Designing a Blockchain Secured Delivery Service MVP Concept in the Sharing Economy

MuleChain aims to be the Uber of parcel delivery. The idea is that if you’re traveling from Singapore to London, you might want to earn some extra money by hand delivering a left behind item or important physical document that needs to be delivered from Singapore to London. Take it along with you, and simply get paid for the delivery. Using blockchain technology, we can have confidence in transaction, courier and delivery.

The founder, Ralph Liu, is a talented C level executive with years of experience in international banking and high volume worldwide transactions. Despite world class leadership and the timeliness of the product with the sharing economy in full swing, these are ambitious goals and there are serious challenges inherent to this parcel delivery model, not the least of which is the complexity of sourcing and relying on people who are already traveling to a particular destination in a time sensitive scenario. Nevertheless, the team and I were confident that all of the challenges could be addressed and greatly mitigated if not completely solved by leveraging technology. But that, of course, involves handling many complex tasks behind the scenes on the back end in order to make things accessible for the workforce.

MuleChain’s founder Ralph Liu delivering the keynote at the
Technology and Innovation Summit in Beijing

However, the subject of this particular article is how understanding the end user relates to growth of the user base.

I was brought on board to help design user interfaces and consumer facing apps for a widespread launch after the company’s alpha testing.

Logistics are complicated. You can imagine the layers of complexity when we’re securing a high volume of time sensitive shipments to thousands of layers with blockchain technology. 

Additionally, making blockchain understandable, making users aware of the value proposition of having records stored on an immutable blockchain, is also extremely challenging.

One of the major stumbling blocks to mainstream cryptocurrency adoption is ease of use. To this day, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies remain complicated for average users. There are plenty of strides to be made in the user experience of these new technologies, that many users can find intimidating or through lack of experience can make costly mistakes. Centralized systems have solved some of these ease of access problems, but this is still a challenge for cryptocurrencies.

One of my favorite illustrations I created of Bitcoin’s value proposition versus other payment methods

However, there is no need for user facing interactions with this foundational layer. Our users won’t need to do any complex transactions. They’ll be written to the blockchain – the MuleChain – but they don’t need to delve into the complex details of that transaction.

Still, in order for MuleChain to succeed, it has to have mainstream appeal and attract many users. Without the network being online and constantly running with what the company calls “Mules” (couriers) willing to participate in parcel delivery, the service will not be viable long term. If a shipper can’t get anyone to deliver a package for what they feel is a fair rate, they’re unlikely to continue using the product. First impressions are so important for this type of product. The first experience has to be memorable and bring the user success.

This process involves priming the pump of self sustaining system. Think about starting Uber. Scaling an always-on worldwide delivery network up from zero to service anywhere. Now that is complex. But the fundamental challenge or barrier to overcome here is gaining traction with users. 

Services that succeed at this can become profitable making only little money on each transaction. But the science – and art- of striking the balance between keeping service providers happy with enough demand, while keeping people making shipments happy enough paying the prices and using the service because of its convenience, which then perpetuates the supply, is incredibly complex and difficult.

That’s what we’re doing here, providing a 2 sided marketplace platform to facilitate a transaction between 2 other parties. There needs to be enough supply and demand at all times to keep the service running, and ultimately retain users.

If:

A. the value proposition is not immediately apparent to the user,
B. the interactions are too complex, and/or
C. the interactions do not perform as expected for the user when trying to accomplish their goal

then, the product is DOA

– Dan Martin

And this really is a simple cost-benefit analysis that all users unconsciously go through.

A great way to kill a product is to have it not working when people go to use it. Sometimes – most times – that’s your only shot, and you could lose them as a user/customer forever.

But, fundamental to solving this problem is helping to scale the user base of both providers and users by increasing the chances that everyone wants to work with us through having an easy to use App experience that sets them up for success.

Again, logistics is highly complex – can’t emphasize that enough – but simplicity for users is central to this business, even once everything is completely up and running, but especially for first impressions.

What we found in our research is that these drivers and delivery partners make up a diverse group.

However, they all shared a specific commonality, they loved the opportunity to receive instructions received from an App and if followed simply earn money. While the sign up process was slightly complex for these other services, once approved the tasks were easy.

