Johanna Kollmann's blog posts:
Posted on 9th April 2013 by Johanna Kollmann -
We spent Wednesday evening to Friday afternoon not doing client work, but hacking away during the first Sidekick Balaganathon.
After a round of pitching, three ideas survived the dot-voting, and the Sidekicks broke into three teams (aiming for a balance of skills). We'd like to share with you what we made; this first post is about the winner, Sidetracked.
The design problem
You are taking the train from Scotland down to London, and you have some time. You’d like to get off the train somewhere along the way, to walk around a historic town centre, discover interesting architecture, check out a local museum, or savour a pint in a cosy pub. But how do you find out where is good?
The usual way is to find your route on a website like nationalrail.co.uk or Wikipedia, then do multiple web searches for each station along the way to find something interesting.
Mark pitched the idea of a tool that would accomplish this in one step, focussed on a small number of types of attractions. The Sidekicks voted for it, and Johanna and Alex joined his team to help build it. We called it Sidetracked.
Sidetracked - Discover historic sites, museums and pubs along your train route
Sidetracked shows you what route has the most interesting gems to discover, and makes it easier to plan your trip. Enter where you are leaving from and travelling to, and we’ll show you the top historic sites, museums and pubs along the way.
We love Sidetracked for discovering places to visit, and for finding some hilarious Foursquare places and tips. Very happy to have built something fun and useful for ourselves!
How we built it: the data
We started out by researching data about all the train stations in the UK to allow us to show the routes, and we explored APIs and databases we could use for the recommendations. We decided to focus on historic sites, museums and pubs (ideally those with good beers and real ales), and ended up using the Foursquare and Untappd APIs.
While there is a lot of information available about heritage sites and listed buildings, we couldn’t find any APIs and only a few accessible databases. The most promising one we found was Kasabi’s English Heritage dataset (backed up on archive.org after Kasabi shut down). Unfortunately it’s in RDF format, which none of us had experience with. Converting this large set to CSV with Ruby was an option, but would have taken too long.
For the train times, we are using Realtime Train Info’s API. We had to map the train stations in order to generate a route, and discovered that NaPTAN, the dataset we found via data.gov.uk, had each station, but in Ordnance Survey Grid Reference format. Foursquare requires latitude and longitude. Luckily Alex found this reference for how to convert the data, and did some manual wrangling to make it all work.
The learning: there is less accessible open data out there than we were hoping for. Don’t underestimate the effort it takes to get data into shape.
How we built it: a focused approach
Mark had a very clear vision for Sidetracked. We decided that it had to work for our parents: tourists who are keen to explore Britain’s history and pubs, who will plan ahead, who will use the information on the go, who might not have data on their phones, and who are probably not Foursquare users. This helped us prioritise our efforts during the hackathon, and it also gave us a clear idea of what we still have to build to make it useful for them.
You can see our backlog and an overview of what we’ve built over on Sidetracked.
The learning: making something useful for yourself works. Having a very clear idea of your ideal user allows you to focus your efforts. A leader with a clear vision can settle debates quickly.
Posted on 5th October 2012 by Johanna Kollmann -
This post is written by Emily Underwood, design lead for League of Meals.
Vision, Purpose and Values
Purpose was a recurring theme at the Mind the Product conference, which is reassuring to hear as we have felt very strongly about sticking to our core values throughout the development of League of Meals. Although we've pivoted and experimented with business models, we have maintained our goal to change how people cook, and reduce household food waste. It's not always been easy, but as Tom Hulme suggested in his talk 'Is Purpose the new Pivot?', “if it was easy everyone would be doing it”. Too true.
Maintaining a clear vision and questioning everything in relation to our purpose will ultimately lead to a more grounded and informed product. We now have a business model we really believe in, which reflects our purpose and values, evidence for us that the concept is solid. We've definitely “been stubborn on vision but flexible on details” as Marty Cagan put it.
Validation vs Conviction
At Mind the Product, Tom Hulme talked about the stages of a startup, going from 'Ignorant Optimism' to 'Informed Pessimism' before reaching the 'Informed Optimism' stage. After months of hard work, we have now reached informed optimism. We have validated and refined our concept of a "cooking course in a box". People we speak to are expressing interest, and respond well to the fact that you can learn at home. We know that the offline and online aspects of the concept appeal, and that cooking without following recipes and using surprise ingredients differentiates us from what else is out there. Good signs, especially as our customer development chats have led to our first volunteers for the trial!
Meal planning game playing sheets
To make sure we were on the right track, we tested our assumptions about how people approach cooking by developing a meal planning game. We provided a list of ingredients and asked Sidekickers to come up with a week's worth of meals they would make from them.
Our big question was if people can and are willing to create a variety of meals from a list of pre-selected ingredients without consulting any recipes or the internet. Turns out they all can, to varying degrees of ability!
