Create a consolidated workflow app for online nutrition coaches
So, outside of my day job being a product designer I love nutrition and fitness. I drank that CrossFit kool-aid 7 years ago and have not looked back! While getting into CrossFit I also got interested in nutrition. I did it all - Paleo, Zone, Whole30, you name it but found myself frustrated and binging on a few rows of Oreos every few weeks. About 4 years ago I heard about the concept of counting macros. It was common to get a nutrition coach who you would work with and they would set your macros and you would track your food and check-in each week. Well, just like CrossFit, I drank that macro kool-aid and never looked back! The thing I enjoyed the most was working with a coach one-on-one.
It was remote, so that meant checking in with a coach once a week via email sometimes text or Facebook Messenger. Between check-ins, you would track the macros you ate each day, maybe leave a note and what you weighed in that morning. When it was time to check-in, you took a few photos of yourself, answered a few questions, talked about your week, and sent that over to your coach in an email.
As I learned more about nutrition coaching, it was obvious that almost all of these coaches were using the email/spreadsheet/texting method with their clients. I always wanted to try to make a product and it became clear that this was a great opportunity to make a product.
Where Do You Even Start?
Luckily I live in Chattanooga which is a hub for startups. They have a placed called Colab which supports local entrepreneurs who want to start companies. So I reached out to Colab and former co-workers to run my idea by them and get some good advice. I also joined a group called Women Who Startup to see if I could get any good resources from there. It was a great process and what I ultimately found was there are endless resources at your fingertips - it really comes down to how you use them and apply them to help you along your journey.
From meeting people and researching I knew I needed to do market research. I spent a few weeks doing research about the industry trying to understand how this product could help and what the value of it was. It was a very, very difficult exercise for me. I have been very spoiled in my career to not have to dive too deep into this part of product work. It gave me whole new respect and understanding for this part of the process.
Along with market research, I interviewed nutrition coaches to see what their workflow was like and what they wanted. I have been very fortunate to be employed by companies to do this type of work and many times the budget is very comfortable… we can dream quite a bit and not worry so much about the small things. I really had to practice what was a true MVP for these coaches. What would be enough to get some traction and users? I compiled a backlog of features I could reference.
I know a lot of developers, designers, nutrition coaches, product owners, etc. I just assumed I could build a team that had the same passion to do this together - for free of course! I sat down with several folks and they had the same excitement and we started to develop a plan to move forward - it was exciting and exhilarating. The idea of working with a dream team, creating a product the way we wanted to - what could go wrong? Well, everyone was really successful in their current jobs - those jobs took more than 40 hours a week and they had families outside of that. As we ran through the backlog and started to understand the true effort, we all had to be honest with one another. At that point to move forward, I realized I had to invest in resources to build this product. The people I had met with for this idea all agreed - I am forever grateful for their enthusiasm and support. I am still learning from this part of the process.
The one resource I knew I absolutely needed was a backend developer. I can do all of the design work from product to marketing and frontend HTML/CSS . I put out a post on the Chattanooga Developers Slack channel and met with a few folks. Everyone was so kind and really awesome. One in particular stood out to me - Sam LaChance. It was the way he spoke about development - he loved to teach and could explain it VERY well. He was very upfront, thorough and honest. To me, he was the perfect fit to help on this project.
Name and Brand
The one thing I knew was the name. The app would be called Seasons. We chose this term because it is used a lot in nutrition coaching. Coaches will explain that our bodies just like our environment go through ‘seasons’ - some Seasons we feel beach ready and others we need a little fluff to help us go through whatever it is our body needs. I really liked that term and it was not a generic fitness or nutrition name. The other thing I knew was that I wanted to be VERY intentional about the colors, shapes, voice, and tone of this product. Nutrition coaching can be for super athletic people who obsess for every detail or someone learning to just drink water once a day. The spectrum of people a coach helps is very wide and varied. I wanted this product to not be too rough or intense. I wanted it to be inviting and friendly. I have worked with Nick Turner for years now at CodeScience. He is one of the most talented designers I have ever met. I worked with Nick to come up with the logo and look for Seasons. We landed here:
The logo mark is inviting and curvy, complimented by a color palette that can be deep and vibrant. The illustrations stay away from realism or anything that a person might compare themself too - we wanted it to be very open and welcoming. Nick gave me the foundation of the mark, colors and illustration style. With brand base in hand, I took that created a style guide for our product design to follow and a pitch deck to share research.
Armed with my backlog and style guide I began to prototype initial product layouts and features with Sketch. I shared these concepts with Sam using Invision so we could point the efforts to build. I would even share initial ideas with a beta coach to get initial feedback. It was decided that this would be a Web Application, we were going to build this to be accessible from any browser on any device - so everything is responsive. Through several iterations we came to what would be considered the MVP.
View all of their clients
Setup Client Check-in
Coach picks a specific date they want their clients check-ins to start, they can then configure that to occur every week, two weeks, or month
Client Details View
View details about a client- name, age, email, etc
See what a client is entering each day
View all of the check-ins they have had with a client
Coach can message back and forth with a client
Client logs macros (Protein, fat, carbs, sugar, fiber), weight and a can leave a note each day
Client can view all of their check-ins they have had with a coach
Client can message back and forth with their coach
We released the first version of the product to a select few coaches and clients. To get feedback I put a link to a Google form that both coaches and their clients could fill in to give me feedback about bugs or wanted enhancements. For the first few months we spent most effort fixing bugs and prioritizing feedback. I was able to then prune and add to the backlog the next set of features we would bring to the users.
Feedback and Iteration
What we had gone out with was just the first stab to get a usable idea out. The next version needed to have more intention - now that we had real product feedback we can put things in places that makes sense and will show that intentional value to the users.
The biggest change was actually going to come to the core function of the product. The first state of the product was rather static. We assumed nutrition coaches would want the same workflow - each day a client tracks protein, carbs, fat, fiber, sugar, weight, and a note. As we talked to current clients and demoed to external coaches we realized the product needed a bit more flexibility. So we invested a lot of time and thought into how a daily log was configured for a client.
The next iteration brought in more 'metrics' to track and allowed a coach to turn on and off daily ‘metrics’ (metrics are what we are calling these inputs a client can put in each day):
Protein, Carbs, Fat, Sugar, Fiber, Calories - a coach can turn all of these on, one, or none. It is their choice
Hydration (oz of water)
Sleep (hours in bed)
Hunger, Stress, Mood, Energy on a scale of 1-5 for each, again coach can have all or none on
This was a game changer for our current coaches but also future coaches. This allows the coach to gather more data about their client and turn on and off metrics as their relationship with their client changes.
We also added the ability for coaches to then configure check-ins too. Coaches expressed that sometimes they wanted their clients to take a photo break. Many of the coaches also asked for measurements to be part of the check-in. So we added:
Ability to turn photos on and off for a check-in
Left arm, right arm, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, left quad, right quad, again coach can have all or none on
The above explains just a few select parts of this product process. We have added in many more features and the product has steadily grown. I also designed and developed a marketing website for the product and set up social media.
This process has taught me quite a few lessons. As I look back I think the advice that still lingers with me the most was around sales. Someone advised me that if I cannot imagine doing that role myself or investing in myself to do that role, I need to partner with someone who can do that role. It has always been the elephant in the room for me. I was doing alright for a bit but quickly found myself in dire need of sales help. That is the next thing on the list for the product. We have a very stable product that people enjoy and like to use - now I need to get it out there!
I definitely go through ups and downs, insecurities, and then days of complete and utter joy over the whole thing. If anything, I am proud to be able to say I took a chance and built something that truly helps people live better lives.