reflecting on the virtual experience and user experience
Lately, I was genuinely excited by the move to all things virtual because of the pandemic. Perhaps I really was super excited that there is finally another way to experience life where there’s a priority on conserving energy and possibility of efficiency. Networking events, conferences, webinars, bootcamps and all that. VCs will tell you contradictory things such as 1. this is not work, and 2. you need to find a co-founder. Great — I will be working on this ASAP.
Part of the excitement is due to the fact that I’m now working on my own product idea, and I’m learning to think critically and constructively critique the app products I get to use. Learning curve barrier is a problem because people generally have developed the habit of having immediate feedback; lack of patience and there is no real incentive to learn when there are other products and apps that are easier to use. Have you ever gotten frustrated by a new mobile reward app? There are just way too many steps to get to a purchase. Generally, it’s an online marketing principle that the more steps you require the customer the take, the higher you can anticipate your drop-off rate to be. Not an entirely groundbreaking insight. Information overload is certainly a thing. Heck, being concise and making complex concepts easy to understand is definitely a worthy skill to hone, if only for communication purposes. It was hilarious when I saw that a new feature from a dating app is including a conversational guide in the form of a decision tree. Were they anticipating users on the app to be idiots? Perhaps they’re trying to replace the human conversation with technology eventually? Part of making it easy to start conversations (or complete any other type of value-added action) within an app is now actually contributing to even more passive behavior from the user, generally raising higher ‘standards’ using faulty and dysfunctional signals such as pictures to make their first impression (and quick, final judgment). Another problem I’ve experienced is that the dating app experience takes away the serendipitous nature of meeting new people, usually without building a prior false sense of knowing. Yet again, it takes time to develop any type of affinity or liking towards a person, beyond perhaps five dates. (This also goes for friendship, and of course it takes way longer if you’re aiming for a break up eventually.). After all, don’t you need to check with their references first, such as their therapists?
Making sure that user experience is a core differentiator that solves the real problem the user has can be difficult to prove. There are other variables at play that can obstruct the delivery of value. There can be a misunderstanding of the value proposition offered. Employers might think that deploying wellness and telehealth consultation apps for their employees as part of the benefits package keep them working harder at their jobs because they can now access a doctor as easy as scheduling a consultation in a meeting room. What about these employees actually needing a break from work and adequate rest?! I would still think the app could work for coordination purposes and if indeed, it could replace the partial hassle of a physical visit at the doctor, for very minor health concerns.
What’s going to happen in five to ten years?
This is everybody’s favorite question at the moment, ranging from VCs to experienced executives in tech companies. There is a lot of hype and trends that can inform these hypotheses. If the history of venture capital is of any significance, investment volume is not necessarily a guarantee of a successful venture, though it’s definitely a signal that the underlying hypothetical change could drive immense societal value.
Things that got my thoughts rolling are:
I. The future of work and education.
My observation on education is that there is a continuous prevalent attitude that it is too expensive, and not pragmatic considering the risks of debt could outweigh the benefits of immediate employment rewards. After speaking with a venture capitalist, the key performance indicator here is retention rates. It makes sense that the school does not want more students to drop-off because that would mean lower revenues. We can see where this conversation is leading to: the methods that educators deploy are catered to the marketability of specific degrees, the completion of such degrees, and not necessarily the depth of learning.
What about the future of work that requires humans collaborating with artificial intelligence? Furthermore, what’s the point of a university education if not for employability? Aren’t we all deriving our value to society through our contribution in employment? This question ignores the impact of innovation through technology. Traditional employment is unlikely to be in the future. Regardless, there used to be an (now perhaps archaic) implicit assumption that people go to elite universities because they want to tackle ambitious goals like changing society for the better. Education startups really do make access and choice possible though they are not perfect and lack the networking effects of communities associated with the reputable school’s brand.
This certainly doesn’t bode well for a society that democratic and requires advanced critical thinking skills of their citizens to navigate an increasingly complex world. Do we think the current education system will be able to adapt? Alternatively, it could be the right time to re-imagine the next generation of EdTech products and identify new performance metrics of effectiveness. Are the current learning outcomes actually useful and applicable to the real world?
II. The difference between “All roads lead to Rome” and “Born in Rome”
Where is the Rome we’re talking here? Are we unanimously going to the same Rome? I can only generalize this for startups raising venture capital money, though a more optimistic side of me leans towards internet democratizing access and reducing the privilege of these roads and birthrights.
III. Figuring out my own personal approach.
Find the person who is the best at what you would like to do, observe and reverse engineer it, then emulate that approach (with flexible variation that applies to your own unique situation, of course).
IV. The necessity of effective communication is to convey nuance, subtlety and accuracy.
Too much communication, too few genuinely great ideas. Storytelling is definitely a skill. Are you triggering enough emotional reactions from your audience? Now that we’ve almost reached the apex of content marketing, how do startups differentiate? It’s almost as if content marketing is now following the rule book of product creation: simplified and immediately digestible snippets that does not require critical thinking abilities and self-reflection from the individual.
Why do you care about the problem?
This is apparently quite important because to understand the customer, the founder most likely need to have the same problem. You’re in healthcare, solving this problem not only because this is an obvious opportunity that can impact a variety of people, but because you’re also solving this problem for yourself. If you have experienced severe illness in the past and have trouble finding the right doctors and medical specialists, then you’re probably the right person to do it. And of course, most recently, my realization that preventive checks are crucial to intervening any late diagnosis in the possibility of cancer. I was also rather discouraged after reading that consulting and other startups have previously tried to tackle the digital personal medical records problem unsuccessfully. Because it’s really not solving the root problem of the lack of timely access, which is an operational problem, caused by poor user experience and uneven distribution of healthcare resources. The next psychological barrier to confront is in the medical specialists’ minds that they are not financially motivated enough to take on additional patients through improving their workflow due to higher taxes. While on the surface, this suggests a barrier to adoption, it also suggests that if there is an enough financial incentive and perhaps other intangible motivating factors, it could work. Well, anything can be hacked. That’s the principle and attitude we want to keep having.