JMCQUARRIE.co.uk

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

Category Archive: Business

  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 tidy.company.

    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

    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

    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.

    Washing

    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 getsoap.uk.

    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”.

    Encouraging.

    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. 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

    TL;DR

    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
  6. 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.

  7. Opening my eyes to the wider Twitter Universe

    Comments Off on Opening my eyes to the wider Twitter Universe

    At DAD we recently set up some automated searches on Twitter (and a couple of other social media sites) to look for people tweeting about things that we think our Experts would be able to help with. Things like “broken boiler”, “no hot water”, etc.

    Our hope is that by being alerted when people are talking about and looking for help with Home Repairs we can learn a few things:

    • Firstly what type of home repair problems people talk about and share online (our search term list is much longer than the examples above)
    • Secondly we hope to find people who are in need of help and reply to them to see if our offering is relevant and of use. With a service like DAD we can learn a bit from talking to people who don’t have a current home repair problem, but our learning is limited. We really need to talk to people with a “need state” who have a real world problem that they need advice about or help fixing. Talking to folks in a need state helps us validate our offering and kick the tires of our app
    • Finally while not a definitive representation of the market, we hope that by keeping an eye on social media we can get a feel for the demand in the market. If we see 10 posts a day that suggests a different sized market to seeing 100 posts a day, etc.

    We’ve not gathered enough data yet to be able to draw too many conclusions, but I have noticed at least one thing: Based purely on our Twitter results so far (a few days) I’ve realised how blinkered my experience on Twitter really is.

    I’ve been using Twitter since 2009 and follow about 400 people. Most of them are people I either know (friends, colleagues, etc) or people I admire in the industry.

    I don’t see eye to eye with everyone I follow about everything, but as a whole they are a fairly similar group. Mainly tech aware. Almost exclusively Western. Mostly involved in design, development, tech, etc.

    I’ve always been subconsciously aware of the fact I’m viewing Twitter through a self-chosen filter bubble that means I don’t see a lot of what’s going on outside of my little echo chamber.

    Having now seen the results coming through from our DAD related searches, I’m now even more aware of my self-selected filter.

    For example; I rarely see much swearing in my feed. In our search results there is a lot.

    Most of the folks I follow and interact with (being tech savvy) “get” Twitter. A lot of the tweets we’re seeing in the search results (and just generally with the @dad account) suggest that a lot of people don’t understand how things like “@ replying” work. This isn’t a huge surprise (one of the biggest criticisms of Twitter is that it’s hard to explain and understand how to use it) but I wasn’t quite prepared for the number of folks who don’t quite get it.

    It’s early days in our data gathering, but I’m already enjoying learning more about how people outside of my bubble use Twitter and having some real data to point to when reminding myself and the team that not everyone is the same.

  8. How to make the most of your NEXTFREE Freelancer profile

    Comments Off on How to make the most of your NEXTFREE Freelancer profile

    Our mission at NEXTFREE is to make it as simple as possible for freelance Contractors and Consultants to share their availability for new work with the World.

    In order to do that, we’ve kept the sign up and set up processes for freelancers as streamlined as we could (though we’re always looking to improve them).

    Once you have set up your NEXTFREE profile and set your date we want maintaining it to be as light touch as sending a tweet or updating Facebook.

    Having said that, there are a couple of things you can do after setting up your profile that will help you make the most of it:

    • check your profile picture
    • add an external link to your profile
    • make a note of your public NEXTFREE profile for easy sharing.

    Check you profile picture

    By default we use Gravatar pictures for your NEXTFREE profile. This service allows you to associate a profile picture with your email address and then allows services like ours to use that picture when you sign up with your email address. We love gravatar because it allows you to maintain your profile picture across many sites and services all from one place (one of our aims for NEXTFREE is to help you share your availability across many sites and services from one place in the future). If you don’t have a Gravatar account they provide us with a unique pattern to use in place of a photo. You can now upload your own picture to use as your profile picture if you’d prefer. To do this: log in to your account, select “Your profile” in the top right of the screen, and tap / click on the profile picture. You’ll then be able to upload a custom image or choose the default Gravatar image.

    Add an external link to your profile

    By default we don’t ask much about your skills or experience. This is, again, deliberate. We are not building yet another job board, CV site or professionals marketplace. We simply want to be the place that helps you share your availability.

