Last updated on July 5, 2017
I keep forgetting this stuff, so noting it down for myself (and others).
1. Don’t ask “would you” questions, ask “did you” questions. People are unable to predict their behavior.
2. Don’t ask about your product, ask about their problem. Wrong question: “We have this product A – would you use it?”. Right question: “Do you ever have this problem B?” [that you think the product A will solve]
3. Only in the very end introduce your solution. Then ask openly what he or she thinks about it: “What do you see problematic about it?” Also ask if they know someone who would like this solution.
4. Listen, don’t pitch. Pitching is for other times – you DON’T need to sell your product to this person, you only need to hear about his or her life.
5. Repeat what he or she says – many times people think they understand what the other person is saying, but they don’t. Only by repeating with your own words and getting them to nod “That’s right” you can make sure you got it.
6. Make notes – obviously. You don’t want to forget, but without notes you will.
7. Make “many” interviews. Many = as long as you notice there are no more new insights. In research, this is called saturation. You want to reach saturation and make sure you’ve identified the major patterns.
8. Avoid loaded questions. False: “Is this design good?” Correct: “What do you think of this design?”
9. Avoid yes/no questions. What would you learn from them? Nothing.
10. Focus more on disproving your idea rather than validating it. In philosophy of science, this is called falsificationism. It means not claim can be proved absolutely true, but every claim can be proved wrong. Rather than wanting to prove yourself right (at the risk of making a false positive), you want to prove yourself wrong and avoid wasting time on a bad idea. Remember: most startup ideas suck (it’s true – I’ve seen hundreds, and most will never amount to business – be very very critical about your idea).
As hinted in the previous, customer developing is like doing real research. You want to avoid false positives – i.e., getting the impression your idea is good although it sucks; and false negatives which is to conclude the idea is bad although in reality it’s not.
In general, you want to avoid respondent bias, recall bias, and confirmation bias. These are fancy names meaning that you want people to tell you honestly what they think, and you want to interpret it in an objective way, not being too fixed on your initial assumption (i.e., hypothesis). Be ready to change your opinion, like Gandhi advised.
About non-interview methods, i.e. testing via landing pages.
a. Force customers to pay from the beginning – this way you see if the thing has value to anyone.
b. Needless to say: MVP. Create first the non-scalable, bare minimum solution. This is not even a product, it’s a service. Use manual labor over technology and get the user information through free tools like Google Forms.
c. If you get a high dropout, you need to make sure people understand the USP. For this, you CAN ask your friends’ opinions: “Do you get it?” But prefer friends without prior knowledge on the project, because they have fresh eyes.
Before conducting any interviews or tests, do some market research based on facts. Yes, I know Steve Blank says to “go out of the building” straight away and forget about traditional market research, but he’s not a marketing expert. Think a bit before you fly out the door: Who are your customers? Why them? Do they have money? Do they want to buy from you? etc.
You can use this spreadsheet for segmentation (not my doing, just copied it from Sixteen Ventures):
Example questions from Cindy Alvarez:
- How is your customer currently dealing with this task/problem? (What solution/process are they using?)
- What do they like about their current solution/process?
- Is there some other solution/process you’ve tried in the past that was better or worse?
- What do they wish they could do that currently isn’t possible or practical?
- If they could do [answer to the above question], how would that make their lives better?
- Who is involved with this solution/process? How long does it take?
- What is their state of mind when doing this task? How busy/hurried/stressed/bored/frustrated? [note: learn this by watching their facial expressions and listening to their voice]
- What are they doing immediately before and after their current solution/process?
- How much time or money would they be willing to invest in a solution that made their lives easier?
More points from Cindy (she’s a real specialist):
- Abstract your problem by a level. For example, if you want to know whether someone will use a healthy lunch delivery service, ask about “lunch”
- Start with an open-ended “Tell me about how you…” question. i.e. “Tell me about how you deal with lunch during the workweek”
- Shut up for 60 seconds. This is a LONG, LONG time and it feels awkward. It also forces the person to go beyond the short (and probably useless) answer and go into detail.
- Whenever you hear emotion in the person’s voice, prolong that line of conversation.
- (You can prolong conversations by asking why/how often/who/where questions. It may take 2 or 3 or more of these follow-up questions to get at the interesting detail.)
- Avoid yes/no questions. Whichever one the person chooses, it’s probably not useful for you.
- Whenever the person starts complaining listen (and encourage it!) People are more specific with complaints than praise, and specificity is where you learn.
- Challenge your pre-existing hypotheses by referencing the mythical “other person”. For example, “I’ve heard from other people that ______. Do you agree?” It’s easier for people to disagree with an anonymous third party than to disagree with YOU.
- Avoid talking about your product or your ideas until the end – but then DO give the person the opportunity to ask you some questions. This is NOT a chance for you to sell your idea, it’s just an equalizer. You’ve been asking questions the whole time, now it’s their turn.
- Thank them profusely and reinforce one concrete point that you learned.
- Alwaaaaaayyyyys ask for referrals to 2-3 other friends who are roughly in the target market so you can interview them.
Here are some useful links:
If you have to read one book about this topic, read this one: http://www.amazon.com/Interviewing-Users-Uncover-Compelling-Insights-ebook
If you want to read another book, then it’s this one: http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Customer-Development-Building-Customers-ebook
If you need to read a third book, then you should stop doing a startup and become a researcher 🙂