An in-depth retrospective
Foobli was an online platform that aimed to prepare post-secondary students for the real world, by progressing the development of their soft skills. This would be accomplished through the facilitation of peer reviews on students' performance in team projects. From ideation to launch in 8 months, we piloted with 4 MBA classes at the Schulich School of Business and 8 Game Development and Design classes at George Brown, over 800 students and instructors collectively.
In March 2014, I was approached by a recent MBA graduate from the Schulich School of Business who had written a business case identifying an emerging problem – Roughly 50% of employers cited soft skills, the most important skill employers look for, as the biggest deficiency amongst college graduates.
After conducting my own research and root cause analysis, it was evident that group work had a negative perception due to unequal distribution of work and the infrequent use of peer evaluations. The lack therof, ultimately creates an environment that is not conducive to soft skill development.
Agreeing to pursue this opportunity, I became a Co-Founder responsible for all creative output, including the front-end development, strategy and UX/UI design. Our mission - to foster an environment where students could build employable skills through recognition and feedback. To obtain this, we set out to maximize enjoyment and engagement through a gamification model, capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning.
We wanted the company name to be synonymous with our mission. We also wanted to incorporate the notion of a double feedback loop into our design. The double feedback loop, otherwise known as "double loop learning”, entails the modification of goals or decision making rules in the light of experience. The first loop uses the goals, or decision-making rules and the second loop enables their modification, hence "double-loop."
Register for courses and view assignments
Be able to complete peer reviews and assign ratings to project peers
The ability to view your cumulative ratings per skill and by assignment
Create courses and assignments
Assign classmates to teams for group projects
View all student reviews and ratings
After deciding on our core features, we sketched out the user flow on a whiteboard, for both the student and instructor views.
After several iterations, we decided on one that was most intuitive and simplistic for both user types. Soon after, I began experimenting with various colour palettes and typography, eventually choosing the following:
I then began designing hi-fidelity mockups using an HTML5 web-based vector tool called Moqups. I tweaked the design several times and gathered input from our advisors, including the Associate Dean of Schulich. To demonstrate a live walkthrough, I transformed the static assets into an interactive clickable prototype using InVision. This would help us and others identify any pain points in the user flow.
Once we were pleased with the design, I created a landing page with a call-to-action to a free trial. Through social media, we created and shared content to generate awareness and to tell our story. We also hired a talented videographer Maple Tree Films, to take professional photos that we would use to strengthen our brand.
In order to gather feedback on our product, we met several times with the Associate Dean of Schulich and the Head of the Game Development and Design program at George Brown College. We took their constructive criticism, prioritized our backlog and implemented the most vital features. This video sums up the user journey from both a student and instructor perspective.
From a business perspective, there proved to be several issues that halted adoption by post-secondary institutions. Firstly, finding the decision maker for implementing such a system proved very difficult. It seemed like each program had a long-winded hierarchy / chain of command. Secondly, the time lag behind lead initiation and ultimate adoption across programs proved very lengthy.
Thirdly, being primarily focused on privacy and protection, they feared our technical infrastructure wasn’t secure enough. Fourthly, it appeared that post-secondary schools did not have room in their budget to implement such a platform. As such, towards the latter part of our pilot, we tried to monetize through an affinity program. However, this required significant volume to have enough discount to entice participation, and cover our overhead, which we did not have.
Although we were on the verge of receiving a government grant, and set to pilot the Fall/Winter semester, work, life, time constraints and priorities got in the way, and we had to abandon the project. It was a great experience that taught me the dedication and commitment required to build a startup, when to persevere and to pivot, and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs seeking a viable go-to-market strategy and revenue model to sustain growth.