to be made. One of the most crucial steps is realizing that there is a problem and coming up with an action plan. I brought this up with the executive team we decided to do a product pivot. We know we wanted to stay in the realm of crypto but rather find a different approach. A product that we could understand, use ourselves, and easily market to others.
The two main problems this product solves is the inaccessibility of the blockchain industry and the complicated purchasing process. Young students are left in the dark because they lack sufficient funds to invest, can’t learn without risking, and they have to be over 18 to invest.
I identified this problem after doing market research with a survey of over 500 students in Toronto. We then gathered a small sample size to do user interviews in person to finally define the problem space.
I turned our question into:
How Might We Make Cryptocurrency easy, fun, and accessible for Gen Z?
As a result of the pivot, we spent the whole Winter Break having countless calls fleshing out the details regarding our newly pivoted product and having more in person design sprints to solidify the idea.
Here was our process:
- Define the problem
- Competitive analysis
- Solicit feedback and continue iterating
We evaluated products from the user’s perspective to see what’s out there in the market. This way we would be able to identify trends as well as design strategies that are desired by users. This process is called competitive analysis. Before the first design sprint after our product pivot, I assigned comp reviews to different members to stock simulators, cryptocurrency exchanges, as well as educational platforms. We spent the first few minutes of the sprint playing around with the different products to get a sense of the user experience and see if we could leverage those strategies into our platform.
I created a roadmap and worked on prioritizing features for version 1. We had so many ideas but so little time. That is why it’s called “minimum viable product” -it delivers on your mission and solves the problem you wanted to solve with minimal features. That way we would be able to perfect the minimal features and work on multiple iterations.
I created a simple roadmap on google sheets to layout my ideas and decide what we need for version 1.
It soon turned into this.
I remember at the beginning of the year I used to be so nervous when presenting production updates to the company. Now I can present and champion our product in a room with over 300 people.
I wanted the members of the product team to have the chance to showcase our work, collect feedback from professionals and continue building upon it. We went to Protohack’s Open Ed Hacks, which was an educational technology hackathon. We were the only high school team there and placed in the top 3 for our product. We had amazing feedback from the judges which was a pivotal step for me -it validated our work and continued to motivate us. We presented in a room with over 100 professionals which truly was a turning point for my role as CPO. From this moment on I became more comfortable with presenting and advocating on behalf of the team!
Toronto Crypto Summit
On March 9th, myCryptoHippo held our first event to launch the beta version of our product. I, along with the CTO of the company presented the company pitch in front of over 300 people. I never would have imagined that we would have come this far.
The audience clapped immediately when they saw our product. We used real tools and design thinking processes. From designing the screens on Adobe Illustrator, prototyping using Invision, and coding with PHP and HTML/CSS, the whole product was made by students from start to finish.
Following the event, we had over 200 users signed up on our platform.
I also got to meet Anthony Diiorio, the co-founder of Ethereum, CEO of Jaxx and Decentral! His words were extremely inspiring. The biggest takeaway from our conversation is to find a motivation to drive you, that will fuel your success. For him, he always had a drive within him since he was young to make an impact on the world. And I want to do just that. I want to leave a legacy and use technology as a tool to create innovative solutions.
Our event was actually sold out and we had people waiting at the doors trying to get in! The space was filled, and many people came up to me after the product demo congratulating the team on our progress! We were offered opportunities for potential expansion, some mentioned they would like to see our simulator used in classrooms.
Junior Achievement Tradeshow
A good Chief Product Officer must not only manage the product/build process, but also be able to talk about the product to other people. I along with a few other company members represented myCryptoHippo at the annual Junior Achievement Central Ontario Tradeshow held in First Canadian place. I helped with the decorations of our booth to make it attractive to potential users.
It’s important not to make assumptions about users -we can’t assume they already know about cryptocurrency and blockchain. We can’t use the same exact sales pitch on everyone. The tradeshow was a chance for me to tell my company’s story and mission. Many of the people were extremely impressed as the platform was student developed and I got a few potential summer internship offers as well!
On April 8, myself and the CEO presented myCryptoHippo at the CryptoChicks conference at MaRs Discovery District.
We were featured in panel for gamification of crypto and it was such a rewarding experience speaking on behalf of our company. I was able to talk about the product and the obstacles we had to overcome. We had such positive feedback from the audience and several came up to us after which helped validate the work we have done.
From department, to family
This product did not get built overnight. It took passion, designers, researchers, — basically the whole product and tech team that I am so grateful to have worked with. They have all been committed since day one. A manager delegates. A leader inspires and motivates. Everyone in a team has a talent/skill to offer. They need a leader to inspire them to put in those long hours and work together. I believe that we together have really grown as a family. With the majority of my team being in grade 12, there’s a huge opportunity cost; coursework becomes harder, university applications, prior commitment to other extra-curricular activities… the fact that they were able to set time aside to commit to Junior Achievement along with coming to all the extra design sprint sessions meant so much to me.
A lot of problems companies face is the lack of motivation of general members. They don’t feel obligated to come to meetings, put in the extra effort and be present. Without the team, there would be no product. That in turn would require the executives to do all the work. That is why I tried to implement more of an inverse pyramid system, ensuring that everyone on the team feels valued and contributes to the bigger picture. Giving someone a specific role such as Researcher, director of design, front-end developer makes them feel accountable for something. Trusting members with small projects (ex. Coding a specific page) gives them responsibility and you can provide them with resources and help along the way.
