Product review: Ola

Does the world need another ride hailing app!? Ola, one of the many rivals of Uber, recently got a license to operate in London and are looking to take over from Uber as London no. 1 ride sharing service.

My quick summary of OIa before using it? I expect to see an app which looks and feels very similar to Uber.

How does Ola explain itself in the first minute? When searching for Ola’s app, in the iOS app store, if find an entry which says “Ola – Ride the change. Smart, safe rude hailing.” Wondering whether this strap-line refers to the safety issues that Uber has been plagued with in London and elsewhere, and whether Ola will use this as a main point of differentiation.

 

 

Once I’ve installed the Ola app on my phone, the opening screen doesn’t explain about what Ola is, but instead encourages me to join Ola in return for a £15 voucher.

 

Getting started with Ola? Getting started with Ola is painless and feels very similar to on-boarding many other apps. Call me a simpleton, but I do like the little animation at the end, which celebrates my completing Ola’s signup process and receiving a £5 voucher in the process. Hold on though, didn’t the opening screen of the app mention being able to receive vouchers up to £15!? What else do I need to do in order to get an additional £10 worth of vouchers?

 

 

 

Did Ola deliver on my initial expectations? Yes, from a digital experience point of view. Helped in a large part because the entire online on-boarding and ride-hailing feels so similar to that of Uber. I guess Ola isn’t necessarily trying to differentiate though its online experience but instead aiming to let the actual offline experience of using an Ola do the talking …

 

 

Book Review: “Shape Up” by Ryan Singer

Basecamp is a project management and communication platform, widely known for its innovative software development practices and novel ways of working. Ryan Singer, Basecamp’s Head of Strategy, recently captured Basecamp’s approach in Shape Up, which is freely available online and as a PDF. The product development process at Basecamp consists of three distinct stages: shaping, betting and building.

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/4.1-appendix-02

Basecamp typically work in six-week cycles, building and releasing new features within that timeframe. The work is shaped first before it’s given to a team to work on. A small senior group works in parallel to the cycle teams. They define the key elements of a solution before considering a project ready to bet on. Interestingly, shaping is less about traditional estimation of development work, and much more about appetite. Instead of asking how much time it will take to do some work, people at Basecamp will consider how much time they want to spend on a specific piece of work; how much is this idea worth?

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/4.1-appendix-02

 

Shaping

When shaping a solution, the aim is to strike the right balance between ‘too vague’ and ‘too detailed’. Wireframes are deemed too concrete, whilst words are often too abstract. The reason why this balance is important is that the scope of a project needs to be flexible enough for the team to come up with appropriate design solutions whilst not running the risk of growing out of control due to a lack of boundaries.

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/1.1-chapter-02

These are the main steps to shaping:

  1. Set boundaries – First figure out how much time the raw idea is worth and how to define the problem. This provides the basic boundaries to shape into.
  2. Rough out the elements – Then comes the creative work of sketching a solution. At Basecamp, they do this at a higher level of abstraction compared to wireframes in order to move fast and explore a wide enough range of possibilities. The output of this step is an idea that solves the problem within the appetite but without all the fine details worked out.
  3. Address risks and rabbit holes – Once there is the feeling that a solution has been found, the goal is to find holes or unanswered questions that could trip up a team. The solution gets amended accordingly, tricky things removed from it, or specified details at tricky spots to ensure that a team doesn’t waste time or gets stuck.
  4. Write the pitch –  When the solution is shaped enough to bet on, things are packaged up formally in a pitch. The pitch summarises the problem, constraints, solution, rabbit holes, and limitations. The pitch then goes to Basecamp’s betting table for consideration.

Ryan Singer writes about how Basecamp uses the technique of breadboarding, a concept borrowed from electrical engineering. When breadboarding, three things are drawn:

  1. Places – These are things you can navigate to, like screens, dialogs, or menus that pop up.
  2. Affordances – These are things the user can act on, like buttons and fields. Interface copy is considered to be an affordance too, as reading it is an act that gives the user information for subsequent actions.
  3. Connection lines – These show how the affordances take the user from place to place.

I like how words are used instead of pictures, focusing on the solution’s components and the connections between them and allowing you to figure out an idea. Importantly, this technique allows you to judge if the sequence of actions serves the use case you’re trying to solve.

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/1.3-chapter-04

 

If the idea being considered is a visual one. In this case, breadboarding would be insufficient because the visual representation is the fundamental problem. At Basecamp, wireframes wouldn’t be created in this circumstance, but fat marker sketches would be created instead. A fat marker sketch is a sketch made with such broad strokes that adding detail is difficult or impossible.

