What goes into a great product?

This is Week 04 of 10 of Astra’s Y Combinator Startup School Journal.

The lectures for this week’s curriculum concluded the focus on product, with an amazing presentation by Garry Tan (Initialized Capital, formerly YC Partner) on “Design for Startups.” Next up was “PR and Content for Growth” by Kat Mañalac (YC Partner) and Craig Cannon (Director of Marketing) and there was even a bonus “Conversation with Aileen Lee” (Cowboy Ventures).

These talks were rich with really good detail and tactical advice you can put to use today so I highly recommend them all. But since my background is in design and architecture, I couldn’t help but enjoy Garry’s lecture the most. The original Leica, Deiter Rams, and Edward Tufte sprinkled throughout a thorough description (required a Part I and Part II) of the design process as applied to product – that’s catnip for anyone who appreciates good design even if you are already familiar with the references. 💯

The lesson that resonated most for me during this talk was the design process outlined in the image below. My background is the essentially the inverse to Garry’s (he is self-taught in design coming from a technical background, I’m self-taught in programming from a design background), so frequent iteration is natural for me, but this was great to have crystallized in a clear framework. When we started designing the current Astra app, our process wasn’t as clean as following these steps, but we did have iteration cycles that incrementally added the next step with User Feedback built into the framework. Given that fintech apps have long development cycles, this was of huge value to our process and ensured we weren’t trying to make a working app that missed on either functionality or delight.

Product Design Process by Garry Tan, markup mine

Design is creating things for users that work well and delight them.

Program:

This week we attended the main weekly lectures on Tuesday, as well as the bonus lecture with Aileen Lee on Thursday. And we dialed into our Office Hours session on Friday where a lot of the conversation surrounded why and how to apply to the upcoming YC batch. There was definitely a lot of content to digest and put into action. Otherwise, we:

  • Participated in an informal feedback session after the main lecture – thanks for being so generous with your time, Garry! 🙏
  • Attended our first SUS Bay Area Founders meetup – each founder shared their startup and current challenges, and we offered feedback.
  • Shared some of our experience with negotiating contracts with big companies with our fellow Group founders.
  • Started working on our application to YC (due 10/2).

Product:

With the development push from last week, we were close to feature complete with the next version of the Astra app and sprinted towards a finished v1.0.10:

  • Added savings goal amounts to the main Accounts UI.
  • Enabled users to connect ~7,000 more financial institutions.
  • Accommodated the varying account types in the UI.
  • Finished testing and submitted to the App Store.
  • Scoped out “Sweep” action types for our next sprint.

Growth:

In addition to our standard weekly user interviews and communicating with users in various states of our onboarding funnel, we spent a good chunk of this week working on content marketing with our external partners and digging into more detailed analysis of how well Astra is working for our users:

  • Prepped for and conducted an Interview with Plaid for an upcoming article.
  • Inquired about an open invitation for participation in an interview for Hacker Noon.
  • Gathered additional details from to our “Core” data – more on that next week!

Per our refined dashboard, this week’s user stats:

  • 195 Total Users (+18)
  • 182 Signed Up Users (+20)
  • 64 Onboarded Users (+19)
  • 38 Verified Users (+10 or 36%)

Our target was 10 Verified Users to stay on track to our target growth rate for the program. Onward to releasing the next version of the app!

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