Feedback from the Field Moving from Ideation to Prototyping

 

CONTEXT

Last quarter, we identified and interviewed students who dropped out of college. After synthesizing the data we collected in those interviews, we came up with themes and insights. This quarter, we have been working on utilizing the themes and insights we created last quarter to develop potential solutions. Last week, we went through the rigorous process of narrowing two hundred concepts that we had created down to five. This week, we chose a top three from those five. Then, we created business plans and began sharing our idea with users, stakeholders, and subject matter experts.

 
TOP THREE CONCEPTS

Concept 1: Casa

Casa is a co-living environment for people pursuing alternative education.

Many of the individuals that we interviewed last quarter were pursuing some form of alternative education, from taking online learning courses to bootcamp programs to reading books on topics they wanted to explore. We noticed that it was very important for people to see others pursuing alternative education pathways (and being successful) in order to feel empowered to devote their efforts towards that (rather than a degree program or school).

As such, we developed Casa to create a solution that provided a shared space for all individuals pursuing alternative education to connect and to easily know where to go to meet people who were carving out their own education and career pathways. We decided upon a living environment because we hypothesized that housing was typically a challenge for students pursuing alternative education (as they move off campus leaving degree programs or move to a new city for a bootcamp).

We spoke with two individuals this week who both helped validate some aspects of this concept and challenged aspects of this concept. The first was an individual who started a non-profit organization which identified folks who were not currently seeking a degree, enrolled them in a online university program, and offered a co-living environment for them. The second was a graduate of a bootcamp who is now working as an entrepreneur.

We began both conversations with the intention of learning about their experiences. Our goal in the conversation with the nonprofit founder was to learn of the ways in which the co-living environment provided support for its residents or did not. In the process, we learned that the environment actually came to be a restrictive one for its residents. In comparison to our conversation with the bootcamp graduate, we imagined that when residents are proactively working towards a common goal co-living is seen as a very positive support.

We also learned that while co-living can offer opportunity for additional support, it can also come with additional complications (from melding emotions of residents and grapplings with mental health issues). This is something we are very interested in investigating further and hope to learn more about in our future conversations.

With Casa, our next steps are to interview people who live in and manage coliving spaces. We have one interview scheduled currently with the director of living learning communities at the University of Michigan.

 

Concept 2: LaunchPad

LaunchPad is a website resource, where people can build their own alternative education roadmap to discover, visualize, and share their self-learning paths. In our research, we found that people need a way to visualize their alternative education in order to see gaps in their skills, reflect on their decisions, and move forward towards a goal.

This week, we talked to two people about this design concept. The first was an alumni of University of Michigan, who designed her own degree via their Individual Concentration Program. This allowed us to better understand how colleges are validating alternative paths even within their own system. We learned about the expectations for someone creating their own degree and what requirements they still had to complete.

The student had to create their own roadmap of courses that they believed would round out their education in their requested area of concentration, then it needed to be approved by faculty. At the end of their university studies, the student was required to write a 40 page independent thesis, which was a the culmination of her learnings from the variety of courses. In our research with college dropouts, we found that having a physical output (that illustrates your skills and learnings) from a course of study allowed students to reflect on what they learned and how it fits in to the bigger picture. For this student, creating a 40 page thesis forced her to reflect on what she had learned through all her courses and allowed her to create a physical piece of evidence of her learnings.

The second person that we talked to regarding this idea was a web development bootcamp graduate. We were interested to understand how he has presented his alternative education background to employers. From this conversation, we learned that he found employers to be more interested in the projects he’s worked on and his skills over his education. Another example of a physical representation of your skills valued higher than the education received.

Overall from talking to these people as well as a message conversation with a recruiter, we learned that in order to validate your learnings to others, it is important to have something to show for it physically. Universities have a strict but supportive process for carving out your own degree.

This upcoming week, we hope to connect with career changers and recruiters to understand how they are displaying and evaluating skills gained through alternative education.  

 

Concept 3: Network Nearby

Network Nearby is an app that connects people one-on-one over topics they’re interested in. It makes it easy to find connections close by with people outside of your social sphere.

Through our data, we found that people who were able to build strong networks felt more empowered to grow and create new goals. We also discovered that many people struggle to create these networks of people due to difficulties finding the right environment to create connections. Many participants found parties and large networking events overwhelming and draining to attend.

We spoke with three individuals to get feedback on our concept of Network Nearby: a introverted entrepreneur, a introverted professional, and an introverted connector of people. We entered each of these conversations with the intention of learning more about how people connect with others and what inspires them to do so. Across the board we heard one thing very loud and clear: the idea of networking is a bad one. People feel that even the word networking assumes that the one initiating it is doing so for self serving purposes. Each felt that connecting with people was best when it was for a mutually beneficial reason or for the sake of a larger cause or project.

That being said, we also heard that connecting with people 1:1 is always better than having to connect with people in a group. The introverted professional believed there was value in connecting with new people but felt overwhelmed and was discouraged from doing so by the process of actually arranging a meeting. The introverted entrepreneur felt networking was necessary and wished there were a tool (like our app) which made it even easier to do so. He even spoke of an app he already used that was very similar but said it did not have enough users to make it worth it.

Another tactic we took this week was to try out one of our competitors, BumbleBizz. We both downloaded the app and created a profile to start reaching out to people. Even just filling out the profile, we ran into several red flags that were pain points for us as users. For instance, being required to select education or employment (as seen in the image below). What if you don’t have one of these? While we have yet to meet anyone over this platform yet, it has given us a couple ideas about what not to do on our own platform.

BumbleBizz

From this we learned, that it is important that people connect over a shared value or interest. People need to feel like they are serving something more than themselves, whether that be a project they are working on, a role they want to do better for their company, or even an idea they are promoting. We found that apps that seemed almost identical to the ones we are hoping to develop are now defunct because of poor usage or lack of funding.

This upcoming week, we hope to talk to more individuals who have experience connecting strangers or bringing people together. We want to know what works well for these meetups and what is not working. We also plan to be very flexible with molding our final solution. We hope to learn from the successes and failures of things that exist and are working now and things that don’t exist anymore.

 

How You Can Help!

This week, we will be working on pushing forward each of these concepts. And, for that, we want to speak with more people. We are looking to connect with…

  • individuals who are recently or currently enrolled in a bootcamp
  • individuals who manage a co-living environment for students
  • recruiters/hiring managers
  • career changers who do not have formal education in their new field
  • anyone who has created a solution that allows otherwise strangers to connect on a deeper level, such as meetup organizers, AA organizers, employees at BumbleBizz, etc.

If this sounds like you, we want to hear from you! If this sounds like someone you know, tell them we want to hear from them. We are scheduling 30 minute conversations.

You can reach us at sara.miller@ac4d.com and kelsey.greathouse@ac4d.com