James McQuarrie is a UK based Senior Product Manager who helps teams design, build and deliver digital products and services that delight their users.

Author Archives: James

  1. Introducing Tidy – A new solid shampoo for Men

    Comments Off on Introducing Tidy – A new solid shampoo for Men
    Tidy solid shampoo bar product photo Photo – Tidy Mint & Tea Tree Solid Shampoo for Men.

    Many months, and what feels like a lifetime ago now, I asked my connections to spare 5 minutes of their time to help with some research for a new project.

    That research proved interesting, confirming that there was a potential gap in a market that needed filling, and encouraged me to pursue what has turned into Tidy. The premium solid shampoo for Men.

    To dive right in and see the product and the outcome of months of working on market research, product R&D, branding, etc have a look at the shiny new online shop at

    To learn a bit more about how Tidy came to be, read on.

    The spark of an idea

    In late 2019 I decided I wanted to do something to reduce my use of single use plastic. I’m no eco-warrior but I’m happy to do my bit to reduce the amount of waste our household throws out. If for no other reason than to reduce the need to empty the bins and recycling boxes quite so often.

    I decided that replacing my liquid shampoo with a solid alternative would be a simple, relatively affordable, way of making a change. And it would have been, if I’d been able to find a suitable solid shampoo bar to buy.

    But I couldn’t, at least not without a lot more research and effort than I’d assumed would be needed.

    Yes there are many websites selling solid shampoo bars. Several high street stores stock them too. But none seemed to be made for men. I’m not against using a gender-neutral shampoo, nor one that’s marketed at ladies if it works. The problem was all of the bars on the market seemed to be made specifically to solve a problem that I didn’t have.

    One for dealing with split ends. One for making your hair really shine. One for controlling frizz. One to make it smell like flowers. Etc, etc.

    I even visited a well known high street brand who specialise in eco bathroom products (you know the one, you can smell them before you see them in many UK city centres). I asked the sales assistant there if they had any solid shampoo for men.

    She looked puzzled. “Well, we have solid shampoos, I can show you them.”

    “Ok” I said.

    She led me to the range. “What type of hair do you have?” she asked.

    “Just normal, I think.” I replied.

    She looked a bit stumped. “Well, this one’s for dry hair. This one’s for greasy hair. This one stops split ends. Would you like to smell one?”

    I ended up buying the most generic one they had.

    It worked. It did its job and I’d cut down on the amount of plastic waste I was having to deal with.

    But the experience of finding and buying the bar was not what I’d call convenient. Or simple.

    That got me thinking: I wonder how many other men there are out there who would be more than happy to switch to a solid shampoo bar, but who haven’t because it would involve too much effort or because they don’t think there’s a product aimed at them in the market?

    Then I got super busy at my day job and didn’t think about it again for the rest of the year.

    The catalyst

    Fast forward to January 2020. My time working at that super busy day job has come to an end. I’m on gardening leave.

    We did a couple of short family road trips while we had the chance to spend time together without worrying about work.

    Then I started to think about what to do with the down time. Maybe start something new while I had the freedom to do that.

    I explored a number of ideas.

    Bath, where I live, needs a big indoor soft-play for children. There’s a small one at the local leisure centre, but it gets really busy…

    Maybe I could look at a lifestyle business. Open a cafe or a shop of some sort?

    Based on my experiences of finding a solid shampoo bar to buy I thought maybe I could launch a web shop for eco products, to help people find suitable solid shampoo bars and other eco-friendly products more easily.

    All the ideas had potential. The online eco-shop kind of interested me, but I wasn’t sure how to source the products and a quick bit of research showed there are a number of sites like that (just none that had solid shampoo bars for men listed as available…).

    To help think through the problem and try and identify a more considered list of options, I sat down and mapped out the activities that people do daily, weekly and monthly.

    In an ideal world you want to be selling a product or service that people use frequently. I thought the lists could help identify opportunities.

    I then added to the map listing as many products and services as I could think of that could be related to each daily, weekly and monthly activity.

    Screenshot of mind maps of daily and weekly activities Screenshot – Maps of daily and weekly activities and related products / services.

    The monthly list was a bit vague, and probably not frequent enough, so I dismissed everything on it.

    The weekly list had potential, but involved quite a lot of activities that were “optional” and might not be things folks really do every week.

    I focused on the daily list.

    I split the list into two rough groups; things folks do every day, and things folks do most days.

    I honed in on the first group:

    • eat
    • sleep
    • wash.


    Eating is an interesting area to look at. The majority of people will eat more than once a day, so it’s a high frequency, big market.

    There are many opportunities in the space too, as evidenced by the plethora of food tech startups and well established brands in the space.

    The job I’d just left was with a food-focused company, and I wasn’t looking to get back into that area again straight away.


    Sleeping is also an interesting area to look at. More people sleep every day than eat (would be my guess given the rising trend of fasting and its associated benefits).

    But while sleeping itself is a high frequency activity, there are very few products or services related to sleeping that are high frequency purchases. When was the last time you bought a mattress? And the time before that?

    Sleeping was out.


    Which left washing. Most people will wash most days, or at least know they should.

    The product range available to help with washing is vast, and a good proportion of them are relevantly high-frequency purchases.

    And, I might have already identified a gap in the market for a product in the space…

    The universe told me to do it

    Up until this point in the story, all my time had been spent thinking and theorising about what I could do.

    I’d not done anything about it.

    Then one Saturday we took our one year old to the library. He loves books and it’s a good way to occupy him for an hour or so if the weather’s not so great.

    It was the first time he’d been on a weekend, and I’d not been to the library in Bath before, so while my wife and little one explored the children’s books, I took a look around. I was half thinking it might be a good place to come with a laptop and do some work if it was too noisy at home in the future.

    While looking around I stopped at one random shelf that caught my eye.

    On it was a small pile of books waiting to be put back on the correct shelves.

    Amongst those books was one about how to make soap and shampoo at home.

    I took that as a sign.

    I joined the library and borrowed the book.

    I read the book over the next couple of days and realised that it might be possible to actually make my own solid shampoo.

    If I could, I wouldn’t need to worry about sourcing products and competing with other online eco-shops, I could simply make and sell my own product directly to consumers.

    Now all I needed to do was figure out if anyone would actually buy something like this.

    To find out I did three things.

    1. firstly, I did some reading to learn how big the market for men’s shampoo is in the UK and what I could learn about launching a product in this space
    2. secondly I ran a survey asking men to share their attitude towards, and experiences of buying, grooming products to get some primary data
    3. finally I created a fake shampoo brand, and a facebook page for said brand and then bought some facebook ads to see if anyone would show an interest in the product.

    The data says

    A lot of googling and reading later I learnt that the market for men’s shampoo in the UK was big enough to be interesting.

    £480,585,000 was spent on shampoo in the UK in 2018.

    The UK population is split 49% / 51% male / female. Assuming that men account for 49% of the UK spend on shampoo, the market could be worth somewhere in the region of £235,486,650.

    But in 2018 only 18,528,000 men said they used shampoo. That’s roughly 30% of the population. 30% of £480,585,000 is £144,175,500.

    A market worth over £140 million a year, is still a big enough market to be of interest.

    I also learnt that the most popular shampoo, by a very long way, for men in the UK is Head & Shoulders. A brand that sells a specific shampoo for men…

    Our survey says

    The survey asked men from across my Linkedin and other social media networks to take a few minutes to list the male grooming products they use, how often they use them and what they considered important when buying said products.

