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July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development #1: How It Started

Travltalk Product Development covers our development journey from an idea in Rhiannon’s head to a fully realized platform that lets travellers connect, share costs, and sell stuff as they explore the world.

Seventeen years feels like an eternity on the Internet. Facebook didn’t exist and the Lonely Planet was often the only reliable source of information on the roads less travelled. In 2002, at the age of 19, Rhiannon left Australia for the first time to travel around Europe during her University summer break. Immediately bitten by the travel bug, Rhiannon then spent the next 10 years backpacking over 80 countries.

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July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: Application launch

React Native Rebuild and Live User Testing

With the UI designed with React Native in mind and a prototype for reference the task of rebuilding the Travltalk application was relatively straight forward.

After consultation with several React Native agencies, we selected a London based developer, Henry Kirkness to build the application for £30,000 + VAT.

The redevelopment of Travltalk in React Native was scoped to be done in 8 weeks. With such a tight development timeframe, it has been imperative that we test our application in real time, and ensure it is bug free as we go.

Numerous male and female Millennials have been consulted on design choices and the evolving UX to ensure we address any feedback we can as we go.

Future Research and Development

Travltalk was accepted to the Apple and Google Play stores on June 25th, 2018, and our product is now live to a public audience.

We currently use MixPanel and Google Analytics to determine user behaviour and identify and patterns or evidence of user drop off.

In addition, our Travltalk Ambassadors will run user feedback sessions in hostels to determine any feature additions we may need to prioritise based on popularity.

July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: React Native Rebuild

Consultation with different technical consultants, including Spruce Design, Toptal Resource, and those who work in mobile Startups indicated React Native would be a strong choice to address the key issues uncovered with the Ionic app prototype.

Further it was identified that AirBnB and Uber also use React Native which suggested it was a strong platform choice for scale and location based mobile services.

The relationship with Spruce had evolved well and Spruce were familiar with the product and the feedback we had accrued along the way, having worked on the initial design and managing the Ionic product development by remote developers in Sri Lanka.

The simplicity of Travltalk and repetitive elements meant that the Ionic wireframes could easily be redesigned with the aim to leverage the growing libraries that were now available in React Native, and the interface designs that were now considered best practice for Android and Apple variations.

Travltalk Wireframes and UX Design

July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: Website development

To save money, Rhiannon personally coded a HTML5 splash page that would allow for brand and user testing. The website was to act solely to educated people on what our application offered them and to drive interested people to download Travltalk. We also needed Terms of Service and a Privacy Policy to have the Ionic version released on the Apple store.

Users responded well to the simplicity of the site and the call to action messaging – ‘Just Landed, What Next?’. Everyone agreed when asked if they understood from the website, who the application was for and what it did.

Website evolution – 2018

Once the React Native rebuild was 75% complete Rhiannon used the remaining funds from the pre seed investment to customise a simple site in Squarespace. This also gave us the ability to link a Travltalk blog to our website, with a pre built CMS back end that would allow us to easily post new information, share social news and articles relevant to further drive organic uptake of Travltalk and easily gather data analytics to enable us to optimise content performance week on week.

July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: Product marketing

Travltalk Brand Development and Testing Travlyfe to Travltalk

Initial brand work had been in 2015 for Travlyfe and also Travltalk. The graphic designer, Lulu was remote and based in Bali. Rhiannon and Lulu had worked well together and Lulu was also familiar with the product evolution.

The Travltalk product was intended to help Millennials connect in authentic manners, with different cultures and go their own way. Therefore, it felt like our app needed an identity that went beyond pure functionality, and represented the culture it supported.

In addition, the Ionic version of the app did not enhance the unique selling points of Travtalk – the ability to not only meet people, but split the cost of things and sell items you no longer need on the road.

Selling the Value Proposition

Initially the three key selling points of Travtalk were Mates, Share, Work. Through user testing, we decided ‘Mates’ was very colloquial and ‘Meet’ was a more universally accepted term that would convey the main drive of the app. ‘Share’ was also indicated as being associated with ‘free’, whereas ‘Split’ was more in line with ‘splitting the bill’. As a result the terms ‘Mates’ and ‘Share’ were changed to ‘Meet’ and ‘Split’.

