Do you sometimes feel like learning something useful and fun, but you only have a few minutes to spare? Maybe you were just at a bus stop, waiting for the bus to arrive. Or you were taking a small break and wanted to set your mind to something else for a bit. Next time, why don’t you give Sanderling a try? Over the last months we’ve been working hard to make a highly personalized feed for learning content. To get to where we are now, we had to pivot our idea multiple times though.
It’s now a few months ago since Mingyi, founder of Sanderling, and I met on IndieHackers. We’ve been very careful to identify a clear audience; lifelong learners. We are on a mission to organize the sea of knowledge for effective and enjoyable lifelong learning. And if you’re reading this, chances are that you’re part of our target audience!
What we’ve noticed is that when you’re on a mission, your product is no longer your baby that is just there because you think it’s cool. It actually serves a purpose. This comes with a great extra benefit: if you need to pivot to serve your audience better, it doesn’t hurt as much as when you and your product are the center of your companies’ universe. Focusing on solving a problem for your audience automatically enables you to have what we’ll call mission driven flexibility. Your product serves your mission, and as long as pivots and changes help achieve your goal, they’re more than fine.
For our mission, we started with the idea of a knowledge map: basically a big graph with nodes with interesting learning resources that are connected to each other by topic. The graph was automatically generated, and showed all relationships between concepts. We absolutely loved the idea of a knowledge graph like this, and we spent time coming up with a wonderful UI for our users. Excited as we were, we immediately showed it to friends, family and anyone willing to hear the gospel. Their feedback: they absolutely had no idea what was going on with the knowledge map and actually disliked using our app. Our users clearly indicated that they are more comfortable with content being organized in a linear form. We had to think of a better, more familiar UI for our casual learners.
After the initial feedback, we understood that our users are looking for a more linear learning path around topics they like. Much like DuoLingo provides a learning path for languages, but for any interest our users might have. We went back to the drawing board and came up with learning recommendations that followed a static learning path like this. We gave it to our users to try, and their feedback was again not what we had hoped for: this time they understood the UI, but the app was underwhelming. There weren’t many recommended learning resources, the recommendations weren’t engaging enough and there wasn’t much reason to return to the app every day. It wasn’t that our app was bad, it was just a bit boring.
After this feedback, we knew we had to pivot again to get it right. After some coffee-fueled brainstorm sessions, we came up with the product as it is today: a highly personalized feed with high quality learning resources tailored to your interests. Basically we’re turning Sanderling into a content aggregator and curator specific for learning. For this purpose, we trained an AI to provide users with resources they actually care about. Currently, we offer YouTube videos, news articles and wikipedia articles, but we plan on adding a more diverse range of resources soon. We also implemented progress tracking and achievements, which makes the whole experience more fun.
Feedback has improved our app a lot. We actually get positive feedback now! And sometimes we can’t help but drop our work for a few minutes and learn some fun resources from our Sanderling feed.
To get to this point, we had to make small adjustments to our business, continuously. We’ve only been working on Sanderling together for a few months, but we already made two pivots, and I’m sure there are more to come. And the truth is, pivots even excite me now, as long as I know that the change helps us serve better and even more personalized learning content to our users. If you would like to try it for yourself, feel free to do so here. Sanderling is still in its infancy. In fact, IH is the first platform we are sharing our app with publicly. We highly value your feedback, perhaps you can come up with pivot #3?
We’re curious about your experience. How many times did you pivot your idea(s) before your target audience started giving positive feedback on your solution?