Remember the last time you started working at a new company? You most likely landed the job, showed up on the first day, and had a few weeks of onboarding. Onboarding can be a painful process for many new employees at small companies, where there’s often little human resources support for a growing team. Sapling is a startup that aims to fix this problem. Their platform is a support system for HR managers and new hires.
This past Summer, Sapling was going through a complete redesign of the frontend of their web app. They realized they needed to quickly transition to a new frontend framework to modernize the platform and start iterating more rapidly. They began the multi-month process of hiring a full-time designer to join their team, but the hiring process blocked the whole project. The co-founders came to Moonlight and hired a frontend designer to support their efforts to help bridge the gap to a full-time hire. They started a three-month project with an experienced product designer that week and had complete frontend designs and implementation by the end of the summer.
Moonlight recently had the opportunity to speak with Andy Crebar, co-founder of Sapling. During the interview, we discussed productivity hacks, how to make product decisions, and his experience using a Moonlight contractor to fill the void while they looked for a full-time team member.
As a native of Australia, Andy received an undergraduate degree in business with a focus on finance and accounting. He moved to the USA to learn more about the tech industry, and San Francisco was the perfect place to enrich his knowledge. Following the move, Andy worked at a fintech startup called Credible. Throughout his time in the Bay, Andy noticed a lack of HR and candidate tracking software to help companies throughout the process of onboarding.
“Employee onboarding was super manual and repetitive for HR. It’s frustrating and poorly structured for new hires. These realities make it a good problem to attack.”
Creating a good customer experience
Andy describes Sapling as a tool that helps employees and employers “be the best versions of themselves.” The app was developed to help companies improve the efficiency of onboarding new hires. As a business-to-business software product, Sapling needs a deep understanding of their users to add value to their daily workflow.
Sapling differentiates their users by using three different personas:
- “Sarah” - HR / People Operations
- “Peter” - Hiring manager
- “Nick” - The new hire
The company uses actual names in their personas so they can visualize their customers and who their users might be. Although personas can feel abstract, they help teams to empathize with their users each time they make a product decision. Some companies go as far as adding photos and re-using the personas throughout presentations, demos, and mockups. Sapling uses them daily when figuring out their product development priorities.
Sapling stays connected to their customer base through direct research with their users. Their user testing process involves putting together a prototype with Invision or code, sending it to actual users of the platform, and asking them to record their screen as they talk through the process of using the new feature. They share these videos with the whole team, which influences everything from quick actions to long-term strategic changes.
As a busy entrepreneur and co-founder, Andy stays focused on upcoming tasks by writing everything down. Andy quoted Ernest Hemingway, who stated: “I didn’t have enough time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”
While Sapling has a vibrant culture at their SF headquarters, they often hire external and remote contractors to supplement their team. To stay connected with employees both inside and outside the office, Andy likes recording video feedback of product changes. He uses a Chrome plugin called Screencastify to record his screen and discusses his thoughts as if it were a meeting. These videos cut down on face-to-face meeting time and allow the team to refer back to the video as they iterate.
“I didn’t have enough time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”
This past summer, Sapling needed design support on the front end of their platform. From posting a job to closing a hire can be a multi-month process. As an HR professional himself, Andy knew that a contractor was the best way to keep product momentum before he closed on a hire. After finding a senior product designer through Moonlight, Andy was able to complete the redesign within three months. As the Moonlight contractor noted, one of Andy’s favorite quotes during the project was “done is better than perfect.”
The team was trying to transition to a more scalable frontend system, where features could be implemented using a design framework. Andy would meet with the Moonlight contractor each week, identify the key screens to implement, and they would stay in touch throughout the week to iterate on the right solution together. “Our process worked really well because we stayed in contact throughout the week. There was never a big unveil at the end of the project; we meticulously planned each part of the process to stay on the same page.”
While Andy was ready to hire a full-time designer, he wanted more time to find the right person. But there was still urgent work to be done, so Moonlight's contractor helped to bridge the time to a full-time hire.
Sapling tries to fail fast and often, a common practice in Silicon Valley culture. Andy views David Cancel as a role model, “he speaks a lot about rapid iteration and defaulting to wrong. The sooner you can get things in customer's hands, the sooner you can start learning and iterating to the best solution with them.”
“Our process worked really well because we stayed in contact throughout the week. There was never a big unveil at the end of the project; we meticulously planned each part of the process to stay on the same page.”
Moonlight contractor for Sapling
Building the product team
Andy hopes to build Sapling into a platform that can eventually help millions of people with professional onboarding. Andy explains, “that means focusing on the people, the product and profits in that order.” Sapling plans to build a team focused on user-centered process, to create a great product that helps people do their jobs better.
Following the frontend design project this summer, Andy knew it was time to bring a designer on full time. Sapling recently hired their first full-time designer, a recent graduate from an online boot camp called Bloc! Sapling is hiring for multiple other positions on the product team as well, which you can learn about on their website.
Do you have a startup story? Let us know, and we might feature it on the Moonlight Blog! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.