Podcast: How building games helped drive B2B App engagement
Podcast: How building games helped drive B2B App engagement
In this podcast series we ask experienced Appreneurs for one success story and one fail.
Jindou Lee is CEO of B2B App company Happy Inspector;
a leading Data Collection Platform for mobile.
Their Mobile App on iPad and iPhone handles inspections, audits, checklists and compliance in Real Estate, Hospitality and Government and delivers all the collected data to the cloud for enterprises to use to drive workflows.
B2B App engagement may not seem immediately a huge priority as it could be argued that employees will be forced to use an App as part of their job. However Jindou sheds some light on why engaging the users is important.
For all our interviews we ask the interviewee to score their own anecdote based on 3 axes of: acquisition, UX and retention. In B2B once you embed the product in a company’s processes you have a very sticky (or high retention) App. So Jindou’s anecdotes focussed on engagement scoring 3,10,0.
Let us know on our Twitter account how you score it.
The main points that standout were that Jindou’s game design background informed even the early versions of the Happy Inspector product. In a B2B App, you would not expect to see such attention to detail but Jindou thinks its key to give the user an “instant gratification” experience early – so their “ah-ha” moment encourages continued use. This has an indirect positive effect on acquisition fanout as the early triallers recommend it to their colleagues. In other words B2B App Engagement drives revenue.
DAVID: Hello, it’s David from Street Hawk. We’re going to switch gears a little bit here today. We’re going to talk to a CEO of a B2B company. That’s Jindou Lee and the company is Happy Inspector. These guys do a solution in real estate, so I thought it would be really good to have a look at business-to-business type apps and the learnings that come from there. Okay, Jindou, how are you?
JINDOU: Good. How are you, David?
DAVID: Very well. So, as I said, you’re in real estate and you’re in inspections, by the name “Happy Inspector.” Tell us a little bit about where you are at the moment.
JINDOU: Yeah. What we’ve done in the last couple of months is we’re starting to transition away from the “Happy Inspector” name to “HappyCo” name. I guess one of the reasons behind that is we found that our customers are starting to use us for a variety of different use cases, not just specific to inspections but any sort of checklists, audits, forms, anything where they need to collect data in the field. That’s where they use us at the moment, so that’s why the change away from just Happy Inspector.
DAVID: Is that staying in real estate? I know when we first heard your pitch, you were talking about inspections in any area, but are you sticking to real estate?
JINDOU: I guess where we’re seeing a lot of our customers using us is around any sort of physical assets, like a residential or apartment building, hotel, airports. We’ve got fitness centres, franchises, like the Mexican franchise on the border of Mexican restaurant. A variety of different use cases in government, so city inspectors use us as well. So we’re sort of seeing that we’re moving away just from straight real estate but I guess we’re always around physical asset. That’s where we’re really strong at.
DAVID: Right. So just walk us through that kind of classic use case for you, the most common one.
JINDOU: At HappyCo, what we do is we help our customers. We’re essentially a data collection platform, so we help our customers to collect data in the field where they traditionally would have used pen and paper. As you know, your pen and paper is a terrible and inefficient process.
Let’s just say, in Marriott, for example, in the hotel industry, there’s a housekeeper that goes around and uses pen and paper and pad, they go in to each room when the guest moves out of the room. They would jot down all the notes, like “Yes, this room is clean” or “There are some damages here” or “They need to replace light bulbs”, etc. They take that piece of paper, they go back to the main office, someone has to collate all that and give it to the maintenance supervisor or technician, he asks them to fix it, and then gets another piece of paper and then goes back and forth. It eventually gets to the head of housekeeping and then report back out.
Using the Happy Inspector app that we have, we can create their templates on file. They can do it themselves, if they choose to, and perform, in this case, the checklist of the housekeeping check, and then push the data to the cloud and everyone can see it in real time. So it really cuts down like a half-an-hour or hour process down to literally a few minutes.
DAVID: Right, okay. So that just means that basically there’s an education process but ultimately everybody in the process is looking through mobile devices?
JINDOU: Yes, pretty much. One of the biggest learnings that I found was when we first started, we thought, “Oh, people have iPhones and iPads, mobiles and smartphones. All they have to do is sort of buy them in.” I think the market’s really changed in the last three or four years. I know in the US it has, and in Australia, I assume it has as well. A lot of the larger companies and organizations, even the sort of mid-tier, have equipped their staff with their own smartphone or tablet devices.
