Foobli

An in-depth retrospective

The Brief

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.

Ideation

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.

Branding

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."

Foobli Logo Branding

Design & Development

For our minimum viable product, we focussed on the following deliverables:

Student

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

Instructor

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:

Typography

Aa font-family:'Helvetica Nueue';

Colour Palette

Colour Palette

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.

Foobli iPad and iPhone Screens

While one of my partners focused on business development and marketing, I began laying the foundation of our web application with our back-end developer, utilizing the Ruby on Rails framework. To help speed up development, we installed a handful of Ruby gems including Devise for Authentication, Pry for test driven development and Letter Opener to help test our email notifications. In the front-end, I implemented Bootstrap, Sass to keep our styles modular and various JavaScript libraries such as DatePicker. From ideation to launch, it took 8 gruelling months of working countless hours after our 9-5pm day jobs.

Demo Video

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.

Challenges

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.

From a technical perspective, I was a newbie to the coding world. I had only been coding in HTML, CSS and JavaScript since January 2014. I was also in the early stages of learning Ruby on Rails at BrainStation. Our back-end developer, had been a programmer for over a decade…in game development. He was only familiar with ASP server-side code on the web. From my early encounters with how clean and readable the Ruby language was, I knew we had to include it in our stack…and so we did. Learning Ruby and Ruby on Rails during the development phase was a sink or swim challenge, but we managed to survive through perseverance and dedication.

The Results

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.

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