Bringing together an early-stage industry: learnings from creating a service for coliving professionals.
Have you ever wanted to get connected to the right people in your industry? To encounter the shapers of tomorrow who you would build yourself up with? To get to understand key internal resources that would give you a deeper understanding than most people have in your scene?
Not having the right path to these responses was the challenge that the coliving scene encountered, an industry that shapes the future of living through flexible housing-as-a-service and communal arrangements.
Two months back, I started working with Co-Liv, the leading non-profit association of coliving professionals. Co-Liv has been existing since 2016 and recently experienced a period of growth: the organization gained over 25+ representatives worldwide, doubled their newsletter subscribers in half a year, entered new existing partnerships and launched a series of free services, including the Co-Liv podcast and topic-based masterminds.
But here was the problem: while there were plenty of activities within Co-Liv, we did not have a way to bring all these initiatives into one big bundle.
Most coliving professionals were therefore not able to know about all the activities that were going on. Co-Liv was experiencing a momentum of growth but didn’t have the right structure to empower the coliving industry more efficiently.
The question became: what can we do to help coliving professionals connect, grow and learn within the coliving ecosystem?
As a UX and service designer, it was my mission to understand what could best serve coliving professionals, and what initiative can be created to empower them through a new service.
Today, it’s been four weeks since we launched the Co-Liv Onboarding Program, a new membership service dedicated to empowering more coliving professionals and connecting them to the right people, resources and initiatives.
After only two weeks of launching of the newly designed service, Co-Liv already doubled in yearly member revenues and grew their memberships 4x faster than in previous months.
In this post, I’ll tell you how we did it. Here is what you will learn when you read along:
- Get familiar with the service design process that we used to understand problems of coliving professionals and develop solutions to solve them
- Dig into our findings from hours of research on stakeholders from the coliving scene, showcasing the pain points and motivations of coliving professionals (including users personas)
- Discover what we created as a first solution and how our new service will shape the coliving industry
- And learn how to use the service design approach to your own organization or niche industry
Ready? Let’s get started with how it all began.
The Context And How It All Started
Two months ago, I got approached by Gui Perdrix, director of Co-Liv.
Gui has been in the coliving industry for a while, having been first operating coliving spaces in several locations around the world, then doing a world-tour of coliving spaces to write an upcoming book on the industry, and finally becoming director of the largest association of coliving professionals, Co-Liv.
Gui shared with me how for the last year, Co-Liv had gained lots of momentum. They grew their internal team to 10 executive team members, onboarded 30+ Co-Liv representatives across all five continents, continued organizing a dozen of virtual events per month, and were working on some new activity launches for the end of 2020
And for that, they were looking for help.
One of the major challenges as a non-profit industry association is to understand how to best serve the professional you represent.
At Co-Liv, a lot of networking opportunities and content have been created, yet the majority of activities were open for the public instead of being high quality services to members of the association.
It was about finding the ONE service that would serve coliving professionals to their core problems while putting Co-Liv in a better position to further represent the coliving industry and proactively empower its members.
This is what I then did in collaboration with Gui and the entire Co-Liv team — and here is how.
Our Internal 4-Step Approach To Service Design
Design thinking relies on the framework of “Empathize, Design, Ideate, Prototype, Test. It’s the core of any design thinking procedure.
What I proposed is my own model of that framework that applies design thinking to service design:
It’s composed out of four main parts:
- Emphasize: the objective is to start with research in order to gain empathy while defining the problem we are trying to solve. The first phase is about emphasizing with both the service provider and the end user: mapping out the entire Co-Liv organization and doing customer research to create the value proposition models out of user personas.
- Claritivity: the term stands for getting clarity on the problem statement and applying creative techniques to potential solutions. In this second phase, the problem is being framed based on key discoveries from the first phase. It then leads into brainstorming and creativity sessions to generate a lot of potential solutions to the problem we stated.
- Shape: we can now start designing the solution and creating prototypes for customer validation. The third phase is about creating a service that would be well received by end customers. This is where we will also show you the service blueprint, which sets the details of the upcoming service.
- Launch: this last phase is about implementing the designed product, testing it, launching it and continuously iterating through user feedback. The final Co-Liv Onboarding Program is the result of it.
This 4-Step-Approach can be applied to any type of service design for organizations.
To spare you the large documents of interviews, let’s dig into our key findings: in the next two sections, you’ll get to know our user personas, Co-Liv’s value proposition canva (before the new service was launched) and how it served us to create the service blueprint.
Key Learnings From Emphasizing With Coliving Actors
By starting the service design process, we had two main objectives:
- To understand the needs and pain points of coliving professionals, meaning who they are, but also what the key challenges are within the coliving industry. These will be explained through user personas.
- To create a solution that is valuable for coliving professionals and also profitable for Co-Liv. While being a growing association, we were still limited in terms of financial and human resources, and had to take this into account.
We therefore started with a quantitative survey followed by a dozen qualitative interviews of coliving professionals. To make it representative of the coliving industry, we picked several types of professions to be interviewed: coliving operators, developers, investors and service providers.
From those interviews, 3 user personas were built.
- Kelsea, the newbie is a young professional that has been part of the industry for less than a year. She needs help to connect with the right people, to access relevant information and to be time efficient.
- Simon, the growing professional is a coliving professional who is already established with his business but still in a growth phase. He needs to be connected to the right partners. He wants the coliving industry to be better shaped and to develop his skills in an efficient way.