    One of our guiding principles is that NEXTFREE should not add more than is 100% necessary to what we call your “professional profile maintenance overhead”. Asking just for a simple description of what you do is enough information for the recruiters and clients who use our service to find you.

    However, once they have found you, they often need to know a little bit more about you to be able to determine if you’d be right for the role or project they are looking for help with.

    To help with that – while keeping your profile maintenance overhead as small as possible – we allow you to add links to external sites on your NEXTFREE profile.

    You can add links to your portfolio, LinkedIn, Github, or Dribbble accounts for example. In fact you can link to any site that you think represents you best. And you can add as many links as you like.

    You can do this from your profile settings page in your account (log in and select the link in the top right of the screen). Our members who have added links have seen a significant increase in the number of jobs that they are offered, so it’s worth doing.

    Note your public NEXTFREE profile’s URL for quick sharing

    As well as your private NEXTFREE profile, which can only be seen by clients and recruiters with a NEXTFREE account, when you sign up we create you a public version of your profile. This can be seen by anyone. It doesn’t share the exact date you set for when you’ll next be free, instead it shows if you are “Free now”, “Free soon” or “Not free”.

    Your public profile has a unique URL which can be found on your profile settings page or when you update your NEXTFREE date.

    Make a note of this URL and use it the next time a client or recruiter approaches you and asks when you’ll next be free for work. We use ours all the time, and it works really well as clients and recruiters who are keen to work with us will monitor it closely and know the moment our availability changes.

    If you’d prefer not to have a public profile, you can turn it off in your account settings.

    We hope this is a useful guide to how to make the most of your NEXTFREE profile. The most important thing is to keep it up to date so clients and recruiters can find you at the most appropriate time. We’ll send you reminders by email as your NEXTFREE date approaches. You can change your date right from within the reminder emails too, to make things as simple as possible for you.

    If you have any other questions about your account or what we’re doing with our service, let us know by getting in touch on twitter @nextfree or by email at support [at] nextfree.co.uk

  9. Introducing External links on NEXTFREE profiles

    Comments Off on Introducing External links on NEXTFREE profiles

    From the very start of NEXTFREE we have had a set of principles and beliefs that govern what we do and how we do it.

    We believe that there needs to be an easy way for Freelance Contractors and Consultants to share their availability. NEXTFREE aims to do that.

    We also believe that there are already too many places for professionals to maintain their online presence. We strongly believe that NEXTFREE should add as little as possible to what we call “your professional profile maintenance overhead”.

    So, when it came to thinking about what information we ask you for when setting up your NEXTFREE profile, we kept it to the minimum we needed to get you up and running;

    • an email address, so we can contact you
    • your name, so clients and recruiters know whose profile they are looking at
    • your skill-set / area of expertise, so clients and recruiters know at a high level if you’re the type of freelancer they are looking for
    • where you work, so clients and recruiters know if you’re suitable for their role (unfortunately many roles are still location dependent)
    • your NEXTFREE date, so clients and recruiters know when you’ll be available for new work

    That’s it.

    We add a profile picture to your NEXTFREE profile using gravatar. The idea being that’s one less thing for you to add and maintain. More on this in a bit…

    What we haven’t added, and are very reluctant to add, is a more detailed description of your skills and experience.

    NEXTFREE is not meant to replace your CV, or showcase your work, or become the next LinkedIn. We want to help you share your availability. Nothing more.

    The challenge is that for a client or recruiter to know if you are the right person for their role (assuming you are available) they need to know more about your skills and experience than a simple one liner can tell them. We had to find a way of not increasing your professional profile maintenance overhead too much, while providing more information to the very people your profile is designed to help.

    Our solution (as the title to this post gives away) is to let you as a freelancer share links to external sites on your NEXTFREE profile.

    You can now add a link to your portfolio, your online CV, your LinkedIn, Twitter, Dribbble or Github accounts. In fact you can link to any external resource that you think represents you best. You can link to as many of these as you like (don’t go too crazy, no one’s going to follow tens of links to look you up…).

    These links appear on both your internal NEXTFREE profile (only visible to clients and recruiters who are members of NEXTFREE) and on your public NEXTFREE profile (which you can turn on / off in your profile settings).

