We set out to create the best plant care app the world has ever seen
We all know the struggle of keeping a plant alive. Unlike a baby that cries when it’s hungry or a dog that barks when it needs to be let out, there’s no way for our leafy green friends to let us know that they’re thirsty, lacking sunlight, etc. While some plants, like Snake Plants, require very little maintenance, others, like succulents, require a lot of attention. And for plant parents that have their own little jungle (no joke – we interviewed someone who has an entire bedroom for their plants), it can feel nearly impossible to keep them all alive and thriving.
Seeing a gap in the market for a plant care app that was both functional and beautifully designed, our team of two product developers, a product manager, a product designer, and a marketing specialist joined together in the name of all plant-kind.
Our goal was to help plant novices and experts alike track plant growth and keep their plants alive.
To start the process, we went through a Feature Sprint with Justin Mertes, an Agile Coach and Design Sprint Facilitator. In this meeting with developers, stakeholders, the product owner and the marketing specialist, the team was able to hammer out the MVP and basic branding for what is now known as Vera. Here are a few of the exercises we ran through:
Throughout the process, we were able to leverage remote tools, like Miro, to catalogue our progress in a digital space. This also allowed our Product Manager, who was remote, to participate. Check out our YouTube video where we dive into more detail about this process.
Our product owner was the decision maker for this meeting, though she considered the overall consensus of the group when making her decisions. Between the outcomes of this exercise and our Lean Model Canvas (see below), we felt confident in our decisions and prepared to move forward with design and development.
Along the way, we received validation that a plant care app was needed. We found a kickstarter that raised over $38K and had the same basic functionality as our own app. Though the app never went to market, the concept generated a lot of excitement, especially among Android users.
This kickstarter, along with this Reddit thread around Plant Care Apps available for Android users, showed us that people were still interested in the concept, and they were even more eager to support an Android version of the app. There were several watering reminder apps on the market, but we knew we could distinguish our product through a beautiful UI and consistent updates.
Additional validation came through a tool that shows us the number of Google searches for specific keywords. We could see that there were hundreds of monthly searches for an app that could help people take care of their plants.
From there, we decided to bump up our SEO strategy and create a marketing website that would be optimized for the keyword ‘plant care app,’ which averages 170 monthly searches. We included the phrase in our metadata, product description, URL, and within our name on the app store.
In addition, we reached out to the owners of the web page that was ranking really well for these search phrases: Opus Grows’ article on 5 Apps That Will (Kinda) Guarantee You Won’t Kill Your Houseplants. They were already planning to update their list, and they were more than happy to add Vera as a watering reminder app.
Since Vera’s addition to their list in December 2019, the article has driven 3,381 users to Vera’s website—nearly 87% of our overall traffic! You can see when the link was added near the end of December:
We also conducted competitor research to see what complaints people had about apps similar to our’s, so we could avoid these pitfalls from the get-go. Here are the main complaints we found:
“Desperately needs a data saving feature, possibly linked to your Google account”
“REALLY wish there were a way to snooze notifications…Either that OR if the notifications would tell me WHAT needs watering, so I don't have to click the notification (therefore dismissing it and losing my reminder).”
“Would have liked some watering history or graph, so that I can correct/adjust the watering.”
“I would like a growing diary on each plant with pictures we can add notes to.”
“A big downside is all the pop up ads. I would consider paying for a "full" version without ads if available depending on price and additional features.”
“I would like a photo album to document progress.”
Based on this information, we knew that we needed an app that could:
ALL without annoying pop-up ads that would distract from the user experience. We had quite the road ahead of us, but a clear vision for what our MVP would look like.
Once we knew what our MVP was going to look like, the next step was getting screens designed and translated into code.
We used Sketch to create screen designs and brand elements, including Vera’s logo and mark. From a brand perspective, we wanted Vera’s modern look to serve as a differentiator from the other plant care apps on the market. Instead of going for the stereotypical green primary color, we used blush tones to help us stand out. The team always knew the UX/UI was going to be what set us apart from our competition, which is why our we took bold approaches to showcase this aspect from the get-go. Learn more about our design process in this YouTube video.
The core of the Vera app was created using React Native, Expo and Firebase. Crema is mostly a React shop, so jumping over to using React Native framework came naturally. We used Expo to help build and deploy our app for both iOS and Android devices. Firebase has been an incredibly valuable tool in terms of scaling and managing user data. Our goal was to build an application that would have the same performance with 10 or 10,000 users. You can learn more about our development process in this YouTube video.
The fact that our app is on the Google Play store has given us a competitive advantage in this space, since a lot of the more popular plant apps are only on the Apple store.
One of the smartest moves we made was bringing on a Test Engineer to file bug reports and help brainstorm solutions to common problems our users were facing. We wanted to make sure the quality of product was up to Crema standard, and having Ashley on board gave us an outside perspective.
Ashley’s first goal was to test the app throughly from front to back and scour for bugs. These tests were manual and involved her interacting with one of our test devices as a Vera user would.
Ashley then tested the upcoming features to ensure a solid release. One of the main challenges she ran up against was limited time to test. To help with this challenge, she created a test list that focused on the core functionality important to Vera’s users. That way, she could make sure the next release was ready to go even with limited time. This also allowed for other teammates to test for the release as well.
While our plant was in Test Flight, we were able to get user feedback and iterate from there. We also conducted a few user interviews to help us gauge what functionality the app would need to incentivize users to pay for a Premium version.
On top of scouring our reviews and site form submission for feature suggestions, we also added a pop-up in the app that would ask users whether they would like to send feedback to the Vera team. This pop-up prompted dozens of people to email us with feedback. Based on what we were hearing, users really wanted:
Using these key components, we’ve created a Premium launch strategy that will address user requests, keep our app ad-free, and ensure funding for future iterations of Vera.
With our Premium release on the horizon for April, the Vera team is excited to turn happy users into a revenue model that can support the app for months to come. If you’re interested in downloading Vera, it’s available on both the Google Play Store and Apple Store. To learn more about the app, visit our website, follow us on Instagram, or watch our Youtube video about the process!
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