What was the scope of their involvement?
SoluLab handled both the design and the development of the website. I was asking their team to develop for a device they hadn’t used for about five years, so they literally had to go home and borrow their grandparents’ phones in order to explore what was actually possible on the devices. There was an unusual mix of the old and the new, and we needed to think creatively and get around the challenge quickly.
SoluLab delivered a website of learning materials that was targeted at a particular audience, which happened to be in India. To a certain degree, local knowledge was important, but we also needed to work within quite strict technical constraints, including the antiquated end-user devices.
The product needed to work on the Facebook Free Basics platform. There was a series of technical gateways and standards to be met, in terms of possible types of websites and web services within this bubble.
There was a lot of research to be done, and issues to be born in mind by people developing the solution. What SoluLab came up with was a kind of website which worked with these devices. They took a lot of care in designing its activities, minimizing low-memory features thay nonetheless maximized the visual attractiveness of the materials. The interactivity was within the constraints of the very limited browsers on these old phones. They managed to use servers which, instead of having client-side interactivity, employed a lot of cleverness to host that interactivity. They still gave the user an engaging experience, without expecting the user device to carry out those processes.
Within this, SoluLab was also very proactive in coming up with additional benefits for making the experience more engaging. As an example, a user can provide an answer to quiz questions, with limited interactivity like true/false answers, multiple options and so on. SoluLab’s suggestion was to bring some analytics to the experience on the server side. A user will select true or false to quite a simple question, and the server would retrieve the percentage of people who had given the same answer. We could write extra content and send it back to users, making their small-screen experience as engaging as possible.
SoluLab’s members went out and signed up themselves to the other services being offered in this domain. They did a lot of research into testing the limits of what was technically allowed, in terms of showing images and playing back video and audio. SoluLab determined that, although regulations said that a particular feature wasn’t possible, other people were going beyond and stretching X, Y and Z. There was no reason why we couldn’t do that, and even though we hadn’t asked for this, they gave us suggestions on how to implement these things and improve the product. It was perhaps because the project was so novel that it got their juices flowing.
How did you come to work with SoluLab?
I put out a brief and sourced SoluLab through a predecessor to Upwork, called Elance. I chose them because of the comprehensive response they provided. SoluLab went out of their way to understand the background of the project and did independent research that they included in the proposal.
They were my initial recommendation after the initial tender, but we also found another company that was half the price. The client wanted to have an initial iteration with this cheaper option, and spend as little money as possible. By then, I’d had several in-depth conversations with SoluLab around the planning, trying to get them to reduce their proposal as much as possible in terms of price. They couldn’t go under a certain price point and told me that it wasn’t realistically possible to develop a product for the price we were requesting, but that we could go back to them later on. SoluLab was professional in keeping the relationship open, and in assessing what was and wasn’t possible for the budget being offered.
We did develop an initial prototype with someone else, and it had many of the imperfections and limitations that SoluLab had predicted. However, the client saw enough of something which they liked, albeit very limited. We went back and considerably increased the budget, so I approached SoluLab to redo the work. Even though they didn’t get the job the first time, SoluLab remained open to conversations. There appeared to be a lot of integrity on their end compared to the other groups I’d contracted over time on platforms like Freelancer and Elance. I have developed a feel for the type of work someone can do, the amount of preparation they’ve done, and whether they’re trying to upsell or scam me, or whether they’re genuinely interested in getting the job done.
How much have you invested with SoluLab?
The cost of their work was around $5,000.
What is the status of this engagement?
We started working with SoluLab in December 2015. The project was completed after three months, around March 2016.