Managing Resources Effectively
The process of creating a digital product can be extremely complicated and expensive unless managed efficiently. The monetary costs were the domain and hosting for our website. The largest resource this project used was time and skills of people to research, design, try, fail and iterate. I had to manage people and their intellect well. I leveraged the skillsets of the members of my team but also helped them develop new ones.
As Chief Product Officer I set due dates, linked all supporting documents to help members with their tasks, as well as adding feedback when they’re done. I can add any thoughts in the idea column, move it to the “To Do” list, work in progress, Done, and then to be reviewed by advisors. I manage both the product and tech team and check in with everyone with their progress by encouraging members to update with screen caps and also ask if the need help.
When we started to internally test for version 1, I set up a process on trello where all company members can report bugs. It is organized by each web page, supported by screenshots and descriptions. I held a Q/A training for the company to ensure all members were aware on the bug reporting process. Once the card is added to the board, I can then assign it to members of the tech team and set a due date for when it needs to be fixed. It’s also important to prioritize what needs to get done first -which bug is trivial? What is a critical problem? Within a few days, dozens of cards were added to the board from several departments -marketing, sales, tech… which shows that everyone in the company wanted the product to prosper and were all involved in the production process.
Going Beyond the Scope of CPO
A Chief Product Officer is someone who manages all tactical operations of the company. I went beyond from just managing my team. I tried my best to get involved in every aspect of the company. When a general member had a concern, I would take it up with the executive team. I encouraged other departments to implement documentation as well and I introduced tools to help them with task management.
I was also an excellent marketer for the company. I always brought my camera to meetings to capture moments and kept everything uploaded into the cloud because of my love for photography.
I can’t believe I even hesitated to run for Chief Product Officer. In this position I was presented with unparalleled learning opportunities and I got the chance to grow my skills in designing, public speaking, and leadership. I’m also proud that I was able to see the impact of my results. All those long hours paid off when I was able to present our beta version to professionals walking by during the tradeshow.
I also played a vital role in pushing and motivating the team. We used Slack for internal communication and I got members to add screenshots of their progress. As much as I love technology, tech doesn’t always work as we want it to. When coding, we ran into several roadblocks. That’s why I helped develop a collaborative environment within the product and tech team so I can step in to help with a task if needed, or they can ask another fellow member on the team. With a tool like Slack, it’s easy to reach each other and stay in the loop of current tasks that need to get done. I understand tech can get challenging and ambiguous. I ensured to motivate everyone and let them know that I believed in them.
With collaboration with the Human Resources and Marketing departments, we developed a company blog on medium called “Behind the Product”. As I mentioned, documentation of the journey was really important for me and this way we’re able to see the stories, the progress, and the journey of all aspects of the company.
- Protohacks educational hackathon third place (Jan 2018)
- Second place at the Junior Economic Club Challenge
- Junior Achievement Central Ontario Company of the Year (May 2018)
- Junior Achievement Central Ontario Return on Investment Award (May 2018)
- Junior Achievement Central Ontario Most Innovative Company (May 2018)
- First place socially responsible business SAGE Canada (May 2018)
- Third place SAGE Globals competition in South Africa (August 2018)
- First place in the FedEx Business Challenge, winning $75,000 for the JA Central Ontario Charter
- $2,000 Evelyn Ruskin Corporate Social Responsibility Award — awarded to me for my dedication of giving back to the community and fostering youth entreprenuership
- $10,000 Peter Mansbridge Youth Innovation Award — awarded to one student across Canada — as a result of my contributions
The impact -what does it mean for me?
Through my role as Chief Product Officer and involvement in the Junior Achievement Company Program, I got out of my comfort zone and really grew as a leader. I also learned more about the cryptocurrency and blockchain, an industry I was never exposed to until now. Before Junior Achievement I had limited knowledge of the business world. Through this role I was able to visit companies from Facebook, LoyaltyOne, and more. It also changed the way I approached problems. I became more resilient and adaptable. As a leader I had to be prepared to make tough decisions. I learned about the importance of teamwork and believing in the members of my team. I also learned what it takes to come up with an idea through design thinking and executing it into reality. This experience has allowed me to develop valuable skills which are sought after in industries today from project management, marketing, designing, and coding. My networking skills have improved, and I was offered several different internships, including one at a blockchain company. Last year I was just exploring tech by coding websites. This year I’m building a product that’s making an impact. I have realized my passions and I know in the future I definitely want to do something that combines both entrepreneurship and STEM!
The Importance of Mentorship
I would not have been able to achieve the things I have today if not for the advisors at Junior Achievement. A shoutout to all our company advisors, especially Milana and Farwa for mentoring me through my journey as CPO. Milana and Farwa are amazing female role models in technology and I am extremely grateful to have gotten the chance to work with them. Mentorship is vital for person development and success! Having such an amazing support system has made this journey well-worth it.
This is not the peak of my journey. It’s only the beginning. I know that I’ll face many more challenges and some other successes, but that’s all part of the process. I hope through this journey I was able to inspire others on my team as well as some of the readers here!
Thank you Junior Achievement and thank you Deloitte for giving young people the chance to explore entrepreneurship.