    The results were interesting, and encouraging for my plan.

    72% said they used shampoo daily or weekly.

    But 86% said they’d never used a solid shampoo.

    When it comes to buying 56% of respondents said they buy at least one product from a supermarket. 43% mentioned buying some items from other high street stores and 30% said they buy some products online. It was very common for respondents to buy specific products from different sources.

    When making a buying decision 90% of respondents said that the quality and the effectiveness of the product are equally the most important things to them. Familiarity was also important, but slightly less so.

    Interestingly, brand and price were not deemed that important in their decision making process (though several did mention bulk discounts as a reason for shopping in some supermarkets).

    The data told me that there could be an opportunity for a new product category of solid shampoo aimed at men. And if it was going to be successful it needed to be focused on being a great shampoo that worked well and one that was made with quality ingredients.

    Our testing says

    The facebook demand testing I did was a more practical way of determining if there’d be a market for the product.

    I created a fake brand called “getsoap” (terrible name, I know) and set up a website at the domain

    I then designed a series of different landing pages selling solid shampoo for men, each pitching the products in slightly different ways. One was based on a premium look and feel, like Apple products. One was based on a supermarket like brand. And the final one was modelled around a popular subscription service for men’s toiletries.

    I wanted to test if people would hit a “buy” button if presented with the product and compare which type of branding / offer would get the most interest.

    screenshots of different landing pages Screenshot – First iteration of experimental landing pages to test demand.

    Each landing page had a call to action along the lines of “buy now” or “subscribe now” that led to a subsequent page that said we were out of stock. The out of stock page encouraged people to enter an email address to be amongst the first to know when the bars were back in stock.

    I intended to measure interest by tracking the number of people seeing ads for the brand, the number of those who clicked through to the website. The number of those in turn who selected the call to action. And finally the number who then entered an email address.

    I built a series of adverts on Facebook and paid to have them promoted to an audience of men and women who were early adopters, interested in eco / green content and who were between 18-65.

    It’s a relatively crude experiment, but one that took hours rather than days to set up and cost less than £100 to get up and running.

    The initial results were positive.

    The first landing page got a 42% click through rate on the call to action.

    The second version had a 27% click through rate.

    The subscribe option had a 5.5% click through rate.

    The premium branding had the best conversion rate by far. But the test had been very crude (deliberately) and hadn’t included any mention of the price of the bars.

    To learn what impact different prices would have on the conversion rates, and to understand if buying traffic for a product like this would be a profitable way of generating sales, I set up some more experimental landing pages.

    The new set of pages used the same designs and copy as the first premium landing page but this time included different price points of £4.95, £5.95, £6.95, £9.95.

    Screenshot of a landing page with pricing Screenshot – Landing page iteration that included pricing.

    Long story short, the £9.95 option converted at a slightly lower rate than some of the other price points, but still offered the best ROI when looking at the cost of buying each customer via Facebook ads.

    There are still many areas to explore regarding pricing, subscription models and bulk order discounting, but the experiments gave me enough confidence to move forward with the plan.

    Making the shampoo. Safely

    In parallel to this market research and testing I needed to know two other things:

    1. firstly could I make the product to a high enough standard to make this work
    2. secondly could I make a high quality product and turn a profit.

    I addressed issue one first.

    Having read the book I found in the library about how to make soaps and shampoo, I started reading as much about the topic as I could. I burnt through a library’s worth of kindle books, more blogs on the topic than I can list and started experimenting with making bars at home.

    20-30 iterations later I had a shampoo bar that I believed was good enough to put my name to.

    Photos of various stages of the product development process Photos – Photographs of various stages of shampoo making taken during product development.

    My research had suggested that while different people used different shampoos based on brand / fragrance, etc, there was one bathroom product pretty much every man anywhere in the UK had used and would use again. A particular mint and tea tree shower gel. In order to keep things as simple as possible I decided to roll with that as my first (and currently only) fragrance for my shampoo.

    I tested the first bars myself and when I finally had a version that I was happy with, and after 3 weeks of use hadn’t made my hair fall out or shown any other signs of issues, I enrolled the help of some willing volunteers to help me test the product.

    I sent bars out to 6 people in total. One of whom wasn’t as much of a willing volunteer as the others, but had been volunteered by his wife to test the product without knowing I’d made it. The intention was to get some very unfiltered feedback about the bar.

    After weeks of the volunteers testing the bar the reviews were on the whole positive. One tester complained that the bar made their scalp dry (a common complaint about solid shampoos), but otherwise folks liked the bars.

    And, most importantly, no one suffered any ill effects of using them.

    Crucially, when asked several said they’d happily buy the bars in the future.

    One, a long time solid shampoo bar user, went as far to say that he and his wife had been using the bar and that it was “better than the high street brands they’d tried before”.


    Next I needed to get the product certified as safe to sell. Regulations dictate that cosmetic products (such as shampoo) need to have a “Cosmetic Products Safety Report” certificate before you can sell them to the public.

    You’re allowed to produce and use cosmetics yourself, and give them to friends / family / etc as gifts without the certificate, but you need the paperwork to be able to sell the product legally.

    You also need to adhere to a very long list of safety procedures when making and storing the product, and make sure your labelling on the packaging of the product meets strict guidelines.

    Getting the certificate involves sharing a detailed list of the ingredients in your product and getting an independent chemist to review the recipe to confirm it’s safe to use as intended.

    It took a few weeks to get the certificate, but my recipe was approved as safe.

    Doubly encouraging.

    A sustainable product is pointless without a sustainable business to make and sell it

    Now I needed to make sure I could make the bars, and deliver them at a profit.

    There’s no point in making a sustainable product if the business making it goes out of business in the process.

    Time for a big spreadsheet to calculate costs, revenue and profit.

    I’ll not bore you with the details, but the good news (for me at least!) was that the numbers added up.

    Even at a relatively small scale, I’d be able to make, market, sell and ship the bars at a profit. Assuming I can sell a minimum number per month.

    Longer term if the demand was high enough I should be able to scale production and even possibly lower some costs by buying ingredients and packaging materials in bulk.

    This thing could work.

    Now I just needed a name and some branding.

    What’s in a name

    I’m no branding or marketing expert. But I knew that if this product was to stand a chance in the market it would need some very strong branding.

    Luckily my friend Jason had caught wind of what I was doing and was keen to help out any way he could.

    As he’s one of the most talented designers I know, I jumped at the chance of picking his brain and getting his input on how I should approach things.

    He went a lot further than that. The name and the logo and everything you see about the brand has his influence behind it.

    We spent weeks going back and forth on the name, and looks etc. He asked questions. I shared thoughts. We had a list of name candidates that’s longer than your arm.

    We knew we needed a name that was strong, honest, simple and that we could build an experience around. I wanted to choose something that would become meaningful to our customers. Something that didn’t come with too much preconceived meaning or baggage. Any meaning it did already have needed to be positive and engaging. It needed to be word or phrase that wasn’t every day, but was still familiar.

    For a while we focused on finding a name that was strongly associated with one of the founding principles behind the company: Do more, use less.

    Jason particularly liked Use:Less.

    I liked the concept, but worried it would lose meaning when spoken aloud.

    We iterated some more. Eventually he suggested “Clean & tidy”. Which led to “Tidy”.

    It ticked a lot of boxes.

    I grew up in Wales where “tidy” is used as a general catch all word for anything agreeable or good.

    “Fancy going to the pub tonight?” “Tidy!”

    “Did you see that film last night?” “Yeah, it was well tidy.”