- In the meanwhile, John, the established professional represents an established organization that is part of the real estate industry for more than 5 years. He wants to meet qualitative people, as he does not have much time and he needs to be time efficient.
In this project, we decided to focus on two of the personas: the newbies and the growing professionals.
Our 3 personas have the same motivations to look for connections, education and professional growth. The only difference is the scale they need it at.
The established professionals are often clear on their needs and hence require more customized services. While these will be developed in the future, they wouldn’t be scalable at this point. This is why we focussed only on starting and growing coliving professionals — while keeping in mind that there are other existing services such as partnerships with Co-Liv that benefit this third category.
In the following user personas, you will see these three different types in depth. It will teach you about their major pain points, overlapping background stories, years in activity, and main challenges they’re facing on a daily basis.
While all of these are fictive characters, their profiles are highly representative of professionals from the current coliving scene:
As a second step, we gathered these learnings towards the value proposition canvas, which maps out which value we weren’t yet creating. It is the analys between the Co-Liv business model and prospective customers’ needs and wants
In the picture below, you’ll find the customer profile which indicates three key items about coliving professionals:
- The customer’s jobs: these are the needs that they’re tackling every day, such as growing their business according to expectations and establishing themselves as a key player with high visibility.
- The gains: these are the elements a customer uses to consider the success of the service.
- Their pain points: these are the problems that our customer encounters to get the job done.
Finally, we put these needs and pain points in correlation to the current Co-Liv activities. Below, you will find the value map, which is the analysis of all Co-Liv activities and how they bring value to coliving professionals.
The value map is composed out of three key items:
- The products and services: these are the products and services we plan to offer to the relevant customers.
- The gains: these are the gains our customers get from our products and services.
- The pain relievers: this describes how our products and services relieve our customer’s pain points.
It was finally by putting both sides together that we were able to identify which customer pain point was not reflected in current Co-Liv services.
And this set us up for the next chapter of this story: how we built a service that would fit most coliving professionals’ needs.
How Our Solution Will Impact The Coliving Industry
At this point, we defined the problems that we wanted to solve and let our creative brains come up with solutions to solve these. After the ideation phase, we gathered many insights on how to solve our problems. We then chose the most beneficial services to solve the actual pain points.
The result is a membership for coliving professionals, which includes an entire Onboarding Program with the following benefits:
- Connecting coliving professionals through our online platform, events and 1:1 calls with the executive team
- Integrated professionals within the local scene through introductions with local Co-Liv representatives and warm introductions
- Education through internal coliving resources and events
- Offering a job board for coliving professionals to post their vacancies
- Offering discounts from services providers that work with key coliving players
- Offering legal advice and experts in the field
- And promoting coliving brands through several channels of the Co-Liv platform
After deciding on the features, we started prototyping how a 10-week program solution would look like.
This is when we started to map out the service blueprint. If you’re wondering what a service blueprint is, consider it as an extension of a customer journey map. This map represents all the touchpoints a customer has with your service.
The service blueprint follows the same principle but at the scale of the organization itself. It represents the whole organization and the different interactions that will happen from one end to another.
Here is the service blueprint we built:
In practice, it’s simple: Co-Liv will send one email per week presenting one feature that the membership offers and how to make the best use out of it.
Once it was done, we decided to test it before launching it. We wrote a script to give the context of the study and to explain to them how the Onboarding Program works. We were able to point out many things that could be improved in our service blueprint, from big things such as technical bugs to smaller things including copy mistakes, file location sharings and missing resources.
We modified the service and then it was time for the big moment: the launch!
How you can learn from the service design process
Now, this is how the story ends. We launched it, doubled revenue in membership and continue to scale the program.
But here is the key learning: the Co-Liv use case is not an isolated case.
Why is UX design a profession that we hear more and more about? Why do we talk about lean UX or agile methodology? Why do we hear about design thinking?
The main reason is that these tools are methodologies that are crucial in order to be efficient in launching products.
The logic behind these tools is that in order to create a successful service, product, website or project, it is necessary to look into your customers. Who are the people you are trying to solve a problem for? What are their needs and pain points? And from this point, you can build a customized product for them.
Many entrepreneurs spend years defining and redefining their projects. But what if this process was actually just missing one point? Take some distance, have a look at the big picture, focus on your potential customers instead of focussing on your brilliant idea.
Those tools are powerful. For Co-Liv, the service design process allowed us to define our target audience — who they are, what their needs and motivations are, and how to build out a service for them.
If you want to apply the same methodology on your own business, whether industry organization, coliving space or service provider, reach out to me via LinkedIn!
Are you a coliving professional? Join Co-Liv today.
Co-Liv is a non-profit association that aims to gather, connect and empower coliving professionals. You could picture us as a facilitator made out of experts in their fields who are shaping the entire coliving ecosystem.
If you are a coliving professional, we urge you to join the Co-Liv Onboarding Program.
By become a member of Co-Liv, you will be able to:
- Grow your knowledge and become a coliving expert in no time.
- Meet the relevant players in your local ecosystem
- Participate in initiatives that will shape the future of the industry
- And promote your business across the coliving scene
Whether coliving operator, developer, investor or coliving consultant — any coliving professionals benefit from our network, resources, and services.
This article was written by Sandra Abrouk, Co-Liv’s Head of User Experience, and Gui Perdrix, Co-Liv Director.