Welcome to my first ever blog post on my personal website! I can't begin to tell you how strange it feels to be writing this intro so much so I procrastinated writing it until I'd written the rest of this blog... writing doesn't come naturally to me and this is my way of trying to change that.
⛹️ Who am I and what am I writing about?
I'm Kieran Witt, a product and project manager in the financial sector. Day to day I develop financial products, like investments and in the past mortgages, credit cards and loans and by night I come up with ideas to solve problems I've experienced in my life or observed in passing. I also like to think I'm an entrepreneur in the making having started a business called Impact Score that uses technology to make the world a better place, but more on that another time.
This is what I hope to be the first blog in a series that will show you how I'll take some of my ideas from concept to product.
Over the years, and probably like millions of others around the world, I've accumulated a long list of ideas some mentally stored and some in a resigned to a notebook where they probably would fester forever if I didn't do something about them. The ideas list has been constantly growing but my skills in bringing those ideas to life haven't, with this in mind I recently decided to learn to code and would do it by building some of my ideas. I owe inspiration to write about the journey to a book called Show Your Work by Austin Kleon which to paraphrase explains you should publicly share your journey to do something because you've already done the hard work. Whilst the blog will mainly be about the products I'm building mostly over a two day period each weekend I'll probably stray into writing about my experience learning to code.
🔍 Searching for a new home as a couple sucks
For the last 3 months, my girlfriend, Chloe and I have been looking to buy a house. It has been a torturous experience that we both thought would be an amazing time trying to find the right collection of bricks to call our home. Our frustrations were mainly caused by the property search experience combined with our hectic living and work arrangements. Our schedules meant the majority of our house hunting was conducted independently of one another using online property portals namely Rightmove and Zoopla. I'd be on my phone in London searching for a new home and she was on hers somewhere else doing the same and every now and again we'd have to sit down together to whittle through our shortlists and fire out some emails to estate agents in an attempt to arrange viewings. This couldn't be done remotely. I'd like to think we're not too dissimilar to most other couples buying their first home in that like us they probably work in different places and are living separately so it was confusing as to why the search process just didn't work.
My specific problem wasn't with finding the properties we liked, in fact, Chloe was so good at that she frequently had 10 plus houses on the go, the property platforms made this easy. It was that we had to sit down in person physically to refine and compare our separate saved lists. In a digital age and a time when visiting people was restricted it seemed strange that this was the default and it's not a case of not enjoying spending time with Chloe more that, sitting down to go through our saved lists in person quickly started to feel like admin. We were becoming office clerks trying to organise our properties like files, the status of each one (saved, reached out, viewing arranged and viewed) and plan the next steps for the week ahead. It wasn't the exciting house hunt we thought it would be.
📝 Summarising the problems
There were three key issues I picked up on:
- Searching for properties as a couple is a chore - For us, this was due to different work schedules and living separately and the lack of tools to help couples search together whilst being apart. All the property platforms require you to have independent accounts with independent saved lists which when you think about it is bizarre given the majority of buyers are buying with another person whether that be with a partner, a joint investor or even a concerned party like a parent trying to help. We tried a number of ways to avoid the weekly property search admin like sharing properties by WhatsApp, creating an excel tool (my speciality) and using the same property portal accounts but none worked. WhatsApp resulted in links being lost, the excel tool was just more admin and using the same property portal meant we couldn't search at the same time say on lunch breaks.
- Engaging with estate agents was painful - Once we found a property we both liked the next obvious step was to contact the estate agent. The problem was that getting hold of them when you're working a 9-5 and they're working 9-5 is stressful, luckily (or unluckily) for my partner she's a teacher so it was impossible for her to make these calls. Once we were able to get hold of them the next problem was organising a viewing that suited 3 calendars the sellers, my one and the estate agents this quite frequently meant that we'd have a viewing at one end of the borough at 11 and then half-hour travel to the other end the next viewing only to come back again for the third.
- The market was moving too quickly for our liking - not really something we could control or stop but we were looking for a property in arguably the biggest boom period for the property market in some time. (Check out a good podcast from The Property Hub here on why they think this is and why they think it will continue for a little while yet.). There were properties coming on to the market (i.e. put on the property platforms like Rightmove and Zoopla) one day and the next they would be gone. If you liked the look of a place you had to be moving at lightspeed to get a viewing and even if you did make an offer it had better be a high one because people were so eager to get a place they'd gazump you at a seconds notice. As I say nothing I can do about this one but I wanted to get it off my chest.
🎯 What problem did I decide to focus on?
It's probably obvious by now but in case you're not sure I decided to focus on making house hunting as a couple easier. It was the problem that I believed had the most obvious solution and that's what made it all the more frustrating, it should be easy to save and compare properties with your partner. It was also a problem that annoyed me so much I built a crappy excel tool to compare our saved lists to try and save time by quickly identifying properties we both saved and liked.
🏡 Making house hunting as a couple easier
After deciding what to focus on I got to drafting out was a solution might look like. To do this I used a nifty web tool called Miro that enables you to create process flows, mind maps and pretty much anything else super quick and as you can see below it's a visual way of working which is what I prefer when I'm trying to conceptualise a solution or product. This is what my thought process looked like:
- Refine and document the problem with a couple of statements and some screenshots of the status quo.
- Detail what the user experience should be in a workflow and personify the most likely user.
- Conceptualise the products barebones and strip away any fancy features that have crept in.
- Run some quick numbers on the market size, potential routes to monetisation and subsequently the potential revenue.
Normally, I would have a step around 2 or 3 for some customer research but where this is a lived experience it's not so much a priority. I'd complete user interviews mainly where I either have a perceived view of a problem a person, other than me, has experienced or where I am really out of my depths with a problem I don't truly understand. As someone who is no expert in user testing and user interviews I rely heavily on the guidance in the book by Rob Fitzpatrick called The Mom Test.
The image below is the result of this process:
The solution I ended up with was building a product that allows two users to continue their property search on their favourite property portals and in the background, the product would store the properties that either user had added to their saved list and provide an interface that showed both users the properties that they had matched on as well as properties that the one user had saved that the other hadn't (we'll call this the review list). The matched list would become the master saved list with properties to be prioritised for viewings and a review list would be a way to streamline the process of familiarising yourself with properties the other user likes and then promoting them to the matched list if you agree.
I tried to keep the solution as simple as possible and capitalise on what I'd say are known truths. For example, property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla have captured the property search market, and this is a known truth, so instead of trying to go against them with a completely new listing platform concept (which I would likely flop), I should build something complementary, in this instance, an aggregator. The property portal giants continue doing what they do best, listing estate agents properties. My new product would do what it does best to help couples search together more efficiently.
🚧 Working with my limitations
Now, knowing that I can't code and I'd set my self the challenge of building this thing in one weekend, I needed to be realistic with the scope of the build. I set myself two limitations, the first being that I would only build the back end of the product, i.e. the product would do what it's meant to do; it just won't look pretty when it does it. The second limitation was the property portals. At this point, I didn't know how on earth I was going to access the saved list for one property portal using code, let alone multiple, so I decided to focus solely on Rightmove on the basis they have the most monthly active users and listings vs other platforms. The limitations I accepted are likely product enhancements I will work on down the line.