Women looking over computer data to enhance the customer experience

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder


You’ve now learned that an End-User Needs Assessment is the process of evaluating the needs of the people who will be using your software or app.

An end-user needs assessment typically has three phases: the preparation phase, the investigation phase, and the decision phase.

In this video, we’re going to show you how to conduct the investigation phase.


What is the investigation phase?

In the investigation phase, you’re working to wrap your head around your present situation. For example, what is your existing system or process? And how does it work? Then, you want to identify alternatives to that existing system.

If you don’t have an existing system, consider what else exists on the market or what your competitor uses.

As you dive into the investigation phase, make sure you understand how your system works – at least well enough to explain its function to your project team. We recommend listing out all of your system’s (or competitor’s systems) features and functions so your team can easily identify deficiencies or opportunities for your new system.

Also, problems – like going over budget or having to delay the launch – arise when companies assume they know what their users like or dislike about their product, only to discover later that they missed the mark and have to go back to the drawing board to fix it. So, it’s vital to engage your end users and stakeholders in the investigation phase to nail down exactly what it is your users want from the start.

How to conduct the investigation phase with your team

Here are some questions you and your team should ask to evaluate your present system:

  • What features of the existing system do your users like?
  • What features do your users not like?
  • What features do your users think are missing or wrong?
  • How can the existing system be improved?

List out every possibility – big or small. You can decide later, in the decision phase, what features are feasible to develop. 


Once you’ve completed the investigation phase, you can move on to the decision phase where you’ll flush out the new proposed system and how you’ll build it. 

Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to learn more in Part IV of our End-User Assessment video series.

Don’t have a tech idea yet? Find the sweet spot between what you know and what the world needs by downloading our free retooled SWOT framework. Get it here.

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder

In our last video, you learned that an End-User Needs Assessment is the process of evaluating the needs of the people who will be using your software or app.

An end-user needs assessment typically has three phases: the preparation phase, the investigation phase, and the decision phase.

In this video, we’re going to show you how to conduct the preparation phase.


Step 1: Choose your stakeholders

In the preparation phase, your goal is to choose your stakeholders, understand your customer’s problems, identify the decision criteria, and gather the information needed for your project.

So, to begin, who are your stakeholders?

Your stakeholders are the people who will be impacted by your product. Who might stand to gain or lose from your product’s success or failure? Who could you engage that might have a unique perspective on the problem your product solves and the potential solutions?


Of course, your end-users fall under this category. But, while all end users could be stakeholders, all stakeholders aren’t end-users. Here are a few examples of potential stakeholders:


  • People funding the product development
  • Business managers and architects
  • Data architects and database administrators
  • Your development team
  • The product owner
  • The project manager
  • Account and sales manager
  • Your direct and indirect users


Once you’ve established who your stakeholders are, you can then move on to identifying your customer’s problems. 

Step 2: Understand your customer’s problems


Gather your stakeholders together and list on a whiteboard all the potential problems your end-user might have in relation to your product. 

Consider solutions that are not as obvious. Are there technical problems? Organizational problems? Problems you can uncover by observing the end-user in their environment?

You can conduct market research, send out surveys, create customer personas, and gather customer feedback to identify those pain points.

Of course, it’s not always possible to solve every problem your end-user has, especially in the first iteration of your product. So, after you’ve made your list, you’ll want to identify your decision criteria to narrow that list down when it comes to product development.

Step 3: Identify the decision criteria

Your decision criteria are the factors that will impact your final decisions. For example, are there budget limitations? Time constraints? Current technology that needs to be updated or developed first? Or systems or personnel that may be impacted?

Make a list of all these factors so you can decide what problems your product will specialize in solving and which features will be developed first. 

Step 4: Gather all necessary information

The final step in phase 1, the preparation phase, is to gather all the information you need for your project. This information might include, but not be limited to:

  • List of stakeholders
  • List of problems/pain points
  • Market research & strategy
  • Surveys or questionnaires completed by end-users
  • Competitor analysis
  • Vision document
  • Value Proposition
  • Business model canvas
  • Features list


Now that you’ve completed the preparation phase, you can move on to the investigation phase where you’ll begin to wrap your head around your present situation. For example, what is your existing system or process? And how does it work? You’ll then identify alternatives to that existing system. 


Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to learn more in Part III of our End-User Assessment video series.

Don’t have a tech idea yet? Find the sweet spot between what you know and what the world needs by downloading our free retooled SWOT framework. Get it here.

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder


“Almost everyone will make a good first impression, but only a few will make a good lasting impression.” – Sonya Parker

What type of impression are you making when your users download and open up your app? 

User onboarding is one of the most critical elements of your app or software development and launch. It determines whether users stay, go, or even become raving fans of your product.

So, today we’re going to talk about how to streamline the user onboarding experience for your software product or app. Let’s dive in.


Jay: First, tell us what user onboarding is and why it’s important.

Carol: Onboarding is an experience a user has when they first open up your app, especially if they’re new to it. There are two different camps here. If your app is really well done and well built, you don’t need onboarding. But, some apps require your users to have a little bit of guidance the first time they’re opening up your app.

A lot of it depends on what type of app you have. If you have a social app, you probably don’t want to have a very extensive onboarding process. You want to make the app super simple and easy to use.

But an app that’s more of a utility or an educational tool, you want to add an onboarding process, so people know what they can do in the app.


Jay: How do you create an onboarding strategy?

Carol: You sit down with your team and talk about the goals of the app, the purpose of the app, and what the value is you’re delivering to the user. Then, you map out the first thing the user sees when they open up the app. Where do you want them to go? What do you want them to do while they’re there?

You can whiteboard out the steps or even wireframe it out. You really want to look at that layout and what would be intuitive for the user to click, tap, or do next. 


Jay: What are some user onboarding best practices or tips?

Carol: If you take a step back from onboarding, there are best practices around just the app itself. For example, when a user signs up for your app, what is that account flow like? Is it super simple? Or do you have a lot of different steps?

You know, if you ask for a credit card upfront, you’re probably going to lose some users right there – depending on the app and depending on the target market. So, you really want to be strategic about the number of screens you use that the user has to go through.

Also, there’s also the experience of getting help from your company. Is it easy for your users to get help? Do they have to call a 1-800 number, is there a chatbot on your website, do you have an FAQ area or help center where they can easily find information. 

If you decide not to have a walkthrough of your app, can your user easily google your app and find a help center to get the information they need to be successful in using your app?

Jay: So it’s all about reducing friction during that process?

Carol: Yes.


Jay: Could you share an example onboarding process with us?

Carol: Any app you download from the app store, you can kind of get a feel of how the apps work. Just download one and take a look at it. 

Some of the best apps you download, you go straight into the app. One example is the Facebook app. When you download it, you go straight to the newsfeed. In some apps, you only have to sign up with a phone number – you don’t have to put in a whole bunch of account information.

Another way to think about it is when was the last time you went to a doctor’s office, and you walked in, and they handed you an iPad? You filled out the forms, and it was really simple. When that process is simple, you think, ‘oh, I like this doctor’s office; it makes it easy to schedule appointments and update my records.’

You want to translate that experience into your app as well.

**The above interview has been transcribed for clarity and brevity.**


Want to learn more about streamlining your users’ experience? Check out our video on How to Get Your App Users to Stick Around After the Free Trial here.

How to Get Your App Users to Stick Around After the Free Trial

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder


Free trials are a great way to show users why they should choose your app or software product over anything else.

But how do you ensure your users will renew their subscriptions once the free trial is up?

Today, I’m going to share three ways you can get your users to commit after their free trial has ended. 


Nail your onboarding process

How do you nail the onboarding process? There are three ways you can focus on this.

First, you want to create a help center on your website or have a small support team. You could even have part-time folks who can answer technical questions. Make it easy for your users to find you; for example, your support email should be help@yourappname.com.

Second, send users a welcome email with all the information they need about their free trial and how to download the product to get started. You could even turn that process into a welcome cadence where you send them an email once every two days or every day for the first seven days.

Third, you also want to provide in-app native FAQs so your users can open the app, click Help, and quickly get the answers they need.

