Whenever we describe to anyone what we’re doing at Liquid Labs, one of the first questions is always “Why FinTech”? We tend to say that we focus on both financial technology as well as services but let’s just lump that into one category here and call it “Fintech”. I’d love to be able to say we did a ton of analysis and market research to come to the conclusion that via some whiz-bang algorithm we could make tons of money. We didn’t! What we basically did was ask ourselves “what’s broken and needs to be fixed now?”
If you really think about it, there’s a dichotomy in FinTech. On one end of the spectrum you have a working system, involving physical cash, online payments and banking as well as all of the respective products, services and systems related to finance. At the other end of the spectrum though there’s the relative lack of transparency connected with outrageous fees and trailing innovation. In this day and age, is there really a need to still pay with paper money? Are credit cards the best we can do? Should it cost you 10% or maybe even 20% to transfer money internationally although no real “work” is being done? Should people still be balancing their personal budgets and tracking spending using paper journals? We don’t think so and we thought we could do better. Further, we also felt that there was an opportunity to optimize products at a geographic scale. The US market tends to be quite homogenous throughout the whole country. In Europe, we’re used to far more diversity in cultures and regulations. The same is true for other markets such as South America.
In addition to the opportunity to innovate, we saw the access to our parent group as highly beneficial. We have a channel into a very large player in the FinTech sector and have resources which we can leverage. We’re able to very quickly spot-check whether our ideas make sense and when we do have prototypes built, we can get feedback very quickly. Finally, we simply felt that there were enough groups in other segments chasing limited opportunities. There is a lot of noise right now, especially in Germany, when it comes to eCommerce and most things Internet. We felt the need to be very focussed and in a segment where we had multiple USP’s. When it came to FinTech, multiple stars aligned for us, and hence we’ve gone full bore into it.
When we launched with Liquid Labs, we asked ourselves how can we easily differentiate our approach from so many things out there which aren’t really working. Being big fans of lean development and the “Fail Fast” approach, we wondered if it’s possible to tweak these concepts for our purposes. What basically came out is what we’ve now started referring to internally as “public alpha”.
With Mavendi, our recently launched approach to “Unmessing Your Shopping”, we needed to get people using it. Speaking with potential users, we knew we had something that solved a real problem yet it was hard to really understand how people would use it. It simply was not a product we could keep in the lab and continue tweaking without seeing people play with it and try to “break it”. We struggled quite a bit about launching it as we felt that being too buggy could backfire. At the same time, we were hopeful that users would be patient with us when it came to tweaking the product.
In hindsight, we were thankfully correct on both fronts. We were able to get a ton of feedback from the first users and were very quickly able to re-steer the product in a slightly different direction. We would of never known this was the case had we not simply launched. Yes, there was initial criticism and you’ll always have a couple people bashing you for an unfinished product. Fair enough. We were very pleasantly surprised fortunately that the majority were happy to simply give feedback and advice as to what they’d change.
After going out into “public alpha”, we did another run of testing by going into “private beta”. This was also clearly a tactical decision as we didn’t want to hit the market again with a big PR wave and not yet have a finished product. We had a large batch of users who basically came from our friends & family go in and re-test the product after we implemented all the changes and feedback we received in the initial run. We have yet to launch the iOS app, but are getting close. We feel that this will be the most important component of Mavendi. We’re also quite optimistic that user growth will happen via that front. Hence the back-end of Mavendi was optimized with public usage and real user feedback before we actually launch the main features via an iOS app.
We don’t yet know if this is the best approach and for some products, it simply may not work. For us though in the case of Mavendi, it was the easiest way to get a product up and running and to make sure that user feedback was going into the product from Day 1. We knew people wanted the service but we figured out that unless they had something in their hands to play with, they couldn’t really tell you what it had to do and what didn’t matter. Now we know! You can be sure that we’ll be taking this approach again in the future.