February 2015. The IL team was sitting around a table (not a round one, though:) with a brunette, a blonde, and a baldie (and no, this is not a joke). They were 3 Africans whose passion to turn ideas into crowd fundable stories, outweighed their pain to do so…
Up until that point, they had successfully helped more than 140 entrepreneurs get funding through Thundafund (TF); breaking new ground as an African crowdfunding platform. These 140 entrepreneurs represented 70% of all the projects that had already received funding successfully. In comparison to Kickstarter’s 37% & Indiegogo’s 10% success rate, a 70% success rate is almost unheard of and a staggering achievement!
Now, what makes this such a staggering achievement, isn’t necessarily the high rate, but the fashion in which a team of 2 people guided these entrepreneurs to successfully get funding for their ideas.
Because Thundafund is running a lean startup, project submissions were done by filling out a 22 page Word document. These Word documents were revised and iterated upon by emailing it back and forth between a team of 2 and the project creator. More often than not, project photo’s would follow in separate emails — some of them humongously big and others pixelating small. Unavoidably, 1 email would become 10; multiply that with 100’s of projects, and soon you have something that doesn’t scale very well.
It doesn’t seem like a very fun way to build a product, but building things that don’t scale is perhaps one of the most valuable ways to build a product. Why? Because that’s how you get to know your customer. And in this case, it also allowed Thundafund to help African entrepreneurs, who might not know anything about crowdfunding, craft ideas into stories worth telling.
Not all of the ideas got funded. Some of them weren’t thought through very well and some just couldn’t get traction fast enough. But it doesn’t matter. What does matter, is the learning. They learned their customers and they learned that working closely with a project owner increased the chances of success.
They didn’t have to build expensive tech to learn this; all they needed was a 22 page Word document. Sure, unless you print them out, a Word doc isn’t very cutting and definitely not a very scalable way to submit a project, but that’s why we were sitting around a table, discussing a very important matter.
The TF team had one very urgent question on their minds.
A ‘Simple’ Solution
There was no doubt about it. The Word doc has become a major bottleneck to the whole process and the question was loud and clear: How can we help them make it easier for entrepreneurs to ask for money and at the same time, make the interaction between the entrepreneur and the TF team, more scalable? It sounds simple, hey? Just build a form. Of course, we all know that it’s never that easy. Simplicity is always on the far side of complexity.
Before we could get to something as simple as an online form, we first had to work through the complexity of the problem. So we did.
What We Did
All information in the Word doc was manually captured into a backend form and written into a database which, once the “go-live button” was pushed, is displayed on the frontend so people could start supporting a project.
Our first task, therefore, was to make sure that the information architecture of the new online form adhered to the backend structure. I had 2 workshop sessions with the team where they showed me how they would capture a Word doc into the backend. Collaborating very closely with the team, we constructed an IA to pin down and simplify all fields necessary to successfully capture and submit a project.
Getting to Know Entrepreneurs
We also set up Skype calls with 5 different entrepreneurs who had already gone through the process of submitting a project with the Word doc. Our goal was 2 fold:
- Find out how entrepreneurs viewed the application process, and
- Discover what their obstacles were in creating a campaign.
The TF team was amazing! We wanted to include them in the process as much as possible and when asked, they were more than happy to clear up their diaries to sit in and help with all the interviews and tests.
A few simple questions guided us, but most of the conversations were quite spontaneous. Common themes were highlighted and turned into user stories. Here are 2 of the stories that came out of these calls:
- I’m new to this crowdfunding thing. Showing me examples and leaving me little notes or tips as I go along would be really nice.
- Local is lekker and that’s why we love Thundafund. The support from the team is awesome!
While we were finishing the user stories, the TF team was hard at work to research and dissect most probably every single crowdfunding platform out there (special thanks to Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub for letting us learn from them:). We had one more meeting shortly after that where we went through and discussed the screenshots and findings from the competitor research.
Designing the Solution
With the research as a foundation, we started to sketch, wireframe and prototype together different form layouts to iterate towards something that was unique and tailored towards Thundafund.
A static InVision prototype worked well initially to refine and improve the structure, but we soon felt that we needed something that was more interactive and would allow us to iterate quicker. It took us a couple of days to put together a first draft of the HTML form. It was quite bare bones but it allowed us to test and iterate a lot faster than what InVision would’ve allowed us.
Once again, with the help of the TF team, we conducted another round of tests, using the HTML prototype. It was great seeing entrepreneurs capture real projects and got some great feedback not only on the usability of the form but also on the clarity of the copy. Three more workshops were hosted by the TF team to test the form one last time.
And now it’s today — the beginning of a new story. We’ve worked incredibly hard to get this far. The Beta version of the form is now out in the wild, testing our assumptions.
Over the years I’ve come to learn that building products are hard. Building great products, insanely hard. And building perfect products, well… impossible.
That’s why what we’ve built isn’t perfect — you will find bugs, usability problems, styling issues, and probably things we haven’t even discovered yet. It’s an experiment that will allow us to learn. What we’ve built has already made the lives of many entrepreneurs and the TF team a lot easier! People, data, and time will show us how we can make it even better.
For now, head over to thundafund.labs.ws, create your own project to raise money, and help improve it by giving us your feedback.
Reflecting back on the past few months, the most important thing I’ve come to see for myself is this:
The best product is built when the whole team is exposed to a customer’s sad and happy moments. A designer’s biggest responsibility (and challenge) is to bridge the chasm between everyone else and the customer, and make them part of the experience.
It is this very thing that made this journey so incredible so far. The Thundafund team has been some of the most collaborative and passionate people I’ve met in my design career. Here’s a big ✋ to them!
And then to my team mates at IL, there are few greater pleasures than to build products with you that solves meaningful problems. Dankie.