The Story of my Startup
I quit my corporate job at Expedia to venture upon my startup dream. And even though this dream turned out to be the hardest time in my professional career, I have absolutely zero regrets. For building my own startup has taught me a great deal, more than I could ever have imagined. As anyone who’s undertaken to build a startup will tell you, it’s insanely hard, first of all, because you are essentially creating something from nothing. But more than that, it is the type of work that exerts your all, physically and mentally. You work endless hours motivated only by your commitment to yourself and to your product, you don’t know when you’ll start producing any income, you experience extreme ups and downs daily, sometimes believing you’re closer than ever and other times realizing just how much work still lies ahead. But despite the many challenges — probably, in fact, because of them — I have improved immensely as a designer. I wrote more about what I learned here and here.
Community Driven Product Reviews
VillageHunt is a place where new moms can share recommendations and useful information about products, and help each other with purchasing decisions.
● Company of 2 co-founders, 3 employees. I was co-founder and Chief Design Officer.
● Our Private Beta grew 25% MoM in the first 6 months.
● Of the 2K moms that were in our private beta, 54% rated, reviewed and recommended products (compared to 1% in online commerce).
● This data enables personalized product search based on what worked or didn’t work for a mom, for her friends, and for other moms like her.
● Product reviews haven’t changed in more than 15 years. 1.5 billion shoppers are still using anonymous, non personalized reviews to decide which product to buy. It’s time to change it.
HOW DO YOU KNOW
WHICH PRODUCT TO BUY ?!?!
Shopping for a product that is new to you is extremely hard and time consuming. Any product search brings back tons of options and information. And for new moms it’s especially hard because they shop for so many products that are new to them in a short period of time, and it’s not like they have time!
For example, let’s say a mom is researching on Amazon, and filters to see just the top rated products, she still has many options to choose from. So she goes over details and information, trying to compare, and of course, she reads product reviews.
Product reviews are hard
Now, product reviews haven’t changed in more than 15 years. Back then smartphones were barely mass market, social media was a fraction of its current size, and ecommerce was not as crowded and overwhelming as it is today. Despite the changes over the years, we still read product reviews that are long, not personalized, and without knowing who wrote them or why.
What moms do today in order to get relevant and trustworthy information is ask each other - friends, and moms around them. But it’s not scalable.
In our research, we asked people if they write product reviews. Almost everyone said no. The question that comes to mind is, if no one writes reviews, who are those people who write reviews? And what is their motivation? There is no shortage of headlines like this, which hint to an answer -
But it could be easier
My co-founder, Sam, and I always thought it would be so much easier if we could just see how moms in our community rated products we’re researching, and what they recommend.
How Community Driven Reviews Are Created
Using Storytelling to Recruit Users for Research
The day after I left Expedia was a scary day. We were on our own, and we had to make this work. It was all up to us, yet I had no experience building or running a business. So instead of thinking about a ‘business’, it was easier to think about a first small step.
We started with research, which turned out to be harder than I had thought. We had to reach out to users without being able to pay them, without anyone knowing who we were or ever having heard about our company. I had a lot of fears thinking about how I’d reach people — why would anyone try something new that I had built? Why would people spend time to meet with me and talk about my product, give feedback or tell me about their personal lives?
This didn’t come naturally to me, but I learned that being open and transparent makes others open up, too. I got people to do all the above by reaching out to them in the right places, telling them about what motivated us to start, sharing experiences and funny stories about the problem we wanted to solve, and drawing a vision of how we imagine their future could look with our product.
Investing time in these early relationships proved to be valuable also later on, as these women became our early adopters when we launched our private beta.
Minimal Viable Product
Jump forward a few months and we launched our first Minimum Viable Product. We invited moms from Seattle to join. The idea was very simple - rate products you’re familiar with to help others, see top products among moms in Seattle. We called it ‘HelpMomChose.com'. The goal of the MVP was to check two assumptions: 1) That moms will come to this kind of content. 2) That moms will share from their own experience.
The goal of the MVP was to check two assumptions: 1) That moms will come to this kind of content. 2) That moms will share from their own experience.
We made 6 posts in mom groups on Facebook and within one week, we had 400 users, 69% of them rated products and 47% wrote reviews. By the end of that week a mom in Seattle could read 627 recommendations for baby products from other moms in Seattle!