Further consultation with a friend, Ed Hewitt who had previously launched a Travel Startup, helped us to pivot slightly from ‘Work’ to ‘Sell’.

It was previously identified that the ‘Work’ element of Travltalk would be difficult to launch in the early days, when awareness of our brand and product were low. For ‘Work’ to function we would need to engage with local businesses in all locations we sought to launch Travltalk and ensure that people were listing casual work opportunities. Further, there would be tax and visa implications for Travtalk if we planned to advocate this feature globally.

Ed suggested that travellers often look to sell items as they go and that perhaps this would be an ideal replacement to ‘Work’, while also driving more value for our users in the spirit of what Travltalk was about. The pivot itself was very simple, being only a copy change, as it did not alter the functionality and app design.

In addition, the ‘Sell’ aspect allowed us to compete with apps such as Shpock, Fat Llama and therefore opened Travltalk to a wider audience in terms of our value proposition.

Product Marketing

Working with Lulu, we introduced a recognisable iconography to the Travltalk brand, which gave it a playful nature and distinguished it from other location based dating apps.

Originally we chose a submarine icon for ‘Split’ as it seemed to convey that you could ‘Split’ anything. However, further user testing with different nationalities (French and Spanish) proved that the submarine, and therefore the Split aspect was getting lost in translation. Based on this user feedback we moved to using a Combi van for the ‘Split’ icon.

Colour Evolution

Logo and Slogan Evolution 2015

2015 Brand Direction

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GPFwuFGgmG8hRlI-G5irWdPMQd7g59OL

2017 Brand Direction

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1E1cqyEI8YX6lIDv2n7_5-UZNV4KHppDK

2018 Final Brand

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1fs0D45J_hpzJPlAgh_DYPdQ_WMNpI72I

July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: Prototype testing

Ionic Prototype Product Development

Once the wireframes were created, further testing was done on 18-35 year old people who had travelled and frequently used dating applications.

There were no serious concerns uncovered, so the application moved from design and in to Ionic development.

Ionic Prototype User Testing and Feedback TestFlight Environment

User testing in Apple’s TestFlight proved problematic, once the application was ready for release.

It was important to demonstrate that Travltalk was working in all locations around the world and the geo locations and premium functionality was activated when expected and that the speed of the application met expectations in every corner of the globe.

In addition, the delivery of the Spruce scope of work included a published application on Apple and Google Play stores. It was decided it would be beneficial to release the application in its untested state, to allow public testing and also to confirm the application met the strict requirements to publish on the Apple store.

Therefore, the beta Ionic version of the application was released on the February 7th.

User Testing and Feedback

A total of 10 testers were selected to feedback on Travltalk from a techincal and consumer perspective. A summary of responses is provided as follows:

On boarding

There was no on boarding feature or prompts for users to understand how to start using our application.

Given cards are generated by users, if there are not many cards to sift through, the experience was undermined. In the early days of the Travltalk launch, it would be crucial to ensure users could easily understand our app and know how to tap in to its power.

Users did not see the value of our app when no cards had yet been created

Speed

The decision to build Travltalk in Ionic allowed us to reach a solid proof of concept. However, it was evident that the performance limitations of Ionic at scale could potentially destroy the uptake of our application amongst our global Millennial audience.

In foreign locations where internet may be an issue, we wanted to ensure Travltalk always offered a premium experience based on limited bandwidth

Confirmation Feature

The confirmation function had not been developed in a way that felt seamless. The feature was not currently working in the desired manner.

Android Bugs

Travltalk had been optimised for iPhone and with limited budget

There was not too much we could do to address Android issues without splitting the code base. This would have increased our operating costs.

The main problems appeared in the navigation and refreshing of content in real time

No Brand Personality

While the functionality and overall product design of Travtalk appeared strong, there was no feeling of attachment or joy from the brand.