    Etc, etc.

    It’s also simple. Easy to say. Easy to spell. Comes with meaning, but it’s not something that’s used in everyday language (outside of parts of Wales).

    It also has connotations with being green and eco-friendly. The “keep Britain tidy” campaign encourages people to put their litter in the bin. Being “neat and tidy” is a positive thing.

    As soon as we said it, it felt right.

    So Tidy was born.

    Now we just needed a logo and look and feel for the brand.

    Jason worked his magic. Well, firstly Jason’s daughter Flo (aged 10) worked her magic.

    Photos of 2 versions of the tidy logo as designed by Flo aged 10 Photos – Tidy logo designs by Flo, aged 10.

    Jason and I worked on this through lockdown. Flo was at home during the period and heard about what we were doing and came up with her own designs for the logo.

    I think she gave her Dad a run for his money!

    Here are some early versions of Jason’s iterations.

    Screenshot of tidy logo concepts by Jason Screenshots – Tidy logo concepts by Jason, aged “a bit more than 10″…

    We settled on the exclamation point version because it somehow looked bolder and more solid than the others. I really liked the Whale tail idea, but we couldn’t find a way of executing it that felt as strong as the exclamation point logo.

    Screenshot of the exclamation Tidy logo The “Exclamation” Tidy logo.

    Jason nailed the colour palette first time too.

    screenshot of the six colour Tidy colour palette Screenshot – The Tidy colour palette.

    So after months of going round the houses (Jason fitted in Tidy work between other client commitments and home schooling!) we arrived at the beginning of a great set of brand visuals.

    Which pretty much brings us up to date.

    The last month or so has been spent applying the new branding to packaging, websites and other elements that are needed to be able to start selling the bars.

    I’ve been learning how to do product photography while setting up a shopify store and getting a Tidy instagram and Tidy Facebook account set up (follow us on either / both if you’d like to keep up to date with how this evolves).

    Then, finally, this week we launched the Tidy solid shampoo shop and started selling the bars.

    At time of writing, we’ve already had one order without any promotion other than to friends and family.

    Now the real fun (and work) begins.

    Photo of three Tidy postcards with different marketing messages on each Photo – Tidy postcards: “Shampoo. Honest.” “Handmade. For your head.” “Like shampoo. But solid.”
  2. 91% of people responding to a recent poll asking if they’d thought about how they could reduce their use of single use plastics said “Yes”.

    Comments Off on 91% of people responding to a recent poll asking if they’d thought about how they could reduce their use of single use plastics said “Yes”.

    A few weeks ago I asked my network on LinkedIn a simple question:

    “Have you ever thought about how you could reduce your use of single use plastics?”

    2040 people saw the poll. 92 people responded (roughly a 4.5% engagement rate).

    Of the respondents 84 (91%) said “Yes”. 8 (9%) said “No”.

    I asked those who said no, and a sample of those who said yes, “Why?”.

    Here are their replies:

    First: those who answered “No” they’d not thought about how they could reduce their use of single use plastics

    A developer from West Yorkshire:

    “I answered ‘no’ because I don’t use single-use plastics. I cook everything from fresh, don’t use soft drinks etc… I reuse my bags-for-life, but unfortunately have to use disposable things like bin bags. Plastic packaging in supermarkets is obviously something they need to reduce too…

    I’m of an age where you got sixpence back on your empty glass bottles, but I have no idea how you bought shampoo before plastic bottles were invented.

    I don’t consider myself to be an eco-warrior, and am certainly not on board with the generation of climate holocaust fear-mongers. I’m a pragmatist, and think that the placebo of battery-powered vehicles and wind generation isn’t as cost-free as its claimed to be… I look back to my parents’ generation and yearn for the simplicity of regularly-bought fresh food that didn’t involve a 4×4 journey. The death of the local butcher and grocer has a part to play in all of it – hopefully in the post-Covid world there’ll be room for local shopping and a return to community life…”

    A Product Director from London explained:

    “I guess I really lay the responsibility with the manufacturers/supermarkets to reduce it as in the end it’s all in the packaging.

    I personally never buy water bottles as I drink tap water and I also recycle our plastic/paper etc that comes from shopping and have not really seen a decrease in the amount being recycled which to me implies the packaging has not really changed at all.

    I guess to say I didn’t consider plastics may not be completely true as when I think about it more, there are some cleaning products i.e. washing machine liquid etc that if they have ‘currently not recyclable’ on it I would opt for one that does (but guess that was unconscious selection at work).”

    Another Developer from West Yorkshire explained:

    “I’ve never ‘thought about reducing single use plastics’ but that doesn’t mean that I go out of my way to use plastic only once. Far from it, I hate getting plastic bags from shops when I have 100s at home under the sink. Before lockdown, we’d stopped getting plastic bags with a supermarket delivery, and always had a stash to give back to the driver to recycle (although that has stopped now. They force heavy plastic bags on us, and won’t take any back!).

    We do tend to buy the biggest of each thing like shampoo, or ‘super-concentrate’ cleaning products, which I suppose is better than buying multiple small ones.

    To sum up: It’s very rare I actually buy single use plastics, so it’s not something I positively think about. Maybe that means I do think about it, subconsciously :-)”

    A Project Manager from Cumbria explained:

    “I just recycle the single use items”

    A Business Analyst from London explained:

    “Personally I am happy with single use plastics. The plastic straws are better and more convenient than any other versions I’ve tried. So many times the single use plastics function better than any ‘sustainable’ solution – which in most cases are not sustainable at all. Paper straws that feel like chewing cardboard, rice straws that break in 10 min in a drink. Metal straws – I don’t carry them around and they are difficult to clean by restaurants and bars.

    Same for other single use products.”

    I asked if they would consider more sustainable replacement products if they were proven to be as sustainable and functional as the plastic alternative?

    “Yes. But for many products I haven’t found this.”

    The other three people who answered “No” to the poll didn’t reply to my further questions.

    Secondly: those who answered “Yes”

    I also asked a sample of those who responded “Yes” they had thought about how they could reduce their use of single use plastics: “Why?”

    A UX Coach from Bristol explained:

    “I feel guilty about using them everytime I do the recycling! Retailers don’t make it easy to do. I wish I could search on supermarket websites for less plastic, or at least see a logo on products that try and do it [reduce their plastic packaging].”

    A Developer from Derby explained:

    “I’m 45, so in 1980 I was 5 years old.

    That’s important because the end of the 70s and early 80s was literally a different era. Change is incremental, so we don’t notice much. Back then (probably not 5) I remember playing in a park and finding empty bottles of pop and getting super excited, because there was a 10p refund on the bottle. Free money! Free sweets!

    Milk was delivered by a milkman, in glass bottles that were washed and he drove an electric milk float. My mum used to sew my trousers when I ripped a hole in them. People used to go to the chip shop with their own bowl, rather than have it wrapped in paper. A rag-and-bone man used to collect scrap and sharpen knives.

    So, while I’m not claiming to be part of the ‘mend and make do’ war era, I watched with horror as we slowly stopped using reusable containers.

    Milk bottles became plastic, clothes became seasonal and throwaway, milk floats are unheard of and how do you even sharpen a knife well these days? So for me, all this reduce/reuse/recycle stuff is actually just a return to how everyone was doing it back when I was little. Back then it was necessary. We got greedy, and now it’s become a necessity again.

