Test…Fine Tune…Rinse and Repeat!

When building a house every single brick that gets tucked in, has to be tested to last  all weather conditions. Similarly, every single block that goes into the app should be tested and every single scenario it can go through should also be tested. As simple as that. Now that is very generic, I get that. Here is the more pragmatic question. What do we need & Where do we start? We needed a few Android and Apple devices and some unique active phone numbers. Remember, phone number is the unique identifier for the user. Then there are 3 possible ways for a user to sign in. Registration from scratch, Google login & Facebook login. We had to set up test users with 3 different flavors in each platform. That adds up to a 6! (Nope no calculator this time 🙂 ) Ideally you’d like a test lab with Android and Apple devices, phones on different versions, large monitors hooked up to those devices, a few emulators etc… for QA runs. But as a startup we definitely couldn’t afford all the fancy stuff. All we were able to do, was to dig into the pile of our old phones, located those out dated chargers, powered them up, installed updated software and jumped into the testing arena. Hey …we have to make the best out of what we can, correct?

We set up the test accounts and started to hear the “ding” sounds as the verification codes dropped by. Good sign! For each user, we started adding items under 2 different categories, “I own this item” and “I want this item”.  Anything that you Own and would like to list, goes under the former. Any item that you are currently in the market for, would fall under the latter. Under the first category the sub categories are Lend, Rent, Sell and Give Away and under the second category we had Borrow, Buy and Rent Out. Overall every user needed to have close to 20 items for us to be able to test the transactions. During this phase one of our friends who was visiting us for the weekend, played around with the app and mentioned that the toggle that switches the item between “I Own” & “I Want” wasn’t easily understandable. We thanked him for bringing it to our attention and introduced a glider text to call that out explicitly. Problem addressed and the testing continued! It really helps if you have a fresh set of eyes look at your product at various different stages of development, as you’ll never be able to catch such things by yourself. Since you live and breathe your product, such granular nuances tend to go undetected in your radar.

We had the items set up, what next? Add friends to Kettle.Lend! We connected all the test users we had created, as friends. Invitations started to come and folks were getting accepted as friends! Now they were all Kettle friends :). Item requests and responses were tested. Some of the text content around these weren’t very apt. So I sat down and re-did all the text content and updated it. Little did I know then, that’ll I’ll do several such rounds before we actually went live. We then created loops and added clusters of friends to different loops. Transactions within the loops were tested.

We tested the History tab, to make sure all the transactions were listed there. To make it legible we had added a drop down to let users view their transactions from different angles. Most Recent, By Month, etc. At this juncture another friend chimed in and pointed out that we didn’t have historical transactions by Items. His point was, it was going to be difficult for him to find out who had his “Amazon Fire Stick” which he lend 2 months ago. He’d have to go thru all the historical transactions or comb thru the friend by friend to figure out. His voice was heard and we answered! We added a drop-down menu for Items, under history.

All the other house keeping tabs, like profile settings, tell a friend etc were tested and some text around it was fine tuned. The bug fix list was shipped off to the development team and we were starting the prep work for the next phase. Marketing plan in the making!! Its gonna get interesting!!

 

 

 

 

First Sneak peek!!

The app building was in full gear and I was eagerly waiting to see the first cut. Then one day, I got the much awaited email from our Project Lead. The app was ready for its first review. I got so anxious to download and check it out, I swear I got an anxiety attack. Without minding that I’m waiting at the checkout counter at Costco (you know how lengthy those lines get on Saturday afternoon’s 🙂 ), I opened the link and installed the app! Yay!! Here it was after all those hours of discussions, contemplating ideas, brainstorming sessions, drawing board revisions and development work. Can’t wait, Can’t wait, Can’t wait!!! I opened the app and the first thought that hit my mind was ‘Alright’. I’m not kidding, that’s all my mind said…Alright. I see that this is an app. It delivers the functionality it’s expected to deliver and nothing more. There were no colors, no fancy display panels, basically there was no freshness to it. Looked flat. I wanted to just leave my cart at Costco, return home and bury myself in my blanket.

