Centro - A Business Planning App

About

Centro is a mobile application that guides new entrepreneurs through training and activities that result in the creation of a business plan. This project was proposed by Centro Community Partners for our Usability and Evaluation course. We will be partnering with Centro to identify ways to improve usability and the overall user experience of their application through surveys, interviews, and usability tests. 

My Role

User researcher, information synthesizer, project manager, recruiter for interviewees, survey designer

Problem Statement

Centro's mobile application is currently facing problems around the conversion rate at which their users complete all the steps to result in a business plan. Centro has found that 75% of their users end up completing multiple activities, but only 39% completed all the steps and received a business plan.  Below is a graph illustrating the problem:

Process

Interaction Map

This is an interaction map to illustrate user interactions between the different pages of the Centro App. This was done prior to interviewing female entrepreneurs to get an understanding of the application and identify any issues we saw with our interactions with the application. 

Interviews

Centro's target users were minority, low income women who were starting or building their own businesses, so our initial goal was to interview people who represented the target users. However, when we began reaching out to local nonprofits, we ran into an issue with non- disclosure agreements where they were unable to provide contacts that met our initial criteria. We then went back to the drawing board and broadened our target audience in order to find participants. We used local Meetup groups, a local organization called SPARK and our entrepreneurial center at the University of Michigan’s campus.

Interview protocols were developed with an overarching question that encompassed the theme of the interview. We had three different protocols, one for our stakeholder interview, another for users, and the third tailored to an employee who works closely with mobile app users. Based on the overarching question we were able to develop sub-questions and then group the questions by theme.  Overall, we used open ended questions to try to get the interviewee to reflect back on a specific time.

Interviewees included:

  • Male employee at Centro who has worked for the company for 7 years and helps manage the entrepreneurial workshops and works closely with users of the mobile app

  • Male undergraduate student in his early 20s with no formal business background, who is currently in the process of creating a business plan

  • Female graduate student in her mid-20s with no formal business background. She was in the process of developing her business plan for a design company. 

  • Female in her mid-40s, who has owned a business for two years. She has an MBA and degree in finance. Prior to opening her business, she worked for a large automotive corporation.

  • Female in her early 40s, with no formal business background. She worked in environmental studies for over 22 years before deciding to open up her own business. She currently owns and operates a one-person business focused on helping people find environmental sustainability jobs.

Interview Qualitative Analysis

After each interview was complete, we would meet as a group and go through the video recordings and notes from the interview. After all the interviews were complete, qualitative analysis of the content was done through affinity diagramming. 

Interview Findings

Sample business templates are a key resource in initial steps of business planning

A commonality across all our interviewees was that the primary resource they used to build out their business plans sample business plan templates found online, through credible organizations such as the Small Business Association, or through several other resources available on the internet. Most interviewees also attended day long or 9 week long workshops to learn more about how to build a business and what the business plan entailed. A lot of the interviewees mentioned referring to templates provided them with some guidance on what their plan needed to look like in the end.

Consulting with other entrepreneurs in face to face interactions is most helpful

The second key finding is somewhat related to the first, in terms of most useful and valuable resources when creating their business plans. Although most used sample business plans, a majority also went out and spoke to entrepreneurs who were building similar businesses in their industry or those who had previous experience build a business plan at all. An interviewee mentioned that face to face interaction with another entrepreneur who had been through the process was the most helpful. Although our interviewees used resources such as books, the internet, and even attending workshops, it was most valuable when they had one on one, face to face time with another person talking about their experiences and imparting advice on how to properly create a business plan to succeed.

Mastering financial jargon is the biggest challenge to overcome

The third key finding we identified was among the challenges that most of the  entrepreneurs faced while building their business plan. The business plan has several components that go with it, one of them being the financial aspect. This is crucial for the entrepreneur especially if they plan on using their business plan to get funding. The biggest challenge found in creating the business plan was understanding how to build out their financials for financial forecasts for their business. An interviewee who did not have a business background or any sort of training in business mentioned that understanding the financial jargon and comprehending it enough to build out your financial plan for your business was extremely difficult. She stated that she never fully completed that part of her plan because there was no way for her to complete it without thoroughly understanding it.

Comparative Evaluation

We drew from information gathered from online research and our user and stakeholder interviews in order to determine Centro’s competitors. From this information we selected several companies as a point of comparison, and organized them based on the categories defined below:

  • Indirect competitors: offer the same functions as Centro in a different way, through a different venue

  • Partial competitors: offer some but not all functions of Centro

  • Parallel comparators: provide the same kind of services as Centro to a similar audience via a similar channel

  • Analogous comparators: are non­ competitors that may provide parallels in improving Centro

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Findings

  1. Compared to other competitors, Centro lacks visual illustrations to strengthen the content and make it more engaging for users. For example, TurboTax uses a lot of visual illustrations to assist the content and make the structure of information clearer, so users can feel less stressed when filing their taxes. HP LIFE employs animations and graphics to explain business ideas making them less intimidating for non-business background users.
  2. Though the Centro Business Planning App provides a simple way to create a basic business plan step by step, users would not gain much business domain knowledge and management or communication skills when writing their business plan
  3. Our research competitors are web-based or cross-platform service. Only Centro is a mobile-based product. The cross-platform services like Stratpad and Evernote offer cloud-based software that enables users to work on different devices and collaborate with others at the same time. This gives users more flexibility and channels when creating their business plan. Thus, in this case of collaborating and sharing content, Centro’s users will face difficulties because all typed-in content is in a user’s app.