Empower your users

To get your app or product’s full benefits, your users need to know all the ins and outs. Empowering your customers with educational materials about your product can boost customer loyalty and reduce complaints.

So, first off, you want to offer your users hands-on experience with live demos. If you’re a startup, you want to do this person-to-person, for example, over Zoom, and ask your users how things are doing and if you can answer any questions.

Second, you can create and share useful content on your website, email, and social media. It can be simple how-to’s or tech tips to support your user in achieving their goals through your product.

You can also organize a virtual workshop or webinar. You can do those live or have them pre-recorded so your users can access them anytime via your website.

Make it easy for users to buy your app

This step often gets overlooked, but it’s the most important. Make it easy for your users to buy your app or software product once the trial is up.

Remind users their free trial is about to expire. You can send your users an email or maybe even call them if you’re a startup and have the team to do it. 

You can also provide an early discount if they buy before the expiration of the trial. For example, you can send them an email and say, ‘Hey, if you renew now (7 days before your trial is up), we’ll take 20% of the subscription!’

Also, send a final email that includes step-by-step how users can buy and activate the full version. Make the purchasing process really easy. Find the simplest checkout form that you can have them put their credit card information in (if you can, use Apple Pay). If the product is available in the app store, that makes it pretty easy too.


Your free trial phase is a great way to retain customers, build loyalty, and grow your business.

Make it easy for your free trial users to learn how to use your app or software to its fullest potential, and they’ll move right into the paying phase.


Now that you’ve got your users hooked, learn how to streamline your onboarding process, so your app users never want to leave. Read it here.

by Carol Vercellino, CEO of Oak City Labs

In today’s market, creating an outstanding product is just part of the battle. You also need a clear, compelling online presence. Even if your product is top notch, you will lose credibility quickly if your website is lacking.


In this article (and video) we’ll share the 5 non-negotiables you need online before your product launches.


You’ve built a game changing product – congratulations! But is your website ready for your launch? Do you have all of the information on your site, and is it written in a way that will drive sales?


Let’s discuss the essential elements to include on your website before it goes live. Here are the five elements your website needs.


First, the value proposition. Tell your potential customers what they will gain from doing business with you. Are you saving them time? Are you saving them money? What is it that you are doing for them? What pain are you solving?


Second, add a primary call to action. Do you want your potential customer to schedule a call today? Do you want them to download a document? What do you want them to do as their next step with you?


Third, have a customer testimonial or a case study. People really like to see what you’ve done for someone else in the past so that they can identify with your solution.


Fourth, have two to three bullet points that explain your product features and services – and keep it simple! One to two sentences, even less, is all you need there.


Finally, have a transitional call to action. That’s just a fancy way of saying have a lead magnet or a free trial or give them something – even a free video. Some type of other next step.


So, having an engaging only presence is non-negotiable in today’s market, especially for new products. Make sure your website is a solid sales tool that complements the work that you and your team are doing.


I’m Carol Vercellino, co-founder of Oak City Labs. Thanks for watching, and make sure you subscribe to our channel to catch more of our tech tip videos.

by Carol Vercellino, CEO of Oak City Labs

A product vision conveys the purpose of a product and what problem it will solve. A strong vision motivates and inspires developers, but a weak vision can result in misfires and multiple rounds of revisions. Simply put, the clearer the vision, the more efficiently developers can create software that hits the target.


In this article (and video) we’ll share best practices for effectively sharing your vision with a developer.

What is a product vision?

To start, you have to think about what are the key components of a product vision. They’re very much like what a value proposition would have – what problem are you trying to solve, who is it for, what’s the unique value proposition? What’s unique about this idea? What’s the market size, what do you see the product becoming in the future. It’s almost like a mini pitch stack that you would pitch to VCs. This really helps the developer not only understand what needs to be built but also who it’s being built for and why it’s so important for the market.


Making the pitch

So how do you pitch such a big, theoretical idea so that a developer can then transfer that into actions. Oftentimes when we work with clients we like to take the really big picture idea and start to break it down. So we’ll break it down into buckets, or larger ideas, and then we’ll break that down into smaller features. And then from there, the technical team can break it down even further into what we call stories, or technical items. That really just becomes the basic list of work that needs to be done or estimated so you understand how much it might cost.


