Business plan / Marketing plan / MVP
What is Startup Weekend?
Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend event where groups of developers, designers, business experts, marketing gurus and more pitch ideas for new startups. Throughout the weekend teams form and work to develop the idea and present by Sunday evening.
I joined Startup Weekend for the opportunity to work with and learn from other passionate people in fields outside of my own while practicing the skills I already had. I had a vague idea of what creating a startup entailed, but this weekend showed me what a fun and complicated undertaking it really is. I came in mostly wanting to build something ‘cool’, but left with much more.
The beginning of the sleepless nights
“Do you remember giving someone you cared about a mixtape or CD that you had spend hours on, meticulously decorating it and picking out music? Wasn’t giving them that gift a great feeling? Why aren’t we doing that anymore?”
Remembering how many users love the idea of Gift Tape, I decided to give it a chance to reach further potential. Startup Weekend began with participants pitching ideas in 60 seconds; I spent mine talking about my idea for an app that allows people to recreate that fun, nostalgic feeling of giving someone a piece of their soul in mixtape form. I told them I wanted to build something that would allow people to not only choose songs, but also decorate an album cover for their mix, and annotate any song that held special meaning. I told the crowd I needed developers and designers to help me achieve this goal.
The vote is in
All participants were asked to pick three ideas to work on. After the five minutes of voting, Gift Tape had battled its way to the top of the heap.
The Gift Tape team aka The Comeback Kids
The Comeback Kids (our chosen name, since everyone but me was from Michigan) consisted of four developers and two designers. As a team, we began to brainstorm ideas and quickly moved to an MVP, which was needed to pitch to a panel of judges at the end of the weekend.
Interviews and testing
I didn’t want to be limited to any prior testing we had done on the Gift Tape app. We sent out a survey through Google Forms in order to validate our concept and discover how often and through what mediums people share music with others.
On the morning of the first work day the other designer and I hit the streets to talk to potential users, leaving the developers behind to start working on the logistics of coding the MVP. We wanted to discover and validate core functionalities that created the best user experience and differentiated Gift Tape from other music platforms. This gave us enough insights to create a paper prototype for testing.
We specifically wanted to test the customization aspect of our product. We wanted to know if the ability to create album covers and write notes was enticing enough for users adopt our platform. We also wanted to know what types of customization features users would enjoy.
We assumed that the ability for users to see their creativity come to life was necessary for a true evaluation of the experience; since we had no time to build a working prototype, we utilized Sketch Mirror to create a new prototyping platform. Using this combination, we asked users to create an album cover by pointing to buttons while we designed their requests on the computer.
Testing revealed that the presentation of the end product affected the user experience. In other words, if the album cover looked good, they looked back on the experience positively. This and some quick research of available photo editing apps led to the the idea of giving the user album templates that would allow the them to create their album cover based on a pre-existing structure. The UI designer used existing album covers to create templates based on recurring patterns that were easy for users to build from. Our assumption was that the better their album cover looked, the more likely they were to share their artwork, and more importantly use and recommend the app. From the testing insights we received, we started building some wires.
From Gift Tape to Rewind/ Defining our product
The lawman walks in /Working within the constraints
Over the weekend, our original concept evolved from research insights while also abiding by copyright rules and generating revenue. We spent a few hours chatting with a lawyer and an operations expert to think of Gift Tape as something beyond just an exploratory concept.
We were originally planning to use the SoundCloud API to pull music for our app, but wanted to switch to Spotify due to its more comprehensive music library. Both of these services posed both challenges and opportunities moving forward. For instance, legally we could not sell any music through our applications, but we could sell the artwork users created, and just distribute the playlist with it. This stressed the importance of allowing the user to create polished and memorable album art. Also, a scope for the future could be partnering up with or licensing to Spotify, or teaming up with artist on a smaller platform such as Bandcamp.
From our user research we also realized we were limiting ourselves by creating a product only geared towards gift giving. We knew users shared music on a regular basis from looking at our survey, and they didn’t always identified this sharing as “giving a gift”. Throughout research and testing, we consistently heard users express that they enjoyed the tangible aspect of a mixtape. They desired to have a keepsake that commemorated that particular experience. We tossed around the idea of allowing users to send their mixtape in a physical form through the mail. However, we approached this concept with caution due to copyright and piracy laws and our discussions with our lawyer. We landed on the idea of an album postcard that allowed users to send a physical copy of their album artwork through the mail without infringing on any laws. The album postcard contained a link and QR code to open up the playlist online or directly on the recipient’s phone.