    I use soap, not shower gel. Soap lasts longer, is cheaper and consumes very little packaging on a multi-pack. Shower gel is a clear example of a product created to suit the needs of the seller. It doesn’t last as long and they can brand the packaging. I remember my grandfather telling me he never used shampoo. It was a con. I laughed. Granddad was right as it turns out.

    I also used to work on warehouse systems, and was shocked by the amount of packaging used on things like shirts. It was insane. Wrapped in plastic, in boxes, in larger boxes, on pallets, wrapped in plastic. Delivered to a distribution centre down south, only to be sent back to a retail park 200 yards up the road.”

    A Service Designer in Dublin explained:

    “I’ve always held a bit of ecological anxiety, so I listen when I hear news of new threats to the planet. I have known for years that plastics are a problem. I think it’s important to consider because of the ‘half life’ they have and the impact they can have over that time they spend in the ecosystem. I do feel, however, that much of the ‘choice’ we have to avoid single use plastic is overstated. The greater capacity to reduce humanity’s use of these lies with regulators and producers. I use a keep cup, avoid storing food in disposable bags, use reusable shopping bags, but Coca-Cola continues to manufacture 200,000 plastic bottles a minute.

    When I bought my house was the first time I had autonomy on the household goods. I buy Ecover products because they claim to be better for the environment. Sadly, they all come in (albeit recyclable) plastic containers, but to offset some of this I bought the 5l refill container for the washing detergent. There is a retailer here that sells bulk products, but not the eco friendly ones, so catch-22.

    Lockdown is a plastic nightmare. We can’t use keep cups, disposable masks and gloves are all over the streets, even reusable masks (we’re told) need to be sealed in a ziplock bag before returning home to wash.”

    A UI Designer from London explained:

    “I think it’s a very important topic to have a discussion about.

    I think it might have all started when I was looking into reusable nappies for my kids and the sites I looked at got me thinking about plastic waste and the more I read up about it, the more I wanted to reduce our dependency on single use plastic. Lots of plastics end up in the ocean, killing sea life and some of that turns up in the food we eat. I think we all have a part to play in being responsible for our planet and the environment.

    I think my proudest moment was when my son, 7, told us that he has set up an eco club with his friends. When they’re 18, they’ll build a submarine and pick up plastics from the ocean and turn them into art to sell in a gallery. :)”

    A UX Researcher from Manchester explained:

    “Think there has been a lot in the media about the use of plastic, guess I just notice it more.”

    An Interaction Designer from Ipswich explained:

    “I moved to the coast nearly 6 years ago and in that time I’ve seen the devastating effect single use has had on our planet. I have made a conscious effort to reduce mine and my family’s use of single use plastic.

    When shopping we’re trying to buy food that doesn’t use single use plastic as much as possible. We tend not to buy water bottles (even though they are recycled). And generally making our children more aware of these issues.

    We have been buying locally made soaps. With the liquid hand soaps we have been buying the big refillable packs. Which again aren’t great, but are better than buying 3 or 4 hand soaps for the house and then binning them.”

    A Developer from Bristol explained:

    I guess every time I see the amount of plastic we end up discarding or sending to recycling each week I wonder about the impact it might have on nature. How long this plastic will be around and the energy/water involved in recycling it. Sometimes I wonder if it is even really going to be recycled (I read some stories about countries exporting trash to other countries which are scary). So I have thought about what to do to reduce it but I’ve never researched or taken action on it.

    Conclusion: even those who said “no” were aware of their use of single use plastics, and on the whole were doing something to reduce their personal use

    I’m glad I dug deeper by asking for more detail from respondents. Especially those who’d answered “no”.

    Exploring the “why” behind their answers revealed that at least half of those who had replied no to the original poll do actually take steps to either minimise their use of single use plastics, or minimise the impact of their consumption of them.

    Only one respondent said they’d actively choose to use single use items over alternatives currently, and only because they felt that the current offerings in market are a poor substitute for many single use plastic items.

    Further discussion

    In addition to the above conversations I had with respondents to the poll, there were a number of conversations that expanded on the question and people’s answers in the comments on the original Linkedin post. Take a look to read through them: Linkedin poll: Have you ever thought about how you could reduce your use of single use plastics?

  3. How I approach Product Management

    Comments Off on How I approach Product Management

    I work for the teams I lead.

    I see digital product (and service) delivery as a collaborative endeavour. It requires Product Managers, Designers, Engineers, Researchers, Data Scientists, Domain Experts and Business Leaders to all work together to apply their individual expertise and experiences to solve problems.

    My job as a Product Leader is to make sure everyone involved has everything they need to be able to do that well. Including (but not limited to):

    • a clear understanding of what customer need they are trying to address
    • what the business objectives for the product are and how the team’s goals align to the wider organisation’s vision and strategy
    • an environment where collaboration between all team members works for the team.

    How each of the above are delivered is dependent on the organisation and team makeup. All teams are different. Some naturally lean towards a customer centric approach, while others are more technology or solutions centric by nature. Some organisations are very adept at providing a clear and concise vision and strategy, others less so. Some teams are naturally better at collaborating than others.

    My job as a Product Leader is to understand the organisation and team makeup and adapt my way of working to fit with how they do their best work. Always focused on delivering measurable outcomes, not just outputs, that improve the overall experience of customers using the product or service.

    A lot of Product Managers see themselves as the people who shape the product, with their teams there to execute their vision. I don’t.

    I believe it’s the team who shapes the product, my role is to shape the team and give them what they need to shape the product.

    I can bring my experience as a UX consultant to the team, offering input on the usability, accessibility etc of the product’s design and implementation, but ultimately it’s the Designers and Engineers on the team who make the decisions about how a solution we work on is executed.

    My job is to help them focus on the right problem to solve and make sure they have the information and tools they need to solve it by working together.

    While the specifics are different for each team I work with, broadly speaking I like to follow the Inspired (Marty Cagan) approach to product management, splitting the team’s activities into two tracks:

    1. Discovery work
    2. Delivery work

    Discovery work

    Discovery work is focused on gaining insights about any problem or problems customers have and exploring different ways we could solve those issues with our product or service. This type of work calls for rapid iteration and exploration and involves a lot of prototyping, testing, trial and error, and learning.

    Delivery work

    Delivery work is focused on implementing the solutions that have been explored and tested and deemed good enough to be put out into the world. This type of work involves making sure the execution of those solutions is done to the highest standard, still as quickly as possible.

    The “we believe vs. we know” question

    It can often be hard to know which type of work a team is (or should be) doing at any one time as ideas about what to work on come thick and fast in most organisations.

    My rule of thumb for filtering new work requests into discovery or delivery streams is to frame the work in terms of whether it’s something “We believe” we should do, or whether it’s something “We know” we should do.

    If it’s something we believe we should do, we need more evidence that it’s worth pursuing before committing the time and energy to deliver it. That requires discovery work.

    If it’s something we know we should do, we should know what measurable impact making the change will have. Once we know that, we can often (but not always) put it straight into the delivery stream.

    I say not always, because sometimes there are things we know we should do, but we’re not entirely sure how to do them. In those cases there’s some discovery work to be done to determine the best way to deliver the work (answering the question: “which way of making this change will give us the biggest impact”).

    All the work that’s done in the discovery stream should be focused on turning all the “we believe” statements into “we know” statements. If we get that right, all the work done in the delivery stream is worth putting the time and effort into getting right because we, the team, already know it will have a positive impact on the end customer experience of using the product or service.

    When the solutions a team deliver are measurably better than what came before them, it’s a sign that the team are working well together and working as a unit.