After a few moments of that struggle in my head, the air started to clear. When I started hearing noises, traffic and people around me, I pulled myself together, completed the check out and unloaded the cart with a heavy loaded heart and got back home. I didn’t know what our next steps should be. Do we revamp the whole thing, start from scratch, drop the project, get a UI designer…had no clue. My husband looked at the app and said that it just needed some aesthetics upgrade and we’ll be good to go. He thought that I was worried for nothing. Men…what do they know about our thought process. We women try and take shelter in Kansas, even before the storm hits the Pacific Ocean. No generalizations here, but at least that’s how I am. My Dad has always asked me not to think too much when the issue is in a hot phase. I heard my Dad’s words ring in my head… “Let it cool and then revisit”. OK then, that’s what I will do, revisit later.

Revisit… That I did after a few days. The app didn’t look that bad after all. I finally came to see what my husband was talking about. It just needed some better positioning of the displays and some colors! The reason for all that despair? Like always, I think I set the expectations all too high and I crash when it is not met. I wanted the app to look great & work right from the very first run. Even though I have learnt a lot in the past that I shouldn’t expect too much too soon, I kept doing it over and over again. I guess somethings will never change.

On the other hand, I was ready to change my attitude towards the first cut and took an unbiased look at it. I jotted down all the things that needed an upgrade. Colors. Aesthetics. Top Shelf Designs. Here I come!! I’m in it for the long haul and refuse to get dropped off mid-way! We queued up all the changes to the app development teams and let them take their second shot. This time around, we constantly kept an eye out for aesthetics and that seemed to pay off. The app was beginning to look like the one I had pictured in my head. When you go through the app, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The flow will be seamless! Or at least my hope is that you’ll feel that way 🙂

Next stop… Rigorous testing! Locate those magnifying glasses and the let the testing begin!!

Code mode is on!

Plug in those cords, Power up the computers and let the nerds get to work.

We walked our Project lead through the concept of the app and asked him to remember that “Few Clicks Away” is our mantra. We truly understand that an idea can be great but if the product doesn’t resonate well with the audience, it has no value. We had a great confidence in him to deliver. He hit the road running and went into full throttle mode.

As we wanted to release Kettle.Lend in Android and iOS platforms, we decided to write API’s to cater to the common functionalities. Now we were looking at 3 streams, Android and iOS development and API.

For the API’s, we wrote down a list of all the functions along with the respective input and output parameters. My first impression that it would be a simple app to build went through its first surprise. Turns out that we needed a lot of API’s and multiple sub functions, to get all the functionalities in place. Close to 45 API’s for the core features and 50 for the other features. There was a need to call a few outside third party API’s like Facebook, Google etc., as well.

First stop, Login Screen. How many of us create user accounts for every portal or app that we use? Very few!! If there is an option for us to use our Google or Facebook accounts, we just opt for that. Hence I wanted our app to support that. And of course you need the basic housekeeping functions like Forget Password, Logout etc. All in all we needed atleast 5 to 6 API’s just for this. I guess now you can understand why I said lot of API’s for the app.

Now that you get a glimpse of what it would entail for us to build the entire app, I’m not going to bore you and walk you thru all the screens and their API list. But I hope you get the big picture idea. We started with the API development and kept the android modules rolling alongside. How else can we test the API’s?

When we got to one of the first modules that’ll help register the user, our next surprise was waiting. Since phone number is going to be the primary identification of a user, we can’t let anyone use any phone number. You wouldn’t like it if I use your number to tie to my Kettle.Lend app, would you? Yeah… I didn’t think so. So this calls for phone number verification. That meant that we had to use one of the paid subscription services that’ll send a verification code to the user’s phone number. After some research we identified the one that’ll best fit our needs and budget, and incorporated it. Now I know why the CupCake store down the road, asked me to verify my phone number with a code :). In the future I’m mentally prepared not get annoyed with such verification codes. It is only one time and it is for my own safety, so I guess I’ll have to learn to live with it. I felt digitally equipped for this era!

Our next surprise hit us when we opened up the floor for Loops module. Creating loops and adding friends to loops was pretty straight forward. When you add an item, the app lets you pick who you’d want to share the item with. So far so good. When it comes to viewing the items in a loop, the user had to individually click on the item and then see the loops the item is shared with. That wouldn’t align very well with our “few clicks away mantra” now, would it? So we had to go back to the drawing board and let the users view the loop items both in the generic listing with a hint that it’s part of a loop and as well from under the Loops menu. When we came out of the design session, the Loops module got beefier. Even though it stretched our timelines, I was happy that we were able to set a good stage for our user community.

