Finding 0 → 1 Market Fit for Investment Platform


I joined a very early startup, as the first lead-level Product Designer. They hadn't yet hired a Product Manager, and I was tasked with guiding a fully-distributed, cross-functional team of engineers, subject matter experts, and a fellow Designer to launch a Beta.


A Beta launch date had been long set, we had 4 months to define, design, and launch a fully-functional Beta.

The Beta would need to:
- Enable discussions with partners and demos with customers
- Drive product engagement

- Build intent to invest
- Align
on a process and vision with cross-functional team & stakeholders

Who is this product for?

The company strategy was to educate and inspire Registered Investment Advisors (RIA's) to utilize private fund investments, and then make it easier than ever to execute and manage them with our financial product offerings and supporting technology.

RIA's are primarily focused on helping clients achieve their long-term financial goals. Many RIA's had decided private investments were not worth the trouble (justifiably, as there were often very laborious and opaque), but as the global economic situation was changing, RIA's were realizing they would soon need to incorporate private investments to remain competitive.

We hoped to make it easy to become familiar and comfortable with these kinds of investments, so they could stay on the leading edge.

A bunch of user research had been done, reviewing alpha prototypes and discussing potential features. After watching those, speaking with our internal experts, and conducting research sessions myself, I outlined some of the important Design Principles that I was hearing: 
Some useful proto-personas for RIA types had alreday been put together, but it was clear to me that we needed to facilitate the Client relationship with the Advisor, understand Client mindsets as well, and connect those all the way to our offerings.

I threw together this quick diagram to help clarify the key relationship needs:

What do RIA's really need (at first)?

The long-term vision was to be a one-stop-shop for everything private investments, but few hard requirements had been defined for specific milestones.

The general expectation for the Beta was that we would need to recommend an intelligent private investment plan, that considered a client's goals and entire portfolio.

I led a series of discussions, whiteboarding sessions, did a lot of sketching and wireframing, jamming with product designer, and reviewing artifacts with the team, Founders and other stakeholders.

I could envision many sets of functionality, and constructed very simple flows to help walk people through the different approaches we could take:
To keep things simple, clean, and focused (on a scope that we were confident we could achieve), the team and stakeholders agreed to go with the most simple, flexible, and straightforward flow (A).

Flow A meant the user always had the option of diving deeper into a planning tool or peeling off to learn more about specific detail areas. It also meant we could focus on planning, and less on facilitating one-off transactions for now.

Designing an Investment Planning Page

After testing some concepts with users, we agreed to start out by showing fully detailed example plans, so the users could instantly start to get their feet wet, interpreting the tool, the value of the investments, and the offering on the platform.

I picked up an old concept mock-up and began wireframing alternative page structures, to provide more structure, and a clear flow of utility:
As I worked, I realized that the screen was trying to do too much.

I proposed splitting this one screen into two, an overview of example types, to be able to highlight high-level differences, and then a detail view for each specific example.

This would give the user a platter of options to learn from, whether or not they chose to look more into a specific option. And if they did choose, they would meet the detailed view with some context (and buy-in) to what they were reviewing.

Separating Example Plans & Plan Details
Part 1: Plan Types

The goal of this first step was to clearly communicate that there are different ways to use private investments, depending on client goals.

I quickly explored a range of options in wireframes, attempting to make it quick and easy to teach these key concepts, while the user is experiencing a nicely organized platter to choose from.
Once the team aligned on product-comparison style set of vertical cards, I worked with the product designer to utilize our design system and refine: 
Early users were asking how to use these investments to diversify, so we decided to add a 4th example. This was more than the previous page structure could present cleanly, so we adjusted the style. This work coincided with our up-leveling of the design system, so we ended up with this very new and improved view:

Separating Example Plans & Plan Details
Part 2: Plan Details

Now that we had taken the pressure off of the detail page to handle everything, it could be more focused, and really utilize the space to tell the complex story of the effect of different private fund types asset classes on a portfolio.

I explored different options for how to tell this story in wireframes.
As I went, I was continuing to watch old user research sessions, where I noticed that several RIAs really enjoyed seeing charts change when adjusting a simple slider.

I devised a way to introduce a similar slider in this new context, and sketched out a rough idea on my tablet:
Then, I took the sketch into figma and played with different incarnations of the functionality:
We stripped away as much as we could, and put detailed context one-click away, in drawers and other links, giving us this simple, clean view, that users were instantly able to interpret and gain insights from.

Customizing an Example for a Client

Only after fully demonstrating how private investments could be used for different contexts did we then introduce the primary CTA: Create a Custom Plan.

We some fun concepts for novel ways to collect client goal data (madlibs style, etc.), but due to timing and engineer's guidance, we went with a simple form of questions.

The team had initially aligned on being able to generate custom plan recommendations with just a few questions.
But, the more we discussed and began building, the more nuances the team noticed that could dramatically change the wisdom of a given recommendation.

We needed more information, so our simple modal began to turn into a bit of an unwieldy complex one.
We wanted to move to a wizard, but users in testing were flying through it just fine, so we put that on hold for future iterations, as the Beta clock was ticking...

The risk question (hidden above) was especially tricky to frame and write. We needed to factor-in how much ‘risk’ was acceptable to introduce in the portfolio, but the term 'risk' was very contentious from user to user. Some loved the term, some hated it. How they defined it and explained it to themselves and clients was sometimes what differentiated them. It was a subjective thing, and semantics got tricky. I carefully crafted a way to ask the question that walked a fine line and was acceptable and easy enough to answer despite this. Good times.

Rounding Out The Experience

Now that we had the hard part resonating with users in testing sessions, we needed to quickly move on to table stakes.

How would client find the plans they customized?
How would they know what to do next?

We built a simple Clients list that could hold the customized plans:
We also needed to provide access to details of the funds that were showing up in our recommendations, as well as a way to reserve them for your client, if you were interested.
And we definitely needed to provide a client-friendly view of the recommended plan, that could be shared with clients to discuss.
We had designs for several other product areas that we ended up cutting in order to hit our launch date. I worked with the team to make adjustments to the interconnections, so we were able to launch with a rationalized Beta that would not feel broken or incomplete.


We found that even with the quick work, and last minute adjustments to reduce scope, the pieces we built both impressed and inspired our early prospects, facilitating both our first sale and increased Series-A investments, due to our impressive progress.

This Beta successfully:
- Engaged interested customers by the dozens
Initiated powerful partnerships
- Led to the first-ever transactions for the company
- Helped the team align
on key next steps and a clear product roadmap

No small feat.