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Following is a case study summary, reach out for a walkthrough of the full case study.


Helping users answer life’s big financial questions.

Hired as the second employee, as well as product design and user research lead of this early-stage, Y Combinator-backed, business-to-consumer (B2C) fintech startup.

The Challenge

Our mission was to help people answer life’s big financial questions, starting with the challenge of first-time home buying. Before SmartAsset, financial calculators, one of the tools available to learn about personal finance, required information that users did not have readily available, were prone to financial jargon, did not explain financial trade-offs or guide decision-making, and tended to be biased, as they were built by lenders and other financial institutions.

Right after I signed on, SmartAsset was accepted into Y Combinator, the renowned startup accelerator. Immediately, the four-member team headed to Silicon Valley with the clock ticking—we had three months to design, develop and launch the product for demo day.

The Solution

Understanding users

SmartAsset’s goal was to be more than a calculator; it strove to help users understand financial trade-offs so they could make informed decisions.

To understand first-time home buyers’ experiences, I recruited research subjects with ads on online real estate listing sites to find active first-time buyers.

Rapid prototyping and usability testing

As time was short and we had to be efficient, paper prototype testing with wireframes was performed using members of other Y Combinator teams. As the product started taking shape, moderated and unmoderated usability tests were conducted to validate ease of use and user understanding of recommendations.

Simplifying the user experience

Rather than asking many challenging questions to users SmartAsset only asked six questions that any user could answer. With this information, SmartAsset advised users:

  • How much home they could afford
  • Whether it was better to buy or rent
  • Tax implications based on location
  • And much more

Working with the team, we were able to not only reduce the number of fields for the user to enter financial data but also remove complexity from the user and move it behind the scenes.

Visualizing trade-offs

A great deal of effort was put into creating interactive visualizations and information that help users learn about the process and how different trade-offs would affect them, to increase understanding and illustrate the trade-offs of decisions.

SmartAsset, How Much Home Can I Afford?
How Much Home Can I Afford?
The first of six tools helped first-time home buyers understand the process and decisions they will need to make.

[SmartAsset] is one of the best done sites I’ve seen and I wish I had had this site when I purchased my house.

Robert Scoble

The Outcome

The outcome was a web application that:

  • Asked only a few questions that users could answer off the top of their heads
  • Displayed dynamic text to deliver targeted recommendations with easy-to-understand explanations
  • Provided interactive data visualizations that helped users learn about financial trade-offs
Landing page

Right from the homepage SmartAsset dazzles with its good looks. In fact, while I was using I couldn’t help but think that it looked like an interactive infographic.

Dean Sherwin, AppStorm.com

The Impact

SmartAsset was ready in three months and presented at Y Combinator’s demo day—a key milestone, as 85% of companies not ready on demo day never launch.

  • Positive splash in the press
  • Raised $1.5 million in a Series A fundraising round
  •  30% of first-time visitors became users of the site

What is great about [SmartAsset] is its usability. It is simple, looks good and you don’t spend a second trying to figure out where to click.

Thom Rogers, Hoop.com