Patchwork it!

Back in 2014 whilst I was looking for communities to participate in, I joined a mailing list of women in technology. Conversations on the list were varied, but quite early on in my membership one message asking for advice stood out – from Olivia from Patchwork (formerly Patchwork Present).

Olivia briefly introduced her company and detailed how they’d been live for a year but were really keen to get some guidance and strategic advice on their tech development and how they could improve the user experience. She had been working with an agency, but talked about how they really wanted to move towards building more of an internal team. Patchwork was already a functional platform for giving money (often for honeymoons) with a strong, engaged user base, but they had dreams of doing much more.

Something about Liv’s message stuck in my mind, and I sent over a quick intro saying that I’d had a look at their site and would be happy to give some advice. We arranged a Skype call (around her schedule with the kids – something that stood out as being a pleasant divergence from the norm!), had a chat, and I subsequently sent over some suggested next steps, information around user testing, the pros and cons of responsive retrofits, and suggestions around some tools. It wasn’t much, but Liv’s response was very grateful.

We spoke again a few months later, because in Liv’s words “I think we’ve put everything together now – at least as far as we can on our own. And we’re now looking for a Tech Lead/ Strategist/ Genius person to help us”. I had another call with Kim and Liv where we ran through their vision for the product and where they wanted to get to, and I chipped in some thoughts on their Google doc plan. The ladies’ enthusiasm was pretty infectious, and it was clear that they were very driven, but in a positive way. They wanted to make something that was genuinely useful and fun to use.

After that I sent over some more thoughts, including how I thought that what they were talking about sounded more like a platform than just a website, and some ideas how how I could help them more formally. Getting the response “_Sally, I wish you lived inside my head. But having you at the end of the phone and emailing like this is a close second so thank you._” was lovely to read!

Initial workshops

The team started working with Matthew Curtis of Curtis+Co as a UX and strategy consultant (but in reality he was much more), and a couple of working sessions were put in the diary so that we could all thrash out some suggestions as a group. I loved these days – Matt is great at getting people to think about their strategy in a way that’s completely accessible, and was a great facilitator. The goat curries and fish finger sandwiches were also a highlight!

Working session
Working session
Matt’s handiwork
Matt’s handiwork

In between sessions the Patchwork team carried on activities on their own, fleshing out their views of who they were trying to help, why, and what they wanted to do. Kim sent over her mapping of the current payment process and data capture, as well as all of the elements that were involved in their old CMS, and requirements around admin and reporting.

More work on walls
More work on walls

By the end of the workshops it felt like there was some clear direction on where Patchwork needed to be moving towards. I left Brockley with reams of paper and a goal of putting together a bit of an action plan.

Baby steps

My plan came together in a Google doc that I shared as a working doc with the team. In it we put together a big-picture, strategic view of where we’d like to get to, including elements of the followig:

  • Next steps at high, medium and low levels
  • Recommendations around patchworks
  • Notifications
  • Social elements
  • Accounts and permissions
  • Content management
  • Reporting
  • Build strategy
  • Moderation
  • Offline
  • Communications
  • Native app vs web
  • General recommendations

Looking back at my emails from this time, I was apparently running late because of train issues one day, had emailed Olivia and got a really lovely response about how it was out of my control and to relax and get there when I could. Another email documents how they were only company I’d worked with at that point who’d paid an invoice on the date it was sent (another invoice was later paid before it was sent!). These snippets capture just a small part of what lovely people the team are, and what a pleasure it was to work with them.

One of the big questions at this point was around the technologies and languages that could be used. From Patchwork’s perspective they weren’t sure what’s best, and from my perspective there were a few options that could work. Instead of thinking about technology as the driver, we instead switched to thinking about people. Did they have anyone they wanted to work with?

The answer was yes – they’d got a great relationship with Jay Greasley, who I’d vaguely crossed paths with before, and who eventually decided to come on board as the Patchwork CTO. The plan slowly started to come together in terms of technologies and approach, and after a hunt for certain team members, the final crew was assembled.

Variants of Kim, Liv, Jay, Will, Andrew, Ismay, Dave, Matt, George, and myself attended an initial kick off and then subsequent workshops/demos. The reality was that at this point they were doing all of the work and I was involved more as a sanity checker and questioner who sat in the corner quietly drinking tea, but from my side it was brilliant to see the progress from where they had come from. Seeing the prototypes of Patchworking concepts, as well as the journeys and initial designs was all brilliant.

One of the demo sessions
One of the demo sessions

As time ticked on Jay and I met in Colchester to discuss some more technical aspects, and also did some thinking around the different options for data migration. There are a lot of crossovers in terms of how we work, and it was nice for me to be able to work alongside someone quite similar to myself.

The launch

After a busy winter things took shape without me, and I was thrilled when I was sent the link to the demo site. It was so different to what had been there before, and seeing all of the things we’d discussed along the way brought to life was brilliant.

I was therefore so proud of the team when I got an email from Liv this week saying that the launch had happened. It was alive!

Patchwork homepage
Patchwork homepage

The new Patchwork platform lets people get together to contribute their cash, time and skills to help make something amazing happen. It could be money or gifts for weddings or birthdays, it could be things to bring, make or do for a party or school fete, or any number of other wonderful uses. Already there are some lovely examples – Jay tweeted this lovely example earlier of how Theatre Troupe, a charitable organisation working with young people with mental health problems, are using the site to help with fundraising.

I had a tiny part in the journey and all credit goes to the people I’ve mentioned above. I wish them a huge amount of luck with it all, and I’d encourage you all to check it out if you need a way to organise giving.

(Patchwork is still in beta and has gone through a big overhaul, so if you see any problems then please be kind and give [email protected] a friendly heads up)

Read more from the blog

Back in time:
Monthly round-up: March 2016

Forward in time:
Monthly round-up: April 2016

Posted by Sally Lait

Sally is the lead consultant and founder of Records Sound the Same, helping people with digital transformation. She's also a speaker, coder, gamer, author, and jasmine tea fiend.