startup / product design

horizon direct

Date: 2014-2018
Client: Horizon Direct
Role: Managing Partner and Director of Design

In 2014, I launched a startup with my high school friend that provided a digital solution to money remittance for the Filipino community in Canada.

my role

2014, I was asked to join the Fintec startup as a managing partner and the sole designer tasked with the design and execution of the corporate branding and UX. I continued working as a managing partner and director of design until October 2018 when we closed operations of Horizon Direct.

Customer Insights & Ideation

Working directly with the CEO, I translated customer and industry insights, as well as design HIGs to create a unique and user-friendly mobile experience for Philippine expats.

Design Execution & Validation

I executed wireframes, prototypes and motion tests to communicate to our partners and shareholders for validation.

Leadership

The managing partners and I worked in a lateral management setup, so designing and presenting to get buy-in was rather quick throughout the development lifecycle.

First set of wires when we were working with the Ripple (XRP) crypto currency network.

The Challenge

disrupt the remittance industry

Roughly 10% of the Philippines’ GDP is made up of money sent from expats abroad with $2.2B coming from Canada alone (as of 2014).

The inspiration behind Horizon direct starts at the brand's roots. Being of Filipino descent, our CEO has routinely sent money home to family members. Along the way, he discovered significant flaws in the service currently provided. It was an industry built on:

  1. Physical storefronts in inconvenient locations.
  2. Unreasonable operating hours.
  3. Costly transaction fees.
  4. Moreover, the desperateness of a community.

Surveyed customers would argue that the pain points were simply “…a reasonable annoyance…” if it meant the safety and prosperity of their family back home.

So, we set out to find a digital solution that would solve all of these pain points — making the process of sending money abroad cheaper, reliable and more efficient with one’s time.

Established competitors that mostly relied on physical storefronts and antiquated remittance processes.

The approach

Keep it simple

Banking apps tend to be quite challenging to navigate even for the savviest of users, so to ensure a positive adoption and retention by our customers. I designed the experience to be simple to navigate with a light, and airy layout used typography that was clear to read and incorporated fluidity between pages, popup windows and prompts inspired by the Google HIG approach. By adding animations to the DNA of the app, the user experience was more enriched than your average corporate inspired banking app. Ultimately this was key in the perceived value and perception of the company.

When it came to interface design, we opted to design for the Android platform. As researched showed our target market was predominantly Android users. We would later port to iOS devices.

I designed an animated prototype of the app experience.

A prototype to sell through

I designed and executed a user journey as an animated prototype that walked you through step-by-step what the user would experience from initial login steps to completing a transaction and returning to the main dashboard. This prototype helped seed funds from potential investors and VCs for app production.

In anticipation of regulatory and financial approval, development of the backend architecture was started with frontend development starting after completion. By this point, I pivoted my attention to corporate branding and VC presentations.

Flowchart of the Horizon Direct transaction process.

The insights

Disrupting the traditional remittance industry meant cracking into the fabric of an expat community. There was distrust in the services received in most remittance outlets, but since they were so ingrained into the communities, it was wildly accepted as the norm. However, surveyed people disclosed their hunger for something different if it meant convenience, affordability, and safety, but the challenge was building trust in a digital solution with a target market that was less tech savvy. Boots-on-the-ground marketing played a substantial role in getting people to even consider a digital option before being enlisted for beta testing later.

Like our CEO, surveyed customers cited the following pain points:

    • Physical storefronts in inconvenient locations:
      • Customers would drive miles away, often in undesirable neighborhoods to save pennies on the dollar, compared to a location more convenient for them.
    • Unreasonable operating hours:
      • Operating hours didn’t match the working hours of customers, as most worked in caregiving industries outside the typical 9-5work cycle. Customers would often take time off work just to send money home.
    • Costly transaction fees:
      • Transaction fees lacked a fixed rate and varied between 3-8% of the funds sent. This could be very expensive for a low-income household.
    • The desperateness of a community:
      • Many outlets operate in specific ethnic communities and use that community familiarity to ensure a monopoly of choice. Surveyed customers couldn’t see a difference between one outlet and another. Customers lacked options, so they stuck with what was familiar.