What are common mistakes that clients make when sharing that vision? 

The most common mistakes that people make are not doing enough market research or not solving a problem that people will pay for. It’s rarely a technical challenge. I get asked a lot about whether something is technically feasible. Most things are, given enough time and money. But almost always, the mistake is on the market side. So we really try to dig into [understanding] what problem is someone solving and how much market research has been completed. As developers, we like to build products that will be used. So we often ask questions about the business model, market and strategy. That not only inspires us but it helps us understand what the product will become or what it might look like in the future. 


So developers really want to create technology that solves problems and exceeds expectations. The first step in that process is understanding the vision behind the product. A productive conversation about vision is absolutely essential.


I’m Carol Vercellino, co-founder of Oak City Labs. Thanks for watching, and make sure you subscribe to our channel to catch more of our tech tip videos.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a STEM in the Park + NetApp event to bring about 100 middle school girls to view CODEGIRL. Both organizations are doing amazing work introducing young ladies to the STEM fields. What struck me most was the volunteerism, camaraderie and eagerness to learn among the kids. It also reminded me that there is so much opportunity out there, we just need to have our eyes open and teach our children the same. Today is a little different than our normal tech posts, but everyone needs a little inspiration and motivation now and then. Zig Ziglar said:

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple University, once gave a well known speech titled Acres of Diamonds. The supposedly true story is about an African farmer named Ali Hafed who heard stories of fortune by other farmers. These farmers discovered diamonds on their land and became rich beyond their wildest imagination. Ali Hafed became discontented with his own life and desperately desired the same fortune. He eventually sold his farm and left his family to begin a quest for land that would lead him to riches. He searched through many lands far and wide. Eventually as an old man he became depressed and despondent. He threw himself into a great tidal wave to his death, never to be seen again.

The successor of his land, another farmer, one day strolled along a creek that ran through the property. He noticed a blue flash from the creek bed, knelt down and sifted through the water until he pulled a crystal object from the mud of the creek. He wiped it off, took it home and left it on his mantel above the fireplace, where he quickly forgot about it.

Several weeks later, a visitor stopped by the farmer and noticing the crystal on the mantle picked it up. Instantly he became excited, he was holding a diamond in his hand. The farmer protested at first and the visitor reassured him that it was indeed a diamond. That farm eventually became one of the largest diamond-mines in the world. Had Ali Hafed simply known how to identify and look for diamonds, he would have had the fortune he so desperately wanted.

We’re all standing among our own acres of diamonds. We need the skills and ability to recognize what a diamond looks like in its rough state. A close friend of mine likes to say “challenges beget opportunities”. Or rather, we need to see the challenges around us as diamonds ready to be cut and polished.

It’s easy to look at our community and see the shortcomings, lack of access to capital, users that won’t download a brand new app or timing that just isn’t right. It’s more difficult to look for diamonds in their rough state, recognize them as diamonds and turn them into something beautiful. Stephen Covey says it best:

“Look at the word responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

I believe we’re in an incredible time period to build companies, to solve problems with data and technology and to make things better. Never before has it been cheaper to build out infrastructure, access people through networking events and pull people together in a community. Our most fun projects have been led by business owners and founders that see a problem to tackle and have a singular mindset to take responsibility and do something about it. They all share a common trait – they have their eyes open to opportunities right in their own backyard.

If you’ve found your diamond, your challenge, your problem to solve – we’ll be here for you when you’re ready.

It’s just about that time of year again! Yes, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, is upon us. The team that goes the furthest in the tournament usually has a stellar starting lineup of players that work together to win game after game – and eventually that coveted championship trophy. This is not unlike the team required to bring your mobile app idea to life. Today we’re breaking down the key players involved with creating a mobile app.

Your starting lineup:

Project Manager

If those involved in developing your mobile app project were an actual basketball team, the project manager would be the point guard. He or she has to have a clear vision of the project at all times and be focused on the big picture goals, while at the same time being intimately familiar with the smaller details of the project. A liaison between the internal development team and the client, the project manager toes the line between all parties to make sure the project stays on time, on budget and within scope.

