I aspire to share my learnings through writing, but the process is difficult for me. I created Penner to help me my biggest personal blockers: when I am feeling ready to write I visit my list of ideas only to find incomplete back-of-the-napkin thoughts which I've lost context on or don't understand enough to write about.
Penner is meant to help me structure my thoughts about a topic to make it easier to write the actual piece in the future. By asking only a couple of key questions and prompting me to add my key points my back-of-the-napkin writing becomes an outline to follow. Furthermore, Penner provides encouragement by reminding me to write about my ideas.
The product was made for me, but I thought it would be fun to see if the public was interested in it as well. This case-study is about building the product for me to solve my problem and testing if others had shared problems and an interest in solving them with Penner.
I learn from everything around me, notably peers, mentors, personal experience and life itself. Although I have a strong desire to share my learnings with others though writing, I generally get too distracted or overwhelmed to do it.
I try to find time at the end of the week to sit down and write. I look at my list of ideas I want to share and I try to pick out the ones that are the most relevant or exciting. This process has loads of flaws. Sometimes I don't recall the details of the learing or I don't understand my back of the napkin thought. Other times the idea has grown too complex and I feel disorganized or disconnected from the idea and cant' write about it.
Here are a couple of problem statements that I came up with to start solving for:
When I have an idea I'd like to share, I take rough notes that don't provide enough insight for me to write about later.
I don't write often enough and when I sit down to write I feel overwhelmed by all the learnings I'd like to share.
After identifying the some of the root problems that were contributing to my bad not taking and inconsistent writing, I decided to try out a few tools that might provide the structure, reminders and access I needed:
- Note taking experience left a lot to be desired.
- No structure or template to follow when inputing my thoughts.
- Great reminders that did help encourage me to write.
- Created a template to follow which did improve the quality of my note taking, but still left a lot to be desired.
- Good reminders/due-dates that did get me to look back at ideas.
- Not easy to use on your phone or on the go.
- Bonus - allowed me to set states on ideas like pending, working on, draft, etc.
- Bonus - could have others comment and review my ideas.
- Good structure for inputing ideas.
- Good note taking experience on the phone.
- Couldn't organize talking points once they were inputted.
- Tough to access my ideas once I inputted them.
- No reminders to encourage me to look back at my ideas and start writing.
Trello was by far the best, it had a couple bonuses and did an okay job - but in the end it didn't provide me the structure I needed to improve my note taking and wasn't a great mobile experience. I didn't find any tools that fully solved my problems, so I set out to design something simple that might.
I designed the prototype to focus only on solutions that were directly related with the problems I was having:
- Structure the ideas as they come in to make it easier to digest at a later time.
- Remind me to look back at ideas to encourage me to sit down and write.
- Mobile friendly experience so I can take notes as they come up.
- Simple interface to look back at ideas and identify the staleness.
I came up with Penner:
I had several friends play with the prototype after it was created and I got some feedback:
- "The reminders are great"
- "I like the fact that it asks me specific questions. Its like creating an outline"
- "I could use something like this. I have a big list of unorganized ideas that I never look back at. I think this might help me with that."
- "Can I share it with my friends? I would love to get other people opinions about my ideas."
- "Oh, this would be fun if I could collaborate with people"
- "I think there are better note taking apps out there. This is a little too rigid for me. But I like that it reminds me. That is really nice."
- "Hmm... I like it, but I don't think I would use it. It doesn't do anything for me that Trello doesn't (ha)"
Ininitally when I was asking other people to look at my prototype I was more showing it off than soliciting feedback. I thought it was a cool little tool and thought others would agree. I felt somewhat validated in the responses I got, so I began to wonder if this tool might be a decent solution to a larger audience that shares my problems with writing.
I decided to throw up a splash page, run a Facebook ad, and see what kind of response I got.
The Splash Page
One of the more common experiments I run is creating a marketing page for a product that doesn't exist. Testing to see if certain audiences have certain problems and are looking for a solution. Generally I don't even have a protoype for a solution, but at this point I did and I thought it would be fun to share.
This splash page isn't like others I have made to test interest and validate a product idea. The main difference is that it was overly transparent - I am revealing that the app isn't real, but if I get enough interest I will make it.