DAVID: So how does it work? Are you iPad or iPhone-based?
JINDOU: Initially we started off on only the iPad. Over the last year and a half now, we did the whole iOS devices, and we’re in the middle of finishing off the Android version at the moment as well.
DAVID: Choosing iOS as your first and only platform for the first few year and a half or two years, something like that, do you feel as if it’s been a handbrake on your growth or people pay for it where they really want the solution?
JINDOU: Well, you know, if money and time were not an issue, I would say we wish we were on Android as well, but reality is you have to choose your battles, and we chose to start the iOS platform, just because I think that the customers that we found that really wanted a solution really liked the Apple products. But as you probably know, there’s a huge growth in Android adoptions, and so this is part of the market we can’t ignore anymore, so we’ve actually just been more focusing on getting the Android version out.
DAVID: It’s a really good lesson for startups to, you know, as you said, pick your battles. There’s only so many things you can do with hours in the day and dollars in the bank. You deliberately made this choice to just keep it simple, keep it on the iOS platform initially just as a way of simplifying your life, and there are enough customers to self-select your product out of that.
JINDOU: Yeah, I think so. I think the other part of the equation is when you start creating your app, just take a look at the tools that are out there because there are some tools like Xamarin and some of the tools that you do on both platforms like Corona. But for what we wanted to do and what we’ve done, we could actually use a third-party software to do it. We don’t have to be native because we have the online/offline syncing that needed to be done. A lot of our customers sometimes go to areas where there’s internet blackspots, so don’t have connectivity, or they might be taking hundreds of photos. You don’t want that to be on the data plan; so we had to choose to go to native in the beginning. But that’s part of the fun of startups, trying to choose your battles.
DAVID: Yeah, right. That’s interesting too because it pops up in areas for us through Indonesia through to India that basically there’s blackspots everywhere and lower data rates and things like that, so different people are making different things in their own ways, asking questions about offline type workings with our tools.
So tell us a little bit. We’re kind of searching for this actionable “aha” moment that might be good for our listeners. Is there some way where you felt as though you’re kind of struggling with something and then all of a sudden there was an inflection point? It doesn’t have to be technology-based. It could be something around how you were acquiring users or something about your business model. We’re just interested if you can explore that a bit.
JINDOU: Yes. I think we always struggled with everything, for some reason, like it never seems to end and there’s always something that crops up. You think you’ve solved something else, and then something else crops up. So, I don’t think that there is just one “aha” moment. I think our life is just full of “aha’s”.
I’ll share a little bit about how acquisition strategy or what’s been happening for the acquisition side of things. So with our app, it’s a free app to download. We found our customers start using with a couple of users, and then over time, I think there’s an inflection point in the product somewhere. My guess it’s around when they do that first inspection or their first project and they go, “Holy cow! This is a really good app. It’s saved X amount of time.” So it hits their value proposition very early and very quickly.
What we find then is they just sign up, and then once they sign up, they keep adding users. So for us, the biggest lesson is we need to get out of our customer’s way. When they want to add users, let’s make it easy for them to add users. To get the “aha” moment, let’s make it simple enough so they can get their first complete project or their first inspection. So it’s really just focusing on those few things and just drilling down on it. That’s one of the “aha” moments that we’ve had.
DAVID: Okay. So let’s drill down into that a bit. So inviting users, you’re literally talking about actually inviting other team members to go and download the app and actually use it as well in a collaborative sort of way?
JINDOU: Yeah, exactly. I’ll give you an example. We had a customer called Colony American. They have purchased, I think, 20,000 single-family homes (or just homes) in Australia in the last two or three years. Think about that number—20 to 23 thousand—that’s a lot of houses to buy in two years, right? One thing that we found, they were building their own product then they got rid of the person who’s building it and then they started with a single user with the Happy Inspector product.
So they started that, and then a week or two later, they had another ten users. With the ten users, they invited like another department, so what they were doing, they said, “Hey, what are you guys using it for?” “We’re using it for our punch list inspection.” So when a house is bought, they need to make sure that it’s up to the right conditions and they have to do a report, they use the app, and then the next part of it is once it’s finished the rehab process, then a parking manager takes over that. So now the parking manager in the department says, “Hey, we use this to do our parking management inspection, like the move in/move out, ingoing/outgoing inspections,” and they go, “Yes, sure, I’ll check with these guys.” So then they add another 25 users. Another department saw that and they have now the 40 users.