Key strengths: organization, client communication, detail-oriented


Continuing with our team comparisons, next we have the strategist who could be fairly compared to the shooting guard. The strategist is the visionary of the project and can sometimes be the same person as the project manager. If the project manager is more logistically focused though, the strategist is strategically focused. He or she is responsible for ensuring that the client’s goals are met through the decisions made during the wireframing, design and development portions of the project. This person must be good at balancing the business needs of the client with the technical considerations of the development team.

Key strengths: strong development background knowledge, business/marketing strategy knowledge, decision-making skills


Designers or UX specialists often determine the difference between a good app and a great app. A pillar of the development team, the designer is similar to the power forward on a basketball team. He or she creates wireframes and/or visual designs, as well as decides on the screenflow and user interface (UI). The designer often has a basic technical understanding and works well with the team’s developers to ensure the final product is just as visually appealing as it is technically functional.

Key strengths: creative, deep understanding of UX/UI, basic technical background knowledge

Software Engineers

On a basketball team, the small forward is a versatile player. Adept at handling the ball inside and outside, the small forward excels at offense and defense. Such is the software engineer on a mobile app development team. This role is responsible for bringing together the vision of the strategist, the creative direction from the designer and the technical requirements of the client into a working, functional app. Engineers develop the backend or server side portion of the app, and then the iOS and Android products. They fix bugs given to them following quality assurance (read more on that below) and deploy the app to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store when it’s time to launch.

Key strengths: technically minded, problem solvers, strong technical understanding

Quality Assurance

Just as the center spends the majority of his or her time close to the basket, the quality assurance position is also narrowly focused on doing one job really well. His or her goal is to test, test, test and then test some more. The quality assurance person finds bugs, checks for security holes, confirms the use cases are met, scrolls, taps, and swipes to his or her heart’s content. In short: he or she tries to break the app. The goal is to ensure the product is ready to ship to the client for testing and approval during the beta and release stages of the project.

Key strengths: detail-oriented, problem solvers, able to provide constructive criticism

So there you have it. Your starting lineup as you take on the task of bringing your mobile app idea to life! Sound like a team you’d like playing for you? We’d love to chat!

Yes, you read that headline correctly. On a blog focused on bringing you the latest tech trends and coaching you through the app development process, we’re pumping the brakes a bit and talking today about reasons why building a mobile app or web app might NOT be a good idea for your business or organization.

You Haven’t Conducted Any Market Research

If you know anything about us, you know that Oak City Labs is a huge proponent of market research. We believe it is the cornerstone of any worthwhile, successful app. If you have yet to complete any market research on your idea, you probably shouldn’t be building your app quite yet! If you don’t know where to start, download our FREE checklist detailing all of the steps.

Your Idea Isn’t Unique

Market research should help, but it’s important to answer the question, “Is this idea unique?” If the answer is yes, keep going! If the answer is no, take pause. Just because someone else has already built an app like the one you’re proposing, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It just means that you should really think hard about how you can add or change functionality to differentiate your mobile app or web app from others. What is your secret sauce or unique value proposition that will make users download your app too?

Your Idea Doesn’t Provide Value to Your Users

If your mobile app is just a replication of your website, you don’t need a mobile app. Yep, you heard me right. Your app should provide value to your users through additional functionality, interactive components, connectivity with IoT devices, notifications, geolocation features, etc. Think through what additional functionalities should be added to your app to set it apart from your website – what additional value can it bring to your users – and build that!

You Don’t See A Lot of Mobile Traffic to Your Website

This one’s tricky, but worth considering. We believe that analytics are a powerful way to make business decisions – the numbers don’t lie! If you have an existing business with a website, have you checked your analytics lately? What percentage of users visit your site with a mobile device compared to a desktop? Maybe there are a lot of tablet visitors? If you have a mobile-friendly website and still don’t see a trend in the analytics toward mobile users, think twice before creating a mobile app. If users won’t visit a mobile website, it’s hard to expect them to download an app.

