Head of Design & Product
After 7 years of freelancing, in April 2020 I took on a design lead role at Contact, a marketplace for booking talent in fashion.
With COVID-19 running rife, early 2020 was obviously a challenging time for companies and teams across the world. But I joined a team that had tons of drive, skill, and big goals. Contact wanted to scale quickly, add new creative verticals alongside their model roster, ship tooling for agencies, and potentially move from a curated platform to a fully open one.
My first 18 months was spent as a solo design lead, taking ownership over a variety of design projects, while collaborating with the wider product and engineering team.
One of my earliest projects was to put together a V1 of Contact for agencies. This would be tooling for agencies to manage their jobs and talent on Contact, but would also be used as internal tooling for our own operations team (who were essentially an “agency” within Contact).
I leaned on this internal team to discover more about job and talent management at an agency, but also spoke to various early agency customers to discover further insights about the end-to-end job and talent management process. How could Contact really make their lives easier?
I designed key flows for initial job approval, viewing and adjusting job details, managing talent responses, and post job completion tasks (payments, requesting imagery, etc). On the talent management side, I designed tooling allowing each agency to upload talent, add/edit their profile details, and manage portfolios.
The shortlisting and booking experience is arguably the prioritised flow on Contact, driving jobs and revenue through the product. While there was a functional flow when I joined the team, another of my early projects was to redesign the flow to feel like one seamless experience, rather than 4 or 5 separate views. We wanted bookers and brands to be guided through viewing and comparing profiles, shortlisting talent, entering job details, and eventually submitting the job.
Key goals here were successfully reached after shipping. The churn rate early on the flow reduced, and we started to see “higher quality” job submissions due to the guidance within the UI (suitable budgets, key details, etc). The increased quality in jobs submissions reduced the time required from the Ops team hand-holding each job.
I also explored other experimental features within this flow. Talking to creatives directors and producers made me hyper aware of how important mood-boarding and headshot comparisons are (e.g. do 2 or 3 faces work together for a shoot), so I began to look at tooling that could bring that experience into the product.
Digging deeper into speculative and experimental work — in 2021 I looked at “Contact Open”, our first look at how Contact could be opened up to all independent creatives, even outside fashion.
Eventually the project was paused in favour of an agency talent first strategy (and one somewhat focused still on fashion). Nonetheless, it was useful exploration that gained us a ton of insights through testing and user research. It also helped us present an eventual vision of Contact to potential investors, assisting with raising a new round in 2022.
Just like any startup, the marketing website was constantly evolving to reflect our ever changing focus and strategy. I took the lead on multiple iterations between 2020 and 2022.
Late in 2021, I grew the design team and hired the wonderful Rashmi and Mikey. My role naturally evolved, being slightly less hands on and allowing other designers to lead on the delivery. Nonetheless, I still collaborated with the team on a few different projects.
Like many marketplaces, retention was proving to be a key challenge going into 2022. We’d attract bookers, but not convert them to repeat customers or “active” users.
Gathering insights revealed many reasons why, but one particular area we wanted to look at was “sticky” tools. Features that would encourage more time on the platform from our bookers.
In the end this translated to multiple features and tweaks across the product, but one key addition was Bookmarks — allowing bookers to save their favourite profiles, almost allowing them to draft and plan a job before the details are fully locked in.
We also explored and designed a new booker's dashboard — bringing through features like bookmarks, key data points, and ultimately veering more towards serving our "power users", bookers and brands handling multiple jobs each week.
In the closing months of 2022, I took a lead on researching and digging deep into the key problems talent and agencies in fashion were experiencing. The results were quickly conclusive — huge percentages were still struggling to get paid fairly, either on time or at all.
While technology has started to transform payment standards within other technical and creative industries, fashion largely leaned on archaic and outdated methods. "Guaranteed payments" felt like a pipe dream.
Working with Arun Karra, I set about translating insights into a solid product and design spec for next day payments for talent and agencies on Contact, which also opened up a new revenue stream for Contact (through small fees).
In 2022, I took on leadership of both product and design — managing designers and product managers.
This felt a long way from 2020, when frankly, management and leadership was largely alien to me. As a long term freelancer, I hadn't even experienced having a manager since 2013!
Working towards leadership and management is one of the things I'm most grateful for from my time at Contact. It was a sharp learning curve, but a rewarding one. Being given the chance to hire and build high performing teams, shape a design and company culture, and ultimately manage brilliant people, was genuinely a huge privilege.
This was also a chance to dig deeper into product and commercial strategy. I took on ownership of the product roadmap, defining OKRs each quarter, and ultimately identifying how to grow and scale faster.
Before departing in May 2023, my final swan song at Contact was to oversee a "pivot" of sorts, moving from a focus on the marketplace, to a SaaS platform for agencies.
Our marketplace was struggling to grow at the rate we were gunning for. While the product was/is popular, we identified that the key barrier to growth was really down to two key problems:
Both of these problems could be solved be delivering a more valuable product for agencies. Each agency can onboard hundreds of creative talent alone, while the product landscape for agency job management tools outside of our marketplace offering was grim.
For agencies who were keen on the marketplace setup, Contact's job management was a dream. However, for agencies averse to working within a marketplace, internal management tooling is largely decades old, filled with poor design and inefficient performance.
In the last few months, I set about defining how Contact could enter this market and start to get real traction. This product roadmap was largely based around delivery table stakes features around calendar management and comms, while leaning into key USPs around instant payments and the mobile app for talent.
Looking forwards to the mid-term, Contact's focus is now very much on delivering this software for all sorts of agencies — from modelling to influencers, helping fuel potentially unprecedented growth later in 2023 and 2024.
Finally, I wanted to highlight the endless fun I had building out Contact's London HQ in summer of 2022 (as I'll happily take on this responsibility for any future employers).
While Contact has/will always be a remote-first company, after years of lockdowns and generally reduced social connection, we wanted to set up a London office and studio space for hybrid working, and shoots.
Being a 10 minute cycle away from the Homerton location we eventually found, meant I felt compelled to build out the interior — all on a standard startup tiny budget. Turns out even the most tragic looking desks look pretty snazzy when painted all white.
Eventually the collection of Gumtree and Marketplace purchases came together to form a lovely, light filled space. Since, Contact HQ has hosted working days, strategy days, endless shoots, parties, and now even has a small co-working community with desk rentals for creatives.