We were also keen to see if we can re-create the social experience we achieved with our real-world cooking sessions. The game encouraged people to share what they cook, how they cook, and their favourite ingredients, and everybody was curious to see what others had come up with. The game was a quick and clever way to test our list of ingredients, and the social interactions we are aiming to facilitate.
Where we are now
- The first 'cook box prototype' (with a list of ingredients with corresponding food ideas and course content) is being trialled by our first guinea pigs.
- We've decided on using an existing tool to prototype the online community and sharing experience (most likely a Facebook group).
- We're establishing what metrics to consider. Behavioural economics refers to them simply as 'what to look out for' and Tom Hulme emphasised “metrics to track purpose”. A useful way to arrive at metrics is to reverse the build-measure-learn loop: based on initial learnings we create a prototype focused on what we want to measure, then we build our product according to our validated learnings. This will be a useful exercise; we are aiming to continue customer development with conviction, get insights and only start building the tech layer when we have users who can help with validation.
We are excited to satisfy both our users' hunger and expectations. Bring it on.
If you are interested in helping out or participating in our trial, please get in touch and email email@example.com! There'll be food...
Posted on 18th June 2012 by Johanna Kollmann -
It's been a while since the last League of Meals weeknotes, and a lot has happened!
Food Revolution Day, "multi-variant flyers" and newsletter
On the occasion of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day, League of Meals got together with the People's Kitchen at Passing Clouds and the Best Before Project to organise a community event at St Mary's Secret Garden.
Eating outside in the garden. We couldn't have hoped for better weather!
We cooked, we socialised, we ate!
It was interesting to see our 'pioneers' cook with volunteers from other groups, and the event was a great success, with more than 80 people stopping by. We used it as an opportunity to learn more about people's cooking habits through conversations, and by launching a survey that we also shared online. We had built up a lot of assumptions about how often people cook, how they plan their meals, and how the number of people you cook for affects this. The survey not only returned interesting data (some of my assumptions were certainly wrong), but also helped us find people for the next round of customer development interviews. We simply put "Thank you very much! If you would be up for a 15-minute interview about your cooking habits, please leave us your email address" at the end of the survey.
As Lane Halley puts it: "Surveys are good for screening leads, not gathering insight."
We also started publishing a weekly newsletter to test what content people are most interested in (thank you MailChimp analytics), and keep the engagement going. At the event, we handed out a flyer about League of Meals, and cards with food ideas. Each had a different way to sign up to our newsletter, so we could see which generated more signups. "Multi-variant flyers". Small efforts like that will help you learn!
A pivot towards a business model we're excited about
It has been fascinating to see some our cooking session participants (including ourselves!) change, become more adventurous, more confident, and more familiar with spices and vegetables they hadn't come across before. People who said that they 'can't do much' are now making amazing dishes, and are embracing experimentation - it's ok to risk something unusual, it will get eaten, and we learn from and get inspired by our mistakes.
The 'social return of investment' we are aiming for:
- improve eating habits
- encourage creativity & learning
- reduce household food waste
- digital inclusion
- social inclusion
How can we turn all of our learnings into a sustainable business that is different to what's out there already? We jotted lots of ideas down on index cards, sorted them to understand how they were related, and used the business model canvas to think our top three concepts through in more detail.
Step 1: Ideastorming via modified KJ method. Step 2: elaborate prioritised ideas via a business model canvas.
We decided on one of them, which we pitched at the Independence Matters programme event. The feedback from investors was useful, and we know what information we need to bring to future conversations.
I won't give away what the concept is exactly, but I believe we have found a way to take the experience we've created offline, scale it, and make it digitally accessible to a wider audience.
We need to nail which elements of the proposition matter most to the customers we have in mind and validate the value proposition through more qualitative interviews, while developing the product further. Our riskiest assumptions are about food content production and the sourcing and delivery of the physical products involved. For this, we need to talk to a food business person, and ideally a chef with teaching experience. If that is you, or if you know anybody who we should talk to, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on 26th April 2012 by Johanna Kollmann -
Last time, I left off just before our 'vision check and lessons learned' workshop. Since then, we worked on our mission statement and messaging, got feedback (and their life stories) from our cooks over coffee, ran another cooking session, met with other organisations such as Shoreditch Spa, the Best Before Project and Waste Watch, and talked to a range of people, from campaigners and food tech startup founders to older people at the Sundial Centre. With help from Stephen, an update to our website is in progress.
We're hosting another fundraising dinner next Friday, May 4th. You can find details and tickets here. You are cordially invited to come along, and if you are extra-nice, please help us spread the word.
Finding our voice: "What makes the story worth telling?"
Explaining League of Meals to someone is an opportunity to get feedback and test our messaging. A key objective over the past few weeks was to focus, and state what we do more clearly. We are passionate about reducing food waste in the household, and our cooks have ideas and knowledge about how to use ingredients efficiently. How do we talk about this in a fun way? "Cook better, waste less!"? "Use your loaf!"?
