Learning lessons from in-person trials

Solving real-world problems

Should a start-up be problem focussed or solution focussed? Should we aim to develop a product or service based on a great idea we had, or on a problem we see that need to be solved? There are inevitably examples on both sides of this debate, but it is frequently suggested that a start-up should be aiming to solve a problem for the customer, rather than simply aiming to make something for which a market then needs to be found. It seems obvious that this does not mean that a great product cannot succeed in a new market, or that a great service cannot find a new customer the initial problem never identified. But trying to find a problem for a solution is likely to be considerably more challenging that creating the product to fit the issue. This is something that many start-ups struggle with, and there is unlikely to be a one-size fits all answer – in our experience, flexibility is key, and recognising when the market-fit is not quite there is vital in the learning and development process. For us, the advent of Covid-19 presented a huge challenge during a vital part of our development, and resulted in us taking a step (or many) back to look at the ‘problem’ afresh. Prior to March 2020, we were beginning to work with care companies to develop our product lines, and through the lens of the pandemic we saw that whilst we had identified a real and present problem that needed to be addressed (loneliness, isolation and lack of access to technology and support for vulnerable and excluded older adults), we had not sufficiently identified how to reach those consumers, and where those most in need were. As a result, we took the second half of 2020 to look at our products and services, stripped them back, and began to build for our new focus market – health and social care.

 

Senior using Link-ages

Co-creation and continuous improvement

Whilst this process was, in many ways, a challenge for the company, ultimately it was highly rewarding. Most significantly, we were invited to apply for a local authority project aimed at bringing digital services into the social housing sector. Having been successful in this application, we have spent much of 2021 trialling, iterating, improving, and analysing our products and services in this crucial (but often underserved) market. The process has been both fascinating and challenging – not least because in-person live trials inevitably differ from their in-house counterparts. Questions and issues are raised that in-house testing does not identify, whilst sometimes matters of concern during development are shown to be of no concern in live trials. The nature of the market, and the diverse set of clients with whom we worked, meant that we needed to be responsive and constantly innovating to react to the real-time data we received. And this was where the nature of ‘problem-first’ really came into its own. During trials, we needed to address the real-life issues, queries and suggestions raised by the trial participants, co-designing in respond to their specific needs, rather than doggedly sticking to what we had done in the past. Co-creation has been a part of the Link-ages story since Day 1, when the kernel of an idea was formed to address what the CEO saw as a lack digital accessibility and usability. As a result, it is baked into the culture of Link-ages to respond to feedback, and build with our clients at the centre of the process. Nevertheless, recognising when changes need to be made is still an inevitable challenge, and does not stop because the product ‘works’ as it is.

 

Taking new trials forward into 2022

The process of live trialling with a new market allowed us to co-design our services with our clients at the forefront, leading to a reanalysis of some parts of our offering, and a strengthened conviction in the need for our products. Now we have reached the end of the trial phase, we look forward the next, and are awaiting confirmation of the next (much larger) trial period, due to begin in early 2022. Simultaneously, we are looking for further trial locations, in other social housing and care facilities, and to bring the current services to market, also at the start of 2022. The trial phase additionally enabled us to consider the next steps in development, and how to move the business forward in very challenging times. As we reach the end of 2021, we have gained much from the co-design and trial phase but recognise that this learning phase does not stop now – instead we take our work forward into next year, planning for growth and development, and continued co-design.

 

If you would be interested in trialling the Link-ages suite of products in your setting, please do get in touch with us at info@link-ages.com.

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