April 2016 — July 2017

Fibo

A mobile communication, scheduling, and work-tracking solution for construction teams.

Fibo is backed by some of the top investors in the world, including Y-Combinator, Fuel Capital, and several prominent angel investors.

ROLE

Co-Founder, and responsible for all design work (product/UX, visual, and marketing) and our user-research strategy.

Results Summary

43% WoW Revenue Growth during YC program
$1.8m raised from top VCs and angel investors
Low attrition among customers
5 star app store rating

April 2016 – March 2017

Part I

Starting Fibo

Below is the journey from initial customer discovery through getting into Y Combinator and then raising a round of seed funding. In Part two, I cover the product design process we used to build out the product.

Note

This case study covers a large year long project in detail.

If you are looking for a shorter summary style case study please read my case study about my work with Evidence Based Courses here.

1

Problem

Most Construction Teams Still Rely on Paper-Based Systems

Paper-based systems lead to low productivity, poor accountability and high rates of rework.

PROBLEMS

  • Low Productivity
  • 35% of construction professionals' time (over 14 hours per week) is spent  on nonproductive activities, including looking for project information, conflict resolution, and dealing with mistakes and rework. [FMI/PG]
  • Over Time and Over Budget
  • Just 25% of projects came within 10% of their original deadlines in the past 3 years [KPMG]
  • Only 31% of all projects came within 10% of the budget in the past 3 years. [KPMG]
  • Underserved by the sofware industry
  • A 1% reduction in construction costs could save society $1 billion globally. [GCP]

FIBO’S OPPORTUNITY

  • 1.3 million U.S. Construction Businesses
  • 10% U.S. workforce
  • Large U.S. and Global TAM

OUR GOALS

  • Reduce Cost of Projects
  • Deliver projects on time
  • Save office staff and field workers time
  • Reduce the amount of rework
  • Digitize data so that it is accessible, auditable and searchable
2

Our Solution

A mobile time tracking and scheduling app for construction teams that allows the office staff to ditch the paper work and many of the headaches related to time tracking and scheduling. Later, we tackled jobsite communication issues by adding Slack style mobile team chat and photo sharing features.

3

Company Background

How and Why We Started the Company

While at Thumbtack, my friend Zane Salim recognized that small, medium, and even large businesses that use Thumbtack’s marketplace didn’t have good software. However, something was changing in 2016. Every construction worker now had a smartphone. It was still early, just two years earlier many of these guys still used a flip phone.

Zane Salim reached out to me in March 2016 and we started collaborating on initial hypothesis testing around productivity software for the construction and service industry.  

The Opportunity

After a number of user interviews, we felt we had identified a key opportunity. We could see that it is likely that within 5-10 years every construction company would be switching to using mobile technology to track time data.

Why Time Data Matters to Construction Companies:

  • Construction jobs have razor-thin profit margins.
  • The most important thing for a General Contractor is not the price of the projects they bid on, but the accuracy of this bid. Since these guys are working with such slim margins, it’s really important to know if you can build a particular building or highway at a particular cost before you bid on the project.
  • The only way to get better at bidding is to look at the data from your previous jobs
  • Currently, a lot of this data is locked away in paper for smaller and medium-sized businesses. Large filing cabinets are full of paper that prevent any in-depth analysis of estimated hours vs. actual hours.
  • Additionally, all this paperwork adds up to large amounts of lost time. The industry is in the technology dark ages today.
  • With construction, the profitability margin is so small, in particular on large $100 million or $1 billion projects, that if you can help these guys forecast a bid 1% better, you can end up greatly increasing their profitability for that job.
Opportunity and Market Size

Even in the current technology dark ages, the software market alone for construction software is over $5B. This a is a big market where better efficiency and better time data provides one of the biggest levers for improving efficiency and profitability.

We Also Saw Additional Monetization Possibilities
  • Workers comp
  • Materials and parts % cut
  • Business loans (Square style)
  • Consumer loans (2nd mortgage)
  • Solar install loans

Forming Fibo

Based on our initial research, we saw an opportunity to have a big impact on an important industry, an industry that had been,  for the most part, left behind by technology. After much consideration we decided to leave our current jobs and pursue Fibo full-time. We successfully recruited Zane’s talented friend, Ruben González Torres, and together the three of us, in July of 2017, formed an S-Corp.

The Founding Fibo Team

Zane Salim
CEO, Co-Founder
Led Growth at Thumbtack
Grew Revenue 2.7x
Pre-IPO at Twitter
Christopher Smeder
Head of Design, Co-Founder
Led design at MindBody from
2012 to $1b public company
Ruben González Torres
Head of Engineering, Co-Founder
Ex-Google Android/Calendar Engineer
1st Android engineer at Thumbtack
Helped Pioneer Material Design Era
with work on the new Google Calendar

OUR VISION

Fibo empowers construction teams to create a brighter and more innovative future.

OUR MISSION

To enhance construction worker productivity and love of their job.