We discussed our tone of voice, words and phrases we want to be associated with, and what reaction we want to evoke. We tested our first draft copy with a few people, and, well, we still sounded a bit dry and not fun enough. Applying these lessons learned, we are experimenting with the copy on our homepage, and in conversations.
Work in progress on our mission statement. The tagline that came out of it tested badly!
Brainstorming keywords. After testing our messaging, we wanted to come up with more fun, down-to-earth language.
The values we bring to our work
Working on the brand and messaging led to a discussion about the values we want to communicate, but also the values we bring to our work. Your passion for a problem worth solving, your vision, are based on your underlying values. Human beings are driven by intrinsic values such as freedom, equality and creativity, and extrinsic values like power or preservation of public image. Everybody experiences tension between these two. (Read more about this topic over here).
We found it helpful to reflect on our motivations when planning our next steps, and even though the two of us collaborate all the time, taking time out to share why we care has been important to make sure we're still aligned. Going forward, we're applying values to how we frame our communication, and to how we can engage people in a positive way.
Iterating the "prototype"
The cooking sessions are our prototype, and we are getting better with each one. We have seen an increase in collaboration and team spirit amongst our cooks. We are changing a few things each time, with the goal to facilitate working creatively together rather than cooking on your own. Together, all of us are coming up with more and more ideas for using the ingredients as best as we can - leftover bread is turned into breadcrumbs, cauliflower stalks can make a warm salad or pesto, and our cooks share tips for storing leftovers with each other.
Part of the team in the kitchen
Their sense of achievement is so motivating - "what we're doing with these vegetables is like turning straw into gold", says Paula. Listen to her telling the story of Rumpelstiltksin.
So, what's next?
Community engagement needs time. If we want to get more people engaged locally, we have to spend a lot more time getting to know people at Fellows Court, and winning their trust. To make League of Meals more visible to the local community, we are currently planning an event for the 19th of May, the date of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day. We are talking to potential partner organisations at the moment, so expect news on this in our next week notes!
Posted on 29th March 2012 by Johanna Kollmann -
Last time, I wrote about our first cooking session, and how we realised that we need to improve our outreach to people who might be interested in paying for our cooks' food and services.
To bring the audience and the cooks together, League of Meals hosted a supper club last Friday. After a feedback workshop with our cooks, we were keen to improve the cooking experience. The supper club would allow us to expose an audience to the cooks, the League of Meals brand and experience, and get direct feedback. Additionally, the event would be an opportunity for media coverage and content creation.
Before embarking on organising the supper club, we listed:
- key open questions about the LoM proposition
- our strategy to clarify those
- what success would look like.
This was useful as guidance for the team while I was on holiday, and made it much easier to analyse our learnings from the event. Iterating and learning requires reflection, and checklists like this one facilitate this.
Below are a few impressions from the supper club:
The dining table
Paula preparing ingredients
The cooks share recipes with the guests
BBC Radio London 94.9 FM came along to try the food and report about League of Meals. We were live twice during Drivetime with Eddie Nestor.
Rick Crust from the Hackney Healthy Eating Project, Silver Surfers Talking Food Group sneaked into the kitchen with is camera.
Good news first.
The supper club was a quality experience that attendees were happy to pay for, and we got some great feedback:
"Fabulous! Amazing three course meal, great atmosphere, a really special evening. Thank you. Especially liked meeting and hearing from the local chefs, inspiring!"
"Delicious - I’ll definitely come back!"
The food tasted good, and diners especially enjoyed meeting the cooks and hearing from them how they prepared the dishes. It was rewarding for the cooks to get direct feedback.
We also got a good indicator on how much people were willing to pay, and made enough money to cover costs for kitchen and materials, and some profit to be invested in the next iteration.
Via Twitter, we got more feedback on the concept, and more views and followers.
What didn't go so well?
The short time to organise the supper club meant less time to invite people along to eat, less diners than we had hoped for, and fewer cooks who could make it. For several reasons, we also got less documentation and content than planned. A broken dishwasher made cleaning up afterwards time-consuming, with very tired cooks leaving rather late.
We have yet to catch up with the cooks, and I'm sure they will have more feedback on how it went for them.
I wish I had known then what I know now
While one of our next steps is to iterate the supper club, at the moment we are sense-checking the original bigger vision for League of Meals against what we know now, and didn't know before. Many food-related business models started from a real-world experience (restaurant) or personality (a chef). Recipe apps, cooking classes, dining events - take Jamie Oliver or Great British Chefs, all of them create revenue through multiple streams rather than just one product. The supper clubs are one way to building an identity and brand that allows us to diversify the offering, but not the only one. Does our wider vision still hold true, and are we on track to get there?
Following a visioning/focus workshop early next week, we will make a plan for the following months, building on what we have. Potentially investing in content production, our website, and PR activities. I'll tell you more in the next week notes.