Travel Gems Photo Sharing App Intro

TravelGems Photo Sharing App Intro

Note: TravelGems is not the real name of the app or the company. This example is in no way related to travelgems.com, which appears to be a travel agency focused on vacations in Greece.

In 2012 – 2014,  I helped a startup create Alignment Personas for an app they had already built. The “TravelGems” app  (not its real name) was designed to allow travel-and-photography-lovers to share great photos of hidden gem locations. App users could see incredible photos of hidden gems near where they were, or search for them anywhere on the globe. I thought of it as a community where everyone wanted to see your travel pictures.

When I joined TravelGems team, they already had a popular app that functioned well. It was a “little content engine” that had a devoted set of contributors and content consumers. New photos were posted steadily, and members happily viewed and commented on them at a predictable rate.

Here’s how they described what TravelGems was (before we did the Alignment Personas work)

  • Amazing pictures of everywhere.
  • A divining rod for discoveries: discover it and get led right to it
  • A picture is worth 1,000 words.
  • Look at this!
  • An awesome way to dream about travel
  • A window to the world
  • What to do tonight (in my hometown/somewhere new)
  • “Context” or vibe through photos
  • Real things to see and do (not photos of cats)
  • Travel-lust / travel porn

Like any company, TravelGems needed to figure out a way to scale. They needed more members, more photos, more user-generated content. They needed to figure out a way to monetize their app, or to make it an attractive acquisition target.

We decided to create Alignment Personas for TravelGems. The former CEO has generously allowed me to share some real examples from that work to help you understand how Alignment Persona process works and what the various deliverables look like.

TravelGems and the value of “assumptions”

The TravelGems team created the app because they had a great idea. They identified a need that was small (relative to the needs fulfilled by the photo-sharing giants) but strong. They decided to build TravelGems to fulfill that set of needs, for a particular set of people, in a new way. Their company and their team had a clear purpose and they pursued it with creativity, technical talent, and experience from previous software work.

The team included several bad-ass developers and a truly talented User Interface designer, who also had serious visual design chops. They added a community manager to support all the users who were adding user-generated content (photos, comments, collections of photos, etc.). They had marketing talent. They had a devoted set of investors, including a lead investor who was a huge fan of the product from day one.

By the time I joined them, TravelGems had been working on their app for several years. They were successful. The entire team was avid users of their own app. They had met with their users many times and had ongoing contact with users. They had a community manager who was in touch with users every single day. They had been immersed in the world of great photos of interesting locations for years. They had invented a new way for like-minded travel-and-photo-enthusiasts to find each other, communicate, and inspire each other.

And yet, most of us would refer to their embedded knowledge as ‘assumptions.’ We created Alignment Personas with zero data; at least zero data in the any of the traditional forms of data. We created the personas to get all of the embedded understanding of the users, their wants and needs, and the opportunities TravelGems afforded them out onto the table and aligned. But fans of data-driven persona efforts would say that these personas were worthless because they were based on assumptions.

And they most certainly were not useless.

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