Thanks for making yourself available! I’d love to know whether you’ve applied any customer discovery and alignment techniques to INTERNAL customers (ie. employees), and if so, how do you incorporate this data into your learnings? (For background, I’m interested in creating employee retention programs that are designed to support a diverse workforce who have a wide variety of needs, and yet still feel fair even if that means employees are accessing different levels and types of support.)
A lot of product advice centres around deciding what, when, and how to build new features. Do you spend any time figuring out what not to build? And if so, how do you make those decisions, and communicate them with your team and your customers?
Hey, Paul! I’m always surprised by how little I know about anything. No matter how much you read, how much advice you listen to, or how hard you try to imagine multiple scenarios when making decisions, I realize that you can learn only by doing. This sounds very cliché, but it is what it is.
When you work for somebody, you are limited in what you can do, so learning happens less often or is narrower. When you are running a company, however, you have a bias toward action. You have to do most things in the beginning, which means you do more, fail more, succeed more, and ultimately learn more, faster.
Running a business stretches you in ways you can’t predict. It’s a self-discovery process that I never experienced in any other job, no matter how much responsibility I had.
I’ve been surprised by the fact that even when you try to avoid silly mistakes, you can still make them and not even realize it. For example, everybody says: “Hire slow, and fire fast.” I knew this very well, but every time I had to fire somebody, I would somehow delay it and regret that it took too long.
I’m still surprised about how slow and bureaucratic companies are. Even the tech darlings that everybody loves can operate like government agencies sometimes.
I’m still surprised about many things, and I hope this continues to happen. To me, it means that I’m learning.
If I have to give any advice to anybody who wants to start a software as a service business, this would be:
Try not to raise money from traditional VCs. Plenty of new alternatives are available out there.
Be an example for your team. Do not expect anything from anybody that you are not willing to give yourself.
Find a therapist or coach, probably both if you can afford it. Your mind and emotions will be the biggest challenge—not the business.
Learn how to talk to customers. It’s not enough to talk to them, though; you need to know what to ask and how to interpret what they say. Make the best of each conversation. Listen, and forget about your ego.
If you are not technical, as in being able to code, learn how the sausage is made. You will have much better conversations and the ability to lead product development efforts more effectively.
Try a lot of things quickly, but don’t be reckless. This one is hard. You will understand the balance with time.
Try to understand the difference between persistence and idiocy. I still don’t know it.
Be good to people; your reputation and relationships will survive beyond your business.
Don’t lie to yourself. Pursue the facts with optimism.
Unfortunately, most stereotypes about lawyers and accountants are true. Find good people who understand your space, and constantly remind them that you need them to translate what they do in plain English so that you can make better decisions.
Related to the above, if you don’t understand something, ask as many times as needed. Looking stupid is better than being stupid.
Thanks for your question! With enough work and dedication, anybody can become great at research methods. What I appreciate the most about researchers is their ability to negotiate, communicate, and lead.
The same applies to designers. I’ve worked with many talented designers whose portfolios are mind blowing but they are unable to explain their design process, meet deadlines, proactively reach out to customers, or communicate basic rationales for their decision-making.
If you want to be a great researcher and work for businesses, try to understand what else is expected of you outside of knowing how to apply research methods.
I have talked to a lot of researchers who are frustrated with their work. They feel that nobody cares about their research outcomes, or they believe that their organizations are not using their insights. More often than not, they fail to realize that it’s their responsibility to communicate the value they provide and that they need to have a bias toward practicality and not academic perfection.
Focus on pushing the business forward while taking care of the quality of the research and the outcomes. All at the same time.
This is a very interesting question I’ve never done internal research in the way that you describe it, but I would imagine that the same principles of customer discovery can be applied. At the end of the day, you are trying to understand other humans. UX research methods are designed to help you to understand psychology and behavior, so I would give it a go for sure. The jobs to be done framework comes to mind. I always find it helpful in most research questions.
Hey, Jonny! I asked myself this question many times in the past, and this is what I think about it today. If I had to start a new business knowing what I know today, I would do my best not to raise capital from traditional VCs. With more alternatives (Indie.VC, Tiny Seed, Earnest Capital, etc.) in the market, you can build a big business without giving away huge chunks of your company or having to buy into the arbitrary VC game of funding cycles.
VCs have their place for sure, and I’m lucky that I have great ones on board, but it depends on what your long-term goals are and what success looks like to you.
I would definitely do an accelerator again, especially Techstars. The network is super helpful, and it delivers on the promise of being a lifetime partner. And, of course, the Amazon credits come in very handy
Having a few anecdotes is better than nothing, but I would question, are they from the same types of people? If so, what other types of people/customers whom we have may say something completely different? Can we talk to them, too?
