How Prototyping Product Ideas Internally Helped Us Launch Filo

Chad Hostetter, High Alpha’s Senior Product Designer, outlines how prototyping product ideas internally helped us launch Filo.

Article by
Chad Hostetter - Senior Product Designer

At High Alpha, we start new businesses using our proprietary Sprint Week process. All of our Studio companies are born out of this intense, focused, and uniquely unstructured week.

The idea behind Filo, the first collaborative platform for virtual events, meetings, and teams, was first introduced to me during a High Alpha Sprint Week in San Francisco.  At the end of the week, our discussions and research led to a compelling idea for a Discord-like, always-on work experience for teams. 

At this point, we thought it was an exciting concept. But it was pre-pandemic, and we had some concerns like: 

  • How common are fully remote teams? 
  • Will teams want to work virtually or hybrid this way? 
  • Is this the right time to start this business?

These questions were enough to press pause on the idea… very, very briefly.

New Problems in a Remote World

Like many tech companies, High Alpha became completely remote in 2020 due to the global pandemic. Since then, we have committed to being fully hybrid. 

At the time of our transition to remote work, we were fortunate to be fully-functional while away from the office. But like many businesses, we knew we would face problems.

The prospect of conducting Sprint Week while remote was top of mind. However, we weren’t sure we even could perform this highly collaborative exercise since it had always hinged on in-person brainstorming and collaboration. 

At first, we thought we might have to cancel Sprint Week altogether but quickly recognized an opportunity to solve this problem through software (and potentially start a new company). 

Lucky for us, we already had a head start with the idea for Filo. All we needed to do now was simply get started.

With the help of Filo Co-founder Matt Compton, we set out to build and use Filo to help us run Sprint Week remotely. It was the perfect use case to refine the idea while testing our solution on everyone involved.

But we only had five weeks until the next scheduled Sprint Week, so we got to work quickly to design and build the first iteration of the platform.

Building Filo 1.0

To build the first version of Filo, Matt and I led a small product team of engineers and product designers to rapidly prototype our way to a minimum viable product (MVP).

I’ve been involved in every Sprint Week since High Alpha’s creation in 2015. So, I understood exactly what we needed to create to make Sprint Week possible. We broke the needs down into three pillars:

  • Unstructured collaboration
  • Work status/context
  • Asynchronous communication

Unstructured Collaboration

“Unstructured time” is critical to a Sprint Week team. At the start of every Sprint Week, our entire team clears our calendars, and we have very few scheduled meetings. 

Throughout the week, you will find Sprint Week teams gathering into small groups. They pop in and pop out of conversations regularly and need to be collaborative yet have the option to go “heads down” on their own. This structure is easy when you can walk in and out of a physical room, but we didn’t have that option during the pandemic. 

With that in mind, we didn’t prioritize scheduling meetings. Instead, we designed an experience that allowed users to join and leave a video call as quickly and efficiently as possible. We called these collaboration spaces “Rooms” and built them to play along with the fast-paced tempo of Sprint Week. 

Work Status/Context

Working with others while remote has many challenges, and one of the most glaring is the lack of context. Most physical spaces allow us to use our sight and hearing to build context and make assumptions, but we lose these context clues while remote. When remote, we aren’t sure how or when we should interact with someone, so in Filo, we wanted to create an easy way to designate what you were working on and whether you were open to being disturbed.

We solved this by creating work-specific rooms. For example, if I’m working on product UI, I might be in the “Product Room.” At a glance, my team understands what I’m working on and potentially who I’m working with, giving them more context so we can work efficiently together.

Asynchronous Communication

Communication is obviously very important during Sprint Week, but we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and certainly didn’t have time to do so. “Rooms” were our solution for real-time collaboration, but we needed a way for teammates to communicate asynchronously.

For the MVP version of Filo, we built a simple Slack integration that allowed users to quickly move from Filo to a Slack direct message with a button click. This feature was simple but very useful for Sprint Week and beyond.

The First Remote Sprint Week

After five weeks, we launched the MVP version of Filo in time for the fully remote Sprint Week. The High Alpha team and our Sprint Week guests were the first testers and users of the product. I couldn’t imagine a better way to get feedback and new ideas so early on.

We were so excited by how this product was solving our problem at High Alpha. While many companies are moving to a hybrid model, we saw an opportunity to share the solution with other businesses. We began to talk with potential customers and dream about the future of the product.

A few months later, Filo officially announced its company launch in December 2020. Since that time, we’ve also been using Filo for hybrid Sprint Weeks and our virtual events like XO Summit and High Alpha Flight School. You can hear more about the Filo founding story from Co-Founder and CEO Matt Compton in this video below.

If you’re interested in trying out Filo for yourself, you can find their website here. 

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