This is the story of how FINH teamed up with Village to design, build and launch a people first investment app for families in the US. See our work here, and read on to learn more about the process and journey.
By Filippo Yacob
“Hey, I’m Jeff! I’m based in NYC, and I’m building an investment App for families with my partners Jimmy and Brian. Can I show you what I'm working on?”.
When Jeff and Brian reached out in August 2021 I took the call with no expectations other than to share and learn. I didn’t know the call would take FINH on a journey to co-create a fin-tech Venture focused on wellness, inclusion, prosperity, and community.
It’s not often one gets to be part of a project where social impact and profit truly co-exit, but Village is one of the few that walks the walk, and we’re grateful for the unconditional trust and space the Village founders gave us to help create something special.
WHAT IS VILLAGE
Village is an investment app for families. It allows parents and guardians to open a tax efficient custodial account for a child ages 0 to 18, and easily build a network of family and friends that can gift both traditional and emerging financial assets into that account from anywhere in the world.
What makes Village a truly exciting proposition however are the 3 “context pillars” that underpin their mission, vision and product:
1/ IT TAKES A VILLAGE
There are 63 million families in the United States with children under 18, all of which have the need and desire to build financial stability and prosperity for their young, but not all of them possess the knowledge to do so, let alone the means. Central to Village’s experience is the idea that modern family networks are like a connected Village, capable of coming together to collectively redistribute enough wealth to see all children within it thrive. A rising tide lifts all boats.
2/ GIFTING WEALTH, NOT WASTE
In the US we gift $180 billion in toys and products every year, the vast majority of which end up in landfill. Oddly, western society values gifting a child a $10 plastic toy over gifting a child a portion of that $10 towards their future education or downpayment for a home. Shifting just 1% of the amount we waste annually on things for kids that get thrown away towards a savings habit, and we’ve created over $50 billion of saved wealth. Village is about fostering this change via 2 mechanics:
a/ Destigmatising the act of asking for and gifting money
b/ Shifting the mindset from gifting waste to gifting wealth.
3/ EMBRACING THE DIVERSITY OF THE SUPERFAMILY
Society has programmed us to think of families as nuclear. 2 adults, 2 kids. Each for their own. But this construct isn’t how things used to be, and it’s certainly not the direction that globalized, diverse, and distributed families are heading in. Village is here to empower these extended and diverse family structures with a product and service that feels inclusive and accessible, no matter your background, social standing, gender, race or religion. And that’s important.
DEFINING A PRODUCT STRATEGY AND ROADMAP
At FINH we firmly believe that a business can only truly thrive by putting the customer at the very center of it. We used market research, user research, competitor research, qualitative research, and quantitative research to get to the core of Village’s proposition, and develop a set of frameworks that would allow the Village product team to design a service with true purpose. There’s a lot to share. Some of our tools and frameworks are a proprietary secret, but below are 3 we developed that ultimately helped us and the Village product team create a thoughtful product strategy:
1/ EXTENDED FAMILY STRUCTURE AND REFERRAL PATHS
Paid referral schemes are what drive user growth for just about any fin-tech. An endemic issue among them however is that this always translates into buying users that don’t really need your product. Network effects however, where the experience of a user is improved by onboarding more members onto a service, are a far more valuable and powerful growth mechanic. In the context of Village, the more “Villagers” or family members a parent on-boards, the more opportunities for gifting into their child’s account, and these Villagers join because they are naturally compelled to support a child they love. No need to pay for a user!
A simple but important tool we developed is a visualization of the “Superfamily”. It goes beyond the nuclear family, and includes teachers, key workers and friends. The framework allows us to identify and define valuable interactions between them, as well as potential referral mechanics that go beyond the “Refer to get $X” model. This framework is awesome, because if used correctly it results in Village designing features that will result in a better experience for their users, more growth for the business, and far better unit economics as a whole.
2/ THE ASSET TRUSTLINE TOOL
When it comes to Investing we believe there are two key factors that need to be designed for:
a/ Access to financial education
b/ Access to choice
The asset trustline is a simple tool for plotting user sentiment over a given asset on a spectrum, with trust at one end and no-trust at the other. The purpose of this tool is to help Village understand how a user might feel towards a certain asset at a given point in time compared to others.
When used regularly, Village can use this tool to spot trends, begin to plan a roadmap of assets to add to the service, and prioritize resources towards partnerships that matter.
3/ THE VILLAGE LIFE-JOURNEYUsers and savvy Investors always want to know how the offering can evolve as a child comes of age. Village is different from other kid-focused fin-Techs like Greenlight and Go-Henry in that it focuses exclusively on providing a community experience for investing in a child at various stages of their life journey.
This framework is a template, which can be used to map out the requirements and needs of a given user base throughout their growth, and identify where new features, and even products may be developed to serve a specific user need at a specific point of the customer’s life journey.
