July 28, 2020

There has never been a better time to launch digital products

There is no doubt: our whole world is now online. Here’s how the pandemic has shown the need for apps and tools in new sectors and the role that we developers will play in the new normal.

Marta Caballero

Marta Caballero

UX Writer and Content Strategist at Z1

There has never been a better time to launch digital products

The news was getting closer little by little, like a murmur that was heard with increasing clarity. We discussed it during our breakfasts at Z1: “Is it true that the virus is coming or is it the media alarmism?”. The next thing we knew, we were living in a lockdown planet.

There is not a single entrepreneur or employee who was not chilled by the March news. Fear was also felt in the digital product sector. Héctor Giner, our CEO, remembers the uncertainty, driven by the attitude of some of our clients. “During those weeks we tried to be as accessible as possible in terms of positioning and narrative. In moments like these, it is very important to manage the emotions of both the clients you are already working with and new opportunities.”

Just a few hours after the lockdown began in Spain, the studio’s management sent a message to the team calling for calm. It was signed by Carlos Tabasco, the GM. "@Channel, I send you all much encouragement for what we are facing. I suggest that we prioritize the personal circumstances of each one and that we work when we have them resolved. Héctor and I have been reading all weekend about the evolution of the virus and the crisis that is coming over us. We want to tell you that we reach a situation like this in good circumstances for the company: We are comfortable remotely, we have solvency, a committed team, and opportunities. If this was a zombie apocalypse, there are shells to spare. Hugs!"

“If this was a zombie apocalypse, we have shells to spare.” The days proved he was right: We had to continue with imagination and without fear.
Carlos Tabasco, Z1's GM and Cofounder.

The next days proved he was right; we had to continue working without fear. Shortly after that message, new projects came to Z1 and we even had to increase the workforce to meet the demands of our clients. What happened? Quite simply, a crisis of this nature has evidenced the need for digital technology in many sectors, improving existing tools, and providing imaginative solutions in new areas.

A desk in front of a window with a laptop displaying an article in edition, a Z1 mug, a notebook, a pen and a plant.
Technology has been our window to the world. (Mikey Harris)

At the same time, if this global situation has contributed to anything, it is our final conversion to digital life. We now live in an online world; we can access almost anything we want with just a few keystrokes. During the lockdown, we have bought more products than ever on the internet and talked more to our friends, families, and colleagues through video chat. We consumed more digital news and entertainment than ever before. We have also seen, thanks to the work of many teachers, how our children and young people continued their education remotely while half the planet keeps on working from home.

The stats back all this up: Global internet traffic has grown by as much as 30% this year. More than 4,000 million people have a smartphone today. We are talking about 75% of the world’s adult population. Zoom has gone from 10 million daily users to more than 200. Nowadays, all these people know that the possibilities of their devices go far beyond making and receiving calls or sending a WhatsApp message. Technology has been our window to the world.

More than 4,000 million people have a smartphone today. We are talking about 75% of the planet’s adult population.

Many sectors such as e-commerce or education and business have been forced into a process of maturity, in the first case, or reconversion, in the latter. We made it, but we were far from being ready for what was coming upon us.

Logic says that never before has the work of digital product developers and designers been so necessary. Naval predicted it early on his Twitter account, where he summarized the state of the question with a single quote. Strong, caustic, precise: “There has never been a better time to launch a digital product,” he tweeted. He wrote it on April 10, in the darkest days of the pandemic.

His thousands of retweets support the success of that handful of words. Never before has our work been so necessary. Never before have consumers been so open to trying solutions that make life easier for them. Because, after all, that is what our work is about—providing an easier life for people, especially in this challenging and uncertain situation. This is the time for innovation, to go further, to achieve the perfect experience for that large sector of the population that today is already open to carry out an important part of their daily actions on the internet.

A headshot of Héctor Giner, CEO and Co-founder of Z1.
Héctor Giner, Z1's CEO, at our HQ in Seville. (Óscar Romero)

As Héctor predicts, “Any field that is not efficiently digitized presents opportunities for improvement and, therefore, business. Through the pandemic, we have experienced how aspects that are key to the functioning of society were not prepared. During the second decade of the 21st-century, investment in technology has been spent on leisure, travel, and transport, in addition to the continued growth of the Big Four (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). However, it has become clear that sectors like education, healthcare, wellness, commerce, gaming, and the workplace (Enterprise SaaS) need a push towards digitization.”

Health in our smartphones

Nick Robinson, Chief Business Officer at Big Sky Health, with whom we recently worked creating Less, a tool that applies the mindfulness philosophy to alcohol consumption, agrees with Héctor. In his view, COVID-19 has drastically accelerated the need for digital health products. “For many people the early days of quarantine were like freshman year of college. The normal way of living was suddenly thrown out and bad habits took over.  A few weeks in, many realized a change was necessary once it became clear that things weren’t going to go back to normal,” he says.

“The use of digital health products is now an essential part of many people’s new routine.”
Nick Robinson, CBO at Big Sky Health

Zero, the world’s leading fasting app and Big Sky Health’s flagship product, experienced huge traffic during the lockdown, far exceeding the expected numbers. “The use of digital health products is now an essential part of many people’s new routine helping unlock understanding the role apps can play in managing ones own health.” 

A digital gym

Everything changes in a world in which the consumer can no longer easily pop to the gym. “The post-COVID consumer health landscape as one can no longer rely on the gym down the street. Established brands will likely seek to expand what it means to be a health and fitness leader by leaning into the digital health opportunity. One such opportunity is bundling digital health and fitness apps.”

