A customer’s first impression of a product goes a long way. In fact, the thing you choose to have your customers see first is the only thing all customers will ever experience. Scott Belsky, Adobe’s chief product officer, has a great metaphor that describes how to get a customer interested quickly:
“What you choose to put in the window is what brings someone in the door. Once they’re in the door, you show them other types of merchandise. The customer takes the first step because they realize there’s some immediacy to the value. They then have the opportunity to discover longer-term value when they are ready.”
Our team kept this thought in mind as we redesigned an onboarding experience for Carta Launch, our platform for early-stage founders (some of Carta’s primary customers). We sought to design and build an experience that would leave founders feeling excited and confident. Our primary goal was to empower new founders to use Carta proactively to raise funds and manage their equity.
In this article, we’ll look at how my team—the Carta Launch product and design team—took a creative approach to deeply understand our users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create an experience that would set founders up for long-term success within the platform.
Step 1: Empathize by researching founders’ needs
Our first order of business was to get the lay of the land. We listened, learned, asked questions, and reviewed quantitative and qualitative data that was collected over time.
We interviewed several founders to understand who these founders are at a deeper level. What are their top priorities? What challenges do they face? What does success look like to them? What questions do they have to answer day to day?
This is one of my favorite aspects of research because it helps me understand and truly empathize with the people I’m trying to help. The interviews gave us a wealth of information, which we sorted into categories: goals, needs, challenges, and behaviors. This helped us create personas: fictional examples of the people who represent these categories. We design and build our products with these personas in mind.
David, the dreamer
David’s a first-time founder who’s essentially starting from scratch. He’s looking to raise funding within the coming months. He’s scrappy and learning about equity as he goes.
Janette, the visionary
Janette is an expert in her domain, but she knows very little about equity. She wants to lean on her law firm to educate her and help her through the process.
Deb, the veteran
Deb is an entrepreneur who’s been around the block. She has led two companies through various fundraising series. She’s self-taught and very familiar with equity and option strategy.
Carta Launch survey feedback
In addition to customer interviews and personas, we reviewed all of the written feedback we received on the current onboarding experience. We took individual insights and grouped them into themes. This helped us understand high-level problems and see specifically where customers were struggling with the current process.
Key takeaways from our research
We learned two main things from this work.
First, that no two founders go through the same journey when starting a company. Founders have different levels of understanding, and they prefer varying levels of support.
And second, a founder’s immediate actions and motivations differ depending on where they are in their fundraising journey. Here’s what we found when we dove into motivations by fundraising stage:
Founders who have zero funding
They want to raise money, period. They’re most interested in reaching out to investors, modeling their first convertible note or SAFE financing round, and learning about market insights on early-stage financing.
Founders who have received their earliest round of funding
They’re interested in hiring their first employees, finding product-market fit, and choosing a lead investor. They are starting to think about setting up a basic cap table and issuing equity to early employees.
Founders who have received a priced round.
These takeaways were important for us to keep in mind as we designed the onboarding experience. How might we cater to the different types of founders and their needs throughout the experience? Who are we optimizing this experience for?
Pro tip: Share this research with your broader R&D team. It helps them empathize with the customer and gives them a better understanding of who they’re building the product for and why you made certain decisions through the process.
Step 2: Identify and define the core problem
Here was the problem we set out to solve:
When founders start a business without much prior knowledge, they want a tool to help with business ownership issues they don’t understand, so they can quickly and cost-effectively set up shop.
After thoroughly reviewing the research, we came up with three specific areas with problems we wanted to solve:
Empowerment and education
There are a lot of unknowns when starting a business. Founders want Carta to provide them guidance and educate them every step of the way, so they can quickly understand and take the correct action. They want examples and references from thought leaders, so that they can learn and make decisions using a source they trust.
Saving time in the process
Founders were being asked to input a lot of information during onboarding. Certain pieces of information may not have pertained to them, depending on what stage of fundraising they are in.
Founders wanted to do as much of the process by themselves as possible, so that they didn’t have to spend money on law firms to perform simple tasks. They wanted to get started with Carta quickly on their own.
In addition to defining the problem, we identified success metrics and assumptions before diving into each of the three areas. What would be our minimum viable product? How might we create a product quickly, learn, and iterate based on feedback?
Step 3: Challenge the current norm and create new ideas
We began sketching out different ideas based on our research and problem statement. During this part of the design process, it’s important to get ideas out quickly and focus on putting the big building blocks together. A few questions we asked:
- How might we sequence all of the information?
- What is the founder’s mental model on inputting information related to equity?
- What falls in the beginning, middle, and end?
- What page layout or design patterns should we consider?
Pro tip: Try new ideas on paper quickly. See how you can break your prototype or poke holes in it. What types of things do you need to account for? The design process is never neat or linear. You begin to chip away at an iceberg with the hopes of shaping it into a sculpture by the end.
Here are a few of the ideas we sketched out:
Deciding on our minimum viable product
We knew we couldn’t account for every type of founder at each stage of the fundraising process in this first iteration. It was time to agree on our minimum viable product.
We chose to optimize the experience for first-time founders who have minimal experience when it comes to equity and who want to do as much of the process themselves as possible. We also chose to focus first on founders who are at the pre-seed or seed stage of fundraising.
We made this choice for a few reasons:
- Supporting more founders. Creating an experience for founders with zero level of understanding means we can support founders across the spectrum of knowledge. It’s a win-win.
- Giving immediate value to founders with an early round of funding. They can use Carta’s tools to fundraise, understand how to issue equity to their first employees, and start a clean cap table.
- Reducing the amount of time spent answering questions and troubleshooting. By providing more education and guidance, founders are less reliant on Carta’s support staff to help out—which can save them time.
Prototype and usability testing
Next, we built two different prototypes and conducted usability testing sessions with founders. Here were some of the qualitative and quantitative items we measured:
Guidance and education
- What have they learned about Carta and equity in general during onboarding?
- Did they feel supported?
- Did they feel confident and excited while setting up their account?
Time to completion
- How long did it take for them to complete the process?
- Were there any hurdles along the way?
- How long did it take for them to complete each task?
- Were they able to set up their account independently from a law firm?
- Did they have all of the materials and information they needed?
Personalization and customization
- Were they able to input information that pertains to their specific journey?
We gathered a lot of feedback from these sessions and adjusted the designs accordingly. We also collected and incorporated feedback from internal stakeholders, such as business leads, our legal team, and product leaders within the company.
What we learned
We shifted away from our earlier mental model for adding stakeholders to the cap table. In the original design, Carta had asked founders to add all stakeholders in one step, then add the individual holdings in the next step.
We chose to move forward with a model in which founders added each type of equity within a separate step. This allowed us to scale and to provide a more personalized experience should we decide to add in more types of equity later on.
We also focused on every single detail a founder might need to help them through the process. This included defining every term, telling founders what document they need when, and walking them through where to find specific information within each document (among many other things).
As cliché as it sounds, our first takeaway was this: Deeply empathize with the people you are designing for. Think about their needs and their emotions, and anticipate everything they might want along the way. The details and the intricacies matter.
Takeaway number two: Equity is complex. It’s not an easy subject to master. We can make it easier to understand. Design this experience as if you were teaching it to a true beginner. This is something we keep in mind constantly as we build products in this space, and as more people enter it.
And lastly: It’s impossible to get everything right the first time, and that’s OK. Once your team releases a feature, continue to collect feedback. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Find ways to improve the experience incrementally over time.
That’s what we’ll be doing with this product. Check out the newly designed onboarding flow for first-time founders (and get started building your company) on Carta Launch.
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