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I’d say that my journey into the product world started just about as close to when I was in the womb as possible. The daughter of a tech venture capitalist (hi Dad!), new ideas, new companies, and new products always surrounded me. Without even realizing it, by age 9 or so I was jotting down ideas for new products that solved issues in my day-to-day life. Perhaps I could figure out a way to capture the energy from revolving doors to light the entranceways of buildings? Or maybe I could enable people to choose the exact seat they wanted on a flight? Unfortunately, these ideas failed because A) revolving doors don’t create that much energy, and B) apparently people could already choose their seats on flights (unknown to my 12-year-old self who had never booked a flight). But overall, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had an itch to create new things that would positively impact the world.
Last summer, I worked on the marketing team for a business analytics company. While I loved my time spent on customer research, market analysis, and marketing campaigns, I was always eager to spend as much time as possible on the product floor. Every few weeks when we had our company wide sprint review, I would frantically take notes on what the product team had been up to. I sat there like a sponge absorbing everything; every word they said was important to me and I wanted to remember it. I loved the way they thought about their products, how they worked as a team, and how their day-to-day work was to create something meaningful.
Flash-forward about six months, I was yet again applying to summer internships. The more companies I applied to, the less excited I became about yet another 12-week internship sitting at a desk. Every position I felt I had the necessary experience for was not something I could get excited about. I itched to learn more about product teams at tech companies, to build a relevant skillset, and to develop both professionally and personally. One day, in a passing conversation with a friend, she mentioned iXperience and told me to checkout the website. Instantly, I knew it was the program for me. It had everything I was looking for, and most of all; it has a course in Product Management. After meeting a couple of TAs on their visit to Duke, I was hooked — I knew I would be spending my summer in Cape Town.
On top of Table Mountain taking in the beautiful city.
Our four-week course, led by instructor Michael Texeira, was structured in such a way that we would learn a concept, and then apply it to a real project. I have spent the past four weeks working on a product to combat sexual assault on college campuses. While an emotionally taxing topic to work on for a month, it’s a huge issue that is impacting the lives of many individuals. I have seen first hand how sexual assault has impacted my close friends and my broader college community. I am a passionate advocate for sexual health, I do a lot of work on educating students of their Title IX rights and empowering them, and I am a key piece of the support system for many survivors. This is a topic close to my heart and I knew it was how I wanted to dedicate my time in Cape Town.
I was paired with two wonderful classmates, Annsley Matthiessen and Quinntin Ruiz, to tackle this issue head on. Our first step was to examine the problem space; we all know sexual assault is a big issue on college campuses, but we wanted to understand more closely where these issues are coming from. We thought about our experiences, talked with classmates, and did some research. After this we identified three main problem spaces: 1) Culture & Education, 2) Prevention, and 3) Victim Support. We decided that in the scope of our project, we would not be able to have a meaningful impact in the realm of culture and education. We also decided that while victim support is incredibly meaningful, we as a team were more passionate about preventing sexual assault altogether. As a result, we focused our efforts on building a product to help prevent sexual assault.
Once we determined our problem space, we developed a vision for our product based on the needs of our users. We aim to disrupt the culture of denial and indifference around sexual assault. We want to create safer social environments on college campuses by providing a way for friends to check in on one another, bystanders to intervene if necessary, and alert emergency services if someone seems to be in a dangerous situation. We intend to accomplish by creating an iOS application that would enable students to stay effortlessly in close contact with one another on a night out.
Our team’s vision for our product to combat sexual assault.
We were lucky enough to have a great user experience (UX) team to embark on this journey of creating a product for our vision with us. Once we had our vision, they conducted user interviews and crafted personas for us to help us better understand the people that may use our application. Their work was integral in helping us develop a product that would be useful to college students.
Once we better understood our users, we developed use cases that better explain what we hope our product will accomplish. For those of you not in the tech and product space, use cases are business goals for the product. A use case does not entail the steps to get there, but rather allows for the team to figure out what the system needs to be to get to that goal. We then compiled these use cases into a use case diagram that provides a graphical overview of our goals and the users. The purpose of this was to establish a solid foundation of the system by identifying what the users want so that you can take the next steps to produce what they want.
After this, we once again collaborated with the UX team in order to create wireframes. We communicated what we wanted the product to accomplish, and they returned beautiful designs for the application that did everything we could imagine and more. While they were hard at work on the designs, we dug deeper into the product. We conducted competitive analyses, wrote user stories, and thought through all of the pieces necessary to accomplish our vision and goals. We also created a very detailed story map for our application. A story map is a detailed explanation of the features of the app, and the smaller parts within each of these that it needs to function. These stories are incredibly helpful when working with developers, because they better communicate our goals in small tangible pieces for them to build. In order to create our story map, we stayed late after class one night with a pile of sticky notes and a vision. For hours we thought through each piece, thinking about every detail the developers would need to know in order to make it a reality.
Partway through a long night of story mapping.
Through these processes and iterations with UX, we finally had a product idea and design that we wanted to bring to developers. On a Friday morning we pitched our idea to a room full of iOS and Web Developers in hopes that some of them would join our team. We were thrilled when we found out we had 6 passionate developers who wanted to help bring our vision to a reality! That afternoon, we hit the ground running; we had one week to create something meaningful, and we were ready to go. A handful of long nights later, we had a functional app and website that brought our vision to life. Let me tell you, there are not many feelings as rewarding as touching an app that was created from an idea you had just a few weeks ago (I may or may not have cried).
Pictures from the first version of the iOS application.
Our team was then lucky enough to be chosen to present our idea and work to the whole program on our final night. I was so nervous to speak in front of so many people, but I was also overwhelmed with pride in our product and excitement to present it to the world. I wanted the audience to be able to feel our passion for our goal to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. I wanted them to leave with a belief that our product could change the world. Many hours of presentation practice later, when I finally stepped off that stage, I knew I had accomplished everything I wanted to and more. I knew I would be leaving Cape Town as a new person — a person that would fearlessly pursue something she believes in. A person that would go the extra mile to bring something great to the world. I’m proud to be that person, and I’m thankful for everyone that’s encouraged me on this journey.
One of my partners, Annsley Matthiessen, and me on final presentation night.