How might we make humans more approachable to each other so that they can create genuine connection and reduce feelings of loneliness?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 3/5 Americans have experienced loneliness. According to the Loneliness & Workplace: CIGNA 2020 report, many people who have worked remotely during the pandemics do not feel that their relationships are meaningful and say that they think about quitting their job more than twice as often as non-lonely workers. Many of the remote workers - especially those who are younger, early careerists, typically do not have the same established social networks and support systems as those of more experienced employees due to their recent entry in their workforce.
According to a Harvard Survey from 2020, 61% of young adults in America feel “serious loneliness. Young people are more likely to live individualized lifestyles with increased relocation tendencies (due to education and career requirements) which have caused them to feel alone. People in their twenties deal with high stress and pressure while trying to establish a career and find a life partner. This transitional period has become increasingly challenging due to the uncertainties posed by the pandemic and the increased adoption of remote work. Many young people are no longer engaging with others in person and are spending more time in digital spaces - especially on social media. As young people spend more time on social media, they also spend less time interacting with each other in real life which often can lead to increased feelings of loneliness.
Now, as the pandemic lessens in severity, people are returning into social (and some professional) spaces but still experience challenges in interacting with each other, let alone knowing who to interact with. People have learned to become “socially distant” yet their physical distance from one another has exacerbated any feelings of loneliness during the past few years. Young people are finding social fulfilment and personal connections in “third spaces” but still experience friction when initiating new interactions with one another.
The Ahoy team needed to understand the segment of users that were most likely to leverage a digital product to curb their feelings of loneliness. We identified a few different categories of prospective users and conducted 5 user interviews.
Through the customer interviews, we found that COVID-19 had significantly reduced young people’s likelihood of meeting new people - especially for those who continued working remotely after lockdown restrictions were lifted across the United States. Many individuals who moved to new cities struggled with establishing meaningful connections with those in their surrounding environments despite using traditional social apps such as Facebook, Meetup, Hinge, and Bumble/Bumble Friends. Although they matched with some other users through those apps, users struggled with scheduling an actual meet-up and seldom crystallized their online connection in person. Women were more likely to attempt to make friends through dating apps than men; yet, were also more concerned about privacy and safety when meeting someone in a public setting.
The social networking app market was valued at $50.4B in 2022 and had an estimated compound annual growth rate of 21.3%. Despite the promising growth of the overall market, there were many users that were leaving traditional social networking apps (i.e. Facebook, Snapchat).
Many users have turned to online dating to address their feelings of loneliness, there were a few key facts that stood out:
- 1/3 of the people that use a swiping app never meet in real life. They're using it purely for entertainment.
- Around 25 million people use dating apps, and the online dating sector was estimated to be worth $12 billion by the end of 2020.
- A survey of 2,066 people named dating apps as people’s least favorite way to meet someone new.
- Research suggests that compulsive swiping makes people feel lonelier.
Reaching the growing segment Gen-Z users has also been challenging for legacy dating apps (i.e., TInder). More than 90% of that generation feel frustrated with dating apps, according to Gen Z research agency YouthSight. They also feel less inclined to be in a relationship, and 40% of respondents stated that they were “happily single”.
The younger generation is using dating apps not only to find romantic relationships but also platonic friendships. The usage of dating apps among the 26-34-year age group is rising owing to the high divorce and separation rates. People use dating apps to give themselves a second shot at love or romance. The 26-34 years age group is expected to be the fastest-growing segment with a CAGR of 5.9% from 2022 to 2030.
Although a growing number of social networking app users are “happily single”, they are eager to develop new friendships with peers within their age range in nearby locations. Many users visit public spaces and navigate through their communities, yet; do not often have a tool to facilitate interactions that create connections with those they encounter. Moreover, it is hard for people to know who else would be interested in meeting and if they are in proximity.
Ahoy provides a solution to users to find others that want to connect and helps them actually meet up. Multiple brainstorming sessions later, the team narrowed down to 4 most important solutions for Ahoy.
