My self-imposed Venmo Challenge

So, in my attempt to emerge like a phoenix-like goddess from the layers of french macaron, Tom Collins (yes, I enjoy old man drinks), and tacos, I decided to investigate a few great options for working out.

After a couple hours of surfing the web to find a class that could make me drag my sorry butt to actually do something that resembles physical activity, I came across *the PERFECT* workout class.

I went to one free trial class and man.  I was hooked. I was sweating like a diva, and feelin’ fly like Beyonce afterward.  After mulling over my budget costs for workout stuff, I decided I wanted to go ahead and commit to a monthly pass.

I went to their site in order to pay membership dues & create my username, etc. so I could reserve future classes.

Now, I’m not trying to diss these developers who created this (so I’m keeping the company’s name and logo and stuff outta here), but honestly, these guys expect me to input my credit card information on *this* kind of interface?

ugly checkout.png

Yeah.  I’m not so comfortable with that.  I have no idea if there is any security or encryption.  Also, based on the architecture of the site, it’s pretty clear they used a build-it-yourself site builder.  I have no idea if there’s any way that my information is protected.

Oh also, I’ve also had my credit card stolen from interfaces such a this.  Once bitten, twice shy…

Obviously, this was a big bummer.

The other thing that might potentially be something that I, a lady with a lot of crazy stuff on her plate, might forget to do is to make sure that I pay my fees after those 10 classes are up.

Man, I just *WISH* that there was a platform I could use to help me not only manage my subscription, but I could also PAY through that platform that is 100% security guaranteed.

My mind instantly went to Venmo.

Venmo is the only P2P platform out there that uses social media too.  So if I liked something enough, I could share that item with my friends — potentially enticing my friends to try that item too.

I had heard that Venmo was introducing an in-app app store (if that makes sense) where users could link their accounts to a vendor.  Read about it here.

They haven’t gotten too far with it (at least last I checked), so I decided to give myself a nice little challenge.

So here we are — the design challenge I gave to myself:

The challenge:  create a new in-app experience that connects people to businesses that their friends have tried on Venmo

Obviously, I don’t have all the time in the world, so I needed to create some constraints.

Constraints & assumptions I’ve made for this project:

  • Not working on this for more than 4-5 hours a day.  I wanted to use my time efficiently and continue to have a fresh set of eyes when I came up with an approach & strategy. 
  • Constraining this to iOS mobile.
  • My results are based on UAT & user testing sessions I’ve held with friends who are volunteering to help me out. I was able to get 5 friends to help me out.  Ideally, I’d have loved a bigger pool of people willing, ready & able to help me out, but as the Rolling Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want…”
  • The survey I sent to folks is simply to show how I’d go about tackling a bigger question of causation of social media & its effects on consumer conversions.  Moreover, with such a broad-scale exploration of this idea, ideally, I’d be doing some digging into analytics, perform a lot more user interviews and ask a LOT more questions!  But for the sake & limits of this design challenge, I’m going to keep the purview small!  I’ll be creating a solution for MVP & including a backlog of functionalities for future releases
  • Because Venmo uses Facebook as the social media for authentication, my user survey will *only* talk about how users use & react to Facebook features that cause consumer conversions

User Interviews & Research:

I got about 5 participants who answered the following questions:

How often do you buy products that a friend or family member has recommended?

4 people answered that they buy products that came recommended from friends & family very often – ESPECIALLY if it’s something they need or didn’t know they wanted.  They felt like because it’s a friend’s recommendation, the friend would use it similarly to how the participant would use it esp. if their taste is similar to theirs. 

The one person who does not rely on his friends or families’ recommendation said that he prefers testing products on his own rather than to rely on someone else’s opinion.  He also mentioned that a lot of stuff he sees that is shared is stuff that he can’t use as well.

How do you generally discover or find apps/products/services?

Generally, all 5 participants enjoyed when an app or site recommended things they’d like.  The second method is going through friend’s recommendations.  The only time that they get annoyed is if the recommendation is not applicable to them (for example, if the user is a guy and sees recommendations for womens’ products).  One of the participants mentioned how much she liked the “other people have purchased..” function on Amazon where she can see similar products that might interest her.  Two participants mentioned that alerting them to a vendor that might be near them would also be something they’d like.  The alerts, of course, need to be unobtrusive.

If a friend recommended a vendor they loved on Venmo, where would you expect to see it?  What should it look like?

The users expected to see the vendor that was recommended on the Friends’ social feed. 

All participants agreed that the in-app recommendations should look different from the rest of the feed as the feed gets long.  One participant suggested highlighting it or making it stand out somehow.  Two participants said having a separate tab that is just for recommendations would be super helpful.

