Pipod is a digital service that intends to humanize student engagement on campus and making students feel more connected to their communities.


March - May 2020


Project management, pitching, lean business (liquidify, disruption, customer discovery, pivots), research (PESTLE, POG, interviews), design methods (personas, pretotyping, prototyping)


Kristel Yu, Elysha Tsai, Bella Lin, Tony Zhang

Initial Startup Idea + Pivots

Key Concepts I Applied

  • Conflict resolution & communication

    • Pre mortem + team contract​

  • Ideating

    • Recognizing needs and opportunities​

  • Identifying Users

    • Interviews, customer research ​

  • Competitor analysis

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Preface of our startup ideas and pivots

How to maintain productivity while working at home?
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My preliminary pitch idea of WorkL!ve received support from other undergraduate and graduate students. This formed our team with having the goal of creating a service that would encourage more productivity working alone.

To set the project team on the same page, we conducted a pre-mortem exercise, where we imagined how a team might have failed in working together to mitigate this in real life. To solidify each person's role and engagement in the team, we made a team contract listing our skillsets and some team criteria. 

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Pre-mortem and team contract

Holding a project manager role, I led the team in further developing the idea and reaching out to other students and campus student engagement faculty to interview them to validate our assumption on the problem. ​

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Gathering ideas for unique services as a new formed team

Refocus on the social painpoints of college students

We conducted more secondary research and compared our service to current products out there, emphasizing on the ones that are receiving the most popularity and how our service would be unique from the others. 

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Research and competitor analysis

As we interviewed more people, we realized that although staying in focus when working at home alone was a painpoint that students experience, it was not to a degree that students wanted to invest too much time and money into. ​

Our interviews showed us that college students experienced more frustrations in social aspects such as loneliness and disengagement from their community more than ever, especially during a pandemic. 

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Interview summary

As a startup project, it's important to treat ideas objectively and understand when to let go of past ideas, no matter how much time you had invested into it. Therefore, as a team, we made the decision to refocus our service on humanizing campus engagement for college students as we saw that there was a major gap in the current system.

Opportunity Framing + Further Research

Key Concepts I Applied

  • Pivoting

  • Personas

  • PESTLE/SET analysis

  • POG

  • Competitor analysis

  • Lean business model

  • MVP

Finding our audience and root problem within student engagement
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It's important to understand your users as much as possible before creating any sort of prototype - you want to be able to be as certain as possible that this is a needed product before making too much investment.


We conducted one-to-one interviews with a variety of students and faculty to achieve a holistic view of the problem space to then narrow the key problem. We interviewed more students because as a team, we wanted to focus on the student's experience in engagement as we saw its potential.

Secondary research in our opportunity frame
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In addition to our customer insights, we conducted PESTLE research analysis and product opportunity gap analysis to further prove that there was a need for a service in this space. I synthesized our finding from our interviews to create our POG to allow others to more quickly understand the problem we are trying to produce a solution for. 

Competitor analysis and specifying key features
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Looking at related services that are already in the marketplace, we decided to format our written analysis in this format to easily convey to others recognizable services, and how there is a gap for college campus event based apps. 

This allowed our team to compare what has been working and what hasn't with existing platforms to formulate our own features that could provide value to our users.

Planning for real implementation
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To show our features and ideas on a macro scale, we also designed our business model in hopes to be able to show our audience all at once what we are trying to build.

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We planned to leverage an existing platform, The CMU Bridge, to first test out the key features of Pipod on a club organization (around 15 members). I thought that using what is already built out would inform us in a very cost efficient way if our product will be successful in gaining student engagement.


Key Concepts I Applied

  • Storyboarding

  • Concept video

  • UI Design

Research in relevant contextual information
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To further solidify our idea, I wanted to present our findings and thoughts that we had into a few key features to more easily tell our story. These features we decided would embody our customer insights.


I hoped our platform could focus on humanizing the campus engagement experience for students rather than the focusing on the functions you see on current college platforms that focus on club logistics or list information on clubs. Therefore, many of these features are designed with the student in mind:

1) Personal communication

Easily having access to 1-1 conversations with active club members to have a better understanding of the organization and to expand one's social circle

2) Visualizing Organization

Effectively visualize one's personal interests within the communities of your university and being able to locate where events/meetings are to easily match it with your schedule

3) Event Feed

Having a consistent event feed of current and upcoming events on campus and being able to receive notifications on events that you hold interest in.  

I made a short concept video to further demonstrate our concepts and solidify our main features.  

Through making this content for our concept, I was reminded again of how important it is to tell a story and present to an audience our ideas in the most impactful way to persuade them. I tried to emphasize the emotional aspects of our student users and allow our audience to relate and empathize with these experiences. The walkthrough of our features is also simplified for our audience to be able to remember them. 

Validating Concepts
Referencing back to stakeholders and validating our value

Key Concepts I Applied

  • Interviews

  • Value Flow

  • Presentation 


With our features in mind, I noticed that now as we understand how our product lives on a real market more, we needed to research into the college's student engagement department to understand the school's painpoints and needs.


I interviewed school faculty at SLICE (student engagement office), where they would be our main financial revenue for this service and received their perspective on student engagement and what they needed. From this, we were able to align stakeholder painpoints between students and the school and validate that the features we were building were valuable. 

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Interviewing the SLICE office faculty

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Demonstrating our product's value

Validating our product's value and understanding the value flow is only one part of building a successful service. Any of this will not matter if we're not able to show this data and information to investors to attract their support

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I noticed from feedback when we presented our ideas to others that the most convincing way to show what we are providing is relevant and needed, is to directly portray and address the painpoints of our users. Our team spent multiple occasions back with our target users and stakeholders to validate our ideas - it would be a waste not to emphasize our conversations and decisions!

Pitching to Investors

Key Concepts I Applied

  • Pitching

  • Group presentation skills

  • Persuasion


We pitched to a total of 9 investors that came from diverse backgrounds, including Samuel Sturgeon, the Manager UX Research at Purple. 

Although we did not win with our pitch, I am extremely proud of our entire journey and I still strongly believe that our service, Pipod, holds value to our stakeholders.


For the future, I think that with more details on the features of our product such as a more developed interface walkthrough, pricing, then testing this product with real students to receive feedback (testing out MVP), we can persuade more people the relevance of our service.  


From this experience, I learned more about effective pitch presentations and how to develop a digital sergice from beginning to end. There are many details that one could include into a presentation to better persuade an audience that a product is feasible and will be successful with others in real life. Having the content is one aspect but being able to show others is another challenge.


I hope to also work on how to encourage engagement and investment in a team project. How could I interact with others or develop a project in a way that many members in a team feel like they are excited to do work and see potential in the work. I think I could have tried to encourage more of this interaction in the team to allow more diverse opinions and self-autonomy into the development of the project.