Digital consultancy Red Badger designed and built ShareThyme, a platform to connect generations through cooking, at speed. Here’s a look at how they did it and the open question, ‘what’s next’?
At Red Badger we’re forever speaking to people, clients or otherwise, who have brilliant ideas. Not small ones – we’re talking market-changing, behaviour-altering, competitor-leapfrogging ideas. The problem is that they’re just ideas, and without any dedicated resource, capability or budgets, that’s all they remain.
But action is just as important as inspiration. And while we all love a complex corporate challenge here at Red Badger, we’re also advocates of “tech for good” and using our skills to create social impact. It got us thinking; how fast could we go from an impactful idea to a live product?
Day 0: The Brief
Cain, our CEO, gave us a brief to “do something remarkable, for good”, with the following goals:
- A live product with measurable user impact
- Showcase Red Badger’s capabilities from idea creation and validation, to build
With such a wide brief, how do you come up with, let alone select, just one idea?
Day 1: Finding and Validating the Right Idea
We started with a half-day workshop, with a mixture of “badgers” (our colleagues) from different disciplines. We considered a number of hot topics, trends, technology and life certainties, and generated 150 ideas. Many of the ideas were, frankly, awful (umbrellas-as-a-service, anyone?). However, we came out of the workshop with one idea linked to the ageing population and loneliness that resonated with all of us, and a general feeling that we might be onto something.
At this point, we had done no market, competitor or user research, so the next step for us was to spend another half day investigating services that already exist in this space, speaking to the general public, and researching the issue of loneliness.
From the NHS website: “According to Age UK, more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.”
One of our colleagues told us about a firm friendship formed between their friend Tom, and Monju, originally from Bengal, who met in a supermarket in east London. While Tom was shopping for ingredients to cook dinner for his friends, he struck up a conversation with Monju, resulting in a personal cooking lesson from her. Their friendship has continued to flourish, over a love of food and of course, delicious traditional Bengali dishes. What a great idea! How could we use cooking to connect older and younger generations?
Our next step was to get out of the building and test the idea. We created a Facebook advert, targeting over 65s to understand if this was something worth pursuing. The positive feedback we got was overwhelming, and we knew we had validated our idea.
Days 2-9: Building the Platform
Next we set a vision as a team, and defined what success would look like, to give clarity to everyone involved. Our aspirational goal? To bring over 1,000 people together across 30 countries through their love of cooking. We hope to provide older people with 1,500 hours of time spent cooking with a new friend, time that might have been spent alone.
With only a short amount of time, we had a few tricks up our sleeves to facilitate a rapid build.
1. Work in a small, nimble, data-driven, colocated cross-functional team
That means two part-time stakeholders, and a full-time team made up of: one product owner, one delivery lead, one brand designer, one user experience designer, one product designer, one tech lead, two engineers, one test lead.
2. Limit scope
We defined our “Minimum Desirable Product” as two core user journeys; the teacher onboarding, and the student sign-up. Nothing more, no bells and whistles. We’re aiming for good enough, not perfect.
3. Get continuous feedback
We committed to test early and test often, going out on the streets and speaking to people in our network, with everything from paper wireframes to clickable prototypes.
4. Be prepared to pivot or throw it away
We agreed we’d always be ready to pivot, or even trash our idea, as we learnt more.
Starting from zero, we needed to think about everything from defining our audiences, creating a brand, positioning, a go-to-market strategy, and of course, building the platform itself. Using Lean branding, we created and tested a new brand in just a day. A brand name is often a sticking point, and we initially came up with ThymeShare (we thought was funny, see Timeshare) but we changed it as a result of feedback from the public.
Some stumbling blocks arose; how could we attract 65+ year olds to ShareThyme seeing as they don’t engage as much with technology or social media? In fact, we found during our research and testing that these users are pretty email-savvy. For those that aren’t, a phone call is the most natural. So we created a central email address and phone number.
The final brand and positioning we came up with was as follows:
ShareThyme is a free platform that connects older people who love to cook with those who want to learn new dishes. This results in meaningful relationships being formed.
The team worked collaboratively to create seamless user experiences. Due to our time constraints, we knew we wouldn’t be able to automate the onboarding or publishing parts of the site, but we accepted this overhead in the quest for focusing on users first.
Day 10: Beta Launch and Recruiting
Then came the nail-biting part, recruitment, onboarding, and launch. Will users like it? Will they engage with it?
I needn’t have worried. We recruited our cooking teachers through adverts in the Evening Standard and Facebook. As a result, we had many calls, emails and comments from people all over the country. Yes, the onboarding process was painful and manual behind the scenes (personally screening every teacher). But the inspirational and kind-hearted people we spoke to more than made up for it.
At our launch event we held three cooking sessions with six pairs of teachers and students. You can see our video case study of these sessions here. We learned so much during these sessions, what worked and what didn’t. But ultimately, we proved that people from different generations were willing to participate, make connections, and share their love of cooking while having fun.
Following this, we signed up two ex-Great British Bake Off contestants, Val and Selasi, and ran a competition to win a baking session with them. In the process, we’ve spoken to the UK government, to charities, and to corporates. We’ve also been featured in the media, from the Telegraph to Design Week.
What Happens Next?
Let’s face it, Red Badger is a digital consultancy. We are not equipped to run a platform like ShareThyme long-term. We’re still prepared to grow it, and importantly, iterate as we grow, but we need help through partnerships, sponsorships or even ownership. If you think you could support us, please get in touch.
Will we help solve ageing loneliness? We have no idea. But if our platform allows a handful of new connections to be formed over a love of cooking, we’ll have made a difference. And that’s what matters most.