At our kickoff meeting we learned that SKALR Group was an early stage startup with the mission to help startups scale by providing business development, client acquisition, networking, lead generation and expansion plans services.
We limited the project focus to their short term goals of:
- identifying their target market segments
- determining how to best serve them
- creating a scalable business offering
- determining functionality and design for a digital platform in lieu of their manual operations
Project Set Up
During research, the critical task was conducting interviews to define the target market segments & their challenges.
During the design phase, the critical task was conducting usability testing to iterate quickly from the initial to final prototype.
The founder of SKALR Group was in Melbourne and my partner & I were in Sydney. To manage work remotely we established a:
- group Slack channel
- status meeting schedule with agenda and minutes templates
- Trello board to communicate between meetings and share information instead of via e-mail
My partner and I used Miro’s digital whiteboard software to:
- collaborate when affinity mapping to synthesise interview responses
- create a mind map to lay out our prototype screen flows
- create a matrix for clarity in real time during a call with our client
We started by uncovering the beliefs that SKALR Group had about the B2B startup companies they intended to service:
- had challenges getting their first sale & subsequent clients
- faced large barriers to enter the B2B market with a long sales cycle
- had limited to no sales background
- found hiring a full-time sales team to be cost prohibitive & time consuming to manage
From this we created the initial hypothesis that:
Startups who provide services to other businesses need assistance with lead generation & sales, which SKALR could provide via a digital platform.
Then we began conducting research to validate if:
- these were the challenges all B2B startup target market segments faced
- there were any other challenges
- this hypothesis was accurate
- startups desired a digital platform to alleviate their pains
We conduced 15 in-person interviews of startups and specialists that me, my partner & client knew in lieu a survey because of the open-ended nature of our questions and desire to flush out responses in real time.
The majority of the interviewees we had access to were founders of early stage startups, and we made that caveat clear to our client.
See the following image that summarises their goals & what they were doing well, challenges & how they were overcoming them, tasks they were willing to outsource and their process for business & client growth.
The user research we conducted helped us to see that goals and challenges varied between different stages of startups, and they needed more broad services than just lead generation & sales. We evolved the initial hypothesis from startups who provide services to other businesses need assistance with lead generation & sales to:
Startups struggle to find the most suited specialists who can provide services along their journey from idea to scale up
Next, we focused on trying to understand potential SKALR Group customers. We created three startup founder personas- early stage, established & scale up- and one specialist persona.
The primary persona is Indi, the early stage startup founder. She:
- isn’t sure her business idea meets her target customer’s needs
- wants to validate and test her designs with users
- is confused about the best way to approach the startup journey
- doesn’t have the time or money to find the people she needs to help progress her service
Marisa is a co-founder & COO of an established startup. She:
- feels like she makes business connections serendipitously
- desires a stable way to grow
- wants to outsource sales & lead generation on a short term basis to leverage their time & expertise
- doesn’t want to exhaust her network for potential clients
- wants to avoid relying solely on her own network to generate more business
- needs to easily find the required specialists, who get the business, service & customers
Jared is the co-founder and CEO of a scale-up stage business. He:
- wants to continue the rapid growth happening in the business
- needs to extend bandwidth of the team to manage the demand
- needs to streamline the slow client on-boarding process
- struggles to find good people genuinely interested in the vision
John is a Lead UX Designer at an agency. He:
- wants to find clients and short term design projects he & his team are most suited for & interested in
- spends a lot of time sorting through leads of potential client projects
- often encounters potential clients that want to pick his brain as much as possible for free
The persona development we conducted helped to define our solution statement:
Create a digital service that enables startups to contract with the most suited specialists needed along their journey from idea to scale up
Combined Journey Map & Value Proposition Canvas
We created a combined journey map and value proposition canvas to understand the resources, business priorities, key roles and pains. This allowed us to identify the different potential services that SKALR could offer per the three startup business stages.
The following picture expands upon our findings.
Strategy Service Offering
We recognised that there were two potential strategies for a digital service offering that would be scalable for SKLAR Group:
Short term strategy: SKALR providing their services via existing platforms such as Upwork before building the SKALR digital platform. The main benefits would be the speed & lower costs of implementing, and opportunity to test the digital service offering.
Long-term strategy: Development of a stand alone SKALR platform. Since SKALR identified they were future-oriented, we continued with providing designs for the long-term strategy of a SKALR platform.
We compared four competitor services that enable businesses to post jobs for specialists who can provide short-term support. The primary take aways were:
- there various pricing models
- in some cases specialists were vetted
- there was a willingness for businesses to outsource short-term work
- Outsourcing was occurring via digital, self-serve marketplace platforms.
- None of the services we compared were focused exclusively on providing an extra layer of support to startups; a potential gap in the market.
The following picture expands upon our findings.
We reviewed SKALR Group’s current business operations, how they would evolve if our digital platform concept was adopted, and what the platform could evolve into. Key take aways are:
- SKALR’s target market segments would be startups (early, established & scale-up stage) and specialists
- The digital self-serve B2B connection platform would be a new distribution channel for SKALR’s service to accompany their current 1:1 delivery model
The following image provides more details.
We identified 4 priority levels of features to include in the mobile website. As a minimal viable product it had to have marketplace functionality with separate on-boarding process for startups and specialists, including creating accounts, posting jobs and communicating about jobs.
I hand sketched a version of a user flow for startup’s landing on the homepage, being assessed, having specialists suggested to them, looking at a particular specialist’s profile and initiating the desire to contract. We explained this at a high level to our client and got cleared to continue.
To create the initial prototype we designed with a mobile-first approach, looking at aspects we could use from competitor’s websites and developing new ideas to differentiate SKALR’s platform.
Our final prototype evolved into creating two process flows for startups:
- Post a job if they knew what they wanted & desired to self-select specialists from the marketplace.
- Engage the SKALR Startup Success Team for 1:1 personalised service to match them to mosts suited specialists if they were time poor or unsure of the best type of specialists that could help.
We conducted usability tests of all three process flows, including the one for specialists. The feedback we received from these tests informed our iterations, which are annotated in the following images to describe the evolution.
We identified various resolutions for startups, specialist and SKALR Group if our designed mobile website platform were to be implemented. The most important for each were:
• Startup: access to the services that they need at each stage of the startup journey in one convenient platform
• Specialist: get recommended to startups that suit their skill set without having to go find them themselves
• SKALR Group: Identified target market segments, challenges & desired services they’re willing to outsource, and defined functionality & designs for a scalable digital platform
We provided next steps for SKALR Group to continue the work after our consultancy project, which were broken into items to test further, research and consider as detailed in the following picture.
We also uploaded the usability testing insights, design files, prototype links, other raw files and the presentation deck to our shared Trello board for their reference.
• Our client was thrilled with our outcomes & that we were able to understand his vision, saving him at least 6 months of work if he had attempted this project on his own
• We were able to use our research to show our client the best suited target market segment for their current services, and suggest a way for them to capture a more broad market segment with a different product offering, in a scalable fashion
• The collective previous business experience between me and my parter accompanied with our user experience design knowledge was helpful when asking questions during the kickoff meeting to flesh out our client’s thoughts
• It was helpful to create an affinity map of our kickoff meeting notes to digest all the information we received
• It was beneficial to add to our affinity map directly after each interview instead of after all 15 interviews since we got insights early and it was less daunting to synthesis at the end, yet we remained flexible to recategorising & adding labels as responses came in
• I gained more experience creating clarity from an undefined brief and helping to flush out unclear project parameters to lead to tangible outcomes