However, 2 of my participants said that they’d also expect to see a total number of people (including their friends) recommending things as well — however, in order for them to link their account, they’d depend on ratings & followers that the vendor had

What information do you need to see if you are seeing a vendor that you’re not familiar with?

The users would want to know:

– what the service does (is it food?  Is it a product?)

– maybe a one or two line descriptor describing what the product is or an icon signifier that lets the user know what category the vendor would be in (ex: food, entertainment, services, etc.)

– what the price point was

– if there were any incentives or bonuses for using Venmo to pay in-app

– if there were rewards associated with the vendor (example: access to sales before users who don’t use Venmo for in-app payment)

– general details – company site where they can view products offered

– an actual photo of the product or dish in the cases where a user can provide it

– a rating system–(0-5 stars – and how many people rated the vendor) Three participants said that ratings on a vendor, no matter if they saw this on the “global” or “friends” feed, would consider connecting their accounts based on ratings & how many people rated

What would make you more likely to link your Venmo with a vendor (aside from a friend’s recommendation)?

Participants said they would be most likely to link their account if some sort of incentive was offered (promotions, discounts, etc.).  They’d also be likely to link if the payment flow was easy to use. 

On the whole, the human patterns, trends & behaviors I took note of were:

  • the user needs to be able to quickly gather enough information for a product in order to make a choice – especially if it’s something the user is unfamiliar with
  • seeing how many other people are also connected to the vendor helps boost a sense of confidence in conversion
  • the user needs to see that the in-app purchases are differentiated from the rest of their feed – otherwise, they’d scan their feed and perhaps miss that this was a vendor

Discovery & Mapping Out an MVP

Happily, I was able to uncover a lot of information during my user interviews.  But in order to create a solution that is viable for MVP, we need to pare down things to the essentials & put other functions aside for future iterations. 

My approach to MVPs are that they are functional and are solutions to the most pressing hypotheticals.  Moreover, they provide functionality enough so that I can measure KPIs of success (the baseline KPIs here being users connecting their Venmo account to vendors, and increased conversions with the business & user). 

I started everything by making a small list of the key findings from my research.


– a clear CTR showing the user how to learn more about the vendor

– a clear CTR allowing users to connect easily to their Venmo account

– a clear visual difference in how posts that are in-app payments are shown in a user’s friends’ feed

– enough information about a vendor to make a decision to connect

– a clear way for a user to unlink to a vendor (if desired)


– a dedicated space where a user can view all recommendations made by their friends

– a rating system (where a user can rate their experience with the product from 0-5)

– if a rating system is put into place, enabling users to view recommendations in the global feed

– proposing similar vendors or “you might like” vendors

– an arena purely for vendor discovery

– an unobtrusive alert or notification when a vendor that is within a 5-mile radius is available


– ability to upload a photograph of the product

– whether businesses can offer some sort of incentive for users that follow the vendor

– whether Venmo can “suggest” vendors for products/services you have liked on Facebook

– whether businesses can also help with digital strategy by providing promos in-app AND through email (thus driving two possible streams of revenue)

Comparative Research

Since this is a unique product, I collected artifacts that spoke about maximizing conversion rates within social media spheres, and collected artifacts that might help lead my solution to viable UI & UX solutions:

Apple Passbook:


Google Wallet Coupons:


Samsung Beep & Go:

Twitter (what I was particularly looking at here how an ad has an image & the fact that someone’s friend favorited this brand):

Email I received from Seamless giving me a “reward” for using Apple Pay:


Apple’s app store & “suggested apps”


“Follow” a company on LinkedIn


Time to Get my Hands dirty…

Okay, now that I have a very streamlined list of what the features absolutely needs to have, things that’d be nice to have and things I still need to research, I have a fair bit more of an idea of how this might look.  I took to pen and paper (please forgive the awful handwriting) to note some ideas to help shape my wireframing process.

Also, since Munchery is a service that did say that Venmo was a form of payment (as in the vendor had buy-in with the in-app Venmo account linking idea), I decided to cater this to the real world.

Please note that these are just a mere sample of the many, many, paper sketches I did.  I killed a lot of trees that day.



After doodling out ideas on paper, it was time to translate them into wireframes that were still high level, but a bit more refined.

