So, one thing that future batches of CS3216 students can learn from my team is that talking to your users is key. My previous blog post was listening to feedback. But all these people we talked to were not our end-users. For many apps, the users are it’s currency. And at the time of the previous post we had talked to exactly none.
The problem is that while the feedback may be great to hear, it wasn’t strong enough for us to change direction. On hindsight, we should have went straight to VWOs instead of linking ourselves up with people who knew VWOs and volunteers. That was exactly what we did around 4 weeks before STePS, when we went down to St. Joseph’s Home in Mandai(!), and talked to Geraldine, their volunteer manager.
We found out that the needs of the VWOs were more than we could accomplish in a month. It wasn’t just tracking but a whole host of other interconnected problems, from before volunteering begins, when they recruit volunteers and screen them, to after volunteering when they want to engage them. Verifying volunteers’ attendance at first seemed like a well-defined problem, but after speaking to Geraldine we realised that most volunteers don’t actually have the level of incentive that we had envisioned, and even if we could solve, that there just was not much demand.
There is a saying by Paul Graham that
“A startup founder should be writing code and talking to users. That’s it.”
We got the writing code part down, but again it was talking to users that was the missing link.
In hindsight, maybe it was just easier not to talk to the users, I think the mentality that we as programmers (or at least I) have is that “talk is cheap” and I would rather someone just “show me the code”, which I still think is true. If only I could have convinced my past self that while that is true in programming iteslf, building a product isn’t the same thing. Other people are involved in the creation, the main and maybe only important group being users, and understanding their needs is the core of whether that creation has a reason to exist.
I think personally talking has always been something I was lacking in, and I’m glad at the very least CS3216 reminded me of how much I needed to improve in this aspect.