At Underbelly, we want our team to thrive. That means giving our team time and space to grow their ideas. Each year, we offer two team members the chance to focus solely on their dream project and, for three months, they are their own client. This effort, called Venture, kicked off in December of 2015 with Kickback.
This year, we collectively decided to support Proxy, an app for real estate agents that automates the otherwise time-consuming process of scheduling home showings for prospective buyers. Why? Proxy co-founder and Underbelly Product Designer, Jeff Smith, also has his real estate license—and has actually been working as an agent off and on since high school. (Fun story: his mom got him and his brothers into the industry at a young age. Her agency, Lady Bug Realty, is still running strong). From being familiar with time consuming tasks like figuring out the best route to view properties or when to show each property to following up with clients and keeping home showing information organized and easy to access, Jeff understands the challenges of traditional home showings. He knew there must be a better way.
Once we identified the challenges we wanted to solve with Proxy, we started to validate our concept, using real people as beta testers. We interviewed eight local realtors to understand how they booked home showings, which tools they used to do so, and their general thoughts on Proxy as a potential addition to their workflow. Their feedback convinced us we were on the right track. So we ran additional interviews, conducted surveys, and reviewed data reports from the National Association of Realtors to further confirm our hypothesis. It quickly became clear: there really was a need to improve the scheduling process.
Then we turned to our team to figure out exactly how our tool would work. We decided on the basic features necessary for a minimum viable product (MVP) and looked at what we could commit to with the short timeline that we had. Story and journey mapping helped us narrow down the MVP and create a product roadmap.
Building the app in React Native allowed us to quickly scale across platforms. React made it easier for us to provide iOS and Android versions early on and will allow for an easy implementation of a desktop version in the future. We integrated with services like SimplyRETS and Twilio to seamlessly acquire and communicate MLS data and home showing responses.
With the design and development of our product well under way, we started on branding. We needed something bold that would stand out from competitors, while still feeling familiar to our target users. We created a strong mark that speaks to the communication between realtors and the physical locations of the homes they show. We developed a color palette to establish a strong, recognizable brand identity and improve user wayfinding. Even though the UI Kit closely matches our aesthetic, we were able to inject our brand into the product design as well.
To further elevate our branding and marketing, we turned to our in-house content team to produce stunning videos and photography. With an incredibly short timeline, they quickly put together storyboards and shot lists, took on location scouting, and captured video/photos. Once final assets were delivered, we had custom media that raised the quality of our website, captured our identity, and helped us stand out from the crowd.
To validate our app and prove market fit, we built a prototype and held a private beta test. Knowing there was not enough time to build the entire app and still have time for the beta test, we built a “Wizard of Oz” prototype. That means that while the app allowed realtors to search properties and submit showing requests, we manually scheduled showings behind the scenes, and provided responses through an admin portal. To the user, everything appeared to be fully automated. This approach allowed us to go to market sooner and validate our solutions in the real world without additional development costs.
In just five months we conducted research, designed the user experience, built a prototype, held a beta test, and shipped both an iOS and Android version of the app.
It’s incredibly rewarding to build something that makes life easier for real people. It was a fun challenge that has taught us how to be scrappy and incorporate feedback quickly to continually improve the app. We’re currently working on additional features and streamlining things as Proxy continues to grow. In some respects, we’re just getting started.