I came up with three approaches that might work:

Prototypes.pngCheck out the Invision prototypes here:

Prototypes that finish the flow (this was the solution after multiple iterations & user interviews):

  • The first prototype in this series denotes where the “Discover Vendor” repo could live.
  • The second prototype is a solution I came up with for a low-scale MVP.  It’s a quick solution to implement.  The third prototype is one that is a solution for when the vendor list grows & becomes richer.
  • The fourth prototype shows how Recent/All views for vendors and how they could be shown so the user has quick access to them
  • The last prototype is what a connected vendor page might look like

Findings & Fine-Tunings…Iterate Iterate Iterate…

Out of the five candidates that would let me test my designs with them, I found the following results:

  • Series B was the clear winner – they found it intuitive to the pre-existing IA of Venmo & intuitively wanted to click on the bolded company name.  They also didn’t mind the re-direct as it’s a clean page that can hold a LOT of information.  They also thought it was really easy to close out of the page and get back to where they were.
  • The biggest pain point with that design wasn’t actually the IA – but rather the verb on the CTA.  They weren’t sure what “connect to Venmo” meant or were scared that meant that the business was automatically privy to the user’s money.  Some suggestions were “Follow” or “Like Company”.
  • When the user accesses a connect vendor through the hamburger menu, they expect that they will be able to set up recurring payments (especially with subscription-based vendors like Munchery).
  • When discovering new vendors, they’d like to see new vendors or popular vendors in the discovery area

After getting a bit more information, I needed to also test things visually as well as informationally.  I put together these higher fidelity prototypes & tested them.


After getting some user feedback (I’d be happy to talk through the details — at this point, your eyeballs must be bleeding from all of the reading you’ve had to do!), I was able to make some serious tweaks.

Here were some of the biggest pieces of feedback:

  • the look/feel of Munchery’s page didn’t feel totally like the rest of how Venmo looks.  I needed to re-arrange a few things so I could be consistent
  • users want to access their vendors fast – was there any way to favorite the ones they liked the most?
  • They liked the fact that “unfollow” was red.  They said they were not willing to unfollow a company because psychologically red meant “bad” — but again, I needed to tweak the visuals to make the buttons look a lot more in-tune with the rest of Venmo’s interface
  • Make the differentiation of the in-app purchase more subtle

The solution

After a lot of iterating, user testing, user interviews (seriously, I owe a lot of my friends beers for being my guinea pigs), and research, here’s the final product.

The first set of screens are hi-fidelity — but not yet finished.


Here are the final mocks in the device!




Here’s what I tweaked:

  • I made the buttons look like buttons you’d find on Venmo.  The users really liked how big the buttons were — making the conversion even more enticing
  • Tweaked the page for the vendor looked a lot more in-tune with what users were used to seeing on Venmo’s interface.  They said this looked so in-line with what they’d expect to see!  Score!
  • Added a recents & favorites tab to the “Connected Vendors” screen — the users absolutely loved that their favorite vendors would be at the top of the list when they go to make a payment.  The feedback was that it felt a lot more natural and totally easy to use.
  • Made the in-app purchase look a lot less “in your face” – the slight border & the buttons was enough to let the user immediately understand what they were looking at.

Things I’d like to measure to see how successful the feature is

Here’s a brief list of things we can measure from the solution presented above:

  • conversion rates (duh)
  • user testing on why users didn’t convert  — this is an interesting question because it might have been a psychological reason for their lack of conversion.  I’d love to interview users to figure out which it was and how to improve the psychological interaction between the user & the product (certain features could help uplift this!)
  • increased show of revenue for the business
  • the ability to test initial assumptions & iterate based on user feedback & any pain points that exist – after all, with every iteration the feature will get better and better
  • once users start connecting, I’d love to hear a list of “I wish this feature had…” to make the experience even *better*

What I learned

  • People who used Venmo regularly just wanted a fuss-free way to connect to a vendor
  • “Connect” seemed too much of a commitment to a user, so using the terminology (Follow [company name]) seemed quite a bit gentler.  The user wasn’t freaked out thinking that the vendor had access to their money
  • Users not only want to see what their friends liked, but also discover new vendors they weren’t even sure were connected to Venmo
  • Users seemed very at ease with flows that didn’t make them learn anything new – keeping the learning curve easy was key here: I didn’t want to isolate the users that use and love Venmo, and I also didn’t want to disrupt how users interact with it
  • Users preferred to see how many of their friends used the app – if it was a significant enough number to the user, they were more inclined to convert
  • People are so used to certain terminology they’re seeing on social media.  Making sure that the verbiage on the CTA was critical – choose the wrong word and you’ve scared off the user!
  • Users need incentives or ease-of-use to keep using the feature.  For example, making it easy (and redundant) to modify your favorites list was key – one flow would have been a bit too rigid.  I wanted to allow the user some flexibility and not command them to follow a certain flow.


And there we have it.  My solution for a pain-point I’m seeing in my go-to payment app & my pain-point in joining a gym.

Also, how fly is it that I include a Stones quote & a quote from a Beatle in one challenge?  I’m self-high-fiving myself for that.


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