By Inga Jonsdottir and Lara Hughes, Apply Digital.
Over 154 people in 36 teams set out to help five local organizations in Vancouver Startup Week annual hackathon, Vanhacks from Sep 22 – 23.
Mealshare, Baby Go Round, Weekend Fuelbag, Working Gear and Oceanwise, were all making a significant contribution to the community, but each faced a challenge that reduced their impact potential or growth.
Raising up to the challenge was us, an all-female crew; Inga Jonsdottir (Mobile Dev), Machiko Murakami (Web Dev), Terri Herbert (UX/strategy) and Lara Hughes (UX/UI).
We took on a challenge by Ocean Wise, whose vision is a world with healthy and flourishing oceans. Although existing apps counted your plastic use, Ocean Wise wanted a digital product that would gamify reducing your plastic footprint. Intentionally selecting an open-ended brief, we wanted to push ourselves in every aspect, from strategy, design to development.
Instead of encouraging people to reduce all their plastic consumption, we focused on a nudging small change. Coffee is a habit, but using reusable cups doesn’t have to be. Research shows that Canadians throw out more than 1.6 billion disposable coffee cups , and costs Vancouver taxpayers $2.5 million every year . Habits need practice, feedback, and motivation.
We challenged this problem by tapping into existing behaviour by digitizing the familiar coffee shop loyalty programs. We created a mobile app that focused on reducing single-use coffee cup usage, targeting independent coffee shops and their customers. The app provided a personalized digital program that provided feedback and motivation to end-users to help reduce single-cup usage.
To verify the product’s viability, we conducted a quick user research of both businesses and customers. This entailed Lara (UX/UI designer) running to three local independent coffee shops to gather data, while the team sent out online surveys. Research showed that all cafes were part of green initiatives but relied on customers to further reduce their footprint. All showed interest in an app that increased business and reduced environmental impact.
The online survey of 36 participants gathered information on customer habits, the likelihood of uptake and the desire to change. It demonstrated that customer would 80% be more likely to take a reusable cup if they were strongly associated with rewards.
Although almost code complete, due to limited time, we had two screens left and tested in iOS only, with minimal work left to do on Android.
Lights, camera, presentation
It all came down to the presentation, as the mentors emphasized that you must demo the product and prove your idea as well. With only seven mins on the clock, we treated the presentation like a business pitch going through a full MVP product cycle – UX research, market and competitive research, impact potential, business sustainability, funding tiers and roadmap for future growth.
As the theme of the hackathon was ‘social good’ we importantly estimated the potential impact in reducing single-use coffee cups into landfill over time.
After two days of work, two rounds of presentation, pizza, coffee and a lot of hard work, we passed the finish line in third place! We were over the moon and excited!
Would we do it again?
Yes, we would! We can’t say we would have been up for another one the next day because of lack of sleep, but in the future, yes. We had fun rapidly iterating, collaborating and staying simple and focused on the MVP. Having known each other beforehand enabled us to embrace radical candour to support and challenge each other directly.
We thank Apply Digital for supporting us and for all the mentors who provided encouragement, direction and advice.
 Wilkins, C. (2017, November 4). Canada’s dirty secret.
Retrieved from https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/canadas-dirty-secret
 (2018, May 1). Single-User Item Reduction Strategy.
Retrieved from https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/draft-single-use-item-reduction-strategy.pd