As someone who suffers from over 50 food intolerances, the convenience of meal delivery and planning services has yet to become a reality for me.
While its impossible to accommodate circumstances like this at scale, my family and I are equally in search of a service to streamline our meal planning efforts.
Enter Gatheredtable: A product I was delighted to learn about that not only accommodates my restrictions but accounts for personal preferences and family recipes too.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mary Egan, Gatheredtable’s Founder and CEO, who shared the Seattle-based team’s goal to build “an intuitive product.”
Below, Mary takes us in-depth on her experiences leading the team to design, test, and iterate usable products, as well as develop a culture that thrives on feedback.
Ask. Don’t Assume.
Gatheredatble is a “software product that helps people plan meals and grocery lists to make cooking easier.”
From $1 Dinners to compiling a grocery list that includes all of your meals – For example, if three meals require a garlic clove, your list will detail a single head of garlic, not two – Gatheredtable weaves helpful features throughout the product.
Regardless of how fancy or useful your features are, they won’t be impactful if your community doesn’t know where to find them or how to use them.
According to Mary, her team learned this the hard way.
“In the early days, all of our customer feedback was on features that we already had.”
“Our user interface wasn’t intuitive,” she explained.
For example, Gatheredtable’s “Create Grocery List” feature resided in the top navigation bar.
Despite being clear to the team, the functionality was often missed and searched for by users.
“Create Grocery List” is now in the top right corner, above my meal planning calendar, which can you see below.
It’s important to recognize personal bias when designing your product. Your team and you know where everything is and how it’s supposed to work. Your users, especially first-time visitors, are coming to your website in the context of others they’ve seen.
Thus, if sign-up and login buttons are traditionally placed in the far right corner of websites, cementing yours on the bottom left, or even the top left, will make your product difficult to navigate, rather than unique.
Don’t just pay attention to whether or not you have the right feature set. Pay attention to presenting it in a way that’s intuitive.
The chief lesson here is that you want to build a usable product.
While unique features are enticing they rarely influence product adoption.
Developing usable products is rooted in a strong balance between monitoring user behavior and feedback.
“You want to look at what people use, not just listen to what they say,” Mary explains.
“You know all of the nooks and crannies of your product, and exactly how they are supposed to work.”
“Sit side by side with a user and see your product with fresh eyes.”
Ask yourself: What do they notice? How are they interpreting our features?
The same theory applies to the diction you use in your product description.
During the early days, Gatheredatble asked members how much “newness” they wanted in to see in their menu.
“Newness” implied a recipe that you’ve never cooked before.
The word was misunderstood by members who continued to reach out and ask what it meant.
Spending one-on-one time with your users, asking what they think, and observing their behavior is the most powerful way to recognize and respond to each of these nuances.
For young startups especially, it’s important to be responsive, not reactive, to customer feedback.
While “the role of a startup is to solve problems,” you have to come terms that your team won’t be able to act on all of them.
“Your job as the startup leader is to identify the most important problems to solve and make sure they are getting solved in the most effective way possible,” Mary affirmed.
If you have a plan, stick to it.
“Unless it’s broken, don’t fix it. The things that are already on your plan are the things that you should be doing.”
“If you focus on the right problems and solve them well and fast, you are doing the right thing…Knowing what’s important is what counts.”
All startups, precisely young ones, are resource constrained and the best way to execute quickly is “ to engage your whole team in the challenge.”
“Everyone needs to know that speed is critical,” Mary said.
The Gatheredtable team lives this by following advice from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz that; “The only advantage that you have being small is being fast.”
Rapid execution requires your team to constantly be debriefing on an individual and collective level.
During her time at Boston Consulting Group, one of Mary’s clients described feedback as a gift. The insight stayed with her. Two decades later she institutes it as a value at Gatheredtable.
From design mock-ups to new features, at Gatheredtable, personal and team feedback is given on a daily basis.
“People don’t learn once a year in an annual review. They learn every day and they learn by doing.”
When you give feedback everyday people can incorporate it and act on it.
Regardless of the insight, it’s vital to share feedback in the appropriate context.
While Gatheredtable’s relaxed meetings may be a suitable time to mention a color or word change, personal feedback, especially when related to performance, should be given in a private setting.
“Emotional intelligence is about how you make people feel and the environment you’re in, not what you’re saying…The ability to connect one-on-one with a leader is really important.”
The manner you receive feedback, and admit to your own mistakes, is an equally telling example for your organization.
Be candid, transparent, and take things in stride.
Gatheredtable’s initial design was created by Mary during the early days. When she asked her team how many individuals would be in favor of proposing changes, everyone voted on a new design.
The team held a ceremony to honor the product’s first iteration and started planning the next.
“Debriefing is about moving on to the next thing,” Mary explained.
“It’s easy to get attached to something when it’s your idea…You want to create an environment where ideas are data, not a personal part of you.”