 

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/1.3-chapter-04

 

Bets, Not Backlogs

Singer explains how at Basecamp backlogs are viewed as time wasters; the time spent constantly reviewing, grooming and organising ‘tickets’, working on a list of items that might or might not get done. By contrast, Singer talks about holding a betting table before each six-week cycle. At the betting table, stakeholders evaluate pitches from the last six weeks, or any pitches that somebody purposefully revived and lobbied for again.

 

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/2.2-chapter-08

 

The betting table at Basecamp consists of the CEO, the CTO, a senior developer and product strategist (Ryan Singer himself). The main reason why Basecamp use bets instead of plans, is the difference in expectations set when talking about bets:

  • Bets have a payout – Solutions are deliberately shaped into six-week projects so that there’s meaningful finished at the end. The pitch defines a specific payout that makes the bet worth making.
  • Bets are commitments – If a bet is made for six weeks, then the relevant people will get six weeks to work exclusively on that thing for six weeks, without distractions.
  • Bets have a cap on the downside – When a bet is made to work on something specific for six weeks, the most that you can lose is six weeks and thus avoiding a situation where you’re spending multiples of the original six-week commitment on a solution.

Build your way uphill

                     Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/3.4-chapter-12#build-your-way-uphill

 

This section of “Shape Up” starts with a great and very true point about the unpredictability of development work: “This goes back to the notion of imagined versus discovered tasks. In our naive notion of a list that’s planned up-front, somebody populates it with items that are gradually checked off. In real life, issues are discovered by getting involved in the problem. That means to-do lists actually grow as the team makes progress.” Also, numeric estimates of pieces of work often don’t take into account the level of uncertainty involved in different tasks. Basecamp have recognised this and instead use the metaphor of the hill, which concentrates on what’s unknown and what’s solved:

 

                      Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/3.4-chapter-12#build-your-way-uphill

 

The idea behind this hill is that anyone in the company can see at a glance where things are at. If a task been ‘uphill’ for while, why is that? What unknown is holding it up? Or perhaps the item on ten hill consists of a number of smaller items. The hill helps to see what is stuck and what has been done, or getting close to being completed.

Conclusion: I found “Shape Up” a very helpful and insightful book. Not only does it provide a great insight into Basecamp’s approach to developing products, it also made me reflect on my own ways of working – and the teams that I’m part of. Highly recommend reading “Shape Up” if you’re interested in learning about alternative ways of developing software products or collaborating during the product development lifecycle.

 

Product review: Getaround

Getaround.com is a peer-to-peer car rental platform, headquartered in the US, which only recently came to my attention when it raised a $200m Series D funding round. I’m keen to better understand how Getaround is looking to change the ways in which we rent cars and how it differentiates itself from well established car rental companies such as Hertz and Avis:

My quick summary of Getaround before using it? – I expect a consumer driven car rental platform that gives people more flexibility with respect to renting a car when and where they want it.

 

 

How does Getaround explain itself in the first minute? – “Rent cars by the hour or day” it reads when I check Getaround’s UK site on my desktop, followed by “For moving into your new home.” Staying on the homepage for a few minutes, the secondary strap-line changes, highlighting the various use cases for Getaround, varying from “For surprising grandma on her birthday” to “For meeting a client, in time and in style”. I can’t see an obvious option for me to list my car for hire, which is surprising given that this is a peer-to-peer car rental platform.

Getting started with Getaround – I start my search by entering a location, a check-in date / time and a check-out date / time, and click “Search”:

 

 

 

What happens next? – The search generates 31 pages of vehicles for me to choose from. These results haven’t been filtered yet and the site offers a number of filters to apply in order to narrow down the search results.

 

 

Getaround’s filters feel pretty standard, but I’m curious what’s involved in self-service cars. Where do I pick those up? Or do they get dropped off at my exact location? What do I gain by selecting “Reserved parking”?

 

 

When I disable the “Self-service cars” filter, I can select the “instant booking” option which means that vehicles can be booked without waiting for confirmation from the owner.

 

 

I like how I can filter by “vehicle age”, presumably as a way of ensuring that I don’t hire an ancient car that might be more prone to engine failure or other issues. However, I’m not immediately clear what is meant by “acceptance rate”. Clicking on the tooltip clarifies this.

 

 

 

When I select a car, I land on a pretty intuitive but detailed product detail page. This page includes pictures of both the exterior and the interior of the car, information about where the car can be picked up and free mileage included. At this stage it still isn’t entirely clear to me how Getaround’s self service works, but I presume that I can go to the car at the location indicated and unlock the car with my phone (assuming this is a feature I can access via Getaround’s app once I’ve signed up and booked the car).