For example, sometimes we talk to 5-10 customers and we feel we have a strong story there, especially when they are in a specific sector or at a particular company size. But later, we talk to customers in different sectors and realize that they have completely different sets of requirements, or perhaps they do not perceive the same problem with the same magnitude. Segmentation is the key here.
Anecdotes are great because you can use them as a jump-off point. You need to gather as many stories as possible from the segments you care about the most. Or, at least you need to have the intellectual honesty to say that these stories are true but only for customers who look like XYZ. Do we want to invest/build only for these customers, or do we need more stories?
Once I have identified a pattern from qualitative research, I normally go back and try to link it with the usage data or with any behavioral data we collect. Normally, it would come from our data warehouse, Amplitude and Fullstory. It goes both ways; we do some usage segmentation and notice a particular behavior, and that triggers a bunch of calls with customers so that we can understand the reason behind it. Qual triggers quant, and quant triggers qual. It never ends.
Great question! This is an ongoing process. The more you research, the more you understand. But my go-to techniques are case studies and online communities. Case studies with your customers help you to access the language they use to describe their problems, as well as the language they use to describe what success looks like to them. In the case of online communities, when customers talk to their peers, they are either providing feedback to others (aka trying to help) or they are being vulnerable and are asking for advice.
Either way, they are using words that reflect how they perceive their challenges and what they think is a good approach. They are looking for some sort of validation. The language they use in these conversations can unlock incredible insights for marketing messaging.
It’s very tempting to share EnjoyHQ’s customer success stories here, but if I have to think about a wonderful story about customer research saving the day, it would be Gobble. Ooshma Garg, the founder at Gobble, gave a very inspiring talk about how a relentless focus on customers saved her company. Definitely worth watching.
Many companies have always been customer-driven, and that passion and discipline become the foundation of their success—for example, Drift. How much love can they get from customers? ALL OF IT. They care about customers, and in return, customers care about them. Just spend some time on their Twitter stream and you will see customer love, and employees love spreading it every single day. It comes from having an amazing CEO like David Cancel in charge, but it also comes from having many empowered employees believing in the power of customer-centricity.
We shouldn’t think about customer research as the thing that will save the company from falling apart. Instead, we should think about customer research as a tool for building and growing the company—as a foundational framework, not as a tactic.
Thanks for the question! I would say that before releasing a new feature or an improvement, I know that we have something when I’ve heard about the same problem over and over again, we’ve put an initial solution (staging/prototype, etc.) in front of customers, and they react as though we have reinvented sliced bread. The excitement is obvious.
This does not mean that you will have a successful feature. It just means that you are on the right path.
After release, the only strong indicator I use is engagement. Are people using the thing?
We have released many features that had massive excitement at the testing stage and when released were never used or were barely used.
If the initial excitement is there but the post-release engagement is not, perhaps you just need to step back and figure out a more elegant, practical, simple solution, then do it all over again:
Talk to customers.
Show them initial solutions.
Release the first version.
Check engagement, and if not positive,
Go back to step one.
At EnjoyHQ, we had a couple of features that became successful after 5+ iterations.
Don’t kill stuff just because it didn’t work the first time around. If the problem persists, you still have work to do. That’s how I go about it.
I’m afraid we need some volume. If you only have 10 customers it is hard to see a pattern but there is one somewhere. If they are paying they most be paying for something in common. At the beginning it sucks because you don’t have a ton of data but keep listening and asking questions, trust me those patterns will emerge if you don’t stop being curious about your customers and passionate about solving their problems.
I think 5 customers is ok as long as you feel they are saying exactly the same thing. Almost no difference. If you have 5 conversations and they are similar but not repetitive enough I would talk to more people. You almost want to know that those 5 people could sit in a room and node at each other if they were talking about the problem they have. If that is not the case, maybe you need to talk to more. The number is arbitrary, is more about how many people you need to talk to in order to hear the same thing over and over again Does that make sense?
The way I think about it is mostly based on whether or not we want the type of customers the feature may bring.
For example, because we are a customer research platform, sometimes we have researchers in academia trying to use our product for their research, even though we can help to a certain extent we know that we don’t want to get into that segment because of a variety of reasons like pricing, the type fo features they need, etc, it is very easy for us to say, we hear you but we are not the right tool for you and we will not build the features you are requesting. I think it is a matter of vision and understanding where the product may be more successful. This is just one dimension of that thinking but generally speaking, if we are not helping the core target market deep enough we don’t build it.
Regarding communicating that to the team, we do a business catch up call every month with everybody and we discuss product strategy in-depth so this is an ongoing conversation, we don’t have surprises there