Startup News: Scrap the App, The future is multi-player

Couple riding a two-seater bike together

ThirdShift started as an idea: an app to make inequality more visible, helping households to create a better balance of unpaid housework, care work and mental load. We quickly narrowed our focus to creating a solution for parents, who have the highest workload and most need help managing it. Over the past few months, we’ve conducted multiple rounds of design and iteration, prototyping, even early development and a pilot of an (embarrassingly) scrappy MVP. 

We’ve talked to parent users and testers about the solutions we were designing at each stage of the process, and learned loads about the challenging and complicated parts of this problem. 

And as a consequence, we’ve decided to scrap the app. For now, at least. 

This post explains our process, our learnings, and what we’re working on next.

1. We’re trying to create a solution for parents – who are already extremely busy – so we can’t create more work 

Our original concept was that we could predict the work that needs to happen in each household. We would then use that information to try and support redistribution of the workload through nudging and reminders. 

That solved several parts of the problem:

  • This removes the task of reminding partners to do more
  • It reduces the mental load of having to keep track of what needs to be done by doing that for you
  • It starts to reframe the expectation that the woman has default responsibility for the household – remembering what needs to be done, delegating and reminding – if an app can do this for them
  • By tracking who is doing what, we can also quantify how much each person does, and help them and their partner optimise their workload

Learning about the solution

But what we learned from our testing and prototyping process was that:

  • Parents want a solution that is highly customised to their specific household needs. Without precise customisation, we cannot deliver convenience.
  • To get a picture of even just the regular daily routine means we need a LOT of information before we can provide a convenient solution. But in order to start trying to redistribute it usefully, we first need to learn what needs to be done.
  • Busy parents don’t have time to spend ages answering questions and setting up an app. This was something we knew as a guiding principle from the outset. What we discovered was that in order to create convenience, precision was very important, and very difficult to provide.
  • Busy parents are so stretched day to day, that adding another thing they need to do in their day does not help them. It risks making things worse.
  • Most critically – women were very engaged in the problem and eager to find a solution. Their partners were frequently less interested, and less willing to test or use a tool to help solve it. The solution doesn’t work unless we can get the other halves bought into it.

All of this added up to the conclusion that we need to find a faster way to understand what a household needs before we can offer a solution. But whatever the solution is needs to be highly flexible and customisable for each customer, and can’t require much of their time, effort or mental energy to use. But most importantly, it needs to engage both women and men if it’s going to be an effective solution to the problem.

2. Mobile apps may be seen as shorthand for “fast and convenient solution” but most don’t get used much

After we launched the Household Balance Calculator, we spoke to lots of people who had tried it and wanted to tell us what they thought. Lots of the feedback was really positive, and we consistently heard that people really wanted to see the app. But one of the things we learned as we iterated and tested our designs, and then conducted our very early pilot, was what actual usage looks like. 

Our user base are already extremely busy, and a solution that requires daily engagement to be effective is not a realistic solution for most parents. This is also an issue for mobile applications generally. On average, only 29% of users who download an app will still be using it after 3 months. 21% of users will abandon an app after trying it only once. Those numbers will vary depending on what the app does, how well it’s designed, how effectively it solves a problem and what the problem is that it solves. But given the shape of the mobile app market and the other challenges we had uncovered, we weren’t convinced that this was the right approach.

What now?

What we realised in this process was that we skipped a few steps. Despite having developed a very deep understanding of this problem as it affects women, if we’re going to solve the problem, we need to start by engaging men first. Every woman we spoke to was aware of the problem but could not solve it alone. 

Too often, their partners didn’t recognise the issue, dismissed the idea they weren’t pulling their weight, and even where they did accept change was needed, generally were unable to sustain this beyond a couple of weeks.  Women often found themselves reminding their partners to complete tasks, thereby taking on even more mental burden. 

So, how do we get men involved? It’s harder than it sounds.

Currently, many men actively benefit from the status quo. Feminism is widely viewed as a “women’s issue”, despite being about equality. Unfortunately, so is parenting and housework. 

Our approach now is to go back to the beginning. We got a huge response to the Household Balance Calculator. Some people loved it. Some told us how we could improve it. Others were reluctant to engage unless forced by their partner. But it showed us that there is something there. There is interest in understanding the unseen work, the unseen imbalances, and having new ways to talk about the problem and find solutions.

Our next step is to build on what we started with that quiz, but with one significant difference. 

The future is multi-player

A solution for parents and couples

Our next quiz looks at Housework Preferences – and it’s multi-player. You and your partner can each complete the quiz individually to create a more powerful result. Getting both partners involve is an important part of moving towards a solution that looks at the entirety of the problem for parents and makes men part of solving it. Learn more here.

The quiz will give anyone – male or female – a new perspective on how things work in your home. 

Try it for yourself now.

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Ready to start creating equality in your home?

Knowledge is power – the first step to solving the problem is understanding it. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.