I think we have 150 or 180 users at the moment, but that’s within a span of four to six weeks. For us, it was a great learning lesson to see how the product could translate across the different departments. The other thing is that’s a really good case that the departments talk to each other. Sometimes they don’t talk to each other, so how do you facilitate that conversation?
DAVID: So really in the consumer space they might talk about viral fan-out, you know, “How do I actually get people to share with their friends and bring them on board?” So you’ve made that a core part of the thing, or has that been actually happening just by word of mouth outside the application?
JINDOU: I think it’s a bit of both. It happens outside the application, but I think from a product point of view, as soon as you start to see things happening, so having a really good “finger on the pulse” you start to see all of these patterns emerging with not just one company. There may be three or four or ten startups doing this sort of same whatever behaviour. I think it’s like “Okay, let’s dedicate some time to making this process a little bit better through the product.” So I think it’s sort of why the lesson is to drill down on the things that work and then just focus a bit more of their time on them.
DAVID: So that’s interesting. With a B2B business, the amount of data or all the signals that you make, those kind of intuitive decisions is probably not as obvious or easy as, you know, having 20,000 end users. Do you basically ring people up and talk to them? Do you stay close to your customer to understand their behaviours still?
JINDOU: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s really, really important to stay close to your customers at every stage of the business. I don’t think there’s ever a time when you want to stop. Well, as you start growing larger, then you might have people that do it for you but someone in the company has to be close to their customers. For us we split into a customer team and a product team. Everyone in our customer team talks to the customers, whether it’s from sales, marketing and support, customer success standpoint, everyone talks to the customers.
Even myself, because I’m focused more on the product side at the moment, but chatting with them, looking at their signals, the metrics, just making the feedback loop as easy as possible and transparent.
DAVID: Oh, I was going to say, I’m trying to sort of see if it’s a definitive thing here. I kind of feel as though “Steve Blank, get out of the building” type thing is a bit of B2B companies, as opposed to “Eric Ries, measure it right, learn”. Do you think there is one or the other, or you think it’s really a strong mix of both?
JINDOU: To me, I think it’s both. I think it’s having Steve Blank and Eric Ries in the same room, sitting down, and the ideal would be both of them working for you at the same time.
JINDOU: Because some things you can get from data, I guess you make the data even sort of, you know, deduce a lot of things, like “This is what’s happening from that.” But there’s a lot of things that are emotional, so like working that product is like an emotional journey for any end user. There are some things which are emotional – like there’s logic about the decision buying around a product. Does it meet my business needs? Does it help save X amount of time” – “Yeah that’s great”. But there’s that emotional connection, which I think is a really touchy, feely [I feel], but if you look at the best consumer apps, they do it really well. They have the best user experience. You know, it gives people this great feeling of “Oh, my god, I love this app”, right?
JINDOU: So that sort of stuff, it’s really hard to use that as a quantifier. I think, okay, the people, you’ll see when their eyes light up, but it’s something that’s not the nonverbal cues or in their tone, they go, “Oh, I finished one of my projects and, oh, my god, I got the results, the data back within 30 seconds and my boss is really excited.” You just picture on that and they go, “Hmm, interesting. How did you get that data easier for these people?”
So to your question, I think it’s a win process to have both men at the same time, or to use both sides.
DAVID: All right, good. So just coming back to that other aspect to do with the user’s “aha” moment, the user’s first experience or what I like to call the “instant gratification” thing, and you used the term “getting out of the way” of the user. Is that again something that you kind of stumbled across? I was reading an article yesterday. Marissa Mayer, in her struggle to try and make something of Yahoo, has this new mandate that basically everything in a mobile app should be two clicks away from the meaningful result. Did you kind of go into the development thinking consciously that we need to actually get somebody to their place quickly, or did you just kind of….?
JINDOU: Well, I think part of me is German somewhere along the line. [Laughs]
DAVID: I recognised it in your surname “Lee”. [Laughs]
JINDOU: “Lee-Meister”! No. I think, you know, I really like things to be very efficient and simple. My background is in building video games like mortal combat and was the user interface lead. When you’re building a user interface for video game, if you can imagine, you have thousands of things happening that the user interface elements or the experience has to give you the right amount of information really quick. You know, there’s too much stuff going on and you need to help people focus on the right thing when they need to, right? So being really efficient at how you communicate information across is something that has always stuck with me, and the other side is making the experience enjoyable. If it’s video games, you want it to be a fun video game. So I’ve always sort of taken both those philosophies and built product that way.
