ideaHatcher: Bringing the Incubator Experience Online
ideaHatcher began as an alumni-based crowdfunding platform that has evolved into a resource for entrepreneurs to test their early stage products by sharing their Problem Statement, Solution Statement, and Business Model for an idea with a crowd of entrepreneurs, users, and potential investors for feedback. Our plan for ideaHatcher.co was to increase the value it offers to entrepreneurs through collaborative tools and increase sharing capabilities.
When shifting away from tackling crowdfunding, we wanted to better understand what resources are missing for entrepreneurs as they first start a business. From user research, we discovered there were several areas of opportunity, but decided to focus on helping entrepreneurs refine their process by giving them a set of tools that their track progress and maintain a central location for important information about their business model, value propositions, and customers. To do this, we needed to create a UI which offered enough structure and guidance to lead them through the process, but which was flexible enough to allow for different approaches.
When we started ideaHatcher, our team was made of 2 MBAs and 3 designers. When we continued the project after graduating, there were 2 designers, one remaining MBA, and an engineer. During the course of ideaHatcher, I conducted user research, working on ideation & prototyping, and UI/UX design.
Data Analysis & Ideation
After interview several entrepreneurs at different stages of the start up creation process, we synthesized our interview results through affinity diagramming to find the most compelling needs and opportunities. From our affinity diagram, we began brainstorming and documenting key issues and key opportunity areas we discovered in our research, including: idea validation, recruiting partners, finding mentors, and getting useful advice.
Visioning & Storyboards
From our key concepts, we fleshed out product and service ideas we thought could ease some burdens of entrepreneurship to identify which ideas had the most potential and the fewest obvious, immediate roadblocks.
From these visioning sessions, we created 9 storyboards, and tested them with entrepreneurs and MBA candidates for feedback. From their feedback, we further refined the storyboards and presented 3 concepts to users. From our final idea validation concept, we brainstormed user flows for key system processes.
From our user flows, we began sketching basic wireframes, which we then turned into more refined wireframes to test with our users. The concept we built out focused solely on getting feedback for business ideas.
Building & Testing
From our wireframes, we began building out the platform and recruiting users. However, upon talking more with our target audience, we realized that our value proposition wasn't strong enough to keep our users engaged. Since the potential for engagement relied heavily on having a larger user base, we realized we needed to work on making the platform useful for users without a crowd. So, a few months after deploying our MVP, we began interviewing users and potential users for insight into how to make the platform more engaging.
Back to the drawing board
A few months after deploying our MVP, we began interviewing users and potential users for insight into how to make the platform more engaging. We realized that, like our team, many new founders struggled to organize their approach to building their business. There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of and we realized having an interactive roadmap would give our customers an organizational tool that could take some of the ambiguity out of deciding what tasks to tackle next.
From our interviews we created a mental model for the startup process and decided to expand our product to better cover the each stage of building a startup, as well as work our user experience better into an entrepreneur's existing framework.
To focus our work, we also created some basic personas and use cases from our research.
In the end, the direction we explored included mirroring the Business Model Canvas structure in our UI, as well as visualizing the different tasks we identified in the mental model and breaking them down into actionable steps.
Within each section of the business model canvas, there are questions entrepreneurs should ideally be able to answer if they're correctly approaching their problem/solution/business model. The UI allows users to add and share content (images, text, etc) that relates to the work they've been doing.
The business model canvas UI can also be tracked in this visualization, which tracks how much progress entrepreneurs have made in each section of the canvas.
RESULTS & REFLECTION
ideaHatcher got our team into Plug and Play's startup camp, but unfortunately once we got there we needed to pivot. However, the entire process was an amazing learning experience. It allowed me to put my research and ideation skills into practice and showed me that when you follow the design process, the solution falls into place much more smoothly than when you don't. While we were never able to see how the new version of ideaHatcher would operate in the wild, the feedback we received from our ideal customers was much less ambivalently positive.