Overview… Product Forge and TextItDone

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What? TextItDone was the SMS based list management tool developed over the Product Forge business/startup/hackathon weekend.

When?  21st to 23rd November 2014

Where? Codebase, Edinburgh

Who? Myself and Sara Hillberg (@sahamahi ) were a team with loads of help and support from the Product Forge mentors

What about it?

So I have recently, with my teammate Sara, submitted TextItDone into the SIE Young Innovators Challenge and this prompted me to write up a summary of both my experience at the Product Forge weekend at which we developed TextItDone, and of the project itself.

For those that don’t know, Product Forge is:

“…an opportunity for you to develop your career through practical experience. Our events bring together entrepreneurially minded designers, developers and product managers to nurture their skills, broaden their network and develop new ideas.

Participants form small cross-functional teams who work on a product concept over a weekend. Anyone is free to pitch an idea and everyone receives mentoring, meals and 24 hour access to the venue.

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And TextItDone is…. Well it started really when I vaguely played around with ideas in a post, calling it the “Flatmate Platform” but I never really went anywhere with it as my initial ideas felt like they were missing something. That was until last summer when I was mentoring the STFC Daresbury team at Young Rewired State Festival of Code and I started paying a lot of attention to one of the YRS sponsors of Twilio. As a previous student participant in YRS I was no stranger to the company who enable SMS and phone call interactions with web applications but I had never really found them relevant to my previous ideas until now when I started contemplating the use of the SMS API in the house sharing ideas.

Anyway I was then swept up in the busy chaos of starting my second year at university and my ideas got lost in the mix until I came across Product Forge on Meetup.com. I have to admit, I wasn’t thinking of the idea initially when I signed up – more generally that PF looked like a really good experience and fun. However once there we were asked for any ideas for projects and I thought that it was worth having a go at building up the idea so pitched it to the group and next thing I knew I had partnered with Sara to form our team for the weekend and work on the vague idea of a text based shopping or to do list application.

We were run through lean startup methods and started off trying to go through the Business Model Canvas and other worksheets but realised that we had to make a few more decisions before those would be as relevant to our project. So after discussions we started to develop an SMS based list management looking at he wider possible markets and found the focus shifting away from flatmates and shopping lists and more towards to do lists and workflows in the developing market where non-smartphone mobiles are prevalent.

WP_20141122_001I started working on building a prototype using the Twilio API and began to discover the problems of trying to use APIs in Windows (this became a recurring theme of hackathons until I gave in and partitioned my laptop with Fedora) and ended up leaving my laptop to spend a large proportion of time installing Oracle VirtualBox with Ubuntu. However in the process we started to define the mechanics of the product which eventually, by the end of the weekend, became:

  1. You generate a list initially on the web platform, no need to sign up with email addresses etc, just provide your mobile number and those that you wish to share the list with.
  2. Then after verifying your number, the list is sent around with accompanying info from a unique number now dedicated to that list.
  3. Users can then reply to texts with
    • ‘ADD [item description]’ to add an item to the list
    • or ‘DONE [item number]’ to complete an item and remove it from the list
    • or ‘MORE’ to receive more info and a full list of commands.
  4. Every time the list is updated, the new version is sent around to everyone.

We conducted market research in order to develop our branding values to focus our product development and from this also chose the name of TextItDone. Sara developed the logo after looking into the kind of imagery used by competitors and those associated with our values and service such as the elephant in Evernote.

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TextItDone is:

  • Easy –  just type up list, submit and update by responding to the texts.
  • Accessible – no need for: logging in, emails, internet access, downloading, particular operating system, smartphones.
  • Convenient – on your phone with minimal effort to update lists, paper lists can be lost but you are less likely to lose your phone, not relying on internet access either.

We conducted market research tactic using a Launchrock website – http://textitdone.launchrock.co –  to collect emails – inspired by the marketing/startup tactic used by the likes of Dropbox, whereby market research is done by simply seeing how much interest is generated in the product before or during development by getting people to register interest on a landing page and using social media to communicate the idea and generate hype. As part of this we also set up a TextItDone Twitter account at https://twitter.com/textitdone/ .

As I was struggling to get a working prototype I decided to test with customers with a mock up whereby I collected numbers from other participants in the room – sponsors, helpers and makers alike, and then sent them a mock up text pretending to be a TextItDone number involving them in a Product Forge sponsors list and manually responding to the commands. This had interesting results but proved useful as there was confusion about using the commands (this in part could have been a result of the poor choice of example to test with).

Finally, with our last bit of time before working on our pitch we started to discuss potential business models – throughout the weekend we had been throwing around ideas of advertisements but talking with mentors and other participants made us believe that a freemium model of paying to add additional lists and features would be the better option. I think given further time it would be interesting to conduct further research and calculations with this.

Sara then developed our pitching presentation that you can see here: http://bit.ly/1vk6H0w that we practiced with some of the mentors, getting feedback on the product and the pitch itself before finishing the weekend with all the presentations. We didn’t win Product Forge but had a fantastic weekend and I personally feel like I gained a lot from the experience.

We didn’t let TextItDone finish at the end of the weekend though as we did submit it into a Launch.Ed (the University of Edinburgh’s entrepreneurial student support) competition before Christmas but sadly did not win anything there either. However, after a brief break from the project over Christmas it is making a comeback once again with our recent submission of it into the SIE Young Innovators Challenge. Sara and I have our fingers crossed as it would provide us with a great opportunity to develop even further – I’ll keep you all updated!

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