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From Instagram page to SaaS startup product for Designers. Success story

How the idea formed


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Tomas Urlikas

a year ago | 12 min read

Instagram by its nature is a social network to share beautiful photos, life moments and various ideas between people. As a medium, it became increasingly popular among designers.

They are sharing different kinds of inspiration, quotes, design tips and techniques with each other. This can also be an example when a product by its customers not used in a way creators expected.

I have seen many successful products born because it had enormous popularity from its followers. For example books, courses, learning material and even personal consultants started businesses because of it. They already had a huge audience of fans who adore what they do.

This time one particular SaaS product came to life which meant to help designers become better at their work. Differently than others they are offering not traditional learning methods. It collects all best practices in one place with byte-sized learnings on different topics.

The web app and Instagram page are named “Uxcel”. I was a fan of this product from day 1 when it was released as an alpha version for early adopters. So that’s why I decided to tell a story of the formation of this product.

How the idea formed

Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas
Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas

Since founders are keeping close to the community for feedback I decided to contact them for a short interview. What I wanted to learn was how everything began and how they launched a product. It all started in summer of 2019 when one of the founders Gene Kamenez saw on another social network Twitter a trend.

Many designers were tweeting which examples of design decisions are bad and which are good ones. Everyone trying to find proof which practice should be used in one case or another. Even today we can that Twitter is used for design learnings and tips. Although to his mind, this was not the best medium for quick and fast education. The idea appeared that Instagram might be a better use for such a case.

“The idea was to take one little thing at a time and try to teach it for the people”.

By first iterations, there was a timer with 3 seconds and intuitively without any research, you vote which variant is better. Usually, this should be based on your experience or intuition. Initially, 3 seconds was not enough as sometimes people can not see the difference so fast. Meaning that the default timer was extended to 8 seconds.

The start of such an account went with immediate success. When a few big accounts shared it got enormous growth in like two months reaching to 40 000 followers. It was a validation that this idea of teaching people in small bits with a quiz-like approach works.

“We made a lot of posts and tons of iterations. We were putting a story asking for the feedback and reacting to comments to iterate on feedback”.

How and Why it became successful

Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas
Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas

We need to understand the reasons what lead this idea to such success. The quick way to learn best practices proven to be effective for the market. Even though designers are reading a lot of books there are always endless discussions. For example, whether the buttons should be on the left or the right.

Everyone is busy in this fast pace world and the ability to learn at least basics quickly with gamification is tempting. Also, users can test their abilities on how good you are at certain design topics.

The page offered quick design exercises, tips and ability to test your eye on the details. Furthermore, they introduced design battles when they are comparing two famous product interfaces. For example how Instagram’s search pattern works in comparison vs Tiktok’s. These battles were extremely popular.

Exponential growth and engagement

Chart made by Tomas Urlikas by Google Analytics data
Chart made by Tomas Urlikas by Google Analytics data

At this moment the Instagram page has about 200 000 followers which are a lot in such a short time. Some niches can grow faster than others, but in the design niche, it is a huge number. In under more than a year they grow very fast, engagement from the followers remains high.

This partly proves as validation that the next steps should be taken on. Founders saw such potential with already a lot of information gathered about the market. A lot of content created for this is ideal to think about building something bigger. Already huge following base would make it much easier to attract dedicated fans to a new product.

The idea for a product. Starting up the startup

Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas
Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas

The seed was already planted in the mind for starting a new product, all needed was a team to start.

” I was in Minsk and with the other team, we had a chance to talk through. I showed an idea and partnered with Colin. He liked it. He immediately came up with a lot of improvements and a lot of new ideas on how we can improve“.

Both founders have at least 10 years of experience in the field and could eventually be the content creators by themselves. The decision to start the product came up in October 2019. At that time there were 70 000 followers, this was a strong indication that such a product based on quick learnings might be successful.

First builds of the product

Screenshot of a first alpha build of the product
Screenshot of a first alpha build of the product

They became the founders of the product and gathered fellow developers who got interested in such a startup idea. It all started being a project where most of the people worked on spare time at first while most of them already had full-time employment. The team took the original concept and put it on a product within the next three months.

“We built like the first Alpha version. Went out on the field to the users and get a lot of feedback.”

The team got some good feedback and a lot of areas where to improve. Everything went fast and founders got resources to put even more effort into making. As an early startup with dedicated early adopters, the company experimented and innovated a lot in many areas. “We’ve had an original idea. It wasn’t probably shaped.

Material from first builds how it works
Material from first builds how it works

We were going through a lot of iterations. We made a lot of mistakes when we’ve talked a lot with users.” While the product was being developed Colin spent a lot of time talking with a lot of users, as he called very intense months. After a lot of feedback, the team managed to find the best working solution and now grew in it.

The team

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

There is a privilege of being a small startup. Once you are small you can fail fast and move on, but if you have more people in the team it becomes harder to do the changes. The founders are working 7 days a week and putting a lot of effort into the success of the product in the future.

Once you grow the drastic experimentation will not be as common as it is today, but more potential for the product to be successful will expand. They will eventually become a bigger team as currently, they are 4 people on the content team, 3 developers and 1 QA besides the founders.

Developing the product in a user-centred approach

Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas
Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas

When creating the content for the product it helped that Gene and Colin were working in the product design field. This made things a bit easier when coming up with ideas of what to do next. Since building the alpha version of the product the founders kept a very user-centric approach and managed to build a solid rapport with users.

On Instagram, everything worked very well, but this time it had to be made into a product. While starting, the entire vision was not clear at the beginning and how to move forward with it. One early iteration in the product was the so-called “gym” where you can practice and train your skills as a designer.

One of the early learnings was that initial target audience of the product were beginners with less than one year of experience in the field. That was of the key drivers forming the vision of how the product should work.

