Why we scrapped our entire product and started over

Homi did not start as some grandiose plan to change campus recruiting. We simply felt that if we could create an online community of students and alumni who cared, then good things would happen. We didn’t have a business model and were just building features we thought students would use. We built an alumni directory where students could look up alumni by major, occupation, location and other relevant factors. We built a Q&A feed where users could ask questions and get answers from alumni. Then we built internal messaging so users could talk to each other individually. Eventually we even added a job board because companies wanted to hire college students.

Our turning point came when a Carleton History major from the class of ‘90 asked if he could hire via our platform. We built HR software that allowed him to refer students to HR with one click on Homi, creating a pipeline of internal referrals from non-target schools. It taught us the importance of listening to our users and creating an experience based on what people want.

We embarked on a quest for product market fit. Building software is a constant battle to find product market fit. Product market fit means that you have an engaging product that solves a fundamental problem for users. The best way to engage users is by getting them to their “Aha! moment” as soon as they sign up. Facebook’s “Aha moment” comes when users realize they can reconnect with friends. Amazon shows users that they can conveniently order online. Airbnb makes renters feel comfortable staying in a stranger’s home.

We made networking less awkward. We believe that Homi’s “Aha! moment” is when a user realizes that they are part of a community that cares, not just another network full of strangers. Our product has historically been driven by a Q&A feed. Upon sign in, users were encouraged to ask questions and get answers from alumni. Through extensive user testing, we realized that forcing users to engage with strangers right off the bat is very daunting, especially for first years who have just entered school.

As a result, we are rebuilt the user experience so that upon login, users join the clubs, sports teams and extracurriculars they were a part of in college. Doing so creates communities within communities, allowing users to engage naturally with others that have similar interests and ultimately find their future selves.

This Fall, Carleton football will be onboarding every engaged alumnus onto Homi as part of their new 4 for 40 initiative. The thesis is that 4 years of Carleton football should prepare players for the next 40 years of their lives and Homi is the platform upon which all those relationships will be built. Rugby, baseball, tennis and volleyball are looking to do the same and we are confident that this model can scale across campuses.

We asked our student users why they use Homi. Last year, we saw our user base at the University of Minnesota triple, from 400 to 1,200 users, in a month. It was because we put our own internships on Homi and the only way to work at Homi was to apply via Homi. We very quickly realized that the reason students reach out to alumni is because they want to make sure that the small fortune they shelled out for college is worth it.

As a result, we doubled down on employer acquisition. We partnered with university recruiting departments, diversity inclusion groups and senior leaders at Fortune 500 companies with structured internship programs. This fall recruiting, Homi will be the best way for students to find jobs and for companies to find college talent. The results are starting to show. We saw 400 new user signups from the University of Minnesota just this weekend.

Implications of Product Market Fit:

Homi is a three-sided marketplace. We provide a strong value proposition for students, alumni and employers when all three parties are on the platform at the same time. We started by using creative marketing strategies that do not scale in order to get college students onto our product. Once we had a few thousand users, we were able to close our first F500 recruiting partner. We are now working with that company to sign up all of their employees who attended Homi schools. Doing so allows users to talk to alumni who work at the company before they apply, learn about the position and receive a warm internal referral that greatly improves their chances of getting hired. Hard working students from traditionally non-target schools who deserve a chance will now have an opportunity to get a foot in the door via their alumni.

Our mission for Homi is and will always be to help people within institutions share their stories and build meaningful relationships. With every product feature, marketing piece or person we talk to, we ask ourselves, “Does this facilitate more meaningful relationship building?”

Homi is not perfect and in our eyes, it never will be. That said, we’re going to continue to listen to what our users want and build around them. Look out for the release of our newly redesigned product end of the week!

I’d love to hear some stories about alumni who have changed your life.

Originally published September 4, 2018
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-we-scrapped-our-entire-product-started-over-philip-xiao/

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