Start with problems. Not solutions.

No problem? No product.

This is Part 2 of a 6-part series where we share everything that went into building our product at Crew. Privacy be damned. Building Crew in Public is not just filled with glory. It’s filled with the struggles and doubt we faced creating a product.


A product in search of a problem.

A trap that many products fall into. People don’t actually need what you’re building.

If a product doesn’t solve a problem, no one cares.

This is why when we started Crew, the first thing we focused on was making sure we were solving a problem, even if our product was primitive and many things were done manually rather than with technology.

To help us gain insight into what’s working and what’s not, we look at 3 main signals:

1. Data — Numbers showing how people are using Crew
2. Customer input — Emails, phone calls, or suggestions from customers after using Crew
3. Intuition — How do we feel when we use Crew? What do we think needs to be improved?

One of the main focuses for us is looking at the repeat usage of Crew members posting projects.

We want our product to be so useful that our members don’t just use us once but every time they need creative work.

Experience = multiple “wow moments”

(not just one)

Think about the first time you used a great product.

It probably felt like it was designed for you. Every action you wanted to do felt right. Your senses (vision, touch, sound) were in tune with the product.

You might’ve said “wow” while using it.

That product touched you on an emotional level and you remember it. You shared it. And you want to use it again.

I know it might be a tired example, but I felt this type of positive emotion the first time I used Uber. Uber’s app connects you with drivers to get around your city.

At first, it may seem like using Uber would not be that much better than calling a cab. But, the trick to Uber’s stickiness is not just one, but multiple “wow moments” that make it substantially better than calling a cab.

The first time I used Uber, there were 4 distinct “wow moments”:

1. How do I know if a cab is available right now?

Uber shows you cabs around you on a map.

2. When will my driver show up?

Uber shows you a map of where your driver is with an estimated time of arrival

3. Will my driver take credit card or do I need cash?

Uber connects with your credit card.

4. What should I tip?

Uber automatically includes a tip you set.

The way Uber baked multiple “wow moments” into their product is one reason why their system is so strong.

With each additional “wow moment”, your chances of using Uber’s app increases compared to hailing a cab.

However, one of the challenges with creating multiple “wow moments” within your product is that they take time to construct. Uber took a year to build their first app and launched in one city.

You need to be patient and willing to go all-in on a problem to create an experience worthy of multiple “wow moments.” Creating the right experience is risky when you might not have all the signals to say what you’re building is the right thing. But that’s part of the road to building a differentiated product. You won’t have all the answers at the start.

To reduce risk, you can begin by focusing on the main one or two “wow moments”.

This may not be good enough to create the full experience you’re after but as you build more and seek to reach that same level of quality of that one “wow moment,” your product will get closer to what you’re after.

This is what we did.

The first “wow moment” we focused on was helping you find a vetted, qualified designer/developer within a day.

Finding the right designers and developers is hard even for the best technical companies like Facebook and Google. Because software is becoming a need for almost every business, the supply for software engineers and designers is throwing the demand curve for a loop.

In Crew, we’ve found that finding the right designer within a day creates a “wow moment” for about 25% of our customers. After matching a project with a designer/developer we help with things like managing the project and payment but not at the level of quality to create multiple “wow moments”. Yet.

To find the areas we need to improve we used our 3 signals (metrics, customer input, and our intuition) to make a long list of problems.

When defining what to build, it’s often best to start by picking out the right problems to focus on and not get too caught up in solutions yet.

How we solve each of these problems could be done thousands of different ways.

For now, getting problems down is the focus. We can define potential solutions later.

Before this meeting, we each took a week and made a long list of problems from different perspectives:

Angus — Engineering

Kirill — Design

Steph — Customer happiness

Mikael — High level

Angus broke down the problems from clearly defined and easy to do to undefined and needs to be discussed (Hard To Solve means needs to be discussed):

Our plan is Angus and our product team will start development on the bottom (the clearly defined tasks) while Kirill, Steph, and I tackle the higher order issues on top that need more refinement before development can start.

We’ll work toward the middle. As we define the hard to solve issues, and as what needs to be built becomes clearer, those items will drop down to obvious fixes and we can build them.

Hard problems aren’t bad. Hard problems can be the best opportunities for you to “wow” your customers if you build them right.

The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity.

Building Crew in Public

Privacy be damned. Building Crew in Public is a series of 6 short essays on product design philosophy and the struggles we faced designing our own product. You can read the original, On The Road-inspired version on the Crew Backstage blog.

1. We’re all selling experiences

2. You Are Here

3. Constraints, not barriers

4. Ask lots of questions

5. Anatomy of a homepage

6. The journey is more important than the destination: Designing the optimal onboarding flow

P.S. The new Crew

We recently went through this process again for a brand new version of our product at Crew. You can read all about it here.

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