The start up — What’s Happening On Campus (WHOC)

What’s Happening On Campus Ltd (WHOC) is a student-based marketing platform designed for business within university communities. The platform was created due to the growing demand for students wanting to find the best local student deals and discounts. WHOC platform offers student incentives to shop locally by rewarding them based on their spending.

Students view exclusive offers on the mobile app for from local merchants, get directions to visit the shop and redeem the WHOC offers from the merchants by showing the app. They will collect WHOC points by simply scanning the QR code on the app. WHOC points will allow them to enjoy FREE items.

Merchants can manage their WHOC account from their dashboard. It allows them to enter offers, views transactions, send push notifications, and view business analytics.

There is a separate dashboard for WHOC admin to monitor both student app and merchant activities, view analytics, and manage WHOC points. WHOC admin dashboard provides a snapshot of the business from a single place.

Under the hood:

The journey started with an email from Chris, founder of WHOC who is the driving force for the success of this project. As a recent business graduate and an active member of his university’s Entrepreneurs Club, Chris already worked on the idea for a few months including conducting initial market research by talking the to local merchants and students. He prepared a detailed deck on the business model, user flow and even an initial mock-up of the app.

The next step was to find a development partner to turn the idea into a product. He looked into all the possibilities: partner up with a couple of university students to build it or hiring full-time staff or work with overseas or a local agency. Each option has its pros and cons. In the first option, he had to share equity and it was challenging to find the right co-founders. Hiring a full-time developer is challenging and risky for an early-stage startup. Moreover, one developer may not have all the skills needed to build the project. So at first, he contracted Nottingham based development agencies. Looking at the initial idea, the responses were not encouraging. They either highlighted the technical challenges in the project or quoted a massive amount for an early-stage startup. Next, he started contacting London based agencies as he already moved to London. Pinro was one of the companies in London he found in Clutch.co and sent an inquiry email about his idea. After a couple of email exchange and a quick phone meeting, we met at Pinro HQ. Chris sent us the deck before the meeting and it helped us to get a better insight about the project. The first meeting was really exciting. The energy of an early-stage startup should be contagious. We were impressed by the conviction, enthusiasm, and drive of Chris for his idea. Interestingly, he also liked us for our energy and passion for our work. So mutual respect was formed in the first meeting and Chris choose our small team over other large agencies in London and Nottingham.

“I found them on Clutch, funnily enough, while looking for software developers that could help me unveil this idea that I had. One of the reasons I picked them was that I wanted a small, niche team that could focus on what I was doing.”

In the beginning, we decided to complete the project in two phases: minimum viable product (MVP) and the full version. We planned to complete the MVP in three months and start testing with the early adopters and retailer so that we get the valuable insights and refine the product plan for the full version. As the official launch was planned at the academic session of 2019, we planned and delivered the project accordingly.

One of the important lessons for the startup founders working with a tech partner is to consider as a team rather than a traditional client-agency relationship. Flexible mindset and healthy team dynamics are essential. There can be hundreds of unknown factors that can go wrong and the team should adapt to the change.

We devised a set of clear communication procedure. A summary email was sent after each meeting with the points we discussed, the decision taken and the actions. We also used the following tools for our communication:

Dropbox — sharing assets and files

Google Sheets — logs for feature and testing

Zeplin — Sharing design and feedback

“All of the project management was done using Scrum. Google Sheets and Dropbox were our main project tools, and they used a versioning app to share their work. We communicated primarily via email.”

Planning for the MVP is very important. It’s tempting to add many features to test at the MVP stage which may increase the development time and generally falls out of the scope of MVP. On the other hand, MVP set the tone for the complete project and built the foundation. So we always ensure the MVP is built on a solid foundation, flexible in terms of design pattern and can be used as the initial phase of the full version of the app.

To create an initial awareness, a landing page is launched at the beginning of the MVP stage. The first step of the MVP was the user experience (UX) design. WHOC is a multi-sided platform so there are three main stack-holders:

  1. Students
  2. Merchants
  3. WHOC admin

So we prepared different user journeys, use cases and persona for each stack-holder. There will be a different experience for each of them. Students will use the iOS and Android mobile app to view the offers and rewards, merchants will use the web dashboard to manage offers, rewards and view user analytics, and WHOC admin uses a separate web dashboard to manage all merchants, offers, view analytics and perform other responsibilities. We had a couple of meeting with Chris to define the user journeys and user flows for both the app and the dashboards.

