Darren Nicol

We talked to Darren Nicol, CEO of Nudge about running a tech start-up, building their development capability and researching a new product - in between changing nappies.

How was your day?

It’s been good-ish, we have a 3 month old baby and she had to get her vaccinations today so it was an emotional day but looks like she’s ok now! Business wise I’m getting on with the things that I’ve been putting off for a while such as business support systems. I’m also getting up to speed with some coding, always time for training!

Pitch your product at us in one minute – go!

Nudge is the 'go to' platform for the energy sector freelancing contractors. Nudge aims to connect contractors with their next scope of work but manage the process end to end. It’s a place where they can upload a profile, market themselves, obtain contracts, keep compliant with current legislation, and manage payments by invoicing through the platform. For the company they can source specialised talent as and when needed in the energy sector. … essentially digitalise the sourcing and managing of talent end to end, so the companies can make decisions with the same amount of information but with a few clicks. We aren’t just a jobs-board, once someone is signed up there is reason for them to stay, it’s less transactional and more of a community spirit.

Have there been any barriers to setting up the business so far - anything that needed to be changed or tweaked?

Yes, there have been, my technical knowledge. I set up a consultancy business before, so I get the admin side of things, but this time it’s different as what we are doing is a bit different. With an oil and gas background I had no background in coding or IT as such and found this a steep learning curve - I’ve been relying on others.

Our main pain point (or barrier to getting to market) came from this initial reliance on others. I outsourced the platform to be developed by a third-party who said all the right things but after eight months of developing, didn’t have anything of any value to show for their work. There were red flags as early as two months in and as much as I wanted to trust I reached out to my technical network, and Mike Ritchie came onboard, Mike (13 Coders) was a visiting lecturer at CodeClan and has been invaluable in providing technical mentorship.

Mike is just one of these ‘salt of the earth’ characters that simply love what he does. He saw how things were going slightly adrift and offered his advice to help us out as best he could. He had the ability to jargon bust and technically challenge the developer – it gave us the insight to decide they were no longer the developer to get the project over the line. But, I stress this wasn’t one developer saying, I wouldn’t do it like that, it was from a higher level strategic view that most importantly challenged me and pointed out what I needed to consider if we were going to be a tech firm - because at the end of the day I needed to own it, not the third party. This led to the realisation if we are going to be tech, yes we need a team but I need to get out my grey area of understanding, learn what it is we are doing and not simply pass the responsibility.

I’ve been self-learning as quick as possible; I have completed my master’s in financial technology, I undertook a CodeClan course in software development and continue to learn Python/ JS/ HTML & CSS online through Georgia Tech EdX as and when I can, so much to learn so little time! I also took on, Shaun, a developer via CodeClan who has helped get the foundations in place and mini-Mike is progressing great! We are now looking for a third party to finish the MVP. I wasn’t sure whether to go externally for a third-party developer or hire in-house. At this stage I think the smart way is to complete it with a third party, then look to take ownership of future development internally as our capabilities and team grows. We’re estimating about six months left in the project before V2.0 kicks off. We have further mentorship and funding onboard from Oil and Gas Technology Centre which is fantastic.

What kind of research have you done to validate your business idea? Who have you talked to and who has helped you out?

The market validation has been done by both companies and contractors. For contractors, we’ve built up a community engaging with contractors for about 12 months and conducting research such as a sending out surveys via Survey Monkey, engaging on social media to see if there is a problem that needs solving and also asking for contractors to get involved in usability testing. For companies, prior to the current situation, we’ve had face to face meetings demoing a single journey prototype to get feedback. There are more similar meetings set up. Ideally these will happen face to face but if not, then via video conference.

The next step is to create a clickable prototype and conduct formal sessions with both types of end users, companies and contractors. This is to help identify the core requirements of the app. The app was storyboarded by internal staff, and when they took it out to the end users they were getting feedback and suggestions that they hadn’t thought of or even considered. It was valuable and really insightful, so we’ll continue to work in this way for future testing.

How are you adjusting to home working in the current crisis?

Rather than face to face, Doug our COO has lined up a lot of meetings that will now happen online/via video. It will likely take people a week or two to adjust to this new format, but we will look to share screens and talk through a demo with the intention to get feedback but also look for the enthusiasm of the users to actually ‘give it a go’ when it’s up and running. That’s the focus over the next month as well as looking for a development partner. In the meantime, in between nappies and nursery rhymes as mentioned I’m also training myself up on python, AWS, and building matching models so that I can build my understanding and maybe even help the team at some point! Got to say I’m loving it; coding is a craft!

Do you have any previous UX design experience?

No formal UX design knowledge. I’d been exposed to it in a small way at CodeClan and I am frequent attendee of meet up where I’ve met some UX designers, in particular Lauren who has offered to be involved in one of our sprints. I’m not sure how this role sits within the company or whether it should be more in the remit of a developer, either way, I get its importance.

A chat about UX / exploration ...

Darren also asked about UX/exploration sessions and how they be integrated in the whole process as in at the start or at the end?

Alma: the UX processes at the start of a project would be insightful and helpful in deciding on what to include in the software but also testing that design before development to ensure there is no bias; but instead validate it meets the genuine requirements of the end user before going into development.

Bobby: a little can go a long way. By speaking to us of course we were always going to tell you how important it is to get a UX designer in place early on! A developer could test the prototype of three users and get valuable feedback of any usability errors that may have crept into the software such as naming of screens that don’t match the mental model of the user.

However, by hiring a specialist, if they see something you are heavily invested in but decide it’s not bringing any value to the product, they will highlight it.

Any final questions, Darren?

Darren checked out the Zine link and wanted to know: where all this was going?

Bobby: this might be a matchmaking service for graduates or people new to UX looking for work experience who can be matched to start ups or people without a UXer in their team.