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. 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.
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.
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!
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.
Community Driven Product Reviews
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.
Reaching out to people wasn’t easy for me in the beginning. We had to ask people for their time without being able to pay them, and without anyone knowing who we were. It took many tries to tell the right story. I learned how the same idea can be described in a bland, uninspiring way that leaves people wondering “what’s the point?” or be presented in a compelling way that gets people yelling “I need this, how can I help?”.
A few months later 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. 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!
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.
Moms loved this! The feedback we got was encouraging.
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 faced 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 challenging because Facebook group admins are 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 a few months we dedicated all our efforts to focus on one goal only - getting users to contribute content. Reading a review on VillageHunt would feel totally different than reading a review on Amazon. We wanted content that was authentic and trustworthy, just like in social sites, while keeping the advantages of e-commerce.
Onboarding - wrong and right
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, which caused many to drop off.
Five steps turn into one
We 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 with a call to action
We ended on-boarding with a call to action: ‘A great way to start is by helping others - just click on a product you’re familiar with!’. Indeed, users added content to the site before exploring it further. This proved we didn’t need a large number of users to be able to generate content. We intentionally crafted each step in a way that a mom arrives to the first page and has an urge to say something about products she's familiar with.
🏡 We started with a private beta for moms in Seattle. 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 moms 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.
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.