 

 

 

A quick check of the description of the Getaround app on the app store confirms my assumption around automatic unlocking the car via the app.

The page also includes customer reviews which I find particularly helpful here, given that I’ll be driving someone else’s car and would naturally be unsure about the condition of the car, responsiveness of the owner, etc.

 

 

More information about insurance and roadside cover is only a few clicks away, but I can’t help still feeling somewhat apprehensive about the ‘small print’.

 

 

 

It’s only when I click on the “book” call to action at the top of the page that I have to sign up for the service.

 

 

Did Getaround deliver on my initial expectations – Yes. The site felt intuitive whilst containing a good amount of detail. However, I wasn’t clear about the process involved in listing my car for hiring, and I felt that key parts of the experience – both online and offline – could be explained better.

 

 

 

Product Review: North

Ever since I reviewed Warby Parker last year I’ve been intrigued by companies that aim to disrupt the experience of buying glasses. So when I heard about a company called North, my ears perked up and I decided to explore their product further:

My quick summary of North before using it – I expect a value proposition similar to Warby Parker, with North offering a simple way to discover and buy new glasses, perhaps a novel take on the “try before you buy” concept.

How does North explain itself in the first minute? – “Focals. Smart glasses that put fashion first” is the strap-line above the fold on the homepage of https://www.bynorth.com/. The combination of the word “smart” in this strap-line and the picture of a Google Glass like pair of glasses tells me that this site sells glasses that display information in a hands-free fashion.

 

 

When I scroll down the page, there is a further explanation of what “focals” are:

 

 

Getting started (1): Clicking on “Shop Focals” takes me to a product detail page, which includes a price point – starting at $599 – as well as styles and colours to choose from.

 

 

 

Getting started (2): “Premium holographic lenses” is the only bit of information on this page that I’m not sure about. It’s at this stage that I realise that I can’t buy the glasses online, but that I need to book a “custom sizing” appointment first.

 

 

Getting started (3): I decide to take a step back and learn more about Focals are. Clicking on “Focals” on the top navigation of the homepage takes me to a very useful “Explore Focals” page. I’ve never had a pair of Google glasses, but I don’ think they could be customised to the same extent that Focals can be tailored to the wearer’s needs.

 

 

Main learning point: I’m not yet convinced whether smart glasses will catch on. Perhaps the likes of North will make a difference, because their “focals” will look and feel like regular glasses. The customisation aspect of North’s product definitely resonates, and might just be the difference between North failing or being a runaway success.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.bynorth.com/focals
  2. https://www.modernretail.co/startups/systemic-issue-the-customer-acquisition-challenges-dtc-brands-face-goes-beyond-cost/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eO-Y36_t08
  4. https://www.digitaltrends.com/wearables/north-focals-news/

Product review: Range

Braden Kowitz is a great product designer, having established his craft at Google and Google Ventures. He’s worked on products such as Gmail and with successful startups such as ClassPass. So when I heard about Range, the startup that Kowitz is a co-founder of, I was keen to learn more about the product.

My quick summary of Range before using it? I expect Range to be a tool that helps companies engage more effectively with their employees.

How does Range explain itself in the first minute? “Teamwork simplified” is the strap-line above the fold on Range’s homepage, explaining how “Range helps you stay in sync and feel like a team, so you can do your best work together.”

 

It looks like Range addresses three main areas of employee communications and engagement:

  1. Check-ins – Enabling teams to run virtual stand-ups on a daily basis.
  2. Objectives – Setting and monitoring of OKRs.
  3. Meetings – Helping people to run more effective meetings.

 

 

Scrolling down, the homepage explains how Range is all about team work, helping its users to feel like a true team – even if the team is distributed across multiple locations.

 

 

Getting started: After I’ve clicked on the “Try free” call to action on the homepage, I’m directed to the first step of an on-boarding flow. It’s good how Range assures me that I can sign up for an initial 30 day period, without a credit card being required. I need to sign up via a Google account and I can request a demo in case I don’t have a Google account. It would be good to understand why I can only sign up via my Google account.

 

 

I use my personal Gmail account, since we don’t use Google for work email, and I receive below error message which explains how “Range is meant for work”. I’ll request a personal walkthrough instead …

 

 

When I click on the “Request a demo” call to action, I’m directed to a standard sign-up page, which worries me that I’ll be receiving a lot of emails before and after my demo. It’s therefore reassuring that Range mentions “Don’t worry, we hate spam too.” Not sure though whether Range will be able to fulfil my demo request since we use Microsoft Outlook at work.

 

Did Range deliver on my expectations? Not yet. I hadn’t realised that Range only works if you’re a G Suite Google user. Ask me again after my personal Range walkthrough 🙂