Meet HomeHero’s Head of Design David Riley, as he talks about his design journey, startup life, building a category defining product and Minimalism.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
I’ve always wanted to be a designer. When I was little, I was constantly drawing, and helping my Dad build and fix stuff. It’s been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I went to uni to study Automotive Design, I was pretty excited because I was offered a place on a renowned course and was proud, and ready to start a career in design. It was actually a really interesting journey for me, it wasn’t until I was on the course, and designing cars, that I realised that I wasn’t passionate about it. I loved designing solutions to real problems. I discovered that using my design skill set to help the world get better, to solve real problems for real people, that was what I loved. That’s what made me happy.
So, I pivoted and went into Product Design, which is all about problem solving and graduated with a clear path ahead. I worked on lots of industrial design jobs in my early years. It was before digital design really came into its own. So I was working on designing physical products, like beer bottles and external hard drives – the kind of things you get junior industrial designers to do.
Following that I joined a company called ?What If! Innovation, which was a great step for me on reflection. It took me out of my comfort zone from day one. It was here that I started to look beyond physical products and started my journey with designing services and user experiences.
I worked on projects where I was designing digital experiences and started to really understand the importance, and power, of customer workshops and co-design. It was super fun to work on so many digital projects. I found you could get through a lot of iterations and testing very quickly, unlike industrial design where you need to physically prototype things and work with strict manufacturing constraints.
I worked with lots of big clients, from the insurance sector to the energy sector and big highstreet retailers. What was really interesting, was that each of these clients had a small part of the home. They all wanted to get more out of what they had. A retailer for example, has great relationships with their customers, so the opportunity for expansion is huge. They were looking to expand their offering, by creating energy or insurance services, under one brand. Understanding how they could play a bigger part in people’s daily lives was key.
That said, working on the client side, things can move slowly. You can work on lots of exciting ideas that don’t come to fruition, it can be pretty frustrating. So it was around this time that I was looking for a change, and Kenny reached out to me. He was interested in my recent work, and I joined the team at HomeHero.
THE EARLY DAYS AT HOMEHERO
It was exciting to join when there were so few of us. It’s cool to have seen the company grow, although I still view us as quite early in our journey. We’ve grown in size, but I think our attitude and tenacity has stayed the same.
Our initial mission was bringing all of your household bills into one place. As we moved through and really understood the problem surrounding that, we saw that the home was huge. There was a much, much bigger opportunity there, and one we wanted to go for. The way people were interacting with our alpha product, showed us that whilst bills were important, there was a bigger piece around experience and convenience.
And filling that gap, in the home, is what HomeHero is all about. I think it’s our vision that carries us as a company. It’s what’s attracted some of our best new talent too, which is pretty cool.
DEFINING A CATEGORY
I was leading the project that was shaping the HomeHero product. From the very start we knew there was this huge opportunity around the home. Ambitiously, we wanted to create a category around that. There was no one else in the space, and we knew that if we could get it right, we could own and lead the category.
Kenny gave us lots of freedom when we were shaping the idea, which was awesome. As a team, we were exploring lots of different paths, but I remember a specific eureka moment. We were working through the idea of task paralysis, exploring why when people have so many things on their list, they end up doing nothing at all. We came to the conclusion that it was a universal problem, experienced by people all over the world – the scope to solve that problem was huge. That was when we first saw the scale of the opportunity.
We identified so many of these home tasks that pile up. For example, everyone knows they need to do the dishes, everyone wants it done. I literally have dishes waiting for me as we speak. They’re playing on my mind, in my headspace. I’ll get round to doing them but there is a bunch of other stuff on my to do list, all things I’d rather do instead.
We found this so interesting, people putting off repetitive tasks, letting them pile up in some cases, to prioritise less mundane things. We wanted to find a way to enable people to do more with their time. To spend more time on the things that really matter in life.
So broadly speaking, this is what HomeHero is all about, improving your home experience. This can range from cleaning to maintenance, to making the most of your neighbourhood. And that was really the start of the journey we’re on now, it’s super exciting.
We had proven that looking at just bills was a recipe for a successful product, but we knew it wasn’t enough to create a product that people would be really passionate about. As a team, we wanted to push ourselves to build this concept, explore the potential and define the category. We wanted something exciting. The biggest businesses in the world have built their own categories; Uber, Airbnb, Amazon. We stumbled across the home and just saw the potential, it’s huge.
WHERE CREATIVITY THRIVES
We’re learning and developing as a team every day, and we’re by no means perfect. But, when we’ve done our best work it’s always been when we’ve all been independent and empowered.
I’m a big believer in setting clear objectives on a company level, as we do through our OKR process. Then giving individuals the opportunity to thrive. When you’re all working towards a common end goal, it doesn’t matter who has the ideas and who does the work. And when you get it right, that’s always the environment in which you see amazing work and creativity. Doing it together is super powerful.
It’s a challenge to manage whilst scaling up for sure, and a hurdle for every startup to navigate. But feeling that your work and effort are contributing to the growth of a company – that’s powerful stuff. That’s when the magic really happens.
Onboarding people who aren’t used to working in that way is always a learning curve. It’s not natural to work in this way, often people lean into delivering functionality. But, it’s when you’re pushed, really pushed out of your comfort zone, that great things start to happen. I think working at a startup requires that mindset. Being empowered to make decisions can be uncomfortable, especially at first. But I’m a firm believer in feeling uncomfortable. It usually means you’re doing something pretty special.
THE POWER OF PIVOTING
It’s another fact of startup life, that you have to be comfortable with uncertainty. Having that psychological flexibility can transform the way you work. I think what we’ve done pretty well as a company, is recognising issues before they become problematic. We’ve always tried to build a culture to encourage engagement and debate.
I always joke with Kenny that we should write a book about all the hurdles we’ve overcome. It’ll make a great story one day. You’ve got to see these things coming, react and pivot. I think this is true in any kind of product development. But the real benefit as a startup, is that you have that flexibility to test and learn very quickly and implement the changes when they work. If you aren’t doing that, then you aren’t taking advantage of the fact you’re a startup. Startups have the ability to be dynamic. If an idea doesn’t work out, we move on. We’re not precious about it.
Pivoting is a bit of a superpower in startups I think.
Minimalism has encouraged me to be more intentional in life and I’ve found it pretty influential in my design work too. It’s given me a level of freedom. I’ve not completely cracked it, but it helps to ground me, which is pretty important, especially in recent, and particularly challenging, times. Reading, learning and exploring is so important to me.
I’m also a fan of Dan Harris’s podcast, 10% Happier. It’s an interesting look into mindfulness and how it can practically work in your everyday life. It looks at some of those same principles of being more intentional.
And a business book I’d recommend is Play Bigger. It’s really shaped our early product thinking at HomeHero. It’s been a huge asset to us as a team. A must read.
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