All Sew Good
We launched another MVP with the same idea but a different product category. The goal was to test if and how we can expand VillageHunt in the future. This one is for sewing products, and we invited a community of seamstresses from the UK. Again, engagement rates were very high. Apparently the type of needle or scissors you use can make all the difference!
Moms loved this! The feedback we got was encouraging.
VillageHunt: Private Beta
Following the success of the MVP, we built a private beta for moms in Seattle, a place for them to share product recommendations, help each other and discover great products based on what worked or didn’t work for them, for their friends and for other moms like them.
We had two big challenges. (1) How do we start? Our site had the classic chicken and egg problem - You need content to attract people, and people to generate content. (2) We needed to generate valuable, trustworthy content.
Converting moms to become users
We didn't have marketing resources, and needed to figure out how to convert early moms to become VillageHunt users without making it feel like we are selling something. This was very challenging because Facebook group admins are super sensitive about the content they allow in their groups. After many failures (including being banned out of a few groups), we got the wording right, and were able to onboard hundreds of users within a couple of hours from just one post.
Generating Authentic Content
For the next few months we dedicated all our efforts to focus on one goal only - get users to contribute content. Reading a review on VillageHunt would feel totally different than reading a review on Amazon. But in a market where people get paid to write product reviews, gathering this content wasn’t going to be easy. We wanted content that was authentic and trustworthy, just like in social sites, while keeping the advantages of e-commerce, minus the transaction part. We were going to be a third party, not selling anything, to remain an unbiased source of true opinions.
If a user clicked on the link in the Facebook post, they’d arrive at the landing page of our product, and from there start on-boarding. Now, to make this work, I needed to think about product and marketing as one. But I didn’t in the beginning. So after reading a long Facebook post, excited to see what’s in the link, now they had to read more, and click through 5 more screens. People were dropping off, not completing the signup.
Five steps to signup turned into one
We soon realized we need to think of our product as one story, that begins when a user first hears about it, and continues if she decides to enter. After all, a user doesn’t just arrive at a landing page out of context — something, rather, brought her there, and that something is part of the larger ecosystem a user is experiencing.
Ending onboarding with a call to action
We ended on-boarding with the text: ‘A great way to start is by helping others - just click on a product you’re familiar with!’. This closing was key to achieve our goal of content first, and indeed, users added content to the site before exploring it further. This was amazing, as it proved we didn’t need a large number of users to be able to generate content, a user generated content all on her own. She might as well be the first user on the site, but that didn’t matter to her, because of how we intentionally crafted each step so that she arrives at the first page and immediately starts sharing from her experience.
Design that delivers results
🏡 We started with a private beta for moms in Seattle. But the word spread, and VillageHunt was used by new moms in more than 20 US states.
👍 54% of our users rated, reviewed and recommend, on average 5.5 products per session. In retail sites ~1% of consumers rate products.
😍 78% of users were engaged by searching, saving, sharing, asking or discussing products.
🕗 The average time users spent on the site for their first session was 8 minutes.
📈 In the 6 months we focused on bringing users to the site, our posts were exposed to 10K potential users. 39% of them registered with their Facebook account, and in that time we grew 25% month over month.
On social networks users were using words like 'addictive', 'fantastic resource' and 'exactly what I was looking for' when talking about VillageHunt. Two local publications, ParentMap and Seattle’s Child found VillageHunt very interesting and chose to write about it.
Two local publications, ParentMap and Seattle’s Child found VillageHunt very interesting and chose to write about it.
More Content = More Design Flexability
The more content shared, the better we could improve the product. For example, when we just started, the latest community recommendations showed products that relied on very little data - in a good case if a user had a friend in the app, and if that friend happened to recommend a product, she’d see that. But it was very rare, and we didn’t have data from enough people to show why this product is recommended more than others.
With more users who shared their experiences, we were able to change the design to show more interesting content, like community top rated products by age, recommendations by category, reviews by moms in your area, products with important insights, and controversial products.
We also used the content people shared to write stories and posts on social media. It was unique content that couldn’t be found anywhere else, such as surprising negative opinions about products that are best sellers on Amazon. Posts like this got a lot of attention.
The story isn’t over
This is the start, of getting from an old fashioned and faceless review to being able to see exactly what carrier is the most recommend among my friends and moms around me, Or even asking Alexa what I should buy for my friend’s Emily newborn.
In the future VillageHunt will learn the personal priorities users have, and will let them discover products based on their needs, their preferences, friends recommendations and what’s popular among their community. There is still a long way to go. We feel good about what we've done, and even more excited about what we want to do.