Behind the Scenes: How We've Built Mend

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By Tamiz Ahmed


Whole Hearts For Everyone

We recently graduated from beta and launched Mend in the App Store. Mend is a self care app that guides and supports users, or Menders (as we like to call them), through their breakup day-by-day. We do this through daily audio trainings and a supportive, engaged community. 

The version of Mend you can download in the App Store was the result of many months of hard work for our small and scrappy team. Building the app was a comprehensive process involving months of research, content development, countless brainstorming sessions, user interviews, branding discussions and a complete UX and UI re-design of our beta.

During this time, we also had the great fortune of being featured on Apple’s first original content series on apps and the creators behind them, Planet of the Apps. On the show, our founder Elle was mentored by Jessica Alba, Founder of Honest Company. She also closed our $1m seed round - go Elle!

2017 has been an exhilarating year so far, so we wanted to take this opportunity to pull back the veil and share the transformation with you.

How It All Began

The beta version of Mend was released in the App Store in July 2016. We were fortunate that our content site letsmend.com organically seeded the first beta testers of our app - before launching, we had a 5k person waitlist to test Mend.

The very first version of Mend had the same mission as our current version, but the vehicle was very different. Specifically, the product we built was designed to feel very practical and regimented. Our goal with our MVP (minimum viable product) was to focus less on brand and design, and more on testing a few hypotheses we had about user experience.

At the time, we referred to our app as a “personal trainer for heartbreak.” As a result, we modeled much of the UI (user interface) off of productivity/fitness apps, with the goal of helping Menders form a routine using our app, and make the program feel as structured as possible.

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Learning From Menders

Through the end of the year, we viewed our app purely as a minimum viable product, and were fully aware that in the future we may (and likely would) need to make potentially major changes to our app. Not being wedded to the initial UI or UX (user experience) was crucial for us because it allowed us to keep an open mind to what our users were telling us. 

By the time December rolled around, we had gathered several months of feedback, and had some fantastic insights to guide us moving forward. One of the most consistent pieces of feedback we heard from Menders over and over again was that they felt Mend was “like a best friend” helping them through a breakup. We were excited to learn Menders felt such a deep and personal connection to Mend because it’s the connection we feel to our community as well.

Our traction with conversion rate and stickiness during this time convinced us we were onto something. But as we more carefully scrutinized each screen of our app, we felt we still had a long way to go in making Mend more intimate and personal - our beta was still very bare bones.

Open App Surgery

Armed with user feedback and a wealth of data, we set out to evolve Mend into a more intimate app, with a more seamless training flow. Our first step was conducting a thorough research task of any app that we felt we could learn from. Though we are the first heartbreak training app, we are not the first training app, so we spent time exploring user flows of many relevant apps.

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The next step was taking apart our beta screen by screen, and then figuring out the best way to put them back together (or scrap some of them altogether). This could have been a really painful task, but we enlisted the help of UX director Alex Malkin to guide us through the process and provide a fresh set of eyes.

After conducting user interviews and research, our process with Alex moved to a whiteboard - throwing out any and all ideas and inspiration we found from the research phase. This was both a productive and chaotic task, as we each shared multiple paths forward we saw for the app. Drawing out all our ideas helped demonstrate which were the most plausible and user friendly, as well as the ones that we might draw upon for future versions of Mend.

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Then Alex created black and white structural wireframes, which helped us visualize conceptually the direction we were taking. We spent a lot of time playing around with these, walking through the user experience and making tweaks, which would be reflected in the next set of wireframes.

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After settling on a conceptual structure, we made the first attempt at bringing the wireframes to life and created low fidelity designs. We didn’t want to spend too much time here because we knew we would still make changes. The goal of this phase was to have something to show Menders during upcoming user focus group testing, as well as pass along to our engineering team to begin rough scoping.

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Last but not least, it was time to think about the overall look and feel of Mend, which is something we hadn't been focused on during our MVP. To do that, Elle needed to spend some time on brand discovery and visual identity.

Discovering Our Voice With Jessica Alba

There’s so much more to Mend than just its function. Menders make a real emotional connection to our product. So as a lean startup, we knew that we had some work to do on branding, voice and art direction as we graduated from MVP. This was precisely where we felt Jessica Alba could lend the most help. As an expert brand builder herself, she coached us through the process from mood board to final product. At the end, we came away with a completely fresh visual identity which feels perfect for us.

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Jessica and Elle at Honest Company HQ.

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Elle, Jessica and Sophia Rossi (CEO Hello Giggles).

During one of her meetings with Jessica, Elle reflected on the importance of this stage: “I think sometimes in the startup world branding is seen as a luxury, but it’s really so crucial. It’s your story. It’s how you make your users feel. Mend is not just an app or a site. Mend is about transforming pain into something beautiful. We make them feel empowered, and loved. And hopefully we’ll narrow in on a brand design concept that reflects that well."

Elle worked closely with brand designer Tran Huyhn to translate Mend's mission, ethos and voice into three brand concept options, which she then shared with Jessica and field tested with a focus group at Honest Company. 

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One concept was the clear winner, so it wasn’t difficult for Elle and Jessica to make the final decision on which design to refine and finalize.

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With only a few days to lock in final designs, we felt pressed for time but extremely excited as we got closer to pitch day with Lightspeed.

The Lightspeed Pitch

While the team went into building mode, Elle turned her attention back to the crucial next step: fundraising: “I had raised $800k of our $1m round prior to joining Planet of the Apps, so my goal was to take all that I had learned from Jessica and win over LSVP to close the final $200k.”

We felt Lightspeed would be an incredible partner to help us through our next phase of early stage growth. Luckily, the feeling was mutual and we were able to close our seed round on the show. You can watch her pitch alongside Jessica Alba on our episode of Planet of the Apps, available exclusively on Apple Music.

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Putting it all Together

After the pitch, we began working with visual designer Cat Oshiro to translate branding into designs. We played with colors, icons, avatars, and fonts, until we finally settled on what you see in the app today. We then created a visual prototype and began testing it with some of our existing users, as well as others in our target user demographic who had never seen the app before. 

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Being so close to the process of designing the app for several months, it was extremely beneficial for us to step outside our bubble and have real users interact with the prototype. We were able to quickly spot some areas in the app that were not intuitive enough. This saved us from wasted engineering time, as well as a large volume of user support tickets.

Watching our months-long process finally come to life was a thrilling experience, and we anxiously counted down to launch day.

Ready, Set, Launch!

The biggest challenge was communicating to our beta users that a new version of Mend was coming. It’s never easy when you become attached to something familiar - this we can relate to!

We wanted to make Menders feel as included in the process as possible, so we tested with early users first and sent out several emails leading up to the launch so no one was surprised.

On launch day, Elle shared a heartfelt update with Menders introducing the new version. Though we still have a lot of broken hearts to mend, the feedback from both existing and new Menders has been overwhelmingly positive. Since launching, we’ve delivered over 400,000 training sessions to Menders in over 180 countries.

So What's Next?

Our main focus right now is providing the best support possible to heartbroken people, and we want to focus on personalization and community to do that. 

On the personalization front, we want every Mender to have the best possible experience during their breakup and after, so we are very focused on serving the right training at the right time.  We also have an incredible global community that has grown organically, and it is incredibly rewarding to see the connections that are built because of Mend. We’ve been privately testing a community feature with a subset of Menders, and we can’t wait to bring this to our entire user base.

We hope you’ll continue to follow our journey, and if you haven’t already, download Mend in the App Store. Let's Mend!

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Tamiz Ahmed

Tamiz is the Chief Product Officer for Mend. Follow him on Twitter for nerdy product banter or timely sports memes :)

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