    If the solutions being delivered are not improving the product or service then it’s a sign that the Product Leader is not doing their job and needs to review what more the team needs to be able to deliver their best work.

    As Marty Cagan wrote in Inspired:

    “When a product succeeds, it’s because everyone on the team did what they needed to do. But when a product fails, it’s the product manager’s fault.”

    – Cagan, Marty. INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love. Wiley.

  4. How we redesigned tools used to manage a community of 100 million users a month as a live Beta

    Comments Off on How we redesigned tools used to manage a community of 100 million users a month as a live Beta

    It’s mid 2019. I’m in Bristol, leading a squad of 5 engineers working remotely across 4 countries.

    We’re responsible for maintaining and developing the internal tools and systems used by over 100 Community Managers in 70 countries across the World.

    The Community Managers are responsible for keeping the company’s ~100 million monthly users safe and engaged in our consumer product (a recipe sharing website and app).

    They are specifically charged with reviewing all the user generated content that’s published on the service making sure it complies with our community guidelines (no inappropriate content, no recipes that would be culturally offensive in the country / region in which it was published, and no recipes that could pose a health and safety risk, etc).

    They are also tasked with keeping recipe authors engaged with the service and encouraging them to share more recipes.

    I’ve joined the squad as their first dedicated Product Manager and I’ve got a lot to learn about the tools they have developed and maintain and about how the Community Managers use them.

    I’ve spent the first few weeks of working for the team interviewing Community Managers from across the world. I’ve spoken with the country heads who lead these teams locally and I’ve spent time with my squad of engineers understanding where they are in terms of both how they work and what they’re working on.

    Throughout this process I learnt a number of things:

    • the Community Managers are an extremely passionate, dedicated bunch who care deeply about their local users, their experience of using the service and how our product works
    • their passion and dedication has lead to each Community Manager having very close relationships with a handful of our top authors across the world. They consider those authors their friends, and those authors consider them friends too
    • it was obvious that while the work of monitoring and reviewing content was an important aspect of keeping the community healthy, it was when Community Managers engaged with and encouraged authors by commenting on their recipes or sharing messages directly that they really shone at getting those authors to return and add more recipes
    • the tools the team had built for the Community Managers were functional and had evolved over time but, little consideration had been given to the experience of working with them on a daily basis.

    I also realised that a lot about how both the Community Managers and the tools worked was not scalable.

    The 3 other product squads working on the consumer product side of the company were all focused on significantly growing the numbers of people who published recipes at least once a week.

    The company was not keen on having to hire significant numbers of additional Community Managers to scale with the increasing number of people publishing recipes, nor would they have been able to recruit them fast enough if the product grew at the target rate.

    Therefore my squad had to focus on how we could make sure the tools we were designing and building for Community Managers would allow them to continue spending as much time as possible engaging and encouraging authors and reduce the time they spent doing the “admin” work, like reviewing recipes.

    To complicate matters we had to do this without interrupting any of their day to day work.

    We broke this challenge down into two parts:

    1. part 1 involved looking for efficiencies in the workflow Community Managers had to follow when reviewing content and dealing with complaints about content
    2. part 2 involved looking for ways of redesigning the tools to support Community Managers getting to know more authors just as thoroughly as they currently knew their existing top authors without having to invest many hours in the process.

    We developed a plan.

    In order to be able to test our ideas for new processes, workflows and user interfaces, we would run a Beta trial of the new version of the tools in parallel with the existing Community Management tools.

    The Beta would be only available to Community Managers in one region to allow us to work closely with them to monitor their use of the tools and get their feedback directly as and when we released updates.

    By running the Beta in parallel with the existing Community Management tools, making it easy for Community Managers to switch from the “traditional” version to the Beta version and back again, we were able to release features to Beta one at a time and often, without having to worry about replacing every part of the tools in one go. Which meant we could build, test, learn, repeat relatively quickly.

    To monitor the impact of our Beta I created a satisfaction survey that we ran with the testing group every week, starting before the beta went live and continuing throughout its development. This survey allowed us to gather both qualitative and quantitive data about the Community Managers experience of using the tools and track if we were improving things for them.

    We also monitored activity within the tools so we could see what impact the changes we were making had on their productivity.

    To help keep us honest, share our progress with the rest of the Community Managers around the globe, and to help make sure other squads within the company were aware of what we were working on, I wrote a weekly blog post that was published on our intranet. It highlighted the changes we’d made each week, explaining the design decisions behind them, and reported any new feedback and analytical data we’d gathered from our Beta users.

    Having to report progress each week like this helped the squad focus on delivering something of value on a weekly basis.

    It also helped us give a bigger voice to the Community Managers within the company. By sharing the progress we were making and how crucial our Beta testers were in helping us make that progress, we were able to share their insights and ideas about how the product should work with a wider audience.

    The goal was to develop the Beta to a point where the core features of the existing Community Management tools were redesigned and fully tested before allowing Community Managers from all regions and countries to opt in to accessing them (still making it available in parallel to the traditional version and allowing them to switch back and forth at will).

    This would be the ultimate measure of success for us as a squad. If we were able to design and build the right thing, delivering it in the Beta, Community Managers from around the world would choose to use the new version over the old version.

    Once we had the core features tested and, importantly, adopted by the majority of Community Managers globally we would work on redesigning or incorporating the “non-core” features into the Beta and work towards permanently switching all Community Managers over to the new designs and switching off the original.

    My time at the company ended before the Beta was complete. But over the course of the time I worked with the team we were able to introduce:

    • a new global dashboard view that showed Community Managers three levels of information at a glance: global activity, regional activity and the activity related to the users and content they personally had been communicating with / reviewing
    • a completely redesigned workflow for recipe moderation that allowed Community Managers to see all of the recipes that were in each stage of the review process and who was reviewing them, all in one view. This could be filtered to show just the recipes they were responsible for reviewing, or those any member of their team were working on, helping the regional teams work together more effectively
    • a streamlined recipe review process that required viewing one screen instead of six separate screens to approve / reject a recipe
    • a redesigned author’s profile view that allowed Community Managers to see a news feed style view of an author’s recent activity on the service in one stream, along with an “activity summary” that showed an author’s last 12 months activity in one easy to see chart – making it much easier for them to see how active an author was and to get to know what types of recipes they liked to publish and share
    • a redesigned messaging view that showed all communications between an author and any Community Manager. This allowed any Community Manager to pick up a conversation where a team member had left off, helping them share workload and always respond to authors, fully aware of other conversations that had already taken place with other Community Managers.

    All of those changes were introduced in the Beta while the existing tools continued to be used in parallel. By developing them this way we were able to test with live data, as part of our testing team’s day to day work, which really helped us hone in on delivering the right features to help the Community Managers do their jobs.

    Over the course of the project we were able to increase Community Manager satisfaction with the tools from “good” to “very good” and increase their feedback about how the tools were meeting their needs from “they sometimes meet my needs” to “they always meet my needs”.

  5. How “paving a cow path” resulted in a 10x increase in the number of people sharing content

    Comments Off on How “paving a cow path” resulted in a 10x increase in the number of people sharing content

    It’s 2019. I’m working as the Head of Product, leading a squad of 12 at a recipe sharing website / app company in Bristol, UK.

    The squad is a multidisciplinary team consisting of: Developers (iOS, Android and web), a Product Designer, a Data Scientist, a QA person and me.

    I’m responsible for the squad hitting their goals. Goals that they have helped set in alignment with the company’s goals for the quarter that are focused on retention of users who author content on the platform.