BRAND IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
A good brand identity is more than just how something looks. It’s about the way something feels. A good brand identity can communicate trust, purpose, vision, and values. A lot of what we communicate to our customers happens visually, in a few seconds. Over the course of a 6 week sprint, we created a complete brand identity, with custom logos, color palettes, patterns, illustrations, animations, FIGMA templates for marketing collateral, a comprehensive FIGMA design system for the product team, a website, and a host of other assets to make the brand work across digital and physical touchpoints. Below are some of the things we had to pay particular attention to throughout the process:
1/ GETTING THE RIGHT VIBE
Every company wants a brand that is unique and timeless. Yet, every WEB.3 brand we came across in our research looked the same. A neon coloured fever-dream that spoke to the promise of a future in cyberspace. It’s kind of boring... but it’s not all bad. WEB.3 branding is energetic, futuristic, mysterious even.
The first challenge we faced was developing an identity that captured that WEB.3 energy, but felt much more family and less degen, trustworthy, grown-up. Something playful, without being childish. Freshly cut grass, spring, the warmth of kinship, the hope of a new beginning, the energy of a sunrise. Inclusivity, diversity, safety, strength.
The second challenge was to create a visual language that took the idea of a Village, and weaved it into every aspect of the brand. We spent time with the Village team diving deep into their motivations, aspirations, and life experiences. We wanted to create an identity that reflected the values and life experiences of the people behind the product. And we think we got it!
2/ RE-CREATING THE VILLAGE
The Village metaphore is core to the Village brand, after all the company is called Village! We set out to create a generative illustration system that captured the Village as a welcoming and joyful environment. We wanted the Village illustration system to feel diverse and vast. Something that could grow organically over-time.
Inspired by the roof-top silhouettes that line the canals of Amsterdam, and the hilly neighborhoods of San-Francisco, we developed a 2D generative system that allows the Village team to create a multitude of assets for both marketing and product using simple shapes, grids, and easy to follow assembly rules. Something abstract enough to feel current and digital. Something tangible enough to feel familiar and welcoming.
3/ ROBUST & SCALABLE BRAND GUIDELINES
A brand guideline is only as good as the team that wields it. With the bulk of the creative and concept work done, our priority shifted to delivering Village a set of usable, scalable and practical templates, guidelines and assets accessible to everyone in their team. From Designers to Engineers to Marketers to Salespeople.
We love our clients, and we love to work, but we also want them to be independent, and we know that when it comes to creating branded collateral there’s a bottleneck in start-ups that needs to be addressed. Everyone in a start-up should be able to produce quality branded content, and our templates allow anyone at Village to do that.
All of our guidelines and assets were meticulously documented and delivered inside a FIGMA file. All the templates we used to prepare the work are easy to pick-up and use. Finally we also made sure that the brand system itself was scalable and expandable. It can grow as the business grows.
DESIGNING THE VILLAGE APP - UX / UI / PROTOTYPINGDesigning and prototyping an end-to-end mobile app with specific requirements, well defined personas, clear technical constraints, and good insights is fun. Doing it with Village was double fun. We will spare you the tedious details of mapping out customer journeys, design sprints, and click-through prototypes. There’s plenty out there to read if you’re into product development processes. We’re proud to say, that we didn’t just design an MVP, we designed an MLP (Minimum Loveable Product) instead, so we will focus on some of the things that make the Village App loveable, human and special:
1/ MAKING THE HARD THINGS REWARDING (UX VS. KYC)Know Your Customer flows (KYC for short) are terrible. They’re tedious and invasive. They’re long. They’re also necessary. Fintech Apps typically work hard to bring customers into their ecosystem only to see them churn at onboarding because of KYC. So we decided to inject a little bit of fun, joy, and reward into a process that's usually dry and painful.
First we defined what a fully onboarded customer meant to Village from a KPI perspective, which meant a parent/guardian that:
a/ Completed their profile
b/ Passed KYC and AML checks
c/ Opened a child savings account
d/ Deposited a gift into the child’s account
e/ Invited a family member (A Villager or contributor)
We then broke down all of the steps necessary to achieve the above into the smallest possible set of single actions, adding rewards and encouragement queues where we knew friction existed, turning the process of completing an account into an informative journey towards something positive.
Our onboarding process lets users know where they are at all times, informs them of the data required ahead of a lengthier flow, and only asks customers for one piece of information per screen where possible, making the process feel breezier and less cumbersome by lightning up their cognitive load.
Something else we were able to determine through user testing is that the main reason KYC flows feel particularly invasive, is because the data sharing feels very one sided. The user is forced to hand-over a lot of sensitive and valuable information without getting anything in return! User Data requests should never be an asymmetric practice. After all, sharing Data is sharing value! So we made sure that when the data request felt particularly invasive, we would serve easy to find and read sign-posts that explained the reasons for that particular request, and how it led to a safer and better service.
2/ FOCUSING ON HUMAN INTERACTIONSFin-tech apps are about transactions. They have to be simple and unequivocally clear. What goes in, what goes out, what has been sent, what is pending. The data shown to users, and the actions available to them must be crystal clear, but they needn’t be cold!
