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Designing for humans, not users

Erika Órtiz, Author and Director of Design at JUST

Erika Órtiz, Author and Director of Design at JUST

In 2016, I made one of the best decisions of my life by joining JUST and hit the ground running to work on the vision of making micro-lending more than just a transaction.

Fast forward 5 years, JUST has developed a platform that threads the needle between social and finance, layering the transactional aspect over the social and cognitive piece. It’s nothing short of magical, some even refer to it as the holy grail.

I wonder why it was ever any other way. 

D'Arcy Coolican, partner at VC firm and podcast a16z, recently described the power of social + finance, saying, “Engagement is higher, retention is higher, customer acquisition costs go down. All these things that most consumer fintech companies struggle with are solved by building the social product... And because social+ companies are network and community driven, that advantage accumulates over time.”

So, how did JUST get here?

We listened, we layered, and we iterated....

Graduating class of JUST’s leadership program, 2019.

Graduating class of JUST’s leadership program, 2019.

JUST uses a human-centered approach to develop all of our products. It always starts with empathy for our user. 

Our target audience of immigrant female entrepreneurs were seeking capital to fund their micro-businesses, but were left out of traditional methods.

By listening to our future leaders, we developed a business loan model that addressed our clients' need for capital - this would become the transactional component of our product.

Money is important, but it’s not enough. Money is the tip of the spear when addressing the needs of distrusting into distrusting communities and gives JUST the opportunity to uncover other components of support needed.

Many clients felt like they had no time to plan their business - one client cried at the mere thought of carving out 30 minutes a week for herself.  We developed Tu Camino, a forever evolving program targeted to get our clients in the habit of planning, doing, and reflecting - the emotional component of our product. 

Some clients were looking for ‘knowledge’ about business ownership, while others were looking to share their experiences.

JUST entrepreneurs sharing their goals and experiences over coffee.

JUST entrepreneurs sharing their goals and experiences over coffee.

JUST had an opportunity to activate those conversations and destigmatize the formality of business. So we required all clients to come in with an equal-partner, sort-of like a running buddy, and join a weekly peer-support group, the social component of our product. Increasing social capital has been the key to many clients reaching their goals.

Ultimately, we developed a business loan with a built in social-network to share their experiences and reach self-actualization. What does this mean for future products within JUST? We have essentially broadened the solution space we can operate within.

Now we’re not just at the transactional level or just at the emotional and cognitive level. We’re designing things that touch on all three layers. 

Take the Tanda savings circle, an innately social + financial structure that the traditional offline community has done for decades. They contribute, let’s say, $100 a week. Then, each week if there are 10 members, one member receives $1,000. Of course, it’s easier to save together.

JUST took inspiration and launched its own version of the Tanda, which has taken the traditional offline version and has brought it online. It not only has the functional components, but is also working to layer on the social and emotional components through peer support and goal setting. 

This multi-layer approach is said to be the new wave of design. FinTech companies like Venmo, Robinhood, and SoFi are playing with the social component of finance.

Here’s the secret - the magic of threading the needle between social and finance comes from listening to your clients.

The most common dream of our JETAs is to buy a home. JUST is now looking at what it means to have these three layers play into that process - the possibilities are endless!

In our early years, JUST’s only plan was to observe, and our clients showed us the rest. At the end of the day, I’ve learned that our clients yearn for community, and our JETAs know how to build it best. 

I was reminded of this lesson during a recent morning call. It is a common practice for us to give one word to explain how we are feeling, before starting any meeting.. Angie, JUST’s Austin Community Director, gushed over our Monday morning call - “Mi palabra hoy es ‘querida’ por que las JETAs vinieron a la oficina a traernos comida.” Translation: “My word is loved because one of our JETAs brought us food at the office.”

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