    Our squad’s goals (set as OKRs) are all related to the features within the product that relate to communication. Commenting, sharing content, chat, etc.

    We’re The Communication Squad.

    One of the goals we’ve set ourselves for the quarter is to increase the number of users who are sharing content from our platform with their friends and family. The idea being that if we can increase the number of people sharing content, we can increase the numbers viewing the content. If we can increase the number viewing our user’s content, we can increase the numbers giving feedback to authors (likes, comments, etc) about their recipes. As a company we know (from extensive user research) that receiving feedback is one of the key drivers for author retention on the platform. We also know that while our product is similar in many ways to a social network, most of our users aren’t connected to many people they know on our platform, so when they find a recipe they want to share they have to do so outside our product.

    From user research done by our insights team at the company we know that time and time again people we interview tell us that they like to share recipes with their friends and family via WhatsApp.

    So, to increase the number of people sharing content from our platform with their friends and family we dug into the data we had about historical sharing behaviour on the platform.

    The data confirmed what our researchers were telling us. The data showed that WhatsApp was by far the most popular way for our users to share recipes from our platform (at least in the countries / regions of the World where WhatsApp is the messaging service of choice, which were also the countries / regions where we had the most activity on our service at the time).

    Based on these data we reviewed the current user journey for sharing a recipe via WhatsApp and evaluated how we could improve it.

    The journey required a user to first view a recipe, then find the UI control to reveal sharing options, then choose from sharing the recipe via our app’s built in chat feature or via the “share” controls built in to the OS their device ran. Then they had to find WhatsApp from those OS level sharing options, then go through the process of sharing the recipe as dictated by the OS’s WhatsApp sharing mechanism.

    We, as a Squad, decided to experiment with different ways of improving the overall sharing experience, and while we did that we made one small change to the user journey specifically for WhatsApp users:

    We moved the share via WhatsApp option to be the first option the user saw when they opened the recipe sharing options, before they saw the OS share sheet. Effectively promoting WhatsApp two levels up in the chain of steps users followed when sharing content.

    We deployed the change and monitored its impact.

    The results were better than we’d expected. This seemingly simple change increased the number of people sharing recipes via WhatsApp by just over 10 times.

    One small change, driven by qualitative and quantitive data that supported it, lead to a 10x increase in users doing what we wanted them to do.

    That was a win for our Squad.

    Unfortunately, we weren’t able to map the increase in sharing activity to impacts on author retention in any meaningful way, but as an isolated exercise in insight-driven design I think it’s a great example of why sometimes “paving the cow paths” really is a good approach to product design.

  6. How we learnt we needed to slow our app down from observing user behaviour

    Comments Off on How we learnt we needed to slow our app down from observing user behaviour

    It’s 2015. I’m part of a small team of people working out of an attic office space in Farringdon, London.

    We’re a startup that’s just secured £2million in funding from a corporate backer to build a disruptive service that offers a new way of helping homeowners with home repair emergencies and niggles.

    Having spent months researching, reviewing and learning the ins and outs of all the existing ways people could get help from repair experts (think: plumbers, electricians, heating engineers, etc) we had convinced ourselves, our backers and a significant number of people we’d spoken with that there was a much better way of delivering home repair help: video calls.

    The startup was called “DAD” and we were building a service that allowed customers to install an app and hit a single button to start a chat or video call with a home repair expert (in seconds).

    The idea was that instead of waiting hours (in the case of emergencies), or potentially days (in the case of other repair issues), just to pay someone to come round to your house, suck air through their teeth while looking at your issue and tell you “I’ve not got the parts for that”, or “It’ll cost you to get that replaced”, we would get you expert advice within minutes of you discovering problems in your home.

    You would connect with our experts via video and show them the problem and they would give you advice about stopping it getting worse, diagnose the issue and either talk you through a fix on the call (our testing showed that about 60% of issues could be solved this way) or make arrangements for a tradesperson to come and visit you.

    In the case of us needing to send someone round to fix the issue, we were able (thanks to the video) to not only fully brief the tradesperson, but in most cases, let them know what parts, materials and tools they needed to complete the job, making our home visits more efficient than competitors in the market.

    The service worked. The tech worked. The customers we had mostly loved the experience.

    I say mostly because, as with any new product or service, we didn’t get everything 100% right from day one.

    One of the biggest mistakes we made took a few months to uncover.

    Back in 2015 making video calls over the internet was not a new concept, but the technology to make it work was not as advanced as it is today.

    At the time of writing (weeks into the UK’s 2020 covid-19 lockdown) there are several well developed API services that you can use to build video call services with, requiring very little effort. In 2015 that wasn’t the case. WebRTC was a standard and there were a couple of services offering solutions in the space, but we had to make most of the tech ourselves.

    Our CTO and his small engineering team did an amazing job and built us a really great video calling platform with a lot of custom features (the ability to record and save all calls that customers could watch back at their leisure in the app, for example).

    They did such an amazing job we accidentally introduced a big usability problem…

    People in 2015 were, on the whole, not overly used to making video calls. That’s a sweeping statement, and one that particularly feels like a massive generalisation 11 weeks into a lockdown that has made using Zoom and other video conferencing services part of the general public’s everyday vocabulary. But, back in 2015, the majority of people (at least those who were using our service at the time) didn’t make a huge number of video calls.

    If they did they were normally either on laptops / desktops in a work context, or they were via Skype or FaceTime and used for family calls or to speak with friends, socially.

    They were not used to the idea of using video calls to speak with companies as customers. And few were used to holding a phone or tablet while making the call.

    As part of our efforts to learn what was working well and what needed improvement we watched back a sample of customer calls each week.

    Seeing how they spoke, where they pointed the camera, how they held their devices allowed us to learn a huge amount about how we could improve the service.

    Thanks to these observations we introduced:

    • better scripting and support in call for our home repair experts
    • the ability for our experts to take photos (screenshots) while in the call so they could capture things like a boiler’s model number while the customer pointed their phone at it
    • the ability to turn a device’s flash on like a torch light, from within the call UI, allowing customers to easily shine a light into places like their cupboard under the sink to see what was going wrong with their pipework, etc.

    The usability issue we discovered by watching the calls was subtle.

    We noticed that a significant number of calls started with the customers looking startled and stuttering a: “Oh! Hello!”.

    It took a while to work out why so many seemed shocked at the beginning of each call.

    We did post-call user interviews, asking about their experience with our experts. We reviewed a wider sample of calls to see if we could uncover a pattern. We did our own calls, testing the process from a user’s point of view.

    Eventually we worked out what the issue was: we were connecting the customers and their home repair experts too quickly.

    The customers would hit the “call us” button and expect a delay. Our engineering team and the CTO had been too efficient in designing the connection process, making it so quick in many cases it seemed almost instantaneous, which caught our customers by surprise.

    While I’m all for building products and services that surprise their customers in delightful ways, surprising them by instantly connecting them to a live video call wasn’t delighting them.

    It was shocking. A harmless shock for most, but enough to put a significant number of our customers off at the beginning of their calls, and enough to make many of them have to take a few seconds to collect their thoughts before being able to explain why they were calling.

    To address the problem we redesigned the connection process on both the customer’s app and the home repair expert’s app.

    We built in a delay between assigning the expert who was answering the call to the customer, and when we actually connected them with picture and audio.

    In both apps we added status screens showing the process:

    • first “Calling DAD”
    • then “Connecting you to DAD”
    • then “Connected to XXX” (the Expert’s name), and a countdown “3, 2, 1”
    • then the call was live.

