When Daniel Built a Mercedes
In recent years, whenever I’ve had to explain the app world to someone, I’ve found myself making comparisons to the automotive market. When you go to the dealership and buy a Renault, you pay for a Renault, expect to get a Renault, and are not in the least bit surprised when you leave with the keys to a Renault. On the other hand, when you buy a Mercedes, you pay for a Mercedes and expect to get a Mercedes. In the app world, though, Facebook, Waze and Gmail all cost exactly the same as almost any other app in the store – absolutely nothing.
Because the user pays the same for the Facebook app as for a new app from another company, he also expects the same quality. He doesn’t care that Facebook and Google are two of the five most valuable companies in the entire world, and that their apps are produced by the very best people in the industry. He expects the exact same quality. He sits in his Renault, runs apps on his phone, and expects to get a “Mercedes”.
Ran Nachmany, who currently leads the Google Developer Relations program in our region, and was also a consultant to the company I ran before I joined Pepper, always told me: “Worry about the wow.” The “wow effect” they never stop talking about at Google isn’t necessarily something functional, but rather everything that gives the user a genuine sense of joy and amazement. It’s part of the Mercedes experience they give people who use their products.
This is reflected in the smart design on the server side, but also in the finishing touches and small visual features of the various applications. Ran often encouraged the product team to raise the bar and to push for more impressive, attractive features, even if it meant he had to put on his developer’s hat and work into the wee hours of the night.
I remembered Ran’s lessons when I heard some negative feedback on one of the first versions of Pepper after we presented it to a few board members. The lack of “wow” was at the root of the problem. Pepper’s product team heard the feedback, digested it, and pitched in. They brought some talented designers on board, and within weeks set up a variety of new screens that presented all the same great banking features, just in a more appealing way, with graphic effects, the latest design concepts, and even a few cool gimmicks.
When the product manager asked if we’d be ready on time, I immediately said yes. Mainly because users really do expect their bank app to be a Mercedes, despite the fact that bank apps all over the world are usually nothing more than barely adequate. So I put on my developer’s hat and said to myself: “Oh boy, what have I got us into now?”
After we introduced the changes to the teams, they welcomed the idea of improving the visuals, but started to shift uncomfortably in their seats when they realized there wasn’t much time to develop all these nice improvements, which supposedly weren’t even necessary from the MVP’s point of view. Everyone understood the risk. On one hand, the company might not meet its own ambitious schedule, but on the other hand we really wanted people to smile every time they used the app. One of the times people should be smiling is when they successfully open an account. The traditional banking process is obviously not fun, especially when you compare it to the modern user experience. A whole hour sitting in the bank, signing document after tiresome document? No thank you. We managed to fix that in our first version, but “Wow”? Not really. So the product team trimmed the fat and threw out everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary, while designers worked their socks off, and the development team received the miraculous end result, which included more than a few animations that seemed to have sprung into existence all by themselves.
One option was to use animations that the designers had prepared in advance. But, between us, that was the easy way out. Time pressure was leading us down this path, but then Daniel Hori appeared. When we got to the office on Sunday last week, there he was, sitting in the office with a huge smile on his face. He’d worked at home all weekend to code the animation in Swift we needed for our iPhone version, just because this project was important to him, not because anyone told him to. I personally hate to ask employees to work late or on weekends, and it’s really rare that I have to do it. But when somebody does it all by himself? It’s contagious.
The Android team saw Daniel’s animation, and couldn’t stop themselves from trying to catch up. The result? When you successfully open your account, you’ll see this happy little animation on Android too. It might seem a little silly to you, and even to the bankers who work around us, to put so much time and effort into an animation that the user sees only once, but it perfectly symbolizes the change Pepper wants to make in the Israeli financial world. Change comes from recognizing the fact that our customers expect a Mercedes, so that’s exactly what we do our best to give them.