Live Testing with our Millennial Travel Audience – Tenerife

Rhiannon flew to Los Amigos Backpacker Hostel in Tenerife on February 26th 2018, to live test the Ionic application with Millennial travellers. It was confirmed there was currently no alternative mobile application used to connect with nearby travellers and they all agreed if the application was available with its current features they would definitely use it to discover who may be interested in meeting to share the cost of travel or plan experiences on the island.

Further, Rhiannon befriended the Hostel work crew and asked if they would see a benefit in being paid a commission to recommend our application when users checked in each day.

Confirmation was given that $2 per download was appealing.

July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: Wireframing

Travltalk Initial Sketches

Draft Wireframes – Marvel Application

Spruce Design were asked to mock up crude wireframes that would indicate a user interface and experience that was simple and allowed users to connect via location.

The idea would be that users could connect in a location around three key elements central to travel – meeting to share experiences, splitting the cost of travel with others and to discover local work opportunities should they want to replenish their bank accounts.

The first design of Travltalk was done in Marvel and can be viewed below.

https://marvelapp.com/80abf3/screen/7772808

User Testing of Marvel Wireframes

The Travltalk Marvel wireframes were shown to backpackers in hostels around Sydney, in order to determine if the user interface and experience would match their interest and behaviour.

User Feedback of Marvel Wireframes

Overall reactions to the wireframes were strong. No individual questioned the purpose behind the product and the features it offered made sense to the target audience. 100% of people interviewed agreed they would download the application if it was available.

Further, the audience could not provide an alternative that currently addressed their needs. On this basis, the decision to proceed with a Travltalk prototype build was made based on this initial positive reaction from our target audience.

Travltalk InVision Product Design – Ionic Version

Based on a positive work experience from both sides, Spruce Design were selected to work on the end to end design and development of the Travltalk mobile application that would be published to both Android and Apple. Given this would be a prototype and proof of concept, all efforts were made to keep development lean. They were given a $40,000 AUD budget.

Technical Stack

The decision was made to build the prototype in Ionic. This was due to the ability to use one code base to publish on both iOS and Android at the same time with minimal code variance.

It was flagged that Ionic had some drawbacks around scale, however for the purposes of a solid prototype and to create a proof of concept it best suited our budget and requirements in February, 2017.

At this time React Native was not in a state of evolution fit for product releases so was not considered.

The back end database would be built in SQL and hosted on AWS and payment methods integrated via the back end of the Apple and Google Play stores.

InVision Wireframes

July 2, 2019

Travltalk Product Development Series: Initial testing

Travltalk, was first Travlyfe which would be a free travel information platform that curated the best of local blogs, backpacker user generated content, and practical advice around a searched destination into one, central user interface.

It would connect all the key highlights and local information a backpacker needs to know, when arriving at a new destination, saving Millennials hours of online research and the cost of expensive, out of date, travel guides.

The Business Plan and primary research in to the 18-35 Global Millennial Travel audience can be found in the following Google Drive link:

Initial Customer Testing

Customer interviews with a Millennial audience were conducted at various hostel common rooms around Sydney with backpackers who had recently arrived in to town. The research uncovered that above information, travellers found it challenging to connect with other people in the same location. While the internet provided information around what to do, it was not always easy to connect with others who may be interested in sharing the experience. To fill this gap, many travellers were using Tinder as a means to connect with other single travellers in the area.

This led us to decide that a Travltalk mobile application, that connected users in a chosen location around travel served a core customer need and reflected an underserved market in the Millennial travel sector. It further capitalised on the trend of location based mobile applications and the fact that Millennials were now very comfortable with meeting people they did not know prior in most locations around the world through a location based mobile application they trusted.

The Travltalk application was initially a growth hacking tactic to drive awareness of the #travlye content platform. However, it became apparent the mobile application would in fact offer a stronger and cheaper route to market, with a higher return on investment, given the lower operating costs of a user driven mobile application versus a content platform with multiple touch points.

Therefore, the executive decision was made, based on this initial user research and testing to pivot entirely to support the Travltalk application and leave the #travlye content platform to the side.

