Digital natives are the generation of children that were born into a digital world. Unable to recall a time prior to the World Wide Web, they rely on digital technology to an extent that’s never been witnessed before. This new perspective on interaction presents an opportunity to engage millennials and their younger counterparts Generation Z in life-changing ways, from education through to career choices.
In addition to her day job as PwC’s Innovation Manager, Marina Paronetto is the brains behind a digital platform that aims to empower teenage girls to become entrepreneurs. Having recently secured funding for her project, Marina is embarking on building an app that will encourage young women to learn about business by curating an online storefront to a network of approved buyers and trusted mentors.
Digital Pulse spoke to Marina about how she crafted the concept for the platform, using methodologies such as design thinking and lean development to bring the idea to life.
Why did you choose a digital platform as the method to reach young women wanting to build their skills in business?
I chose a digital platform because it could scale and for the ability to build a continuous user experience. It also allows users to engage in the platform at their own pace. That said, we also intend to partner with schools and other organisations to provide a face-to-face, hands-on program as part of a holistic learning experience.
The digital element also helps us to better understand our users and gives us the flexibility to quickly iterate, resulting in a more sophisticated and useful tool.
You conceived the idea of creating a digital storefront to help foster entrepreneurship but in a controlled way. Why did this appeal as a solution for your young audience?
Several of the ideas behind the platform are based on a mixture of hackathons and existing e-commerce sites in the marketplace. However, e-commerce platforms are designed for adults to use and, while some of them bring an educational or tutorial element, the learning element is not very integrated.
If you decide to use one of the current platforms to become a third-party seller, but you otherwise lack business knowledge or training, you can definitely find helpful resources in parts but it’s not a seamless experience. You have to go outside the platform itself to learn what you’re doing, then bring this knowledge back.
That was one of the differentiators for our digital platform: to bring the learning element closer for the benefit of an underrepresented demographic. This allows our young users to learn about entrepreneurship as they’re completing the tasks required, which I haven’t yet seen.
At what point through the design process did considerations such as a trusted mentor and ensuring a safe environment come about?
As the idea for the platform evolved, one of the things that changed was the focus on privacy and security, which is key for the intended teenage demographic. Each user can nominate a ‘trusted mentor’ – say an older brother, sister, parent or teacher – who is made aware of their progress, interactions and customer base. Mentors can also help bounce ideas around and aid the customer acquisition process to grow the business.
The inspiration came from my previous experiences in weekend startup hackathons, which I have been doing since 2011. These events gathered like-minded individuals and mentors in the same room and were very energetic, fun and successful. However, while people would have great business ideas there, they did not necessarily have the skills or team to put them into action.
What was your development process, from idea through to execution? Did you use any particular methodology?
The idea for the platform came about when I was looking for big problems that needed solving. One problem that stuck out was how to make business more exciting for young women, helping them become more confident when making risky decisions, and to be brave and trust their creativity.
I developed the idea using a combination of design thinking and lean methodology: engaging future potential users early on in the development process. I wanted to be able to talk to the girls, to understand their needs, drives and challenges. I also wanted to discuss the initial ideas with them and have them co-create the service. That’s a particular strength of design thinking: don’t just know your audience, build a meaningful relationship that values their input and helps them to reach their potential.
I did begin the project with a few assumptions. For instance, we know teenage girls are eager to sell products and get paid for small jobs at home, but would they be open to doing so through the use of a digital platform?
This assumption will be tested when the platform is put out there and reactions are measured. Currently, we’re working with schools, girls and parents to validate and develop the service, and I’m very open to evolving the idea based on these experiments. As someone who uses these methodologies in my work with clients, I’m excited to get a taste of my own medicine in the real world!