    During the count down we showed the customer’s own video feed on screen so they could see how they looked on camera and adjust their position / lighting etc before starting their conversation with our expert. (We did the same thing for the experts, but they were normally working from iPads that were sat stationary on a table / desk, so were less likely to need to reposition their camera, etc).

    Having put the redesign live we continued to watch a sample of recorded calls each week and I was very happy to see that we’d significantly reduced the number of customers who started their calls looking like Rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

  7. Designing a startup’s product based on insights learnt from mapping out an end to end Customer Experience Journey

    Comments Off on Designing a startup’s product based on insights learnt from mapping out an end to end Customer Experience Journey


    Mapping the end to end Customer Journey for getting someone to help with a home repair issue revealed three key insights:

    • to excel in the market a company must control the full end to end experience
    • communication throughout the process is key to delivering a great customer experience
    • the experience is compound; fail to meet expectations early and it’s harder to recover the Customer’s confidence.

    Insights that informed the core design principles of our home repair startup.

    Diagram of an example User Journey Map with emotional state mapped throughout journey Example of an end to end Customer Journey map with the emotional state of a Customer mapped across each stage of the process

    The detail

    It’s 2015. I’m sitting in a small meeting room in an office in Kings Cross, London.

    I’m with Ben, a friend and ex-colleague. He’s commandeered the meeting room from the multinational company whose office this is because they’ve asked him to solve a problem they have. It’s now his project’s war room.

    We’re surrounded by post-it notes and printouts and ideas scribbled on bits of paper stuck all over the walls, windows and doors of the room.

    The problem the big corporate want to solve is how to reach a younger, “digitally-native” audience.

    They’re an insurance company who provide home repair insurance.

    Their customer base is “mature”. Younger people don’t buy insurance.

    They don’t want to be disrupted by some young startup. Or, rather, if they’re going to be disrupted by some young startup, they want to own a stake in that startup.

    That’s why Ben and I are here. He’s building the startup.

    He’s asked me to help.

    He’s been at this for a few weeks already. Hence the notes and paper on the walls.

    He’s been interviewing people and learning about their experiences of using home repair services. Finding plumbers, electricians, heating engineers, etc.

    Most are not great.

    He’s started to map out the typical process that people go through when they have a problem that needs a tradesperson to come fix it.

    The process varies by severity and type of issue but can broadly be summarised as consisting of three parts:

    • Pre fix
    • During fix
    • Post fix

    They break down roughly as:

    Pre fix

    • discover / cause the problem(s) that need fixing (eg come home to find a flooded kitchen floor)
    • source expert help (ask friends / family to recommend someone. Failing that, try the local facebook group, or yellow pages, or google)
    • arrange for someone to come over “asap”, for a fee. Then wait a lot longer than expected before they arrive.

    During fix

    • show them the issue and listen to them explain the technical reasons they can’t fix it right this minute, and why they’ll be back tomorrow or the day after
    • wait some more
    • let them in and offer them a drink while you hope they get on with the work
    • watch them come and go several times through the day to get parts / materials / etc
    • listen to them explain what they’ve done and how it’s been fixed
    • pay them
    • say goodbye.

    Post fix

    • test the fix (turn the taps on full, or turn the heating right up to see what happens)
    • cross your fingers you don’t have another problem any time soon.

    The process made sense to me and matched the experiences of others who I’d spoken with in preparation for the briefing.

    To be able to start working out where there were opportunities to improve this process and what those opportunities were we needed to delve deeper. I did some more research.

    Over the course of the following few days I drew up a number of different versions of the process based on different real life scenarios that we’d heard about via our research.

    I drew up the “best case” scenarios, of finding someone via a family recommendation or via an insurance company. The tradesperson being able to come round within a few hours and fix the issue first time.

    I drew up worst case scenarios; not having insurance that covered the issue and not being able to find someone via a recommendation. The tradesperson not turning up on time and having to make several visits before the issues were fixed.

    In total I drew up four variations of the customer experience journeys that represented the scenarios we’d heard about. I then mapped both the customer’s stress and satisfaction (or happiness) at each point within those representative journeys.

    Customer Journey maps with emotional states mapped throughout the customer experience Diagrams of the final versions of our Customer Journey maps with emotional states mapped throughout. The maps at the bottom of the diagram record our initial thoughts about how our service would work and the experience we were aiming to offer.

    These allowed Ben and I to start identifying where we could make the most impact and improve the customer experience of getting a tradesperson into your home and fixing it.

    At least that was the theory. In practise what the maps showed us was that to be able to truly deliver a great service and experience to homeowners we needed to own and redesign elements of the entire end to end experience.

    Owning the whole experience

    Our insight was that if you didn’t control any one element of the process you’d be exposing yourself to someone else in the chain letting the customer down, leaving them with a bad impression of the entire experience.

    Going through the process of mapping out the customer journey and thinking about where we could improve it also helped us uncover two other insights that became key to how we designed our improved offering:

    • communication is key
    • the experience is compound.

    Communication is key to a great experience

    Firstly; as with most things, good communication throughout the experience was key to both winning and keeping a customer’s trust.

    When we analysed the points in the existing process that were failing the customer the most, they were all related to poor communication that failed to set the right expectations. If a tradesperson didn’t explain why they needed a special part that would take hours to collect, customers got frustrated. If a tradesperson didn’t arrive on time, customers got frustrated. If the job ended up costing more than was originally quoted, customers got frustrated.

    Many of the issues people reported could be solved by improving the communication between the tradespeople doing the job and the customer, but also by setting the right expectation for the customer in the first place. Explaining the difference between diagnosing the cause of a problem and the process of fixing it. Explaining what to expect when someone arrives in your home. Explaining how prices are calculated, showing customers receipts for parts, etc.

    Experience is compound

    The final insight our mapping exercise uncovered was that the overall happiness / stress levels of customer throughout the process were compound. If you started badly, you’d make it extremely hard for yourself to recover the situation. This lead us to our most radical design decision within our own solution; getting an expert into your home as quickly as possible became key to helping our customers. To do that we would use video calls to get experts eyes on the problem within seconds or minutes of a customer needing help, instead of hours.

    The anxiety customers feel when faced with a home repair issue is often huge, especially if it’s something they’ve not encountered before.

    Having an expert reassure them it can be fixed and, where possible, help them stop it getting any worse, makes a massive difference to their stress levels. In the existing market it would be an hour at best before a tradesperson could be in your home and turning off the water, or explaining how they could fix the issue. Often that hour would turn into two or three.

    We believed that if we could get reassuring help and advice to them within minutes we’d be able to make delivering a great customer experience throughout the rest of the process much much more likely. If we could do that, we’d be able to win the customers trust. If we could gain their trust, we’d become their “go-to” service whenever they needed help or advice about their home repair issues.

    That’s the story of how we established the core design principles for a new digital product and service by first mapping out the end to end Customer Journey of existing offerings in the marketplace.

    Photos showing various Customer Journey output documents on the wall around the office Photos of various stages in the Customer Journey mapping process. Initial post-it note version on the left, and different iterations of the final maps in the middle on and on the right
  8. Following one guiding design principle lead to a big flaw in our design of NEXTFREE

    Comments Off on Following one guiding design principle lead to a big flaw in our design of NEXTFREE

    From the first time I started thinking about NEXTFREE and trying to help Freelancers and Contractors share their availability with the world, I wanted to focus on one simple concept:

    Ruthlessly making our service as easy to use as possible for our Freelance members.