- Profile - Ahoy profiles are bare minimum showcasing just enough information like name and interests to get the conversation started.
- Connect - The connect screen has the most important functionality in the Ahoy app. To reduce decision fatigue and mimic real life scenario, Ahoy connects a user with just one other user.
- Time-bound chat - With Ahoy, the goal is to reduce time planning and chatting. So, Ahoy chats are 30 minute time bound chats. The user gets to know the other person and plans to meet with a short duration of time. As the users are matched in terms of their proximity to each other, planning becomes convenient and easy.
Lo-fi & Hi-fi Mockups
Iterative Design Learnings
After we showcased our prototype to the users again, we learned that there was a gap that our product filled. However, we did learn from our usability testing that there was an opportunity to iterate and enhance our design for an improved user experience. We gained the following insights our usability tests:
- Users prefer to share and see multiple photos instead of a single photo
- Users appreciated the time limits to chat with other users but were surprised by the constraint when a description was not provided beforehand
- Users preferred to see one suggested connection at a time instead being presented with a list of potential connections
- Users raise concerns about safety and privacy when meeting new connections in person
Where is it hosted?
- The front-end is hosted on Netlify
- The back-end is hosted on Heroku
What is your tech stack?
- Front-end: React, Redux/toolkit, and libraries such as react-icons for icons, react toastify for notifications, and react-router-dom for routing
- Back-end: Ruby on Rails, Devise, JWT
- What was the hardest part of development? Making real-time communication between users was the biggest challenge.
- Does your app have any scaling issues? Finding the best matches when we have a high number of people and matching factors (such as location, interest, gender,...) could be a challenge.
- What are some key takeaways? We should have started developing as early as possible to be able to find bugs in our skills, communication, Also we made some assumptions early on which slowed our development.
We pivoted multiple times while iterating our product plan and development:
- Pivot #1: We had a general approach but then started targeting users in coffee shops so that they could strike up a conversation with each other but we felt concerned that we were too specific with our solution. Primarily, we did not know which coffee shops had seating options, and if so, we did not know how to index all of the coffee shops in the US to include in our product.
- Pivot #2: We targeted a larger addressable market of young adults - especially those who worked remotely. However, we only allowed users to find each other within a 1,500 square foot radius. This caused a challenge for those in rural areas that had a smaller population density. Eventually, we expanded the radius to 3 miles to increase the likelihood of having users connect with each other.
- Pivot #3: We focused more on young adults that experienced loneliness and lived in larger cities. We also changed our original name (Spark) to Ahoy because “Spark” had a greater romantic connotation and positioned our product as another dating. Ahoy was a better name for our product because it was a unique way to greet someone or draw attention from a distance - this was exactly what we wanted Ahoy to do.
If we had more time, we would have implemented the following features:
- Match users based on their interests.
- Option to connect with other social media apps like fb, instagram etc. Users could then have the option to match with those they share mutual friends with
- Option to add multiple pictures in profile as users suggested they like seeing more pictures.
Product Manager Learnings:
- Developed value proposition and end-to-end vision for a software development lifecycle
- Conducted customer interviews and user testing to determine desired features
- Created user stories and acceptance criteria that were managed throughout the sprints
- Involving Software Developers early in the design process helps in understanding the technical feasibility and is pivotal in delivering the product design in a tight deadline.
- Falling back on research together with PM at multiple stages in the design process was crucial in moving forward with design.
- Communicating & collaborating effectively in an agile team to get out of blockers fast together as a team.
- Effective communication with PM and designer is critical, for all parties
- Better to rely on known technologies
- Collaboration between developers should start as early as possible
- I learnt how to communicate and work remotely with a cross functional team
- I learned how to develop the front end of a product
- I learned how to engage in the design of a product with developer input
Full Team Learning
- We learned about the product development lifecycle
- We learned how to work and communicate in a cross-functional team through an agile process while leveraging Jira
- We learned how to iterate and make tradeoffs while prioritizing features