Neighborland was my first foray into the world of early-stage startups. I was employee one, doing design and front-end coding, working beside the CEO (literally) and CTO (figuratively, over Google Hangouts) from prototype through pilot, full launch, and first pivot. Three years of non-stop learning!

“Designed for
local action” was the motto and the North Star.

The model we launched with reflected a bias towards action. Users created ideas for their cities and neighborhoods, built support through their social and email channels, and moved from idea to action by proposing resources, fundraisers, and events that would move ideas from the conceptual to the actual.

“Meeting users where they are” was key
from the start

“Go where the people are.” One of the most crucial components in the Neighborland UX was meeting people where they were, whether in the digital realm or in public space. A focus on accessibility ensured that even visually-impaired users could make a contribution.

Using the Twilio SMS API, even those who did’t have access to a computer or smartphone could contribute their ideas and receive notice via feature phones. Events and installations in public space allowed Neighborland to reach users in places they care about, bringing the ideation process from the application into everyday life.

Being able to take what I had learned from my work at Cal about both driving strategic product decisions while creating reusable code, styles, and design elements helped us move quickly as we chased both our goal to create real bottom-up civic impact and a revenue-generating business model.

One of the biggest lessons? Don’t be precious about your work! Early-stage startups need to be able to turn on a dime, and the work to help users stay on course moves just as quickly. Being able to index for speed while keeping our integrity made Neighborland’s early years tough but invaluable.


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