With Happy Inspector, the initial product of Happy Inspector was really just to get from a crappy clipboard checklist down to a nice, professionally formatted report. The quickest way to do that was the best way, so that’s what we’ve always sort of done. So I guess it’s not really saying we –
DAVID: It’s just in the DNA of the team that was building the product.
JINDOU: Yeah. It was always intuitive, but with Marissa Mayer’s two-click sort of thing, I think it’s a good rule of thumb, but sometimes there is a lot to be said about having more than two clicks and the journey has to be enjoyable, I think. It’s like when you first sign up to like a Squarespace or one of those SaaS products; when you set up your profile, there’s some gratification about having your logo, adding your name, and sync things up here. They aren’t going to take two clicks. Some of them are like 10 or 20 clicks away. But it has to be easy to understand, the clicks to be easy, you understand where the next logical step is, and that’s probably more important than just the two-click rule.
DAVID: You think that translates into a mobile device where somebody is walking into a property and they need to do that, or does it apply there? I always think that when you’re designing something from mobile use, you kind of have to do it for an IQ of 60. It’s not because you get dumber the moment you pick up a mobile device. It’s just that “you’re doing so many other things and the world’s coming at you” sort of thing.
JINDOU: [Laughs] Yeah. So when we first designed the first product, the Happy Inspector product, the way we got about it was I had some property, which I purchased, you know, obviously my consulting company (previous consulting company actually). I had my property manager who was giving me the handwritten reports, and I was like, “WTF– I can’t even read them.”
So what I did, I just rang up 20 different companies and had some screenshots, one of them was the iPad, one of that page, went in and spoke to 20 different companies. What I found was really amazing. The people I spoke to, I thought they would have been much more, I wouldn’t say, intelligent but they’re just people that don’t use computers. But then when they saw the app, they got it. The target range was 40- to 60-year-olds. What I did when I started to build the app for the end user in mind which is 40- to 60-year-olds, I actually used my mom and dad as the rule of thumb. If my mom and dad can’t use it, then no one can.
DAVID: Right. You designed to your personas.
JINDOU: Exactly. Coming from a graphic design background, it’s always like “Who’s your target audience? What’s the goal of the project?” So, we sort of came from that angle. We looked at the person. Okay, well, 40- to 60-year-olds, big buttons, but not too big because you can’t make them look clunky. It has to be intuitive for the user, I guess, is what we sort of started off building it.
DAVID: Is that why you came to market with iPad first, to give you a little bit more real estate? (Pardon the pun).
JINDOU: Well, it’s actually because of when I spoke to the customers, I said, “Hey, I’ve got two options for you: the iPhone or the iPad?” At that stage, I think 19 of the 20 people said iPad.
DAVID: That’s a pretty easy decision then!
JINDOU: Yeah. I found them interesting. So I think part of the key is listen to your customers but read between the lines as well. So what I found they were saying is the iPad makes more sense because of the screen size and the real estate (as you put it). But what they were communicating very well was “I would prefer to use my iPhone if you could fit everything on my iPhone.”
DAVID: Ah, okay.
JINDOU: So for us, we were sort of played the pitching game and we built for the iPad. When we started to build it, the iPad 2 came out, so the camera came out. So then it was perfect. Now they can take photos; before, you couldn’t. Previously, maybe you could use a dongle for the iPad. From the iPhone to the iPad, it’s okay. It was lucky that works, so, okay, great. So then we, Andrew and I, sat together and said, “Okay, the phones are going to get bigger. Let’s focus on the iPad, make that experience brilliant, and then let’s come back and think about how to craft the experience for the iPhone.” That’s what we’ve done in the last 12 to 18 months.
DAVID: Okay, all right, we’re aware of your time. So if I step back and say, okay, if we just have a look at these three axes of acquisition, engagement, and retention, and we picked one of those particular examples, which I think probably the growth of your own business, which is around this user acquisition, that sounds like it’s really strong in terms of acquisition. Have you got that sort of little picture?