The vision

Convenient. Easy to use. low cost.

By providing a digital solution to the traditional remittance model, customers could access our remittance service 24/7 via a user-friendly interface that clearly communicated costs, processes and transaction times. Our customers expected us to be trustworthy, save them money and do all the heavy lifting for them.

Flowchart of traditional vs. digital remittance.

We wanted to change the game by having cashless transactions arrive in the Philippines within a couple of hours instead of days at a rate that couldn’t be matched. Horizon Direct was set to be a household name in very little time.

We aimed for the experience of online remittance to be a no brainer, that happy customers would overzealously market us to other members of the Filipino community. With hopes that the word of mouth would carry over intoCanada and the United States.

The service

Horizon direct online remittance

Horizon Direct is an online money remittance service that offers a secure, safe and cheaper alternative to sending money to your loved ones.

Designed for the Filipino community, we understand you and your needs, and we offer a service that understands you, opened and available 24/7 from your mobile device or computer.

Screen collection of interface design.

easy to read dashboard

Customers can access essential information on their dashboard from pending transactions to today’s exchange rates. Sending money is one thumb click away.

Dashboard image.

Easy Recipient list

A recipient list lets you send money faster without having to fill out a long form. Updating the list easy to do, too.

Recipient list screen.

available payment option

Users choose how they want to send their money with a selection of credit or debit accounts.

Payment options.

easy to understand summary

The user won’t be confused with an easy to understand summary. Allowing them to know precisely how they’re sending it. To whom and how much it will cost them.

Summary screen before submission.

The framework

app to pWA

Our framework pivoted from Android app development to PWA (progressive web app), so we could free up development time from unnecessary platform porting and support to focus on frontend development and the backend transaction architecture solely.

Because our target market was continually changing, having a consistent and reliable experience was paramount to ensure repeat customer use and word of mouth marketing.

Easy steps

I designed the framework of the user journey to be as simple to complete in the least number of steps. Where I could reduce redundancies, all while ensuring that the experience stayed true to expectations and followed guidelines set up by financial regulators.

your friendly experience starts at the login screen

There’s nothing fun or nice about sending money, but we aimed to change that. We created a welcoming login experience by using warm colored imagery and positive welcoming messaging. Employing the fluidity of the Google HIG we created the emotional connection we were looking for.

Image of the login screen.

animation with emotion

Adding animations to the experience enriched the user journey from login to transaction complete. I aimed for small details to surprise and delight. I intended the transactional experience to be responsive to the user. Though the animated details aren’t what makes our services unique, we wanted to stand out as the go-to experience of how a transactional experience should be.

App loading animation and transition into the sign in screen.
Account access and dashboard transition.
Screen overlay animations and transitions between.

clean typography

The use of clean typography eased communication between the service and the customer, as well as, a refreshing change to the clunky interface design of standard transaction services. Design played a huge role in gaining our customers’ trust, as it displayed a perceived value compared to other financial institutions.

unforeseen service disruption

Because we were a small startup with no means to process vast amounts of transactions on our own, we relied heavily on partnerships with big banks in Canada and Philippines, as well as, several credit card companies.

We met every regulatory requirement, established numerous partnerships for transaction handling, piggybacked off pipelines and provided choice to our customers.

At various times between 2014-2018, many of our partnerships ended abruptly with our banking institutions. This contributed to severe service disruptions which affected our bottom line.

The execution

Shifting efforts to marketing

Furthermore, product design was put on hold to emphasize marketing efforts and maintain consumers. Shifting the focus on acquiring new consumers. In 2016, I moved to focus on the marketing side, assisting the new director of marketing before stepping away as a consultant. Allowing the rest of the team to handle the day-to-day operations.

The results

over 10,000 daily transactions

Our platform was well received, even with service disruptions, we were able to sustain 10,000 daily transactions at $5,000,000 in volume per month.

Unfortunately, due to several unforeseen circumstances, we collectively ended operations of Horizon Direct in 2018.

want to work together?