4

Initial Research and Customer Development

By late 2016, when we were ready to apply to YC, we had interviewed over 100 users, and we had run over 30 experiments to gauge customer interest and response: customer interviews, multiple invision prototypes, and email marketing tests to over 5000 potential users. This gave us the confidence to move forward with our hypothesis.

5

Initial Viability Testing and Success Criteria

From our interviews, we gained confidence in our hypothesis (the value of a mobile time-tracking app for construction workers), however, before we wrote any code, we wanted to test the viability of our idea with a higher bar. We decided to see if we could get signed Letters of Intent (LOI) to purchase from customers before any code was written.

Type of Test

Customer Interviews

Our Success Criteria

4/10 people we interview sign a LOI.

The Results

After sending out cold emails to local and national businesses we set up meetings with the ones that responded. We met with them in person or interviewed them over the phone for our initial meeting. We continued to build relationships with 5/10 of these businesses. Showing them designs and prototypes – meeting with them multiple times. Within two weeks all 5 businesses were willing to sign Letters of Intent.

6

YC Program

With 5 signed LOIs and strong confidence in our idea we applied to YC. Y Combinator accepted us into their Winter 2017 program.

Our first day at YC. (me, Zane, Ruben)
Our primary YC Partner and Mentor Sam Altman (President of YC)

Our First Software MVP

We followed the lean startup methodology and built lean MVPs that would require the least amount of time to validate our ideas. Our first MVP that was more advanced than an invision mockup was built during YC; it was a Google doc for the company owner and a react native app for the construction workers in the field. The Google doc provided a terrible interface for the owner to schedule work, however, it was still better than their current experience using pen and paper. We knew we were onto something really amazing when our users were excited to use such a bad interface and started reporting they were saving multiple hours.

Our First Software MVP was a react native mobile app for the field workers and simply a google spread sheet for the owner of the business. Even with this terrible interface our customers were excited to use it and reported saving multiple hours of work each day.

Making Something Users Love

We focused on getting to know our users and spending as much time as we could with them. This meant regularly driving 5+ hours to customers. We would stay in cheap hotels, and I’d bring my sleeping bag and sleep on the ground to keep our burn rate low.

YCs core advice is launch a product as soon as possible, and then talk to customers and iterate. This meant regularly driving up and down California and staying in inexpensive hotels to get regular access to our first customers.

We would bring our customers gifts and treats from a local bakery, order them and their team pizza, and show up with beers at the end of the day. This allowed us to get continuous feedback from them as we built our features out.

Various photos of us bringing treats and visiting our customers. Customer faces are blurred out for thier privacy.
7
Validating our

Product Market Fit

Our hypothesis was that if we create an app that is focused on construction team time tracking – workers, foremen and project managers will save multiple hours each week. Teams will be more productive, and managers will be happier because they are able to make it home for dinner instead of dealing with the drudgery of staying late to wrap up paperwork.

We also hypothesized business owners would be willing to pay $20 per seat per month for this service.

OUR RISKIEST ASSUMPTIONS

1. We can save field and office workers a tangible amount of time each week.

2. We have created a viable product that businesses are willing to pay for.

Our MVP Solution
For our MVP we focused on creating a mobile work-tracking app for field workers and a desktop web app for managers to schedule and track work.

Productivity

Real-time team collaboration
Customizeable work templates
Built-in voice dictation and photos

Accountability

Schedule, assign, track
ownership for line items
Visibility into work and hours

Integrated

Time and attendance
Project progress reporting
Export data to other systems

Feedback From Early Customers

Both field workers and managers were finding value in the mobile and desktop app.

“Dealing with paperwork is the worst part of my job, this makes it better”
— Mike C, Construction Foreman
“This is actually easier than paper, it does all the math for me”
— Adam T, Field Worker
“This is really intuitive and easy to use. It makes sense.”
— Garrett S, Field Worker
“This could very well revolutionize the construction business”
— Mike R, Construction Business Owner

Viability With Early Customers

By the third month of the YC program we had 8 paying customers (ranging in size from 7 to 50 employees) and 12 engaged leads.

7 SEATS
50 SEATS
20 SEATS

Our Progress During YC

During the 3 months at YC we built and launched a viable product. By the end of March we had $19K in ARR.

Our Business Model

Average = 10 Seats x $20/mo x 12 mos = $2,400

Zero Churn

In the four weeks from launch to the end of the YC program we had zero churn despite early product experience. Several customers quickly added more seats. All Early customers were paying by the end of March.

Assumptions Validated

Through many weeks of visiting customers and iterating based on what we observed and heard, we successfully went from idea to viable product in under 3 months.

ASSUMPTION 1

We can save field and office workers a tangible amount of time each week

ASSUMPTION 2

We have created a viable product that businesses are willing to pay for

#1 VALIDATED

With Fibo, workers and managers reported saving multiple hours each week. Up to four hours per week at times.

#2 VALIDATED

Business owners were willing to pay $20 per seat per month.

8

Raising VC investment

With proof of product market fit and with our early rapid revenue growth, we started to quickly get interest from prominent angel investors and VCs. We ended up closing the majority of our entire round before YC demo day even started. Investors include the CEO and founder of BuildZoom and prestigious firms such as FUEL capital.