DAVID: Can you score what you…? I mean, you could basically score the two things there. I mean, there’s obviously a heavy experience element to what we’ve just been speaking about, but earlier on, can you score that as well?
JINDOU: Score our business on that model?
DAVID: Well, yeah, just score what you’ve talked about.
JINDOU: Well, I would really put as user experience is champion (9 or 10). Like once you have a really good user experience or product that solved that solution well, then it’s like “Then how do you sort of feed more people into that funnel?” and then you can start working on this retention piece, because I think the retention lends itself from user experience. Once you have good user experience, people will retain themselves, so to speak; they’ll start to keep using it.
The acquisition is a really tricky piece. I find that a lot of startups have issues with the acquisition piece, you know, like how all about the Atlassian or Yammer has sort of sold the acquisition piece. From mobile B2B software, a lot of us is still learning that, right? So by the time that becomes public knowledge, you can’t use those acquisition strategies anymore.
DAVID: All right, that’s great. Tell us about one failure you’ve had. Hopefully it’s a massive fail, you know because I’m a sadist. Something that you really feel as though you’ve been excellent at failing at, product-wise.
JINDOU: Getting from like this sort MVP. People are throwing this MVP term everywhere. We start business with an MVP, so for us the biggest problem was moving from an MVP mindset to becoming more towards like an enterprise software. What I mean from that is when we first started, we had like a hundred customers, solid customers, you know, businesses using us. When you craft a new update, it was fine, right? Maybe a few people had issues and you just go and solve their problem. But the scale where we have a couple of thousand businesses that use us now, you know, probably 10- to 15,000 users from that as well? Every time we made a mistake, we put an update where it just updated everyone. We didn’t test it properly and some people had issues. When I say ‘some people’, it’s not just a couple. It’s 100, 200 users, or whatever it is. That’s a lot of support tickets.
JINDOU: So we started to re-engineer the team, hired a few more experienced heads, and really started to think about how do we release product, moving away from “Oh, let’s be scrappy” to “Let’s be considerate at how we release but don’t lose the speed of how we’re producing the product.” Does that make sense?
DAVID: Yes, absolutely. In fact, Stuart talked a little bit about that from Walmart, how when you’re at a business that has that kind of scale, then the number of tickets you get is an avalanche. You can just even got some small little things and you thought, “Oh, they’ll be okay.”
JINDOU: Exactly. And it’s okay if you want, you know, your consumer is fine, but for us we’re talking about our users use us as part of their mission, critical day-to-day operations. So when a couple of hundred customers couldn’t log in, for example, they couldn’t do their job.
DAVID: Yeah. That’s actually a really key thing for B2B, isn’t it? So B2C you may feel “Oh, I can do it in a few uses in a sense and no harm done, but in this particular thing, it’s basically bugs equals money, I guess.
JINDOU: Yeah. It’s not the B2B that’s the problem; it’s more mobile. Because if you’re like on a web app, you know, oh, “someone can’t login” – you just push to fix, update, done, right? But if we’re doing mobile, it’s like, okay, you got to get your Apples approved and processed another two weeks; something might come back another one week. That’s two or three weeks that you’re waiting and your customers are waiting. It just requires a bit more discipline on how you build products. That’s one thing I had to learn the last three or four months.
DAVID: You learned the hard way, it sounds like.
JINDOU: That’s right, “lets not launch too quick”. [Laughter]
DAVID: You’re testing and it’s 3AM in the morning because you’re freaking out. I know that feeling.
DAVID: Okay, that’s great. That’s a great experience. Thank you very much for that. So, just to kind of wrap up, where will we look for you next? What are you up to?
JINDOU: Well, like I said, I don’t really do anything else except work on HappyCo. We’re moving to a really cool, I guess, stage in the business. We’ve got some really good customers, so really helping those customers to continue to grow and then expand to the next tier of customers that permutate from that. Really we’ll just focus on that at the moment. If there’s anything else that we can do at this stage is just grow and keep learning.
DAVID: Just keep learning.
DAVID: Okay, that’s great. Thanks so much for your time. It’s terrific. There’s some really great stuff in here and I feel as though I’m going to have to split it in two.
JINDOU: Oh, no.
DAVID: Oh, no. It’s good. It’s good I can get two podcasts out of this. There’s such great content. So thanks very much for your time, mate.
JINDOU: No problem. Thanks, Dave.
DAVID: Okay. Cheers!