Speaking with the operations expert reemphasized our need to create a product that generates money. We decided that users could purchase additional album artwork tools such as special templates, patterns, and filters as in-app purchases. We were excited by this idea as it offered the potential to partner with artists and designers in the future. We also felt it important not to set a paywall right away, based on conversations with potential users. The in-app purchases would add value, but not be essential to creating a delightful experience for the user. Research insights also lead us to believe that users that created beautiful artwork for their mixtapes would be more likely to share it with others. They could easily do this by buying the album postcard.
That name though...
We decided to rename Gift Tape based on user feedback. The team did a word mapping exercise that ended at “rewind.” We loved the word, as it encapsulated the throwback to personalized music we were aiming for both by describing physically rewinding something, and by hinting at rewinding to a point in the nostalgic past. Thus, Rewind the app was born.
Branding and design
At this point, the development team had already figured out how to incorporate the Spotify API into our product and were ready to start applying some of our design work to our wires. First, the other designer and I created a quick UI kit to give them some design guidelines. Our word mapping exercise helped us identify the general feeling or theme we wanted to convey, and we agreed it should revolve around these few qualities:
The design also had to be simple enough for the developers to quickly implement into our MVP. To make the process easier, the UI designer chose Raleway for its round body and versatility. We used Trello and Bootstrap to quickly give them fonts, hex codes, wireframes, and any other information they needed.
At the conclusion of Startup Weekend, we told the story of Rewind to a panel of four judges and an audience of 100. The main areas we focused on were:
- How it brings the personal touch back to music
- Identifying our target users and their journey through Rewind
- Our business and marketing strategy and our future product roadmap
- A demo of our MVP.
We wanted to showcase that our MVP was working and fully interactive, so we created a mixtape and custom artwork for Startup Weekend Chicago. We then handed out custom album covers to the judges and had them personally open up the mixtape they had created (including the Justin Bieber songs that they had added to it). This interaction illustrated the full experience of Rewind and allowed them to experience not only the fun of making a mixtape, but also the delight of receiving a tangible keepsake. We assumed from the judges’ faces they were excited about Rewind, and were proven correct when they awarded us high praise, and second place.
Even more exciting to me was the reactions of fellow Startup Weekend participants and organizers. Many loved the concept and were very eager to create their own customized mixtapes for upcoming occasions in their lives. The winner of Startup Weekend even came up to me and asked me if she could buy the app to allow her wedding guests to create a mixtape for her special day.
Next steps and final thoughts
Our goal of building an MVP by the end of the weekend was accomplished, but that’s only the beginning of Rewind’s journey. The team is continuing to work on Rewind and is looking to expand to a location-based music experience. For example, by allowing users to pin mixtapes to a physical location, a user could walk into the Museum of Modern Art and listen to a playlist curated for that particular experience. Our team feels this would further differentiate Rewind from the current market, and create even more delightful experiences in the user’s everyday life.
You can view the current iteration of our MVP here. Check back for future updates!
I took part in Startup Weekend 2016 while working for another client at DESIGNATION. I was worried that I would be run ragged doing both simultaneously, and while I did miss out on precious Sunday sleep in time, I gained knowledge, confidence, and experience working with a spectrum of personalities. I went from spending barely any time working directly with back-end developers to collaborating with them for 54 hours as their team leader and UX designer. It was an exercise in working within constraints, and finding out how we could compromise between building a working MVP and making it usable and delightful. The importance of communication of expectations and finding out what were the constraints for each individual was something I will take away from this experience as I move into my next project. Also, my skills in always exercising patience, understanding, and empathy for others was useful while learning my new team’s working styles.
The fact that I was able to succeed in this endeavor while attending an intensive design bootcamp was important to me. I value continued learning and being part of a larger community of talented people thirsting for knowledge. I was more interested in the journey of this weekend as a learning experience. The fact that my concept received second place was just icing on the cake. To build something that others loved, and to see the pride in my teammates faces was what I will remember above everything.