Solo Design Sprint in Sydney

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The Design Sprint is a great way to figure out if an idea is worth trying out before doing a full scale launch. It’s a really rapid way to test out the market without having to commit to anything. You just create a facade, make customers think it’s the real thing, watch their reaction, get feedback and iterate or pivot. It’s been used by Slack, Nest, Bluebottle Coffee. The sprint is meant to last over 5 intense days starting from Monday and ending Friday. Well today is Friday and I’ve just completed my first sprint, doing it entirely solo.


I grew up and spent most of my life in Sydney but left about 5 years ago and now mainly in between the US and Europe. It’s been about 2 years since I’ve been back and after I came back to visit home about a month ago, one thing I noticed is how much of a brick and mortar feel Sydney has to it. Anyway, I saw a gap in the market for an eCommerce app that I thought I could fill and decided to try using the Design Sprint methodology to test out the idea.


Marvel — to make it look like an app
Keynote — to make the prototype
Keynotopia — to make the prototype look realistic
Lookback — to record the interviews
Book — the Design Sprint book (herein “the book”) to guide you which unfortunately is really just half complete without its accompanying website. So you’ll need both the book and website together to get everything you need. For example, they go through the specifics of preparing for and doing the interview here on the website which really should have been a chapter on its own in the book.
Typeform — the book recommends Google Forms but I prefer Typeform because it’s so pretty (and you can see easily when one computer logs several entries which people did)


So the first step is to figure out the problems, pool the knowledge from different fields e.g. sales, marketing, product, engineering. Since I did it alone, it was just what I knew about the market as well as talking to a few business associates. Going through the entire process alone was doable but quite difficult and a bit stressful. I think I’d rather have at least my project manager involved the next time (I didn’t involve her because I didn’t want to distract her from running the eCommerce business).

I did all of the sketches and whiteboard postings as per the book and come up with about 20 slides for the “storyboard” which basically focused on the most important customer point which is download the app from the app store (after seeing an ad for it in FB Newsfeed) and then using it. While getting the prototype ready, I concurrently started listing who the target audience would be and making a questionnaire in Typeform to target them.

north%20sydney%20start%20up%20officeComing up with the sketches

This took a bit of thinking because people will generally try to game the survey to figure out the answers that you want without realising it. So instead of asking a question like “have you installed any productivity apps?”, you should write “what kind of apps do you have installed?” or “which of the following type of apps do you have installed?” with options that include health, productivity, games and other stuff. Even like this you’ll have people that choose everything but those people will be easy to filter out whereas having a yes/no question would be more difficult.

The book recommends posting the survey into Craigslist and then choose 5 people to interview face to face. They offered a $100 gift voucher to incentivize people to come. In Sydney however, Craigslist isn’t used much. The main classifieds site people go to is Gumtree. So I posted there with “top ad” to get more views and more people filling out the survey . It was an extra $40 but worth it for the extra responses I got on the survey which was great market data that I learned a lot from.


The annoying thing with Gumtree was that the post didn’t go live straight away. Even though it says it can take a few hours, in my case it took almost almost a day before the post went live on Wednesday night. I was offering a $100 Westfield gift card for people to come in and do it.


I thought Westfield gift cards was a good idea since you can find most retailers there and I could easily expense it on the company. The only annoying thing is that they also charge an “issue” fee of $2.95 per card. I asked if this could be waived since I was buying 5. They said I had to commit to spending at least $10,000 per year on Westfield gift cards to waive that fee. I got the cards in the end anyway for a total of $514.75

The responses started coming in from the Gumtree post and I noticed a distinct lack of qualified candidates. Around 20-30% were just trying to game the survey filling in as much as possible according to what they thought I wanted, a few that kind of met the criteria and the rest that weren’t even close. I was starting to doubt whether I’d even be able to make the 5 needed. Eventually after getting 53 responses on the survey, I got 2 that fit the criteria and 3 that I would consider borderline. I called them all on Thursday to set up the interviews for Friday.

I hired a conference room from my friend’s office in North Sydney for $200:


I spent the night doing the entire prototype using Keynote and Keynotopia. After having the slides ready, I exported them as images and then imported them into MarvelApp which allows you to “link” the images by creating hotspots.


These made the app seem “real” but obviously with some limitations. Though for the purpose of the test, it’s usually good enough.

After finalizing the app, I came up with questions to ask.

Doing the Interview

On the website, they recommend using this $99.00 camera for testing mobile prototypes and recording the user using the app. I decided to use Lookback instead which is currently free (in Beta) which records the phone by connecting it to the computer and the web cam on my Macbook Pro simultaneously.

Lookback is meant to integrate with Marvel but it’s terribly buggy and kept freezing when I had the integration turned on but seemed to work fine when I had it switched off.

I did the interviews today and ran into a few problems from the get go. I had one person that texted in the morning to say that he’s no longer coming. The printer at the office suddenly decided to malfunction (to print the confidentiality agreement). The print houses around North Sydney only do big print jobs and weren’t interested in doing small jobs. So it was only Officeworks which had a queue of people for the only printer that was working in the morning. And of course it only accepted flash drives and SD cards, not email. I got the NDAs printed after buying an 8 GB Toshiba flash drive (who still uses those now?) and put a 153 kb PDF onto it.

I eventually got to the interviews and got some really unexpected insights into how customers perceive the app and trying to use it in ways that I didn’t even think of. Sometimes it’s things that are obvious too. They’d ask, “wait, why doesn’t this show [x] information?”. Then I’d be like, “Shit, of course. That makes sense.” Seems obvious in retrospect too. One question which I’m not sure I saw in the book that I got some really unexpected responses to is “how would you describe this app to your friends? Your colleagues?” I assumed “X” and they all said “Y”. Whatever questions you ask during the interview, it’s a good idea to question any important assumptions that you have. My head was spinning afterwards.

Not all of the interviews went well. You remember how I said one of them cancelled? Well I called in another person that I thought was very borderline to fill in the available time slot and she happened to be available during that time slot. That was a terrible waste of time and money. Her only feedback was that, “yeah, this is amazing” and “it’s great!”.

What about the app is amazing?

“Yeah the whole thing is amazing, it’s a great idea!”

Is there anything you don’t like about the app?

“Not at all, the whole thing is just really great. I mean it’s just simply amazing”

Most of the interviews went to an hour or more. This one went for 15 minutes. #Fail


I’ve always sought customer feedback to get an idea of how we’re doing and their thoughts on our products as well as future developments. We’ve gotten at least a few thousand survey results from our current customers using the Ask Method. After having tried the Design Sprint, I can say that I fully embrace it and would recommend it for anyone thinking of launching any large project (health, government, as well as tech) or big idea. I guess the definition of what large means something different for everyone. For us, any project under $10,000 is not worth the hassle of committing 5 days of work to determine feasibility so we’ll probably send a simple survey to customers to decide whether to go ahead or not if don’t already have a good idea/expertise in the area (e.g. if we’re launching a new product line). I’ve read about some “guerilla” methods where you go into Starbucks and you offer to buy coffee for people to answer your questions. I thought it was a good idea (and cheaper!) initially but you don’t get to filter people and unless your only qualification is a coffee drinker, your odds of finding your target audience is quite slim and you’ll just be wasting time.

This works really well just as long as you have the target customer there. The closer they are to being your ideal target, and being armed with the right questions, you’re going to discover some real gems.

Cost breakdown for me to do the solo sprint:

Conference Room: $200
Gift Cards: $514.75
Gumtree Post: $40
USB Flash Drive: $7

Total: $761.75

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