/I turned my interview task for Google into a startup

I turned my interview task for Google into a startup

Over a year ago I was lucky enough to bag an interview at Google for the role of Visual Designer. After getting through several tough rounds I was faced with the notorious Google interview task. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the job. Fortunately for me, all was not lost as I fell in love with the task so much I co-founded a fitness tech startup on the back of that idea.

Here’s the story of how we built Tona, launched today on Product Hunt.

Interview task on the left www.tona.fit on the right

The dreaded interview task

The bane of all product designer’s lives is the dreaded interview task. We all know the drill: You have ‘4–6 hours’ to design a slick product, with a memorable brand and cohesive working method. No one acknowledges the fact that in reality, you’re about to dedicate up to 5 working days on this task, with the potential for them to ghost you straight afterwards.

When I interviewed at Google for the role of Visual Designer this was no exception. After two rounds of interviews later I was slapped with the infamous task. They presented three design challenge options to pick from, with a weeks notice and advised that we should spend no more that 3–5 hours on the task (wink, wink) and provide the following deliverables:

  • A low-fidelity overview of your proposed UX (wireframes or sketches are fine)
  • A high-fidelity mockup for one widget or interaction
  • Any materials you used to arrive at final results (paper sketches, explorations, etc.)

To be fair to Google, they did stipulate they valued the work process and idea generation above pixel perfection. But, as a designer, I can’t help but fuss over the details. I know that great visuals capture attention and that every extra minute of work can help you get the edge over a rival candidate. And so, the late night work began…

God is in the detail (interview task mockups)

The task

One of the options was to design a Fitness Class Leaderboard, as a regular gym goer, I decided to go for it. I figured it was a chance to flex my design skills in UI and UX, with a little fun thrown in. Fit-tech had already piqued my interest, as with my friends (and future co-founders) I had spent many evenings nursing drinks and musing ideas for a gym-class booking app.

In order to cut down the production time, I reused assets I’d already doodled during the class-booking app ideation. Then I duplicated the layout and web page presentation format that I’d used for previous interviews (check out my previous work for Shazam and for Hudl).

The holiday balcony workspace. Intentionally ruffled by design…

I always strive to be as efficient as possible by reusing components and assets, but the dreaded interview task still got to me. I racked up 30 hours of work trying to make Google love me. All on a week in which I was also on holiday… in the South of France, I was working until 3am on a balmy balcony in the town of Nice (not the worst thing in the world, but being on the beach or in the buzzing bars would have been a hell of a lot better).

As I really wanted the job, I put my all in. You can check out my final interview submission here.

Interview task on the left and Tona as it is now. Although the brand has visibly improved, the core facets of the product are still very similar

From the interview task to a business idea

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the job. I was told it was extremely close and that I should reapply in 12 months, but it seems my ideas weren’t out there enough to excite them… (so try and shock them, aspiring Googlers!).

This pragmatic approach was intentional however, I was already thinking ahead to how this product could sell to my local gym, or how I would use it next time I hit a class.

Whilst researching, I found there was no true platform for gym leaderboards. Ones that record and display metrics no-matter your gym. What I had in mind would record everything, from reps to distance, load to calories, seconds to rounds, max heart rates to one rep maxes. In your gym, or at home, and compare your results with friends, gym buddies and the world.

My mind instantly went to an app I love, Strava. I use it almost daily to record my runs to share and compete with friends. But, I also enjoy strength and HIIT training in the gym. With the gym leaderboard brief, I realised there was an untapped niche to create a social fitness platform for all gym based activity. Recording and sharing reps and sets, not just your distance and pace.


Fast forward to this week in May and we have finally released our product Tona check it out on Product Hunt today and upvote it if you like it! It has been one heck of a journey to get to this point. With plenty of ups, downs and mistakes along the way, of which I’m sure I could write plenty more on…

But looking back, one of the most interesting things is how similar my initial design for the Google Interview task was to where we landed today.

Explore sections of interview task (left) and live App Store version (right)

Filters in the interview task (left) vs live App Store version (right)

Where we are today

We have over 5,000 users planning, recording and sharing workouts from boxing to yoga, CrossFit to HIIT from Mexico to Japan, London to Los Angeles. In fact, our BETA users have burned two million calories collectively and lifted 500,000 tonnes. All of which are displayed in over a million unique leaderboards filterable by sex, age, weight and location.

Our gym solution is being trialled by 5 studios in our home town of London and we have international expansion in mind this year (if you are a gym owner, reach out to us at hello@tona.fit!).

Try my ‘interview task’ for yourself

Fortunately, this interview task had a life after completion. Unfortunately, for the most part, those weeks of work never do.

I hope this inspires you to treat future interview tasks, no matter your industry, as an opportunity to explore ideas beyond the first paycheck. You never know, there might be a startup in it after all…

The Tona app is free to use and available to download for iPhone, Apple Watch and pre-release on Android today. We also launched on Product Hunt today so would love your feedback there if you have a spare minute.

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