Prototype an app for renting/gifting your empty home to people you trust

ROLE
UX Research, Prototype, UI, UX

Overview

I have a great place by the beach in Santa Monica. It’s not cheap. I travel 4-5 weeks per year, but I’ll never list on Airbnb because I don’t trust the people.

I also have many friends who travel to L.A. often for work and vacation. And I have about 100+ friends and family that I would completely trust with my place. They would love to stay there and I know they’ll follow my rules and be respectful. Even if I charged them $50/nt, they’d save massively over hotels/Airbnbs and be in an ideal location.

It seemed to me:

1. I’m leaving money on the table.

2. My friends who travel to L.A. are missing out on a great place that would save them tons of cash.

I asked around and found quite a bit of agreement. Most were excited at the idea of being renter, rentee or both. I decided to go deeper.

Evaluating the thesis

I really wanted to use both sides of this “app”. I.e. I wanted to offer my place to friends, and I also wanted to stay at my friends’ homes around the world, assuming they trust me! And I had good anecdotal evidence that others did, too. So I decided to interview people of varying demographics (location, income, age) and build a prototype (or not!) based on their feedback. I would then revisit the same interviewees with a prototype to test and refine.

The subjects…

  • Dan (37, San Francisco)
  • Jessie (32, San Francisco)
  • Jennifer (41, Seattle)
  • Scott (50, Beverly Hills)
  • Aaron (39, Los Angeles)
  • Patrick (50, NYC)
  • Monica (39, Los Angeles)
  • Martha (70, Seattle)
  • Tom (75, Seattle)
  • Gail (60, Hawaii)
  • Michael (25, NYC)
  • Casey (37, Santa Monica)

Getting out of the building!

Starting with techniques wonderfully laid out in The Mom Test (entrepreneurs and product people, you must read!), I got people talking indirectly around the product idea:

    • Do you ever stay in Airbnb’s when you travel?
    • Ever stay with friends?
    • Is budget a concern when traveling?

Then deeper:

    • Ever stayed at a friend’s house when they were out of town? How’d that come about?
    • Anyone ever stayed in your place when you were gone? How’d that come about.

Then:

    • Would you feel comfortable with trusted friends staying in your house while you’re gone?
    • Would you consider charging them? How much seems right?
    • Would you consider staying in a friend’s empty house if it was an option?

Etc., etc.

Feedback was fascinating and positive. Over 95% were open to, and most with enthusiasm, to the idea of being a renter, rentee or both.

Vitally, the interviews produced invaluable and often totally unexpected feedback that profoundly informed the product design.

 

Notes from just one interviewee (emphases are mine):

  • 38 year old male, married
  • San Francisco home, 2BR + study, recently purchased
  • Have not yet had anyone stay there alone, but open to it
  • Particularly interested because of dog
  • Would pay friends to watch the dog
  • Would pay up to $75, the cost of boarding
  • When looking for dog sitters, would typically send email to group of SF people, looking for someone or someone who knows someone to dogsit
  • Dogsitting or not, would absolutely reach out to others to stay at their home
  • Haven’t done so only because haven’t been motivated to take the initiative
  • Would be comfortable reaching out to 60-80 people
  • Interested in monetizing a “little bit” or bartering, and cleaning fee
  • (Wedding-style) registry could be interesting. Buy us any of these quirky items for our home, or activities.
  • Suggested also PRE-cleaning… indicated that getting the house ready and clean could be kind of a pain, so the cleaning fee could cover pre and post, however the owner prefers
  • Would inspire him to get a cleaner
  • Third degree connection is too far for trust
  • Family would always be free, as would people who don’t have the money
  • Not enthusiastic about AirBNB, but have used AirBNB as guest
  • Comfortable with an email from system, but with option to customize email text
  • Paperless post correlation on desired outreach experience
  • Would send a trusted friend a simple link
  • Doesn’t think pictures are necessary. It’s a ‘casual transaction’, don’t need to spend 2hrs taking photos (intimidating).
  • But would be fine if photos are optional or simply de-emphasized
  • Long trip in December to Caymans for 10 days. Would utilize for that trip
  • Would absolutely consider staying at someone’s house
  • Would definitely consult the calendar to plan trips
  • Mentioned that since our previous, brief discussion on the topic, idea had been “stuck in my head” and thought about wanting to use it

What essential learning do we need from the MVP?

With 20+ hrs of interviews digested, I began scoping an MVP-style prototype that could answer key questions about the product’s viability. Specifically, I wanted to know what are the key questions that an MVP needs to answer to assess the product’s viability?

I landed on these:

Will people ‘list’ their home and invite their friends?

Will invited friends feel compelled to list and share with their friends?

Will people ‘book’ stays?

I spent a lot of time thinking about how technically simple a product could be and still answer those questions. E.g. we could hack together an email-centric experience without complicated two-way invites, authentication and automated scheduling. That could be useful for testing people’s desire for staying in friends’ homes. But the question of whether people actullay want to share homes was answered in my interviews.

So in order to test the three questions above, those technical complexities were impossible to omit. I.e. both parties (host and invitee) have to be able to log in, set up home profiles, invite people easily, manage those invites in both directions, indicate availability, indicate ‘booking’ interest, and be kept alerted about all of these actions.

Any simpler MVP might have some value, but it wouldn’t help learn what I felt we needed to learn.

 

Prototyping

Early mockups focused intently on balancing the app’s top priority: inventory (available homes), with the top user priority: finding a place to stay. That’s tricky.

Ultimately, I arrived at a nav design that leads with fun destinations, but has a strong, central CTA for invites. I’d then use soft, but consistent reminders throughout the booking experience to get people to list their homes.

Complexities like two-way invites, contact-dependent prices, and cross-platform notifications made simple UI/UX design in those areas challenging. I used a combination of friendly toggle switches and dropdowns to bury the complexity from view as much as possible:

Aesthetics: But first, who’s our user?

From my research, two user profiles emerged as the most common:

  • 30-45, affluent apartment dwellers and homeowners who like to travel and entertain.
  • 45-75, affluent homeowners who travel, entertain and would never trust/use Airbnb.

I wanted the design to convey trustworthiness and sophistication. Homes have immeasurable value to their owners and the app needs to feel worthy of their trust.

Even though it was only a prototype, I wanted to convey our design hypotheses and get feedback that would inform an MVP design.

Interaction = sticky!

By pushing bookings directly into chat, I wanted to facilitate the friendly interaction that our interviewees so often mentioned. Fact is they want to talk to their friends! That’s why they’re on the list! So rather than rely on an impersonal, automated reservation system, the chat feature lets friends connect and catch up over the pending visit. It also lets them make those nuanced plans (overlapping trips, kids toys, borrow the car) that are unique to friend visits vs. an Airbnb or other “corporate” rental.

Testing the prototype

I took the prototype back to most of our original interviewees. I asked them to walk me through their experience out loud, noting all their delights, confusions and suggestions.

I then incorporated the findings into a “final” prototype you can play with:

Click image to test:

Next…

Almost every tester is excited to use a working product.

Tons of learning, scoping and thoughts beyond this snippet.

To be continued!

 

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