Product: iOS mobile app
Challenge & Scope
While attending the LMU Entrepreneurship Incubator program in 2014, Our challenge was to build a peer to peer learning community that would scale through our mobile marketplace. We were solving a classic chicken and egg problem which required us to create value for two separate users – we couldn’t have one with out the other. We were under a lot of pressure with a highly competitive tutoring market and a very short runway of funding.
I co-founded Toucan, a mobile peer to peer tutoring app. I lead the product design, branding, marketing strategy, and rollout of the service at UCLA in 2015.
- Planning & scope definition
- Competitive analysis
- User research
- Design execution
As a college student I felt the need for a better tutoring service at my university. I constantly saw myself having to be my own tutoring agency. Recruiting the students who excelled in my classes and hiring them as my tutor. This was a problem I became very passionate about because I felt the pain of my user and I was able to quickly recognize the pain points in the college tutoring experience.
- Limited availability of tutors across course subjects
- Scheduling conflicts between tutors and tutee
- Not enough time with tutors (1 hr/ day)
- Tutors lacked teaching experience
Toucan is a peer to peer tutoring marketplace available to college students at UCLA. Students can find tutors on the iOS Toucan app and receive help with coursework and test preparation. Students can also apply to become tutors in the marketplace and set their own rates and time to make money.
- Accepted into LMU Entrepreneurship Incubator program
- LMU Global Entrepreneurship Pitch Challenge award
- Launched iOS app in Apple store
- Raised $20,000 in seed funding
- Acquired 40+ tutors (Math, Science, Engineering, and English)
- Completed over 50 tutoring sessions at UCLA
Our vision was to be the largest on-demand peer to peer learning community in the U.S. by 2025. Toucan members could learn any subject (Academic, Sports, Arts etc.) by passionate educators, conveniently, and affordably. We were on a quest to build richly engaged learning experiences.
The first version of our product strategy was focused on scaling. Our growth strategy was to launch to as many universities in Southern California as possible. We would start with the more well known university such as UCLA and USC and then spread to colleges surrounding those major universities. After capturing the college market our next growth phase was to break into the high school segment.
My first challenge was creating the business plan to identify the business goals of the company. This was also an important step to getting buy-in on our idea by business stakeholders and new team members. We used two documents for this process because our business plan was always changing through feedback. We used the business model canvas to strategize internally and a pitch deck to pitch to investors, advisors, and potential partners.
Our team conducted market and user research to understand the competitor landscape, business goals, and user needs. We started with user surveys to validate our idea. After creating the prototype we used focus groups to get user feedback on our prototype.
During our market research phase we didn’t find much published data on the college tutoring market. Most of the research published was tailored to the K-12 market. However there were three factors that gave us strong validation that our idea had value.
- There were a number of new venture-backed competitors to the market
- Colleges had a large addressable market
- UCLA’s tutoring center, our first campus launch location, was constantly losing funding
We conducted 10 interviews with prospective tutees and another 10 tutors. This allowed us to explore the problem space further and develop archetypes to hone in on our target market.
My Co-founder I began thinking about the content and how it would serve our two separate users’ needs. The site map allowed us to see the product from a high level. It was also a great communication tool to work with our developers. We were in debate of using a flat or deep navigation and decided to use a deep navigation for two main reasons.
- Cost Effective: We could only afford to build one app to serve both sides of the marketplace, so we needed a navigation that supported both.
- Flexibility: More opportunity for building out future features.
One profile for both sides of the market
we created one profile that solved the needs of two separate personas(tutor & tutee). This was most cost effective solution for our development budget. Profiles provided:
- Build trust: We created a 5 star rating & review system to create transparency. This was a standard practice from most online marketplaces.
- Course-specific: Majority of our survey participants said they would prefer someone who had taken their course to understand teaching style.
- Same university: We made sure users created their accounts with school emails. We wanted our users to be in close range with their tutors.
Find a tutor that meets your needs
We designed our search system to optimize the greatest value for both tutee & tutor. Students could find something affordable while tutors can charge based off their experience.
- On demand: Tutees could instantly message a tutor on campus. Our assumption was this would be one of our competitive advantages.
- Variable pricing: We knew the market was fragmented with many different price points. Therefore we allowed tutors to set their price based off their experience and credentials.
- Filter your search: We wanted our users to find the best match as fast as possible so we enabled them to filter their search.
- Instant chat: Instead of creating a tutor request form, we built a chat feature for them to ask questions, take care of scheduling, and send files to get their tutors prepared for the next session.
No more messy payments
We designed the cashless payment system for the convenience of the tutee and the safety of the tutors. Also we were designing for our business needs commission based revenue.
- Session timer: tutors no longer had to stress about tracking the time. Tutee or tutors could set the time and add more time before the sessions ended.
- Cashless payment: We learned in our tutor interviews tutors had trouble collecting payments for client. At same time online payments were the future and we wanted to make it easier on our users.
- Rating & Review: We wanted to maintain a consistent level of quality service. This also incentivized our tutors to perform well.
Toucan was finally approved by the apple store. We wanted to get some customer validation before rolling out our marketing campaign. We recruited tutors and professors at UCLA to pilot the app. These were our main concerns.
- Profile feature: Our profile system put to much stress on the user (usability)
- Course specific: Not as important as we thought (utility)
- On demand: Users wanted a scheduling feature more than on-demand. (utility)
- Minor bugs: Students had trouble registering and adding payment (reliable)
We began sketching new features and restructuring the tutee workflows for the next re-design of Toucan.
Toucan was launched on October 9th, 2015 at UCLA. Even though our app was far from ready for launch we began our roll out on Bruin Walk promoting our service, signing up students, and offering $20 off their first session. We knew that our early stages of the launch would require us to provide most of the service manually and to on-board them on the app once they earned our trust.
We learned recruiting more tutors than tutees will cause our tutors to drop off our service. Also our customers were not in love with our tutoring service. We were still searching for our minimum lovable product.
- Tutors drop off when they aren’t getting clients
- Tutee were motivated to use the service right before midterms
- average customer lifetime value was 1-2 session a quarter.
We ended the fall quarter with some great feedback on our service however we still didn’t have a proper product to market fit. We learned we need to be iterating faster in order to build something our users loved. We decided to make these further iterations without the app. It was costing us too much money to iterate the app and was taking to long to implement those changes.
- Hand crafted service: Provide the service manually like a traditional tutoring business and figure out how to scale through experimentation.
- Math tutoring: Specialize in the most critical subject then scale to more subjects once you have figured out the model.
- Tutor screening: Develop a extensive hiring process to hire the best tutors and then you can provide the best tutoring experience.
- Don’t get attached to your ideas: Figure out how to validate your ideas in the fastest and cheapest way possible. Try to test multiple design solutions simultaneously.
- Success Metrics: Be very honest with yourself- clearly identifying how your product solution solves your user and business needs.
- The “A Team”: Recruit the right team for the problem you’re trying to solve (passion, technical ability, speed, and cultural fit).