• Darren Cody

Building What You Think Is Best Versus Your Users

In 2017, a small team of people took on the task of creating the world's largest rent-anything marketplace. The majority of this team had extensive experience in the rental industry and were to be called experts, however, this was their first marketplace and those who've attempted (successfully or not) can testify that it is no small feat.


Marketplaces have become the new "gold rush" for many businesses, especially with the world returning from years of COVID, it has forced many of them to pivot from a physically dominant presence to online. Marketplace platforms give companies are large opportunity to reach new potential customers they couldn't before by offering to typically become the "middle-man" of a transaction by connecting a new type of Supply to an ever-hungry Demand. For those who can survive the first 5 years, it is an accomplishment that will undoubtedly pay off in spades thanks to COVID accelerating the adoption of online marketplace platforms.


When we started this rent-anything marketplace, there was little to know about developing a custom platform or even operating one at scale. We could only look at the big monoliths such as Airbnb, eBay, Etsy, and Kijiji (Canadian Craigslist). There were few case studies on these platforms so the best way to gain new insights was by using those platforms ourselves and trying our best to understand the Product & Development Team's goals for each workflow. We knew that the Co-Founders of Airbnb did not come from the Hospitality industry, they were industrial designers who lived through a problem and had a creative solution. We believed that since we knew what it took to run a rental business, we'd best anyone else's efforts of those who came before us.


Thankfully, we learned that it does provide valuable insight and a competitive edge, but it did not allow us to design and build a marketplace with little verification from Users or external data inputs. It was not until we wholeheartedly adopted the Design Thinking methodology that we shipped what Users actually wanted and focused on solving their problems. We were certainly a "Feature Factory" and always chasing the next "cool or shiny" feature. Design Thinking allowed us to truly hone in on solving problems with key personas in mind. It changed the game for us.


We would decide on what workflow would be prioritized for development, we would discuss it thoroughly as a team, and then wireframe and write basic User Stories. In some meetings, we would discuss a feature with the developer in the room and request updates on the fly as we sifted through our internal feedback. This however was a drastic improvement from our humble beginnings, we would simply write a message outlining simple requirements to the developer and ask for it to be coded without a visual asset or in-depth instructions.


What is a Design Thinking Sprint?

Design Thinking is a 5-step methodology that allows you to understand the person you're solving for, what current solutions are available, and prototyping and iterate based on feedback.


Step 1 - Empathize:

Define which of your personas you're going to solve for.


Step 2 - Define

Define the problem and hypothesize a solution.


Step 3 - Ideate

As a Team, be creative and iterate on the best solutions to the problem.


Step 4 - Prototype

Design a 3D mock that allows Testing Users to walk through it as if it was a real product.


Step 5 - Test

Test the prototype with potential or real Users to see what needs to be changed before it enters development.


With the steps outlined above, it may seem obvious that this is a much better way to build a product but the truth of the matter is that Founders are simply unaware of alternatives to the most common way inexperienced people create an online marketplace or any type of software.


If we look at this from a cost-savings perspective, the salary of a Developer is usually more expensive than a UX Designer. A Developer will certainly take longer to code a workflow than a Designer can mock a prototype. Making updates or changes at the code level can easily result in dead code & bugs if not properly dealt with but a prototype is far easier to change and there is no baggage. Gathering detailed requirements is far better than simple or basic instructions solely focused on outcomes needed to be achieved. And of course, gaining insights and tweaking based on User Feedback before developing will result in far fewer changes in production.


With having said that above, it is far quicker, and cost-effective to use Design Thinking instead of playing a game of telephone with a developer. You may not achieve 100% of what is needed but that is undoubtedly more than the result of the other option.


Real Example Of The Signup Process

We launched our signup process with the goal of conveying trust and being preventative to potential problem Users down the road. We knew when we built it that conversions would never be extremely high because of the intentional friction built into the process.


We created a 5-Step Signup Process on our WebApp version. The hope was that it would deter people who were not serious about renting anything or posting an asset for rent and that only the serious Users would spend the few minutes completing the thorough Signup Process. Over time, our conversions on WebApp grew from 40% successfully converting to 65% with our "Version 1" process with an average of 63%. We had both a hybrid mobile app & a responsive WebApp, the large majority of signups were occurring on our WebApp at 77% of signup traffic.


Signup Process Steps on WebApp:

Step 1 - CTA to Signup via Email

Step 2 - Verification Details: Verify email, full name, date of birth, and address

Step 3 - Profile Photo

Step 4 - Phone Number

Step 5 - Complete ID Verification


We believed to break down the amount of information requested for the User to complete and have as few data fields on each page as possible.


Our hypothesis was that by reducing the number of steps along with addressing some User Experience concerns, we could bump that conversion by 10% within 2 months of the "Version 2" release. Which would return nearly $30,000 in savings if it had been released 3-months prior. These numbers truly become worthwhile at scale because if the User Growth followed the business plan and we 10x'd our signups by the end of the year, it would've resulted in almost $450,000 in savings from abandoned Users.


Why Invest The Time & Effort

We spent 3 months with our Product & Design Team reviewing every detail of the Version 1 Signup Process while analyzing as much internal & external data as possible. we outlined the experiment as detailed below:

Current Pain Points

Impact of Pain

Improvements Made

5 Steps is too many

Abandonment of the workflow and decreasing conversions

Reduce number of steps to 3

General UX Issues

Abandonment of the workflow and decreasing conversions

Drastically improved the UX

Poor navigation or directional Flow

Abandonment of the workflow and decreasing conversions

Use a modal popup to allow for easy navigation

Ability to create a false account with a disposable email

Loss of credibility and trust in the platform

Increase security authentication

We integrated the Design Thinking Sprint methodology into our Product Design Process and it literally changed our fundamental beliefs on what it takes to build a good product. Looking back, it is painfully obvious, but we lacked that clarity at the time.


By using our friends at Pendo for our easy Adoption Analytics, we came to understand that a large portion (35%) of Users did not like adding a mandatory Profile Photo until they trusted the platform. It was one of the leading causes of abandonment. We created funnels for every workflow and we were able to let that determine the priority of the remaining features to revamp instead of the Product Manager's sole decision.


The Results

With a small sample size of Signups to analyze, we reviewed the numbers 1 month after the release of Version 2. We were absolutely blown away by the results.


We changed both the Mobile App & WebApp down from 5-steps to a 3-step process while still asking for the same information and having the same requirements but we used User Feedback to design it in such a way that it was more forgiving and a positive user experience.


We went from an average of ~63% successfully converting on the Signup Process to a proven 76%. This reinforced the fact that we now understood how to build a better product and there is a difference between building what YOU think is best versus what your Users actually need.


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