With the majority of our round filled before demo day we were able to relax and enjoy demo day without any pressure.

$1.8m in Funding Raised

Pre-Seed

Founders invested

Sander Daniels
Founder of Thumbtack

Y Combinator

Seed

FUEL Capital

Global Founders Capital

David Petersen
(BuildZoom CEO)

S2 Capital

Ryan Petersen
(Flexport CEO)
Will Hayes
(LucidWorks CEO)

…and more (upon request)

April 2017 – JULY 2017

Part II

Building out
the product

Now that we had validated our product market fit to a degree and we had capital, it was time to build out the product. We hired our first employee, and continued customer development and building core features to support the experiences that make our customers happy.

1

Storyboarding and Personas

StoryBoarding

Inspired by Airbnb’s storyboarding approach, we decided to use storyboarding as a way to discuss and synthesize what we learned about our users' current experience.

This allowed us to clearly see the real problems users were having and prioritize which ones to address with new features in our app.

We started by creating a list of the emotional and functional moments (problems and joy) that comprise a day in the life of a field worker and a field manager. We built the most import moments into stories.

This is also based on the advice of Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done frame work: Before you look for solutions and launch new features, make sure you understand what real customer problems exist and what corresponding jobs prospective customers are looking to hire for.

Personas

We created personas based on the dozens of users we met over the course of our customer visits. Since we were visiting and talking to users on a weekly cadence, we kept these personas simple. We added to them as we saw new patterns start to emerge.

2
Ideation

Design Studios and Exploring Concepts

Design Studios

After customer visits, we would review our notes and look for patterns that emerged. I would then lead everyone through a design studio. The goal in these studios was to practice and use divergent thinking to come up with a diverse set of solutions to the users' problems we had just seen.

“One of the things I appreciate most about working with Chris is his ability to bring out more creativity from any team. ...He runs extremely inclusive design sessions and then does a terrific job of tying the best ideas together. The result: it gets everyone involved in the process and leaves the whole team excited to start building.”
Zane Salim, Fibo Co-Founder and CEO
Visual Design and Animation Exploration

When I could, I cut time out of my schedule to explore blue sky concepts. This allowed me to focus on the current constraints that existed with our app in my day-to-day design work, and let me explore a wider set of options that could later make their way into the app.

3

Wireframes

The fibo app started out fairly simple with just a few screens for viewing a schedule and tracking time. However, as we started to account for teams that needed tracking time on a line item basis and other more advanced scheduling features, the app needed to stay easy to use (given our user base) while still allowing users to accomplish more advanced tasks. Below, you can see a sample of the the screens I designed. These screens cover the first-time use, core-time tracking features, and the later team-chat experience.
200+
Wireframes
that span
22 storyboards
that cover

40+ features

Office StafF VIew
In addition to the mobile view, we had to account for the office staff’s desktop web view. I designed various reports, a schedule view, a project edit view and team management screens.
4

What We Learned

Very quickly, it became apparent that working outdoors meant high-contrast colors and large text was needed for these users to navigate the app. Additionally, many of the workers complained most apps are hard to use because the buttons are too small for their fingers.

An example of a crew member using his phone outside on a sunny day. Larger text and high contrast were key for this context.

Another insight was that most of these users didn’t have an email address or at the very least had trouble remembering how to access it from a mobile device. Using this insight, we decided to switch to a phone number-based login approach.

We also started to discover that after a few days of using the app, many users would forget to use the app to clock out, which was meant the office staff would have to deal with making manual updates. We added a push notification system, to help workers remember to clock out at the end of the day, and over time, turn using the app into a habit. Since time tracking is directly linked to getting paid, the workers were motivated to create this habit.

5

Visual Design

In an early stage startup that is focused on the construction industry there isn’t a lot of value in investing a lot of time in best-in-class visual design. However, I did try to cut out time to explore visual design directions and include fun icons and delight where I could.

A photo of me working on the visual designs of our payroll reports

The main goal of the visual design of the field app was functional: high contrast colors and large bold text. This made balancing modern simple and elegant design difficult. I did my best to achieve a design that balanced both with as few tradeoffs as possible.

Given our users' context my goal was to create a visual design language with high contrast, large text and large tap targets.
6

Marketing Design

As sole designer at Fibo I was responsible for all marketing and website design.

One of the later website iterations I designed.
Marketing material for social media
Additional marketing material
Illustrations I created from scratch in Sketch for our pitch deck and website.
7

Results

Usability & User Experience
  • Customers report saving multiple hours per employee per week.
  • The Fibo app has maintained a 5-star app store rating
Viability and Business Results
  • 43% WoW Revenue Growth during YC program
  • $1.8m raised from top VCs and angel investors
  • Low attrition among customers. Near zero attrition (excluding customers who churned within the first month).
Screenshot of the Fibo app in the app store, with the current Fibo logo.
View Other Case Studies
Want to know more about my process? View an overview here or take a look at one of the other projects I documented as a case study.