Infographic from Uber

Based on research, the average target market for delivery partners on this service is the same as courier partners and drivers making money on UberEats/Uber/DoorDash/Grubhub. 

These workers just want to turn on an App, receive an instruction, follow it, and make money. They don’t want complicated processes and in many cases are not power users who can handle complex setups. They want to hit a button in an App, receive a simple instruction, and go and start earning money. That’s how these respective services gained traction in the first place. Ease of use. Let’s face it, no one wants overcomplicated processes getting in the way of making money.

The closer our User Experience is to these other services’ UX, the wider the appeal we will have and the more users we will retain. This is vital to the growth and success of the platform.

What would happen if UberDrivers suddenly weren’t available? Yes, self driving AI cars are coming, but not here yet.

The company has to handle all these logistics seamlessly in the background, so the users can simply open their app, and decide with ease whether to take a delivery or not.

I always learn about business operations on the ground, before making any final recommendations on directions for UI design. But there were important elements from the start, and intersection with other services like Uber, DoorDash and Postmates for example and in this particular instance, it was requested that I show the design team some early concepts of a fresh direction of where we could take the App’s visual style based on some research.

Besides my passion for cryptocurrency, I have a great admiration for services like Uber and DoorDash that automate complex tasks coalesced with actual human resources. I knew as soon as I learned about the driving force behind MuleChain that this service had striking similarities with other on-demand services.

While “Uber of x” has become almost a cliche in the tech space, MuleChain really is building the Uber of parcel delivery.

So here are a few early concepts of the initial design in the vein of Uber.

Concept of available pending deliveries
Concept of UI for requesting a shipment
Concept of delivery partners queue

I can’t emphasize enough how early these designs are. The team simply wanted something to show developers and the entire team a concept for a potential art direction and look and feel of the UI.

There are serious issues with some of the floating navigation and small text on apps like Uber. Some of these UI elements are absolutely terrible for people with visual impairments which has a great deal of overlap for people who use these type of services especially in a mission critical way. So MuleChain designs will strive to be more user friendly and considerate of people with disabilities, but the UI needs to channel the themes of mainstream Apps that offer similar functionality. These initial concepts need some work, but are more in line with big players in the sharing economy, helping to create a familiar experience and thereby making it more likely that people in these groups would also be interested in using our App.

I never like to reinvent the wheel when there are things in the market proven to work. But innovating and iterating as to improve shortcomings of “the wheel,” is my specialty.

Branding: What Works and Doesn’t Work

There are concerns with some of the branding around this product.

In order to create great products that succeed, everyone has to be open minded and sometimes that involves having to discuss difficult topics. I am a very down to earth person, comfortable speaking about any topic and rarely – if ever – offended. I only look at things from the consumers perspective and I have a great sense of how other people perceive things.

I don’t think any new product should be associated with contraband, nevermind one with the challenge of creating a new market and garnering mainstream appeal. And MuleChain has some issues regarding this. Not only is the word “Mule” in the name, which has connotations to running illegal drugs, but the entire premise of the business model is based around having what the company calls “Mules” or “MulePals” deliver potentially anonymous packages all over the world.

A recently released movie I caught on TV…depressing

There’s even a 2018 movie named “The Mule” about a guy forced into becoming a drug runner…

The idea around MuleChain is supposed reduce reliance on legacy couriers, improve shipment speeds, availability and cost. It’s supposed to open up opportunities and build trust in a peer to peer way and using an immutable record courtesy of a custom blockchain. But I believe this is undermined by the branding. When the goal is to build up trust, any company needs to avoid connotations to drug references. There’s already a Herculean task making sure the company image is trustworthy so we can gain users. The branding was conceived innocently enough, but it’s a little too on the nose in the wrong direction.

I’ve been advising the stakeholders accordingly. This is a work in progress.

In conclusion, I’m a huge proponent of blockchain technology and I truly believe every person has a fundamental right to privacy, and using these services as they see fit so long as it doesn’t harm others. But many of these ideas are not yet mainstream. It’s trending in that direction, and I am certain that cryptocurrency, blockchain, and specifically Bitcoin are going to push these ideas further into the collective conscience, but in the meantime, this is a business and the goal is to make money. We have enough challenges creating this new product, marketplace, new dynamic of parcel delivery and gaining users, so the strides we make with those tasks should not be undermined by a flaw in the branding and marketing.