However, the market research undertaken for the #travlyfe Business plan remained applicable to the Travltalk product and target audience, on which the market need for Travltalk and the product features are based.

This series will summarises the steps taken to concept, develop and design a user centric location based travel application that reflected the core needs our Millennial audience indicated as important.

They key goal we always came back to with the Travtalk product design was to create a seamless way to solve the problem of how travellers could connect with others upon arriving for the first time in a new location. 0

The 2016 AirBnB Citizen Report reported the following information about Millennial travellers.

  • They don’t mind traveling by themselves, because it’s easier to meet locals that way. (US: 58%; UK: 52%; China: 82%)
  • They say meeting lots of people when they travel is more important than bringing back souvenirs. (US: 54%; UK: 61%; China: 67%)
  • Nearly 60% of Millennials polled in the US and UK say they are looking more for an adventure when they travel, as opposed to relaxing (US: 58%; UK: 59%)
  • 75% or more of Millennials surveyed in each country say they prefer to create their own itinerary, rather than leaving it up to a packaged tour

AirBnB Statistics

  • Every year 150+ million Millennials travel to new destinations
  • AirBnB is active in over 650,000 cities, 191 Countries
  • There are 150 million people using AirBnB (640,000 Hosts)
  • On any given night, 2 million people are staying in AirBnB properties
  • Airbnb’s growth has been propelled by popularity among millennial travellers (those between 18 and 35 years of age)

Tinder Statistics

  • Tinder’s massive growth is attributed to millennials who predominantly use their mobile phones
  • 38% of Tinder’s predominant audience are aged 16-34
  • 76% of Tinder’s users are in urban locations
  • During the FIFA World Cup June 2014 in Brazil, the app experienced a 50% increase in downloads and usage in the country.
  • Primary research indicated 56% of travellers currently use Tinder to meet others while in new cities, although they may not be looking to use it for dating service.

Couchsurfing Research

  • Couching surfing currently offers a location based feature that helps you connect with travellers nearby.
  • It is relatively popular but not well known
  • Further the Couchsurfing brand has some negative connotations
  • This has meant there are not as many Millennial travellers using the platform to connect with other travellers nearby

Current Millennial Traveller Problem

  • It’s not always easy to connect with other travellers nearby
  • Solo AirBnB guests can feel isolated as hosts are busy
  • It’s not always easy to identify other travellers or connect with locals when you first arrive to a new destination or if you are only in town for a short time period
  • Tinder is centred around dating, not meeting to share travel experience
  • It’s not possible to connect with people before reaching a location
  • It’s not easy to find others to share the cost of travel before you arrive and in a location

The research was conclusive – despite being in the same place, at the same time Millennial Travellers have no way of connecting with each other to meet, split the cost of travel and share experiences in an impromptu manner. This gave us the confidence to move forward with the Travltalk product design and wireframes – which we will cover off next week.

July 2, 2019

The definition of sexual harassment by generation

Times they are a changing. What is considered sexual harassment today vs 20 years ago is rather remarkable. I watched Mad Men, end to end. It did a great job of showing how the women started out as secretaries, under the rule of a man, rewarded for total obedience but slowly began to move in to important roles of their own.

I worked for a year in the City of London, in a financial services firm. It was like Wolf of Wall Street. Yet I watched as some of the admin girls quite liked the flirting. And the men were encouraged to do it. Now 10 years later, we have thankfully progressed and this is no longer appropriate. But for those that worked in finance from the age of 20 and learned this behaviour was normal, now have a hard time understanding what is right and wrong. And some wish it could go back to the old times, where ‘women were less sensitive’.

I did not grow up in times of social media, so to meet a guy, they did have to approach you at the bar. There was no other way. Then calling you and texting you non stop was considered sweet. These days people have swiped and liked and chatted before they even reach a bar.

Recently my Dad and I had a chat about his dear friend, who sadly passed over Easter. He was a well respected doctor and in retirement had joined the CES as a volunteer. He was well liked and one day he was talking with another senior colleague and as she walked away he patted her bottom. A junior colleague saw this and reported him. Yet the senior colleague was not offended in the slightest, in fact she found the whole exchange pleasant.