You Don’t Have the Resources

Building a mobile app or web app is not for the faint of heart. And when you launch the app out into the world, the work has really only just begun. Consider the amount of time and money you have available to bring your mobile app or web app idea to life.

Let’s start with time first: is this a side project that you want to tinker with for a year or so – or are you truly diving in and devoting yourself to the project? There is so much more to building a mobile than writing code; in fact, most times that’s the easy part! To be truly successful, you’ll need to devote a considerable amount of time to the project to handle market research, strategy, marketing, public relations, operations, among other things. Can you or your team devote time for that? And then there’s the other item: money. Building a quality custom mobile app from start to finish is not cheap. Expect to spend around $50-250k+ on the process. Need ideas for funding in the life science, education or agtech space? We have one tip here.

Of course there are plenty of reasons why you SHOULD build a mobile app, and we’d love to talk with you about those too! If you have an idea, but aren’t sure where to start, let us know! We’d be happy to chat with you!

The new year is a great time to focus on new customer features in a mobile or software application, set some goals for user acquisition or put some new processes and systems in place to grow your business. Today, we’re introducing you to some resources that will help you set a plan for user (customer) acquisition, whether it be for a new mobile application or even a service business.

Running is one of my favorite hobbies. Lace up your shoes and run in the wee hours of the morning type running. A headlamp is required because it’s still dark. I’ve developed a habit around it, but sometimes a habit will plateau. The gains eventually taper off and the methods of training used over the last year may not take me to the next level of fitness. The same goes for your product, your team and your company. How do we get over the plateau?

In terms of fitness, I set a goal to beat a certain pace on a specific distance. Then I sign up for a race, and find a training plan (I’m using the free one) that will force me to do workouts to drop my pace and set a new PR (personal record). This year, I’m taking advantage of technology and have programmed my running watch for the actual workouts in the plan. That means I can’t slack off without a very loud warning from my watch. We can do the same thing for products, teams and companies. Internally, at Oak City Labs, we’ve been more strategic about quarterly goals, annual goals and long term vision. We set goals, we’ve written down a plan and it has forced us to make some uncomfortable choices. Ultimately, having that plan written down and doing things that are uncomfortable will help us grow to accomplish our goals.

We can also apply the same simple process to user acquisition and product growth. Much like the sales and revenue targets, your team needs to go through the exercise of setting a goal – whether it’s 100,000 downloads in 6 months or 100 new users in 6 months. Set the goal and work backwards. If I need to have 100,000 in 6 months. How do I get those users? How much will that cost? Where do they come from? How many can I get in January, February, etc

Ryan Gum does an excellent job of giving you a plan, or at least a format to follow and would be a great place to start.

Other resources to dig a little deeper into customer acquisition include:

It’s also important to realize that your plan is going to change depending on your target market or ideal customer. Customer acquisition costs will also differ from customer to customer. Christopher Janz outlines different strategies by type and size of customer. Make sure to read his follow-up post on brontosaurus and whale hunting.

To help you get you moving, here’s a quick checklist to guide your thinking:

  1. Define your ideal user. This should be a detailed description of who they are, where they are, what they buy, what they think and how they buy.
  2. Set a goal(s) for user acquisition. How many ideal users do you need? When do you need them? Is it a realistic number and time frame? And write it down. Print it out and hang it up next to your desk.
  3. Work backwards. Knowing how many you need to acquire, starting asking some tough questions about how you’re going to get them? How much will it cost? If you buy Facebook ads in January, when do you expect those to convert and at what conversion rate? Use the sites linked to in this article to dig into the “how.”
  4. Define your plan. Write the plan down. For example, in January we’ll call 200 people. In February we’ll spend $10,000 on Facebook ads. Make sure to include a reminder with each of your actions to evaluate the performance and make tweaks. Review the plan monthly to make sure you’re on target.
  5. Execute. Just do it, follow your plan. Make adjustments as you go and don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from testing small acquisition campaigns.

I hope this helps get you started on putting a process around your customer acquisition strategies.  If you happened to really like this article and want to read more about this or another topic please contact us! We’d love to hear your feedback!