When we gift tangible money to a child in real life we normally do it with a birthday or greeting card, and the money normally comes with a meaningful handwritten note attached. There’s thought that goes into the process. From selecting the right card, to writing a note that expresses our love, hopes and expectations for the child’s future. When done in person the exchange is even more meaningful. The feedback is immediate. There’s a gift, there’s surprise, there’s a hug and a thank you. Very few things in life are more rewarding than the gratitude of a child we love. We wanted our gifting flow to capture this, making the act of gifting money one and the same with gifting a memory, and when it comes to digital, nothing is more powerful than a moving image.
At the end of every gifting flow, we make it simple for any adult to record a quick video and attach it to a gift, and when the gift is received the video is played first, and the financial asset is forever attached to a memory. This alone we think is special, but we went further...
While conducting interviews we discovered a very interesting insight that determined how frequently a child received gifts from relatives over the years. We learned that in cases where children and families sent a thank you letter back to the gifter, they would receive a gift the following year. On the other hand, the children and families that didn’t send back a thank you note would receive as much as 50% less gifts the year after.
This insight led us to weaving the gratitude feedback loop into the gifting UX. Allowing families to use videos, images, emojis or plain text to thank a gifter, completing the gifting journey in a way that rewards both parties in the transaction.
We have a name for these kinds of features at FINH. We call them “love handles”. Features that give customers something to grab a hold of, fall in love with, and tell their family and friends about.
3/ TURNING AN ACCOUNT INTO A VILLAGEThe last thing we think is of note is how we managed to turn the App into an actual Village. Most financial apps are kind of blank, for the same reasons explained above, but we learned from our experience building Pigzbe that they don’t have to be. At Pigzbe we managed to transform a child’s bank account into an enchanted mega-tree that grew with each transaction, making a child’s first digital bank account both wondrous and functional. And it was from that experience that we learned fin-techs could be playful and fun without sacrificing functionality and trust.
Village turns the account’s homepage into a literal Village that grows over time. Every contributor gets a one-of-a-kind house and avatar, and the Village layers over time as more people join the family network. No two Villages are ever the same. Fin-techs don’t have to be boring. Village definitely isn’t!
GO TO MARKET STRATEGY - LAUNCHING THE VILLAGEThe next challenge for FINH was to help Village develop a robust Go To Market Strategy that:
a/ Took Village from 0 to 100,000 customers
b/ Identified scalable growth levers for product market fit
c/ Could be executed within the budget and resources available
There’s a lot of ambition and energy that goes into creating a new venture, the potential is always huge, but it’s more important than ever for founders to remember that before getting to 100,000 customers, they need to get to 1,000, and before that to 100.
Below are some of the tools and strategies we put in place to help Village fulfill their mission and growth hack their way to their first 100,000 customers:
1/ MANUAL ONBOARDING PACKS
The first 1,000 customers of any start-up almost always have to be manually on-boarded. There’s no way around it. It’s hard work, but if done correctly, your first 1,000 customers can become an important catalyst for growth to the next 10,000 and so on.
We created a presentation that could be given on a video call or in person, stepping a potential customer through the value proposition and benefits of joining Village early, a set of concrete next steps, a welcome swag pack that could be mailed to them to begin representing Village within their communities, and a schedule of news-letters to keep early customers in the loop and up-to-date with behind the scenes progress. Turning early users into advocates.
2/ GROWTH HACKS IDEATION, PLANNING AND EXECUTION FRAMEWORKStart-up growth is about incremental steps towards increasingly bigger goals. What one needs to do to acquire their first 1,000 customers will be different to what one needs to do to acquire their next 10,000.
We adapted FINH’s proprietary growth hacking framework to help Village ideate, evaluate and execute different growth strategies based on budgets, available resources, and ROI. We then ideated and planned 12 growth activities and experiments, ranging from exciting, clever, and super creative brand activations that could be executed on a budget, to monastic SEO work. It was fun, and we can’t wait to see some of these growth hacks hit the wild!
3/ FOCUS ON BITCOIN
Village embraces both traditional and emerging financial assets. Bitcoin is one of them. Something we learned over the years building 0 to 1 ventures is that it is always better for a start-up to focus on a niche market and grow from there.
FINH helped Village focus its go to market offering by positioning it as a Bitcoin savings product, allowing it to tap into a powerful and principled community of builders inside of the Bitcoin ecosystem. This strategy has paid off so far, allowing Village to line-up a merger between Village and Sat-Centives, which is now part of Village’s offering for older children. Additionally, this helped Village instantly acquire a number of early adopters, and even secure e sizeable amount of cashflow. There are good things coming.
THE FUTURE OF VILLAGE
Working with Village was a great experience. Creatively and commercially. We’re bullish about the future of Village, mostly because we know what’s coming next, and we’re extremely grateful for the opportunity we were given. We helped Village achieve a lot, in a short amount of time, and on a tight budget, but by the same token team Village was open to what we had to suggest, and put in the hard work to begin executing our strategy efficiently.
This was an amazing experience, and I’d really like to thank the FINH: Homan and Alexis, who worked long nights and weekends to make something awesome, as well as team Village: Jeff, Jimmy, Brian, Ted and Andrew, for being dream clients.
We hope you liked our work, and if you think we could do the same for your business, we’d love to hear from you!
Book a call with FINH!