In the new world of big data, everyone in the startup community seems obsessed with collecting data and making data-driven decisions. For the most part, this is a healthy obsession. New analytics platforms like KISS, Mixpanel and Localytics are providing great tools for product managers and marketers to better understand what’s happening inside their apps and web products.
We’ve also developed great processes for defining success from a metrics standpoint. Aside from K-factor for viral apps and standard retention metrics for paid services, we have frameworks like Dave McClure’s Startupp Metrics For Pirates that help any startup with customers think about their product-market fit goals from an analytical view.
These innovations have been net positive for business building, but they can also enable a bigger problem: they allow entrepreneurs to analyze metrics as a replacement for talking to real customers. in truth, it’s way easier to look at a Mixpanel screen than it is to talk to a person about your product. First, no one wants to face judgement directly, they’d much prefer to have it distilled into a bad retention metric. Second, talking to users is noisy – it’s really hard to pull actionable insights from a handful of conversations.
Analytics can provide us a window, but they don’t give us a narrative for how people think about our products, how they think about competing products, or even what they think of our value proposition (assuming they even know what our value proposition is). The narrative around a given product will inevitably be the leading indicator of success or failure, but analytics will only give us a sliver of insight around it.
Depending on your product type (consumer and enterprise startups should handle this problem differently), there are a few tactics you can employ to get more narrative-based feedback on your product. None of these will cost you much more than time, but they can save you months of incorrectly deploying your resources.
1. Follow Michael Margalis’ Quick and Dirty Consumer Research. Michael is a partner at Google Ventures’ Design Lab. In this video, he offers a wealth of information about how to find and interview users. The video is 90 minutes and every single minute is worth watching. I cannot recommend this video enough for the discovery phase of your product development.
2. Have Users Test Competitive Products. If you want to build a great product, see where people are getting tripped up with your competitors’ products. The best part about this is that you don’t have to build anything to test competitors’ products. Aside from identifying UX / UI opportunities, you’ll quickly understand how users feel about products in your category, and how they fit them into their lives. Most technology products are used to satisfy a need – understanding how people think about their needs and solutions is as important as any metric in your analytics dashboard.
3. Talk To Your Existing Users. There are two primary ways to get in front of your existing users – phone calls and email surveys. I’ve found that both are great for different goals. Survey’s tend to get you ‘crowd-sourced’ style data points, general sentiment towards your product (e.g. satisfaction scores, net promoter scores, etc.). They can also help influence your product roadmap. Interviews are better for the narrative questions – how do your users think about your product, when do they use it and what need(s) does it satisfy?