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UserTesting success story: How 3D house printing startup New Story builds donor trust

| July 24, 2018
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‘Human insights’ has a different definition when it comes to the origin of New Story, a San Francisco-based non-profit that builds homes and communities throughout the developing world. Recently, CEO and co-founder Brett Hagler stopped by UserTesting’s San Francisco office to discuss the past and future of the tech-forward philanthropic organization.

On a visit to Haiti, years after the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands, Hagler was shocked to see survivors still living in tents. The statistics alone were alarming: over 1 million people were left without permanent shelter following the natural disaster. But actually seeing the enormity of the problem in person rallied Hagler and his three co-founders towards resolving the problem of global homelessness.

Hagler pointed out that as Millennials, and thus digital natives, he and his co-founders “had a different take on how a non-profit should operate.” Added Hagler,

We noticed that the technology, innovation, and principles that drive the best for-profit tech companies were missing from the non-profit space.

The team believed that technology could provide a greater level of transparency and accountability thus encouraging donations, much like for-profit crowdfunding websites. He cited examples that have eroded the public’s trust, including scrutiny over how (perhaps even if) the $500 million raised by the American Red Cross for Haiti was spent.

As a OneWorld grant recipient, the team turned to UserTesting to learn how they could communicate and differentiate their mission and unique process to earn donor trust. They learned that donors were skeptical about their 100% Promise, where all private donations are allocated towards homebuilding. (Corporate donations are used towards the non-profit’s operational costs.)

Additionally, they discovered that donors wanted more information on how exactly their donations were being spent, down to the faces, names and other information about the families for which homes were being built.

These insights informed website updates, including an informational page on their 100% Promise and recipient profile pages that provide the biography and photos of the recipient families and breakdown of house-building costs. In doing so, New Story effectively humanizes the donation process, cultivating a more personal relationship between donors and recipients.

Photo: Adam Brophy

And when the families move into their new homes, New Story creates move-in videos showing donors the end result and the family’s reaction. Because in reality, the passing over of house keys is not simply a means of ingress. It represents the foundation for a family to rebuild their life—in essence, a new story.

To date, the team has created 15 communities, a total of over 1,700 homes, in Haiti, El Salvador, and Mexico. Towards this effort, they have created 3,300 construction jobs, giving local residents useful and transferable skills to continue building out communities.

And they have recently garnered a lot of attention following the debut (at this year’s SXSW) of their next major venture: partnering with printing company ICON to create the first 3D home printer. Still in the testing phase, the 3D house printer can produce a freestanding structure in 12-24 hours at the cost of $4,000 per house.

Hagler explained that this project represents a separate trajectory for New Story: design and technology applied towards the needs of exponential problems, such as following natural catastrophes where quickly produced, low cost and high-quality shelter are immediately necessary towards the preservation of life. (The original model involving local workers remains a strategy for tackling the more linear problem of enduring homelessness.)

New Story describes this new venture into 3D printing as “forward-thinking technology to achieve a quantum leap in speed, affordability, and quality.” Though a quantum leap, it is a step in the same direction as New Story’s more humble beginnings: exploring where technology and a new way of thinking can bring about massive shifts in the non-profit experience to achieve faster and better solutions to help those most in need.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to learn more about how UserTesting can help you understand your customers through on-demand human insights, contact us here.

You can also learn more about and apply for a UserTesting OneWorld grant here.