For example, while Peloton started as a cycling brand, today it encompasses a dozen apps for YouTube, home exercise, yoga, and meditation. As Nick points out, thanks to the agile reaction of this company, its stocks have doubled since March. For its part, Lululemon has acquired the fitness startup Mirror for $ 500 million.

Asked about the possibility of seeing in this crisis an opportunity to be more imaginative than ever before, to risk more, Nick has no doubt: “Users need innovative technologies that help them. Technology pundits like Ben Evans have said that COVID-19 will accelerate what was inevitable. Tim Cook explained during a 2019 CNBC interview that Apple would be best known for their contributions to health. These statements taken together help illustrate the huge potential in creating digital products with business models that align with a users health goals. This need for digital health has been a long time coming. COVID accelerated it.”

Providing solutions to countries

During these months we are also seeing how lots of digital companies put their talent at the service of their respective governments to provide solutions in the fight against the virus or to help make a new normal as close as possible to normal. Developers know that today they are more necessary than ever. Like our admired Cole Knaflic, from Storytelling With Data (SWD), who we worked with on one of the projects we recently developed at Z1.

Cole Nussbaume Knaflic, CEO and founder of storytelling with data.
Cole Knaflic from Storytelling With Data, offered her team’s help during the beginning of the crisis.

This CEO quickly published a tweet offering help. SWD has mastered the digital transition, transferring their workshops to the network and doubling down their bet through a digital community that allows the interaction of the participants. Today, they grow at an average rate of 500 users per month.

Rocío García Ramos, CEO of Dinngo, an innovation laboratory with which we have collaborated at Z1, is another example of this selfless help. When the confinement began, she rediscovered a love for radio. Every night, she heard her favorite presenter ask the same question: How is it possible not to have a map of the scope of the virus? Rocío decided to search for the answer. She talked to some developer friends and together they created Mapa Real del Coronavirus, a social innovation project that allows you to visualize a map of the real spread of the disease in Spain. “At the beginning of the pandemic, there were many digital companies that altruistically wanted to collaborate, who were putting their talent at the service of such a complex situation,” she says.

Although she does not see it as a failure, Rocío’s map did not achieve the desired scope as it didn’t get the support of the media and public institutions in the end. And not because they didn’t try; the entrepreneur even went so far as to contact the Spanish Health Minister, Salvador Illa. And he answered her. Via LinkedIn! “We did what was in our hands, but we also had to dedicate time to keep on working. The important matter is that governments are beginning to listen to professionals from development companies so that they can help them in the new normal,” says Rocío.

Educate and work at home

Another thing we have learned during this crisis is that working and schooling at home is not the stuff of science fiction. Along with the amazing growth of solutions in the field of health, we will see tools for the other protagonists of this situation, remote work and education, increase in the coming months. The thinkers from the best development studios will be needed to design hybrid models that can meet the challenges of an uncertain tomorrow.

Iván Coronado, Former Z1's Lab Lead, at Z1's HQ.
Iván Coronado, Z1's Lab Lead, gave workshops on remote culture during the lockdown. (Óscar Romero)

During the lockdown, some companies turned to Z1 (as veterans in the remote culture) to seek advice on their transition. Iván Coronado, our Lab lead, was one of those in charge of giving these workshops. In his opinion, the tools we have today are enough to make everything work, but they should be geared towards formulating a true model change: “Many companies try to replicate the home office, with archaic methodologies and processes. They are not able to define clear objectives or to trust that their team is capable of meeting them.”

Héctor agrees: “In the new paradigm of remote teaching and work, products will emerge that will facilitate collaboration and information management, extending to all types of companies the processes that only startups used before. Education will evolve rapidly through platforms that apply new training options, facilitating access to many more people, regardless of location or economic level.”

Our partners from Code Galaxy have been very quick to react. “It is evident that the effects of the virus have been felt in all aspects of life. This is especially clear in the case of education,” they tell us from this school dedicated to teaching code for children.  

“Across the world, families have had to learn to adopt some form of homeschooling. We understand that this will create points of tension and concern.” Faced with this situation in which, in addition, conventional summer camps are no longer an option, they have launched an online alternative to continue working: “Since most coding programs require access to a computer, adapt them to a model remote learning provides a natural transition. Lessons can be practiced from anywhere, we have opted for a structure that allows some flexibility," explain about their stimulating program, in which future developers attend lessons with live teachers on Minecraft video, game design, animation, Python, etc. “Challenging times like these require creative solutions,” they conclude.

The future is bright

“It is said that the good times are to sell and the bad, to build,” says Héctor. “Although it may sound selfish, product developers should try to detect business opportunities in the shortcomings of the current system. As long as user-centered design processes are applied and the role each entity plays in the product without taking advantage of unbalanced models. Only then we will see how solutions appear to improve many aspects of our society.”

When the whole system is questioned, it also means that we are facing an opportunity to rethink models of collaboration and coexistence.”
Héctor Giner, Z1's CEO and Cofounder.

For Héctor, it is time to develop a disruptive innovation: “When the entire system is questioned, we are faced with an opportunity to rethink certain models of collaboration and coexistence. If we take the concept of innovator’s dilemma as a reference, the incumbents would be the entities and processes that we know fail in our society and the disruptive technologies would be the products that are going to emerge in this new economic and social phase.”

The digital sector will continue to grow and, even if there is less investment in certain sectors, it seems clear that, as Marc Andreesen points out, we will come out of this by building.

This is our way of life at Z1. If you have an idea to make this new world better, we will be happy to listen to you and help you build it.