Once the API and Android combo took a good shape, we engaged our iOS team. They started to shadow android and kick start the development. iOS being a very different platform with lot of native code had its own challenges. We had to put in lot of coordination, re-visit the drawing board in a few instances and a lot of talk time to get the ball rolling.

With multiple suggestions from our smart developers throughout the course, we buckled up nice and tight. We understood that it is really hard to picturize all the scenarios in your head. Only when you see it in action you are able to relate better and make improvisations.

I have summarized the entire effort and the development work that happened over a period of 6 months, in a one pager here. Trust me, the development as expected, was the most difficult part. At least that’s what I thought then :).

What next…First sneak peek!!

Drawing board, here we come!

Our artist hats are on for the very critical phase of the app, The Design. What is in a Design? You may wonder. Well Design is that finishing touch that appeals to the senses before it can appeal to the intelligence. There is no way to bypass the senses. (I read this in a book and ever since held it close to my heart). So everything relies on the design and the simplicity of the app. Since this app is going to be the first of its kind, we did some research and started thinking about how the app should look and feel. If you notice, the apps that are easy to use and sticks to its core functionality are the ones that flourish. With the mantra, few clicks away, my husband and I started our sketches. He is a better designer than I am, so I didn’t interfere too much in that department. I’ll start with some screens, draw its skeleton and functionality and he’ll fine tune it to have better aesthetics.

We wanted this to be an app where you can only add your friends if they are on your phone book. No social media doesn’t count! Sorry. Only the people who you truly know and are confident enough to either store their number on your phone or vice versa. Hey…if you stored a phone number, so you can dodge their call or text, then user discretion advised! :).

The app should let you search for items others have listed and send them a request. It should allow you to easily take pictures (or pull pics from phone) of the items that you have to spare and save it with some minimum details. It should let you pick whether you’d like to Giveaway, Lend, Rent or Sell this item.

At this juncture, I stopped to wonder, whether I’d really want all the items that I publish to be visible to all my Kettle friends. Probably not. Do I really want my aunt to know that I have listed her Christmas gift, our family famous “Crystal Bowl”, for sale? Yikes…that’ll be an issue that I’ll have to justify and talk over and over, for the next several years to come. I don’t want to hurt her feelings (c’mon don’t give me that stare, I meant at-least directly) and be in that situation. I decided that the app needs have some confined groups. What should I call it? Groups was taken by Facebook, plus by Google…gosh I wish I had come up with this app idea a decade ago. Well…here we are. Then I thought, “Loops” was available, it sounds apt and super cool, so why not? Our confined Kettle groups are going to be called as Loops!

We started with all the screens and then tied the screen flows. After several iterations, a few notebooks and sleepless nights later, we got it to a decent shape. Now the nerdy part begins….Coding! Stay tuned…

Why the name? How Alaska helped! Yes Alaska!!

As soon as the idea took shape, the name hunt for the app was on! It made me relive the days when my eyes wandered over books, magazines, TV, Social Media etc… searching for the right name for our baby. If you are a parent, then you know what I mean…don’t ya? Now everywhere I went, whomever I met, I had the app name hunt lingering in my head. I wanted it to be a universal name so anyone in the world can relate and use it.

Our trip to the beautiful scenic state of Alaska came around. Great friends and awesome serenity made me feel like I was in cloud nine. I had a hunch that I’ll finalize the app name before we boarded our flight back home. This is one of those situations, where sometimes we get such random thoughts in our heads and really don’t understand why it got seeded like that. But I felt very strongly about it. A few days passed, and then a few more and no signs of any good names.  Before I knew it, we were getting closer to the end of the trip and nope, no name yet. I got to be honest with you here…I started getting a little anxious at that point. Sun had risen (funny I said that, during summer in Alaska, I don’t know how much meaning the word “risen” has, as it got dark only for 3 – 4 hrs every night) on the last day of our trip and nada, zilch, not even a clue, my friend! No single clue!

My friends and family wanted to embrace the tranquility one last time before we boarded the flight. So a bunch of us went for a quick spin through the wilderness of Alaska and were crossing a creek. My friend read the creek’s name out loud, “KETTLE”. I was immediately drawn to the name. In spite of the calmness of the creek, my mind started racing with thoughts. Kettle is a familiar term to everyone around the world. Every house hold has one. What can be a better fit to the app that can help people all around the globe?  A Kettle for the Digital age! I was so thrilled and right away declared to my friends that my app is going to be called “Kettle” and bundled in my justification. Everyone cheered and cherished. I’m sure they were also kinda relieved that they don’t have to listen to me about the name hunt :).

