Meet Melody – Head of Product at Toucan
How did you come on board at Toucan?
Matt and I used to work together. In one of our first few meetings for a project, I remember he had come up to me and said, “I have a feeling that we'll work together for a very long time.” Fast forward a few years, the COVID-19 pandemic begins and my visa is also expiring - I came to the UK on a youth mobility visa, which only lasts two years. I was leaving that company at the time and Matt contacted me to ask what I was doing now, and that's when he started telling me about Toucan. It was around the end of summer 2020, and he offered me the opportunity to come on as a co-founder if I was interested in it and to help him with the product and UX side of things.
What is your role?
Matt had first come to me with a chief of product role. In my head, I was like, “well, that's a very hefty title. I'm not sure if I could bear the weight of this.” Obviously, I'm not saying this to him directly, just yet. It took me some time and I had actually said that I would prefer to take on a ‘head of’ to start with because I felt like I wanted to build the experience under my belt before I took on a role like that. I found this to be a very interesting pattern with women in tech spaces in general, or in any workspace, where there's the need to "work my way there first". With men, they'll take the title and make their way there. So yes, I am in a head of product/UX position, but initially, he had approached me with a CPO role.
Why does the world need Toucan? What problem does it solve?
I think the charitable giving space is really interesting. Number one, in terms of specific product needs, people have said basically the same thing over and over again, which was “Well, I would like to donate more, but I need to understand the impact of my donations, and I also don't want to be pestered.” That's usually the main problem that people come to us with, or have mentioned when we talk to them.
There's a lack of modern solutions in this space, but the way that people learn about issues or talk about current events has really changed. Previously, I would say, we probably heard about it on TV or read about it in the newspaper, yet nowadays this casual, reactive, younger giving group that we're looking at discovers it through social media. Oftentimes people will say that they want to do something good but the push and the urgency to actively go do it isn't always there, unless it's influenced by something else - so whether it is your friend, your family, a personal issue, someone you admire, or you're hearing about it passively from somewhere, etc. that's what triggers you to then give. There needs to be an emotional trigger and an easy solution in the right places.
What elements have you had to consider when developing the app?
With UX and products, the most important thing that you want to answer is, “what is the problem that you're trying to address?”.
You cannot be married to your initial solution, because once that solution is complete and you release it, you have to be open to how people actually use it. It's not the most effective to ask people, if they will use a product, because most of them will say, “yes, I can see myself using that.” Usually, when I hear that, I think “You're probably not going to use it.” You cannot ask people directly; you have to understand what their need is first, and what their alternative solutions are, and then you create and craft something to fit into that. I think as we get more people on board and we continue to learn and iterate following how they actually use our app, this will be really interesting to me. It will be a major turning point because it'll all come down to how quickly we can build following the feedback from our users.
How has the idea evolved since its inception?
At first, we used to say we wanted to replicate features of successful millennial apps, but for me, that didn't make a lot of sense. The use case of each of these apps is different - the need is different. So one major thing that no longer exists in our current app, is the swipe feature, which was similar to how you would swipe on dating apps. The idea was like swiping through charities, which we agreed just doesn’t work. When you’re using an app debating whether or not you would date this person, your decision-making process is very quick. It’s a really short period of time. However, the case of charities is different. You need to understand what they're doing, the projects they are working on, whether you trust a certain charity or not, etc.
We can't really judge a charity off of their logo and short biography, so we decided to leave this particular feature behind and move to something more suitable.
What hurdles have you overcome in developing the app?
For me, one of the biggest blockers is the recurring donation. It’s actually quite difficult to get people to sign up for anything recurring and getting them to do so for charity even harder. We have something in the pipeline called Spotlight Funds, which are centred around either a specific cause or a current event, issue. These Spotlight Funds can be led by Toucan, or an influencer can generate one which is based on the issues close to their hearts that they want to raise money for with their followers. I think this will be very interesting for us because it’s not necessarily only tapping into people's innate desire to do good, but also how engaged they are with other people that they admire or follow, and how that influences their donation making.
BTS are great as an example of having built this incredible relationship with their fan base. When you look at the type of stuff that they release outside of their music, it is all to make them more relatable, personable - you feel like you know them a bit more. It builds this closeness that couldn't exist before social media. BTS has created such a strong connection with the fan base (army) that they donated 1 million USD to the Black Lives Matter movement, and then their fans rallied up on Twitter and matched that amount. I think there's something really intriguing there about the power of influence.
What has it been like to design the app remotely, during a pandemic? How does it compare to your past experience?
One of the things that I like about working in UX is the discovery period at the beginning of the design process. Normally you would hold a workshop and that in-person collaboration is really great for brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other – it’s exciting. This really does get lost online. However Toucan began at a time when we have access to great tools that foster online collaboration, so we have been quite lucky to have solutions to help us work effectively. Miro, Figma/Figjam & Notion have been my go-to tools.
What hurdles have you had to overcome in the fintech and business space generally?
It’s not exclusive to FinTech, but when you start off, your solution meets a very specific need, but if you don’t innovate over time then other, potentially better solutions will come into existence. It’s important to ensure you're very aware of what other competitors in the space are doing and make that case and argument for why we want to go in a particular direction. It's easy to forget this when we have our heads down in deep work.
I don't want to focus so much on my gender or my ethnicity, but the reality is that it does come with its own hurdles. Learning to communicate in a way that you are heard is a bigger challenge than you anticipate. You hear about it, but you don't realise it until you actually go through it. But I'm lucky that with Toucan, our team is really great. I can chat to Matt about anything and he's very open, which has been a big benefit in how we work together.