    You can add links to your profile right now by logging in to your NEXTFREE account and going to your profile settings screen (link in the top right once you’re logged in).

    Back to your profile picture

    As stated above, we deliberately choose to manage profile pictures using Gravatar initially to simplify the sign up and set up process for your profile.

    Gravatar is, in our opinion, a great service; set up a profile picture for an email address and then you can use that picture over and over wherever you sign up with the address. If you change your Gravatar image, it changes wherever you’ve used it.

    But, we’re learning that not everyone uses or wants to use Gravatar. In fact, many, many fewer of you use it than we’d guessed would.

    So, we need to find a better way of managing your profile picture. We’re still debating the best solution. We could use a Twitter or LinkedIn, or other service’s image.

    We could let you add, edit and save your own picture.

    We could remove the image all together.

    We’re not sure of the best solution. What do you think? What would you prefer? Let us know on Twitter @nextfree or by email at support [at] nextfree.co.uk

    More about NEXTFREE

    NEXTFREE is changing the way Freelance Contractors and Consultants share their availability with the World. If you are a Freelance Contractor or Consultant and would like to try our service for free you can sign up for an invite to our Beta program at Freelancer invites.

    If you hire Freelancers and would like an early invite to our Recruiter Beta program when it starts (in the coming months) sign up for an invite at Recruiter invites.

  10. My first call with a DAD Home Repair Expert

    Comments Off on My first call with a DAD Home Repair Expert

    Although I’ve been working with, and now for, the team at DAD since April last year, I’d not had a call as a customer with one of our DAD Experts until recently.

    I wish I’d not waited so long!

    If you’re not familiar with what we’re doing at DAD here’s a quick primer;

    At DAD we are building a service that helps you look after your home. Our first product to support that is an iOS app that allows our customers to talk face to face via a video call with one of our home repair Experts. Our DAD Experts are vetern tradesmen and woman who have been vetted by us to ensure that they are experienced in all aspects of home repair and maintenance, qualified in one or more specialities (plumbing / gas / electric / etc) and are friendly and customer focused.

    When you call one of our Experts they will help you diagnose what’s wrong in your home, help you make it safe, stop it from getting any worse and then advise on how best to fix it. Some fixes can be done on the call. Some need you to go away and get replacement parts / tools and try fixing it later. Some fixes can only be done by professionals (gas related problems, for example) and we can help arrange that if you’d like.

    So far in our early invite trials we’ve helped fix; leaky taps, leaky toilets, broken boilers, broken door handles, a faulty smart thermostat, cold radiators, and even advised on a problematic chimmey. The list goes on.

    Back to my call.

    We’ve been running the early invite program for a couple of months now and I’ve been watching each video call to learn how our service can get better. Then a few weeks ago I realised that I had a home repair issue that I wasn’t sure how to fix, so I got myself added to the test call list and had a call with one of our new Experts so I could experience a call for myself.

    It was amazing. And I’m not just saying that.

    Our test App at the time was as clunky as hell, and nothing to be proud of, but the ability to (virtually) invite an expert into my home, and show them my issue and get their direct feedback on it all in a matter of minutes was truely amazing.

    My home repair issue is a leaky shower screen that I have in my bathroom. It doesn’t leak every time anyone showers, but it leaks enough to be a minor worry. I have very limited DIY skills, so I wanted to know if the screen could be repaired or if it needed replacing. And, how to replace it if that was the best course of action.

    Richard (our Expert) answered all my questions quickly and easily.

    Watch the recording of the video below. (Note that Richard wasn’t aware before or during the call that I work for DAD – this was his first call, and I’d not been introduced to him deliberately so he thought I was a normal customer.)

    (NB: If you’re watching with headphones in, I should warn you about the off screen cameo made by Richard’s dogs towards the end of the video; they whine and bark, and it’s a bit louder than the rest of the call!)

    More about DAD

    If you’d like to give DAD a try yourself, you can download our latest iOS app by following the link from the DAD website at https://dad.co. Or you can keep up to date with all the latest developments from DAD on twitter @dad.

    I’d love to hear what you think about DAD and what we’re trying to do, so if you have any questions or feedback ping me @jmcquarrie.