    That guiding principle has manifested itself in many different ways throughout the design of our service;

    • we only ask for details that we *need* to create a new Member’s profile, nothing extra
    • we look people up using their email address when they apply for an invite to join us. We could ask for links to their other online profiles as part of the invite request process, but we try to find them ourselves manually instead – it’s easier for them
    • we allow Members to update their availability from right within our reminder emails, rather than making them follow a link and jump through hoops to make an update.

    This last decision has made it possible for our members to be able to update their availability in under 20 seconds on average.

    It also lead to a huge design flaw that in hindsight was obviously going to cause us problems, but at the time seemed like the right thing to do.

    Our original reminder emails were sent to our Freelancer members one week before their set availability date. If they had set their NEXTFREE date to 23 March, for example, we’d email them on the 16 March with the following message:


    Your NEXTFREE date is set to the 16 March. Is that still correct?

    If yes, do nothing. If not let us know when you will be NEXTFREE;

    “Update now”, “snooze”

    Thank you,

    Paul & James

    If they did nothing, as the email said they could, we’d send another email on the day they’d said they were next free (24 March in our example above). It read like this:


    Your NEXTFREE date is set to today. Is that still correct?

    If yes, do nothing. If not let us know when you will be NEXTFREE;

    “1 week from now”, “1 month from now”, “3 months from now”, “snooze”

    Thank you,

    Paul & James

    If they ignored that email, we’d send another 3 weeks later. Another 5 weeks later, one 8 weeks later and then 6 months later, each asking if they would update their availability.

    The problem was with the first emails. Specifically the problem was in the phrase “if you’re still available, do nothing”.

    That one simple instruction is great in the context of “make things as easy as possible for our Members”.

    But, it meant that we didn’t know which of our Members were genuinely available for work, and which were just not reading (or choosing to ignore) our emails.

    That’s a big problem when the value of your entire service is predicated on having accurate, time-sensitive data, readily available for the Recruiters and Hiring Managers using it to find available candidates.

    So we fixed it. And to fix it we had to compromise slightly on our promise to keep things as simple as possible for our Members.

    The compromise is illustrated in our updated reminder email:


    Your NEXTFREE date is set for today. Is that still correct?

    “Yes I’m available”

    If you’re not let us know when you will be next free;

    “in a week”, “in a month”, “in 3 months”

    If you have a specific date when you’re next free that’s not covered by the options above:

    “Set a specific availability date”

    If you’re not sure when you’ll next available for new work hit the snooze button and we’ll add 12 months to your date and remind you in 6 months time that your account is snoozed.


    Thank you,

    Paul & James

    Which instructs folks who are currently available to confirm they are by pushing one button. No log in, no hoops to jump through, just one button to press.

    It’s not as simple as “do nothing”, but it really does help us make sure the overall service is delivering on it’s promise of good data.

    When a Freelancer uses that “I’m available” button we note that they are still available and refrain from sending reminders to them again for a couple of weeks.

    If they don’t respond to our reminder email (ignoring us), we send another reminder out seven days later, and continue to do this until we get a response.

    Since making the update, we are seeing much more accurate availability data across our membership. There’s still work to be done to improve it further.

    I don’t believe we’ll ever have 100% accurate data at any given time (the complexities of getting thousands of people to keep their availability accurate are too great to promise 100% coverage), but I do believe we can offer a better, more accurate picture than any other service or product on the market right now, and as we learn more about how to get and maintain that accurate data, we will extend our lead over time.

  9. Who’s governing the tech industry?

    Comments Off on Who’s governing the tech industry?

    I went to a Tech For Good meet-up earlier this week at Impact Hub Westminster called “OMG 2050“. The topic of discussion was predicting how the World will look in 2050 based on our understanding of technology today and where we think it will go.

    It was one of the most thought provoking meet-ups I’ve been to, and one that I’m still thinking about now days later.

    The presentations and subsequent panel discussion raised more questions than there were answers, but a clear theme emerged that I think we, as an industry, need to pay more attention to:

    Technology, specifically digital technology, as an industry IS now an industry and should be subject to the same cheques and balances that are applied to other World-affecting industries.

    When I first started my career in the mid-2000’s digital was something that was reasonably specialist. The BBC News website still had an “E-commerce” section that was distinct from Business and Technology. People viewed “digital” as being pretty much limited to websites and online business. Social media wasn’t yet a thing. Smart devices that fit in your pocket didn’t exist. Cheap, low powered sensors weren’t built into many consumer products. In fact, a good proportion of the UK had only recently had access to broadband.

    Letting “digital” companies have free-reign to evolve and develop as they wished, and to chase every opportunity they uncovered with little governance was good. Good for the economy. Good for consumers. Good for technology. There are many, many positive advancements that have resulted from the explosive growth and influence of digital tech.

    But, it’s also resulted in a World where there is a growing divide between those who “get it” and those who don’t.

    Not just in the traditional sense of a “digital divide” where some have access to technology and others don’t, but also in terms of levels of understanding about how technology influences our lives.

    How many people outside of the tech industry really understand how a filter bubble works? Or how their increasing digital media consumption exaggerates it?

    How many people truly know how their personal data is used and their privacy is effected when they say “Yes” to a service’s Terms & Conditions?

    Is it right that private companies have access to huge volumes of consumer data that governments don’t?

    It is right that the people and corporations who will benefit in the future from the advantages that technology can bring are only those who have the capital, understanding and access to do so now?

    How do we ensure that we stop building cultural (conscious or unconscious) biases into AI and other emerging technologies?

    How do we educate children at a pace that keeps up with the technology around them, when our education systems and teachers struggle to do so themselves?

    How do we help the population at large continue to learn and understand the technology around them as it evolves even after they leave formal education?

    I’m sure smarter people than me have been debating and considering these questions for a long time. The meet-up really made me think about them seriously for the first time in my career. And, I think, that’s the real challenge;

    How do we get the, now huge, tech industry to consider these things seriously and as a whole?

    It’s rare in my experience for teams working on new projects to spent much, if any, time thinking about the consequences of what they’re working on.

    If our industry is to continue enjoying the freedoms of fairly unregulated, self-governing expansion that we’ve seen to date, it’s probably time we collectively focus a bit more on thinking about the long term effects of our actions.

  10. Legacy – what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life – recommended reading

    Comments Off on Legacy – what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life – recommended reading

    I’ve just finished reading this after it was recommended to me by Mike Pegg.

    Legacy what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life Photo – Book cover of Legacy by James Kerr

    I’ve read a lot of business books that have come highly recommended in the past, but most I find are bloated. They consist of simple learnings dressed up as deeply researched, epiphanies of unrivalled value. Most should have been short essays, not pages and pages of pseudo-scientific waffle.

    Not this book. Each chapter focuses on one of the core values that the All Blacks (players, coaches and support staff) employ to help make them the most successful sports team in the World. And it does so succinctly and with just the right amount of explanation and exploration.

    The key word above is team. There’s a lot written about how sports teams can teach the business world a thing or two about working together, and in this case they really can.

    Maybe I’m biased as an ex-player and fan of the sport of Rugby. Maybe I have an underlying respect and appreciation of what the All Blacks have achieved that predisposes me to liking this book. That could be true.

    But, even if you’re not a fan of the sport, I’d highly recommend reading this as an example of what it really means to build a team and to keep it performing at the highest level over and over again.

    I don’t ever recall re-reading any business book in the past, but I know I will be revisiting this regularly.