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S. Page - Product Founder, Helping Handle

How and why our product evolved

Our team, Helping Handle, is building a product to digitize donations to the homeless community. For many years now, people have started carrying less cash on them as they become increasingly dependent on mobile technology, and incorporate this technology more deeply in their lives (including for financial transactions). The original concept was simple: develop an app (similar to Venmo) that will allow individuals wishing to donate (but not carrying cash on them) to donate to an individual in need. There have been two major challenges that we discovered through our customer discovery process. First, there is a wide range of situations and needs for homeless people, making a one size fits all solution cumbersome and potentially difficult to execute. Second, the donors seek more transparency about use of donation when donating digitally. Despite these challenges, we also identified a key behavior change in one of our low-fi tests: people were willing to donate well after they had walked by the homeless individual they donated to (up to one hour), indicating less impulsive behavior for donating.


These insights have helped up redefine our solution over the past few months. When we better understood the many jobs to be done on the donation receiver side of the platform, we expanded the role of third party non-profit stakeholders in app implementation. Additional features for the non-profit groups will include administrative features to help onboard new donation receivers, and to distribute resources from donations on the platform.  Additionally, we created a profile feature for donation receivers. For individuals that would like to communicate more about their story, this feature will help them convey goals and situational information that will convey their intentions about use for the donation. Finally, we expanded the suite of donation vehicles to include gift-cards through partnership with local businesses. As many of our donor customers revealed in interviews, they expect more transparency about how their digital donation is used (largely because this donation is less impulsive than handing cash to someone on the street). To incorporate this transparency into our solution, while still respecting the privacy and freedom of the donation receiver, we expanded the platform to not only include cash transfer transactions, but also gift cards with local business partners. These gift cards satisfied the donor job to be done of knowing where (and how) their money is spent.


Overall, our design process throughout the semester has taught me about the tradeoffs between simplicity in design and designing solutions with different features for different jobs to be done. In most cases, I still believe that a simple solution is often better than a solution with too many options and features. Users are often able to use simple products with simple features to fit their needs. However, I have also learned that an exception to this rule occurs when designing for users who are less dynamic in their interactions with technology (such as parts of the donation receiver population). In these cases, it is important to build features that perfectly serve their job to be done. There certainly is a balance here, however, that I am still searching for.


Assessment of Discovery Process

From the beginning of the project, our team knew that we would need to educate ourselves about the different groups using the app. Some of these groups we were already familiar with, and it was easy to approach and interview individuals in these categories. The donation receiver groups and non-profits were stakeholder groups that we needed to learn more about. We did a great job of deep diving with the donor group to truly understand their needs and behaviors through the interview process. Additionally, we learned about the receiver and non-profit groups through conversations. We accessed these groups through our network, cold calls/emails and conversations literally on the street.  Although we had to have many more conversations with these groups (to first learn basics about needs and behaviors and then to learn more about their needs specific to the problem we hope solve), we were able to gain legitimate user insights to develop a solution. We also were able to build upon our foundational knowledge to develop low-fi testing that revealed key behavior change that we could incorporate into our product.


We spent so much time on customer discovery and concept testing that we did not diverge enough when generation potential solutions. This is especially the case for the back-end (payment mechanism). One of the most difficult aspects of solution implementation for Helping Handle is the receiver accessibility to the donations made. Many individuals in the homeless community do not currently have access to bank accounts, and while smartphone ownership in the homeless community is significant, many smartphones are either lost or stolen in this community. We should have discussed more with subject matter experts to gain a better understanding of the best financial solutions for the recipient population.


Overall, throughout the product development process, I learned the importance of validating assumptions, asking the right questions, and knowing when it’s appropriate to diverge versus converge on ideas.


Personal/professional reflections.

This semester, I have achieved exactly what I had hoped for: gaining a deep understanding of the product manager role. I expected that the role would be much less detail oriented in some aspects than I had expected. While detail is a critical part of the PM role, a lot of the product development process is also focused on developing vision and determining what roadmap to follow to make that vision a reality. Additionally, the PM must know when to pivot versus stay on course in the face of uncertainty. There are many variables involved in the product development process, and getting as much information about these variables, but perfect information is expensive and time consuming. Understanding how much information you need to answer a question is critical. These discoveries about the PM role make me think that PM is a better fit for me than I first expected. I tend to not get excited about jobs that require you to consistently be involved with the nitty gritty details, and not driving direction of the project. I have learned that PM roles balance this much more than I had previously thought.

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