The founder of TechStars startup weeSpring talks about why she initially missed the boat on mobile for her mom-focused company and why you shouldn’t make the same mistake. 

By Ally Downey (CEO & Founder, weeSpring)

A few months ago, my team sat in a room with one of our mentors, who was advising us on product design. He stood up in front of the whiteboard and drew a vertical line with some hash marks across it.

“This,” he said, “is your user’s day.” He pointed to a couple of the dashes. “This is when she wakes up, feeds her kids, takes a shower, runs off to a meeting. When does she have time to sit down in front of a computer and use weeSpring?” He handed me the dry erase marker. I didn’t move from my seat. Our users don’t have time to sit down in front of a computer; how had we overlooked that in our design? We know mobile is important, because everyone says mobile is important, but thinking about that timeline made me finally understand why.

I started weeSpring as a new parent because I felt totally overwhelmed by all of the choices I had to make for my baby: convertible car seat, or one of those infant buckets? Cloth or disposable diapers? A highchair with or without a tray?  I didn’t have time to read fifty articles so I could make an informed decision; I just wanted to know what my friends were doing. Their babies were happy and healthy, and I felt pretty good about following in their footsteps. My biggest problem was figuring out how to collect all that information from them.

weeSpring was built as a web-based platform for this exact reason – the overabundance of information. We couldn’t conceive of fitting all of our ideas and features into an app. People needed to be able to browse! To sort!  To look at every jogging stroller at once! To see a list of their Facebook friends so they could invite them to join!

Caught up in the chaos and excitement of entrepreneurship, I had totally ignored the way I was actually using the Internet: at 3am while nursing a baby, one-handed, and on my iPhone. And from conversations with most of the parents we know (and we know a lot of parents!), that one-handed use is the norm.

That whiteboard timeline of a parent’s day was a wake-up call.  I now realize that we can’t build products based on how we want our users to interact with it. We have to build products that make sense for our customers’ lives.  What that now means for us at weeSpring: designing everything for mobile first.

And frankly, anything that looks good at 320 pixels is going to look crisp and uncluttered on desktop, which is the aesthetic we said from day one that we valued above all else. (“No pink” is our other core design principle.)

So we went back to the proverbial drawing board, and we’re halfway through a major redesign right now. I’ll be honest: it’s painful. I loved our initial design. It was exactly my vision — but the problem was that my vision was how I wanted users to interact with weeSpring. The reality, however, was that 75% of our users (probably more) didn’t know where to begin or what to do.

Now, on product iteration 2.0, we are trying to fix that. We’re going with a clean, simple mobile design that offers a straightforward user experience. And if there is one thing we are absolutely certain about: whatever our users do on weeSpring, it’s got to be possible with one hand… and infinite distractions.

Women 2.0 readers: Are your customers really going to interact with your product with two hands and in front of a full-sized screen?

Allyson-Downey-weeSpringAbout the guest blogger: 
Allyson Downey is CEO and co-founder of weeSpring, which helps new parents collect advice about what they need for their baby. Her entrepreneurial spirit dates back to elementary school, when she had a face-painting business, and it’s carried her through roles with Random House, Eliot Spitzer, and Credit Suisse. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School, an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, and a BA from Colby College.

Photo credit: ROSS HONG KONG via Flickr