The best start for a startup — a community of your own

Startups have the golden opportunity to work hand in hand with people we’re creating products for. But, to gain from it meaningfully we need to go beyond focus groups and user testing, and create a platform for free flowing conversations. Here’s our experience of it.

Creating a digital community is something for big, established brands, right? On the contrary, we think it has the biggest value for startups.

A clean slate offers an amazing opportunity — to create a product with the consumers at the heart of it. So, why not involve them in the making of it from the very beginning? You have an idea, you think you’ve found a gap in the market, you feel it’s something people need… but all these are assumptions. While they may be right, it pays to actually ask those you are creating for. Trust us, you’ll always find something you weren’t expecting.

This is something we at Project Imagine are learning first hand.

Building a bank with people

In an unconventional move, we invested in building a community even before we started building anything else. We’re fostering the community as we’re creating our product and brand. Because, we see these as the basic building blocks of a company. Especially when you’re creating a new bank. Money is something that touches everyone’s life. Yet, everyone has a different relationship with it. It is the most complex consumer dynamic. So, how could we have created our solutions by ourselves?

Our community often joins us in Google Hangouts to discuss our ideas and designs

A space to speak their minds

Our community has over 300 dedicated members who have come together purely because of their passion for the cause. They want to see change in banking as much as we do. This is not market research or social outreach. This is a safe space for people to speak freely about money. This defines the nature of our relationship. We share with them every step of the process and they share with us not only their opinions, but also their feelings. It is humbling to hear them open up about their everyday lives, future goals, financial confessions… topics that are usually too sacred to share with a brand. But, we’re not a brand yet. Right now, we’re a purpose. And, a purpose is something people can unequivocally get behind.

“I do not really possess the full understanding of how different products work and which would be best for me. I would feel better knowing that what I’m doing with the money is right rather than simply having it in an ISA or general savings account.”
“My main financial focus at the minute is saying goodbye to my overdraft. I had some troubles last year and needed a quick fix, however it is a monthly grind to lessen it — I eventually want to get rid of my overdraft completely because on paper I don’t actually need it!”

There’s no doubt people have a lot to say on this topic. It feels like they were waiting for someone to ask. This shows in the way the community has taken a life of its own. It has transformed into a community in the true sense where people are constantly consulting, discussing and debating with each other. The spontaneity is a minefield of inspiration.

Our community is appropriately called ‘What if’. A community that dreams, thinks and creates with us.

Britain’s relationship with money

It is often said, British people don’t really talk about money openly or socially. But, here within the space of our ‘What if’ community people are talking uninhibitedly. And, a picture of Britain’s complex relationship with money is gradually emerging, in a way we haven’t seen before. In fact, we started with asking the community exactly that, to describe their relationship with money in one word. This is what people said.

We asked people to describe their current relationship with money in one word.

Understanding the why behind the what

This kind of interaction allows us to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. We know large sections of the country are habitually in overdrafts. But, is it because of overspending, lack of budgeting or a lack of understanding of hidden charges? Many millennials are opting out of pension schemes. What’s the underlying reason for it? Listening to people is helping us empathise with them in a way we couldn’t have done by ourselves.

As Alex, our co-creation lead says, 
“What we’ve found is that customers feel their relationships with their banks are distant and they feel that banks are not doing enough to help them live a secure life. Yet there’s a sense of resignation to this norm. So, we really need to get deeper into people’s behaviour and mindset to make a real difference.”

These insights are particularly important for us, because we don’t just want to create a bank, we want to actively help people save and grow their money. What we’re learning is helping us define the various triggers, nudges, and incentives that could financially empower different kinds of people.

Shaping the products and the company

Everything we are gaining from the community is helping us build our products and services. Also, it is defining who we are, our company and values.

Customer agency C-space did a study of three years’ worth of data from nearly 65,000 consumers about hundreds of companies in the U.K. and U.S. The answer was clear, “businesses that act more human outperform those that don’t”. This means a lot more than the feelings you evoke in people, the study shows a direct link to the bottom line.

This is because, how companies behave can be very different from how people behave. Companies behave rationally, like a well oiled machine, while people behave more emotionally. Involving a community from the very beginning helps us think both rationally and ‘irrationally’ to solve everyday financial problems.

For the future

People no longer respond to being told what’s good for them. They are seeking a dialogue, a participation in the process. It would be the biggest shame not to harness this. Because, when you do, you don’t just gain consumers but also partners, collaborators, even evangelists.