Starting with the Essentials
With a big idea but a not-so-big budget, Bullitt challenged us twice to distill an idea into an MVP, and launch within a fast timeframe.
- Product design sprint, design, front-end development
- One designer, one developer
What I liked about consulting was the range of people you’d meet, the range of fields you’d get a peak into, and the range of skills you’d get to build. It’s intimidating sometimes when I realize I’m leading design for a client who’s high-up at a large banking institution. However, it’s certainly no less intimidating when I realize I’m doing the same thing but for a client that’s one man and his savings. This was my experience with Bullitt.
From idea to MVP, version 1
Bullitt is the brainchild of a self-funded entrepreneur and film and video producer. Based on his knowledge of the space and personal past frustrations, he had an idea for a SaaS app that quickly matches music and songs (and their licenses) with what editors need for their films, videos, commercials, etc. Not surprisingly, finding the appropriate song for a video can be a very time-consuming. First, editors would have to prowl various music libraries, searching "for mood" somehow before sampling songs one at a time. They’re probably also downloading demo tracks and making rough cuts to see if the songs sync well with their videos. Then, after a few rounds of this, there comes the part of figuring out what licenses (and what budgets) are needed for the tracks.
Bullitt aims to shrink that entire process down by matching a wide array of music libraries with editors and producers that are in need. Editors would sign up to the service, upload a video they need music for, describe what they’re looking for, and answer a few questions regarding their licensing needs and requirements. On the other end, music libraries would receive these music requests and submit suggestions from within their collection that matches the creative and logistical needs. The product flow was straight-forward and the concept not unfamiliar from a software standpoint.
With a smaller, privately funded budget, we had to be strategic and economical with the scope and scale of our MVP. A nimble team of one thoughtbot developer and myself was formed for a month-long engagement. We started by running a condensed product design sprint to figure out what the most effective path could be from for an editor to go from "video-with-no-music" to "video-with-music". As a proof of concept, we built a clickable prototype (complete with gifs to simulate videos) for the client to test the idea with friends in the business. Then, with a thumbs up from the client, we dove into implementation.
The first version of our MVP was extremely simple—it provided a form for editors to fill out, and a way to view the details of those requests. There would be an admin user role that would be able to view the requests with additional controls, such as uploading tracks for the editors to review. And once an editor picks a song suggestion to license, our client would personally and manually take over the process outside of the app. While the developer did his thing on the back-end, I gave our MVP a light coat of branding and visual touches and moved to create the front-end markup and styles. We went with a Rails app, and took advantage of thoughtbot’s code styleguides and their suites of Sass frameworks. It was nice to be able to work so tightly with a developer, since we could hook features up on the fly and jump in and out of each other’s branches to do our respective parts, and this certainly shortened the amount of time needed for implementation. By the end of 4 weeks, we were able go from just an idea to a functional app that people could actually use and find music faster from, and the client was happy with what we got done together.
Coming back for round 2
It’s always a good sign when people come back for more, and that’s what happened with Bullitt. A few months after completing our barebones MVP, the client came back interested in expanding on the platform.
Round 2 called for some significant additions, and also a slight change in strategy. Before, the service of matching songs to video was front and center—it was the only thing you could do. However, the client found that more tools are needed in the app for editors to find enough value in it. Remember how I mentioned that editors would often download tracks to see how they might sync and track via their own video editing software? With version 1 of our MVP, this part of the critical path towards someone actually licensing a song was largely unaddressed. In version 2, we were giving users a more interactive media player, one that would allow you to sync and track music to video in-browser, and then share some of these rough cuts for others to review. Version 2 also allowed users to upload their own tracks to our player, so they can compare faster all of the songs they're deciding between.
To achieve this, I went through a few rounds of design around a "Workspace". An editor could create a project on Bullitt and, within it, she would have a Workspace where she could upload her various videos and all the music tracks she’s considering from her computer. As she plays around and adjusts the timing of her videos and songs from within our media player, she can also create "Syncs". Syncs mark down where a song should start playing when the video starts playing. These Syncs can then be added to a share page that our editor could link colleagues to for feedback. Simplifying this feedback loop hopefully allows our editor to decide on what song to use (or license) much sooner.
Should editors want to take advantage of Bullitt’s music match service, it’s always a quick click away whenever they go to add tracks to their Workspace. In addition to storing an editor’s personally uploaded files, any songs suggested by the music libraries would also appear in the Workspace audio list. That way, users can seamlessly hop between and sync up their videos with their own music and the freshly recommended ones.
Taking the same approach as last time, with myself and a developer implementing the new design and features, we were able to a launch version 2 within two months of our reengagement. This round took a little longer than we had anticipated, though the work was significant and the client was happy with our output. When we last checked in, he had been sharing the product we built with other interested parties and has hired an additional employee.
As I said, it isn’t any less intimidating if our client is "a guy" without the backing of a well-known and established brand. In fact, it’s probably more intimidating. The realization that someone is investing their personal money into kickstarting their idea and that they're trusting me to be on that journey with them motivates me like no other. But, of course, this has its own challenges. As designers- and builders-for-hire, the goal is always to deliver a solid foundation for the product and business to grow. Working on Bullitt has taught me that every decision, especially early on, can certainly affect and define the path forward for a small, budding startup. With a tight budget and timeline, it was important to be surgical about design decisions and targeted in figuring out what is truly minimum and viable. Working as a two-person team also gave us to opportunity to take on larger chunks of responsibilities, and I really enjoyed the chance to work both my design brain and my coding brain. Nothing gets me more than jumping into a developer’s beautifully-functional-but-typographically-and-aesthetically-drab git branch, and wrangling it with just the right amount of markup, Sass, and JS to bring it to life.