“Pinro did some initial market research to build on what I’d already done. Using their findings, they developed an idea that was more viable and user-friendly.”

The next phase was to design the user interface (UI). The first step of the UI design is to define the design direction and design elements. As WHOC already had a logo and we prepared the UI for the app using the brand colours to keep the consistency in the brand language. The design was shared with Chris via Zeplin for his feedback. After a couple of minor adjustments, we agreed on the design for the MVP for both the mobile app and the dashboards.

“The team covered the project from the initial concept to the MVP stage. They built a backend, a frontend, and a dashboard, all with supporting APIs.”

At this age, regardless of the type of application that we are developing, chances are that we are developing for the cloud and multiple different platforms (i.e. mobile, desktop, web). The ultimate goal is to have that application be a participant in an ecosystem of services. In this case, we are to develop a mobile application that would be connected and managed by a dashboard of admin and merchant users. Considering this, we have agreed on an API-first approach. WHOC APIs will be at the centre of the infrastructure as a single point of truth, serving the client applications — WHOC iOS and Android app, WHOC merchant dashboard and WHOC admin dashboard. Any third-party API (i.e. payment service provider etc.) would be accessed through the WHOC API without any direct link to the client application. This would make the system reliable, flexible and less expensive to move to different third-party API, as the most code changes would happen in one place. Following diagram reflects the system architecture of WHOC system.

We have applied agile SCRUM methodology to the project, worked on features prioritising them based on their value and importance to the application. WHOC team was regularly involved in team meeting every week throughout the process, in demonstration of the developed features. Everyone was aware of the project progress and change management was a breeze. MVP was launched within 3 months as planned. Both iOS and Android app were submitted in the App Store and Play Store, WHOC dashboards and admin dashboards were available for early user testing.

We had daily meetings and catchups until I went back to working full-time. The app became a side project for me, and they were very understanding. They adapted to my schedule and continued to provide changes quickly when I requested them.”

As we planned together with the MVP and full-scale project, the transition from the MVP stage to the full-scale version was seamless. Having a functional mobile app and dashboards helped us to get valuable user feedback as they can use the app and the dashboard. It removed any confusion or assumption if we only show them a mockup. As a team, we curated feedbacks to incorporate in the full version. We made a major change in the user flow of the WHOC mobile app based on our testing on the MVP.

A key lesson for an early startup is to identify the objectives for each stage of development and make a plan accordingly.

The next phase was building the full-scale version of WHOC. All the learnings, insights and groundworks made our life easier. We had a new design of the app with a new logo and branding. After a few months of solid dev work, the app and the dashboard was ready for the initial testing.

At first, we completed our internal testing and shared user testing document with WHOC team for external testing. In the testing phase, we fixed a few unexpected bugs and also refined the overall system.

One of the learning is product development never ends and there is always a scope for improvements. As a startup founder, it’s key to identify the prioritise and manage the development effort efficiently.

Under the hood:

Core technologies behind the WHOC platform are: NodeJS, MongoDB, Google Cloud Platform, Google AppEngine, NGINX, Android, iOS, Stripe Connect

It has been another amazing journey for us. We closely worked with WHOC team to understand the motivation behind the project, contribute to the refinement of the idea, presented potential technical solutions and successfully completed the project as a team.

Pinro put in the time to understand my vision, and this helped them make the best product possible. They take pride in what they produce, and this made me feel like we were all part of the same team.”

Also, their flexibility and willingness to take on new requirements was fantastic. They adjusted their work without modifying the price, which I didn’t expect them to do.”

How can we help you?

If you are a startup founder looking for a tech partner, we love to hear from you. Let’s talk.

Full review on us by Chris can be found here: http://bit.ly/2ztmphq

Links:

The waiting is over and WHOC app is now available on App Store and Play Store. Currently, the app is open to the students of Nottingham University and students from other universities can join soon.

WHOC website: www. whoc.co.uk

WHOC iOS app: https://apple.co/2MhcscM

WHOC Android app: http://bit.ly/2AK2U4E