The CES was forced to explore it. The man felt awful, this is not what he wanted to be known for. The girl was right – as that behaviour is not ideal in work, nor is the dominating nature of the act itself. Yet the ‘victim’ did not even identify as one.

I also have close friends, around the age of 45, that do not understand when I tell them their chat is inappropriate. It’s because it was appropriate 10 years ago. When they were dating the acts of bravado, and heavy drinking showcased their manliness. But now this is seen as disrespectful and by not listening to a woman’s wishes, it’s borderline mistreatment. But it’s easy to see why men find it hard to work out the playing field.

At Travltalk, as a female CEO, I also have to ensure I never intimidate or offend the members of my team. In some ways, being responsible for a team of men, means I have to ensure I also don’t compromise male pride and not act at work like I’m around the brunch table from Sex in the City. As we call men to account for their offensive chat, women also cannot band together and make jokes about a man’s size or package.

I would never do that. I do refer to Travltalk as my baby, but I am starting to move away fro that. It implies a maternal connection, when in fact it is time to hand Travltalk to the world. When Henry, my React Native developer released the Travltalk app through the iOS store, I made a joke that it felt like we were giving birth. I’m confident Henry found that amusing, but I wonder if the role was reversed, how the woman would feel. As the times change and equality becomes a norm in the workplace, I will also be ensuring as a female leader I keep up with what is fair for both sides and practice what I preach.

July 2, 2019

Thinking about starting your own company? Learn to code first!

They say coding is the new literacy and I firmly agree. Whether you’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow twice or keep your daily reading to Twitter drama, there’s no doubt that reading is fundamental. Similarly, you might hate math, but you’ll be eaten alive in business if you can’t tackle a budget.

The same is already being said about understanding code, and it’s getting truer every day. You may not want to be a developer, but as the world becomes a pancake-stack of platforms and interfaces, it’s key to learn about how the infrastructure is built and the common principles that drive the modern world.

When I decided to start a tech business, I already had a practical understanding of digital user experience and project managing web applications. Yet I had never been part of the technical decision-making.

I felt this in the pit of my stomach – one wrong decision could cost me my business. What type of platform would Travltalk be built on? How could I know if our product was being architected properly? There are planty of sharks in the tech world, and people who will charge the earth, but not deliver the product you’re expecting. They can walk away, while you’re left with a buggy prototype that crashes outside of a controlled demo.

I decided to take General Assembly’s Full Stack Web Development course. It was 12 weeks, full time, and I entered not knowing anything about HTML5, CSS, Javascript or Ruby on Rails – let alone how to use the Terminal!

In my third week I had built a responsive tic-tac-toe game, and created logic to program the application to deliver feedback depending on user input. By the sixth week I rebuilt Twitter from scratch, following Michael Hartl’s tutorial. It took 8 hours. After building a Backbone app in the ninth week, I truly understood the power of a front-end framework.

For my final project, I rebuilt Airbnb from scratch, with full functionality, and customised it to be AirChef – a platform where chefs could offer to cook at private dinner parties. The ‘hosts’ would advertise the gig, and chefs could apply, with the hosts selecting their preferred cook for their event.

I stopped coding, but now had a lot more answers than when I started. My new understanding of platforms, and how web and mobile worked, gave me a new respect for different programming languages, cloud infrastructure, how front-end and back end frameworks interact, and the time required to complete tasks.

Now I was able to plan effectively around my developers. By pushing features that were already compatible with the framework, we could move quickly. Without knowing how to code, I could have easily sunk tens of thousands into non-trivial features rather than low-hanging fruit. It’s not the developer’s role to shape the product. That has to come from the product owner.

The 12 week course cost me $12,000, but it’s paid back tenfold by saving me from poor technical decisions. As a start up, you’ll receive all types of advice, but at the end of the day, you are the person accountable. By learning to code, you arm yourself with valuable artillery. The sooner you equip yourself with this knowledge, the stronger you will become.

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