Journal

Introducing Protern.io (or what I've been doing for the past six months)

December 5, 2019

After leaving government in May 2019, I joined Proskida.

Proskida is a Whitehorse, Yukon technology start-up that first had success making and selling performance measurement sensors for cross-country skiers. Their software takes data from Proskida grips and provides coaches and athletes with tools to track and analyze results.

What drew me to Proskida is that its team had a big vision for their next version of their software. They wanted to take it to another level with better usability and more refined features. The hope was also to expand into new markets.

For me, the past six months at Proskida went down like this.

Step 1: Assemble the team

During summer, the Proskida team were mostly located in Whitehorse. We have a developer in Calgary who made several trips up for a week at a time.

Together, we worked at Northlight in a small room at the end of a hallway. It was a warm Yukon summer, so there was plenty of days where having six people with six or more computers in the room produced a lot of heat. I love heat, so it was great!

Summer office
Office selfie by Alastair. My empty desk in the corner.

Amongst the team, I was the oldest. Two of my co-workers were more than half my age. No matter, it was a fun experience working with people whom if need be I could probably pass off as my children.

Team on the Yukon River shoreline
Team on the Yukon River shoreline.

Step 2: Plan and build a prototype

When I arrived, there was already the beginnings of a working, but very rough prototype. We were able to re-use the Proskida software code as a base and grow it from there. Still, it was clear we also needed to all agree on a direction and start working towards it.

To accomplish this, I immediately organized and led a MoSCoW session that took place over several days. Together we identified the key features of the new product and talked through each scenario of how they could be used. We came up with a large list of things to do and sorted each into a backlog and began to plan our sprints.

After this planning session, several weeks went by where we made a lot of progress. This included building features as well as finding our feet as a company.

Step 3: Design a new product and platform

As with all start-ups and newly assembled groups, success as a team takes patience and trust. You have to be patient with everybody because we all work differently and at paces that are sometimes at odds. You have to trust your team-mates and be willing to let them stumble, fail and learn from mistakes, and they of you.

After a few more hectic weeks, I started delivering what would be the new vision for the software product. This involved early stage designs for how the product may look and work based on user research, customer interviews and our own testing.

We went through a lot of iterations and revisions during this testing. One of my favourite memories is riding our bikes around a nearby elementary school seeing who was quickest and watching our data stream in.

Photo of paper sketches in a pile
Some of my paper sketches. I went through a ton of paper.

By the end of June, our team had made a lot of progress with the prototype. By July, we decided that we should initially focus on a single market: alpine ski racing. By doing so, we would have a narrower scope and more easily understood feature targets.

Digital prototype sketch
Yukon College has some very cool digital whiteboards. We used them for prototyping ideas.

In July, Alastair (CEO of Proskida) took our prototype to Zermatt, Switzerland where on the glacier, he set ski teams up with phones, sensors and our yet-to-be-named product.

Alastair watched them use it and talked with me and others regularly about what he witnessed and heard. I sent questions of my own back and got the answers I needed.

Zermatt testing
Testing our product in Switzerland.

We took this information and used it to make the prototype and my designs better. It felt like we were finally starting to find a solid direction. The product really started to take shape.

Step 4: Apply the new design to the prototype

Our team kept plugging away on the prototype while waiting for me to finish my design work.

After it was "good enough", we had the new design built as templates and a few weeks later, we began to merge my stuff with the functional prototype.

As a group, we made constant adjustments as we went along and I helped with integration using my ancient but apparently still very useful HTML/CSS prototyping skills.

Screenshot of early design work
Some of my early user interface design work from July.

Speaking of helping, I assisted with product names. We went through quite a few product names before finally landing on Protern.io in September. #startuplife.

At this point, half of our development team returned to university. We were now down to two developers (Anthony and Kieran), Alastair and myself.

Step 5: Ship the thing

From October to November, it was a mad rush to get our product out the door in time for the World Cup alpine ski race in Lake Louise. During this period, we also worked on marketing, pricing and sales plans so we could be ready for a team trip.

Team trip? Yes! The four of us got together in Calgary, Alberta and found our way to Panorama, B.C. where we officially launched Protern.io and started doing demos with potential customers.

It was an amazing experience to test and see our product being used by some of the world's best coaches and fastest skiers.

What follows are some of Protern.io's key screens.

Quantriq builder
Quantriq builder. This is how you define what, where, when and whose data you want to see.
Quantriq detailed view
Quantriq detailed view. There's a lot of data hidden away by default. Dig in.
Quantriq detailed view with modal window
Quantriq detailed view with modal window. Charts! Graphs! Detailed data!
Quantriq detailed view with geo-hero map
Quantriq detailed view with geo-hero map. This shows who on your team was fastest where.

There's a lot more to the product, but those are some highlights.

We continue to receive great feedback from our customers. We've also already made ourselves a long list of features to add and improvements to make.

I look forward to the next time I can be part of user research on the product; it's one of my favourite tasks. Seeing what I've made in the hands of someone else is such a thrill. User research is a rewarding and energizing activity for me.

User research with Alpine Canada Para-alpine ski team
User research with Alpine Canada Para-alpine ski team.

Step 6: Keep selling and improving

We've now entered the phase of showing the product off in demos and selling Protern.io account subscriptions to teams around the world. We will continue to add features, make improvements and observe how coaches and athletes are using it.

More information can be found at Protern.io.