Like all your friends, my friends are my best critics. In a matter of few minutes, one of them came back and mentioned that Kettle doesn’t resonate with Lend or Sell.  Point blank. Now what do I do? I knew then, that the final name will not be just Kettle, but some form around it. I just didn’t feel like giving up on Kettle. The seed has now created a plant :). Not until after 2 months or so later, we came up with the idea of naming the app Kettle with an extension called Lend, so people can relate to it. One concern was that there aren’t a lot of apps that have dot in their name. But hey, someone has to start somewhere. Very much like when we all started having a dot in our email address’es. The judgement was in and the name was finalized. “Kettle.Lend” it is!  A long way to go before we can see that name live in the app store. In other words… Row Row Row your boat gently down the Kettle creek, Surely Surely Surely Surely the app is gonna be great!! What you just witnessed is called as the toddler effect on app development :). Now the app design kicks in!

 

My AHA Moment!!

One rainy day over a hot cup of coffee, I glanced around my house to see how I can better organize. Some spots felt cluttered. That triggered me to think about the boxes hibernating in my house. That led me to wonder about all the other boxes that are sitting in my friends houses. Oh boy!!! that is a bulk load of items jut accumulating dust. Wouldn’t it be neat if I can get a sneak peek into all those boxes? Then may be I don’t have to spend $39.99 on the Halloween costume that my kiddo will wear for 2 and a half hours. Not to mention the $19.99 accessories that go with it. The hats, bags, swords….you know how that checklist goes. Hmm what can I do with the $59.98 (yes the math is right…don’t doubt it, because I used the calculator ha-ha!!) that I’ll save. I’ll spend it on something super critical, like my day at the spa :). Yuppp!! I just heard that welcome message “Close your eyes and relax!!!” I do have to agree that sometimes the eucalyptus smell is a little too much, but I’ll take it any day over my messy kitchen smell.

But there isn’t a suitable platform to enable friends to share and save. If I can easily let my friends know what I have ready to spare, and see what they have ready to offer, and didn’t have to explicitly talk about prices, that’ll make it super easy to Share and Save!  My light bulb moment has now taken shape. Its goal is to enable me to Give Away, Lend, Rent or Sell, my items, within my trusted network of people and also see what they have to offer. All with a few easy clicks! In this mobile app era, where there is an app for just about anything under the sky, what better way to accomplish this than a mobile app? I was super excited to think about all the time, money and effort people can save with this app. It truly will be a Shared economy product that each and every one across the globe can use with minimal effort. Next stop…a right name for the app.

Like in the real world, in the mobile app world, the app name plays a very important role. Now the name hunt begins! The Chase is on…

Boxes, boxes, boxes and a few more!

As a new grad and a toddler’s mom, I found myself constantly boxing up lot of text books and barely used toys. I didn’t actually want to give my text books away, as you never know when that important meeting is going to pop up at work and I’ll have to re-open my text books for reference. I know I can search on the internet to get the same information and we all know how time consuming that is, especially when I’m running behind my toddler. At the same time I know that there might be a friend of mine, in this current moment, trying to find a good deal on that $359 book on Amazon. I wondered wouldn’t it be super neat, if my friend knew that I have the same book sitting on my shelf, very rarely used?

As far as toys go, I can actually part with them, but honestly I don’t have enough time to pack them up and sell it to some used toys store for dime on the dollar. I thought about posting it on one of the mobile app’s that lets you sell and buy stuff. But my mom brain kicked in and warned me… “Do you want to let a stranger walk into your home for a $12 sale?” and I shut that idea right then. I’d rather give it to my friends who might need it or even sell it to them for a fair price. I can’t ask all my friends whether they want to get or buy the rarely used Play Mat from me. When my intent is not to make money out of the toys my toddler has grown out of, it might very well sound like that to my friends. Let’s face it between kids, work, home and gym (occasionally J ) it is hard to maintain good relationship with friends. I don’t want to distant the existing friends due to this. So like all the other mom’s out there, I kept accumulating toys and my kid’s closet has now officially run out of space. It has no coats, clothes or shoes but only unused toys.

I told myself that there has to be a better way. In my next blog, I’ll walk you through how this thought process triggered the next chain of events. Until then, hang tight!!