If you build it, will they come? (CAT Salon)

This is a community-written summary of one of our CAT Salon events. This CAT Salon was inspired by Nishul’s blog post:  The World Doesn’t Want a Carbon Footprint Tracker App

Find the recording of this talk here

Speaker

Photo of Nishul Saperia

CAT member Nishul Saperia is a member of the founding team of Markit – now IHS Markit – a $30 billion fintech that is today listed on NASDAQ. Now he’s active as a mentor, investor and advisor across the startup spectrum.
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Summary

Nish thought about building a carbon footprint tracker.

  • What it is: An app on your phone with minimal input from you, sucking up your data, energy bills, email, etc. to calculate carbon footprint 
  • Goal: to help you understand your footprint & incentivize users to take action (e.g., we could all save 80 fish each)

Challenges

Do people actually want your product?

  • You have to ask yourself the hard scary questions: Do people actually want your product?
  • The more you work on a product and the more you tell people about it, the more attached you become to it
  • Once you’ve told some folks that you’re working on it, there’s a public pressure about failure which may make you hesitant to ask more people about what you’re building and whether it’s worthwhile.

How to find out if people want your product

  • Talk to people (be careful of how you talk about your product!)
    YouTube guide/workshop for conducting good user research
    • People will say often say ‘yes’ when there is no commitment involved
      👉 Ask about whether they would pay for this — this can show you how valuable people think your product would be
    • 👉 Get to the emotions people have — that’s what drives their decisions
    • 👉 Focus on what people are already doing.
      E.g., “Have you ever measured your carbon footprint?” > Nish found out that people who were passionate about sustainability weren’t measuring
  • Start looking for trends (Nish spoke to ~30 people for 30-60 min each)
  • Send a quick survey
  • Try out the apps that already exist out there — get to know your competitors
  • Ask yourself these questions
    • Do you need an app for this to make changes? There’s a lot of friction to get people to try & use an app. Would a web page be enough to learn about carbon footprinting?
    • Is this something you personally would use?

Customer development

Read The Mom Test (about customer development)

Listen to customers and get to the emotions — that’s what drives decisions. In Nish’s case, what people want is to remove the guilt of their carbon impact not tracking their carbon footprint. 

“It’s ok to pivot based on what you learn through your conversations with people.”

Final thoughts

  • Getting people to change via a website or app is very challenging
  • To change things, providing information is crucial (Green Web Foundation)
  • There are more opportunities in creating products that provide alternatives to existing demands — e.g., protein & energy alternatives

Discussion questions

  • Which climate projects have you seen somewhere and you were like “woah this is great” but then never used it again?
  • Are you working on a climate project either in your spare time or as a startup? Or have you in the past?
  • Have you talked to potential users about your project/idea?

Breakout group discussion

Apps/websites folks returned to over time

  • Giki: scan products and get information on how sustainable they are
  • Electricity map: discovered it, loved the presentation of data but there’s no personal need for the data. But this could be useful for premium members / people that have to do with this data in their day job.
  • Energy usage tracker for CO2 emitted in ML tasks: https://pypi.org/project/energyusage

Products/projects that are useful or worthwhile for folks are…

  • Awareness-raising — even if I only look at it once, it creates a change
  • Friction-free — this makes me want to return to the page (e.g. could the results from the green web foundation be included in search results?)
  • Inspirational — even if I don’t return to it loads, inspirational projects can make me think and spark ideas

Ultimate goal: Care about your customer (& the planet) more than your own profit.

Links