Forming the concept of product

A beta build of the product
A beta build of the product

What is the main thing early starting designers often need? It is guidance and some path they can follow. You have your learning schedule from beginning till the end and it is laid out to you like a path. The inspiration came from “Duolingo” — the product for language learning and initially, the feedback was positive.

“It is like language learning Duolingo, but for design”

The users immediately found value in the product and were excited to continue learning this way. People loved the concept but felt like they were split between different paths. There was a massive hype to continue building up the foundations and at the same time the “gym” which required a lot of effort. It is about what we can focus on at the same time. The team continued with foundations and lessons of the week to engage users coming back.

The main idea of the product became that instead of watching 60 minutes long lessons or reading an article for about 10 minutes it can be done faster. At first, there were about 10 levels with 800 practices for users to do, but also theory is an integral part of the learning process. After every practice, there is a theory part you can read why this particular solution is better than others backed by research which has been done for you.

Gif from the Beta release example
Gif from the Beta release example

This is the big advantage of early-stage startups that you can fail fast. Experiment with various approaches and with the user’s community, this is the product with a user-centred approach in mind.

Engaging with the community

Screen from existing Slack channel
Screen from existing Slack channel

he product from the early stages had a lot of dedicated fans who engaged in collaboration. The “Slack” channel is used to communicate with the audience about feedback. At the moment it was easy to see what is working and what is not. This approach helped a lot to shape the product and Colin was supporting the channels, spent time talking to users.

All iterations of the product were tested immediately, so this was the most effective way. Usability testing becomes much easier when you have an audience right in front of you.

Besides another big thing is that users can vote on a roadmap which is publicly available. From that information, you can have a bird’s eye view of what is more important for users at the given moment. The team can see what to focus on next and this helps to prioritize the roadmap.

Planning features with feedback

Existing roadmap and feature planning with community voting
Existing roadmap and feature planning with community voting

Roadmap development was incredibly useful as users can comment, suggest ideas, vote on what is important for them. The roadmap was split into feature requests and roadmap requests which helped a lot to the team.

For example, analytics showed that mobile design exploded in terms of popularity and also became one of most requested on the roadmap. So this is a strong signal that this might be the right suggestion and might not be false positive.

“We try to stay Incredibly Close to the community and listen to what they’re asking for. But without trying to be too reactive right you don’t want to get a lot of false positives”.

It is important to listen to the community, but there is one thing to keep in mind. Users often say that this is a great idea, and we should do it. However, in reality, this might not work at all after being developed. Sometimes mistakes are being made, but from that, you learn something and move on.

“I think an important thing for designers and product people, in general, is just not to get too fixated on an idea. We have to learn to put our ego aside and say seems like a good idea but there will always be the next one.”

Product’s strategy and vision

Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas
Associative illustration by Tomas Urlikas

After all development stages and after many user testings the initial strategy became more clear for the long term. Most of the users were beginners, but also there was an audience of developers and project managers who wanted to learn more about design. Best practices components that every designer, developer and PM should know. To be aligned on the same page is important working with product development.

The target market has expanded as the interest of the product goes broader than expected first. What was coming up was that they needed a comprehensive and representative UI UX design foundations course.

Eventually, after foundations there will be other tracks which are for more experienced designers, there is also planned UI components course underway. This will be the best practices in one place which you can bookmark for later use. Instead of reading long different articles, users can find everything in one place straight to the point of what works in a given situation and why.

“Even designers with a lot of experience constantly coming to the gene or myself and saying: God, this is a great resource because I forget about things. It’s a great way to just repast them”.

Unique value proposition

Screenshot from existing website marketing material www.uxcel.com
Screenshot from existing website marketing material www.uxcel.com

So the initial value proposition is that the product offers a different learning model for students rather than watching video courses or reading books. Democratic, cheap and affordable — these are the principles formed. It is a quick and entertaining way to learn with some gamification involved.

Users can check how well they know things compared to friends and other designers in the field. The course doesn’t require big commitment or loads of money which you might pay for boot camps. This can be finished in a couple of weeks.

There is a constant learning curve and a good thing is to refresh the knowledge once in a bit time. Like developers constantly learns designers also need to learn and evolve as designers. Product Design field like any other tech industry is evolving fast and there is a need to keep up to date. The founders hope that for users this can be built like a routine or habit just by 5 minutes a day you can always learn something new.

The founders want to democratize learning design and make it easy for everyone to just jump and start doing, remove the barriers of entry. For example, at least a US design course might cost from 1k to 15k USD. The education system in America is hugely expensive, so this product is digitized and fun to learn from day one.

At this moment on the platform, there are already 12 000 users registered and this number came pretty quickly. It has at the moment weekly growth of 10–18% with no signs of slowing down. There is no investment in the marketing at the moment and founders are happy with current organic growth of the product.

The Future

Since I was personally following the product evolvement I can see how big it became since it started from the first alpha version release. With constant support from the community, the product has grown exponentially and continues to evolve. It has a big target audience and a unique concept of how to teach design interestingly.

Underway in the product backlog, there is a course planned to deepen the knowledge in certain topics. Design Composition, Mobile UI, UI Components, Color and Typography. I hope in the future to see tracks which are also dedicated to experienced designers who want to expand their knowledge beyond foundations also.

One interesting topic which has enormous growth as well are design battles. For example, comparing the design decisions of two big companies and evaluating which one and why might be doing better. So the expectation would be that we will see more of that in the product as well.

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Tomas Urlikas

User Experience Designer

I enjoy turning complex problems into simple, beautiful and intuitive designs. I am providing most effective solutions and presenting information in an understandable way. The hunger to learn more and do better has helped me to achieve business requirements the company might have and ability to see the problems from a different point of view.


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