Our rollercoaster ride to launch
Last week marked a big milestone for the B-Change team. We publicly released our app designed with the bold mission of making the world a more inclusive place for everyone.
Our app is called Be. It carries a simple yet powerful invitation to our users to “be inclusive”. This marks a new chapter in our journey and we would like to take a moment to reflect on the twists and turns that brought us to where we stand today.
Be is available now, exclusively on the iTunes App Store. It stands on the shoulders of five years of research and six months of intense community-based usability testing. We know we many Android users are disappointed they cannot access the app just yet. We’re working hard to get the funds we need to produce an Android version as soon as possible.
We began 2017 with a promise to our crowdfunders and supporters: to publicly release Be by mid-June. It was a race against the clock as our team worked relentlessly to achieve this goal. The obstacles we faced were high.
Beginning To See The Light
Our vision for the app is that diverse groups use it as a tool for shaping inclusive cities of the future. Thanks to the hard work of Si Min Chong who leads B-Change’s user engagement, diverse groups of people with disabilities, women, people living with HIV, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people (LGBT) have been and continue to be involved in every step of our development process.
Experts from these groups volunteered their time to test early iterations of our app. Throughout our research we observed common patterns among the groups when they explained why inclusive places are important.
But views tended to diverge when people told us what attributes make a place inclusive. When our community experts took hold of an early app prototype they told us which parts worked, and which parts failed to meet their expectations. As June began we were in the final stretch towards realising our promise. Our team went into overdrive trying to integrate our research into workable solutions.
Anytime you need a friend
With Be’s public debut imminent our first task was to engage our closest allies who are helping us to succeed. These allies will be instrumental in spreading the word about the app.
June kicked off with the B-Change team visiting Google’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore. We were invited to share our story with Google employees about using tech to promote inclusion.
Soon after, B-Change founder, Laurindo Garcia, ventured to the United States to galvanise support for Be. After a meeting with board members of B-Change New York he made courtesy visits with our supporters - including Alphasights - and our creative consultancy partner Brand Union. As Laurindo continued his U.S roadshow, the team back in Asia submitted version 1 of Be to Apple for review.
While the team in Asia waited for the verdict from App, Laurindo headed onward to the Bay Area - the home of Silicon Valley. He spoke at a special Pride event organised for the employees at the San Francisco headquarters of global fashion brand Levi Strauss & Co. There, he shared the story of what inspired him to create Be. Since Levi Strauss Foundation was the first to support B-Change’s bold mission, the event was an opportune time to give our most ardent supporters a special preview of the app that was waiting for release.
Almost is never enough
As Laurindo’s U.S trip drew to a close he received word on June 22 from Javasparks - B-Change’s engineering partners - that Be was given the thumbs up and was available for download on iTunes.
But the euphoria was short lived. Reports started coming in that the app was unstable. Our algorithm for searching inclusive places wasn’t working consistently. The revelation meant that we had to put brakes on our plans to announce Be. Meanwhile our engineers were on a hunt to fix the root of the problem.
With no time to waste Laurindo returned to Asia. He regrouped with his team and arrived in time for an event called Accelerate Singapore. Accelerate was convened to help inclusive businesses in Singapore thrive. B-Change had been working in conjunction with Google to organise the event for months. Engaging small businesses on the importance of inclusive places is an essential part of our strategy for Be.
Businesses who demonstrated their commitment to inclusive practices were invited to attend the free event. The participants were Singaporean business leaders from diverse sectors including women, the deaf community and LGBT. Participants received personalised expert advice from Google employees on how to address their business challenges. Laurindo took the opportunity to unveil a preview of Be which was met with excitement from the audience.
One week later, the app’s initial problems were resolved. New features that invite people from all over the world to help us improve the app were also added thanks to Bryan Choong who leads B-Change’s impact research activities. On July 17 we made a public announcement; the same day that the latest version got the greenlight from Apple. We admit that Be ‘version 1’ still has bugs that need to be worked out, but we are confident that it makes a strong starting point.
Against all odds
Our journey has a striking similarity to other start-ups: we have a new product; we’re doing our best to meet the expectations of our users; and, we're looking for support. However, because of our community-focus, access to entrepreneurship and venture capital is limited for us, unlike other startups that are purely commercial driven.
Normally in this situation alternative support might be found in government-backed programs nurturing tech innovation at the grassroots. Despite our broad approach that includes people living with disabilities and women, persistent hostility against LGBT in Southeast Asia put these programs out of our reach. We are not deterred by these obstacles. On the contrary, this situation emboldens us more to persevere.
Now that Be is publicly available, our priority is for non-stop improvement while we raise awareness about the app among grassroots communities. People who use wheelchairs and walking aids, the deaf community, single mothers, female migrant workers, transgender people and LGBT families are just some of the groups in Singapore are inviting to get directly involved with our app. In 2018 we'll take our expand work to Manila and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
If our app helps the lives of people in diverse groups then we will know we are on the right track to make the world a more inclusive place for everyone.
Want to help us make Be better?
Become a Be Inclusive Explorer! Our goal is to find Singapore's 500 most inclusive places by the end of 2017. A few minutes of your time can help us improve the app. Find out how you can participate.