For most early stage startups, user experience, like marketing and human resources, is a luxury. A bright idea is born, and few people hurriedly work towards developing a building a tool or a service that meets a need.
In many cases, however, this need is assumed. And, in those same cases, this assumed need is wrong, or at least not close enough to be make the purchasing decision easy for your customers. At the end of the day, this is really the only thing that matters: making sure that someone will use/buy what you have to offer.
In today’s fast-paced economy, where many entrepreneurs are worried about getting out the gate faster than an imaginary competitor, many startups are not focusing on discovering the true needs of their end users. For those of you with an idea and who are thinking about starting to write your first line of code, take a step back, and think about talking to your first customer instead.
For whatever reason, many businesses have an issue asking their users for ideas. This folly is not limited solely to the startup space; large organizations, devoting thousands of man-hours to implementation efforts, also suffer from this lack of user focus. The difference is, large organizations can afford to spend years re-positioning or redeveloping product offerings; your agile startup cannot.
Many companies also rely on market research, or market research’s lazy cousin,
By engaging with customers, you can begin to assess what is critical, and areas that you might not want to be wasting valuable cycles.
Getting Started with User-Centered Validation
Empathize with your end users.
Personally, I think Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur were spot on when talking about the value of customer insights in Business Model Generation. I believe there is one point that is particularly salient to the product design capabilities in any startup:
“What does your customer need to get done, and how are you going to help?”
Spend some time with a few customers (defined as “people who will buy your product”) to see if your idea will fit a need, and if your offering would be a likely candidate. This is not an opportunity to be discouraged; in fact, this is an opportunity to take feedback, refine and do your first round of in-market research. Continue to involve these customers throughout the design of your product, and seek continuous feedback.
Check your ego at the door.
As Cam Linke (@camlinke) is fond of saying, “Ideas are like babies; you can’t tell if yours is ugly or not.” Chances are, you might have an ugly baby, but its important to know now, and not later. Your customers will tell you what you need to hear: where you can improve the concept, where the strengths are, and if it just plan sucks.
Don’t limit yourself to one customer.
If you have the time, talk to as many people as possible. Yes, I understand you’re trying to stay under the radar, but if you’re worried about someone stealing your idea, this is another opportunity to check your ego at the door. Chances are, if you start by engaging your customers now, they will let you know about competition that you didn’t even knew existed (and yes, there is competition for your next great idea, I promise).
Don’t be afraid to become a lightweight user experience designer.
You may be really technical, but I have faith in you. Build wireframes, and sit down with your users. A few hours in Visio or Omnigraffe, and thirty minutes over a cup of coffee will save you hundreds of hours going down the feature creep rabbit hole.
So, what next?
Once you have had the opportunity to start conversations with your customers, now you have the opportunity to refine the scope of what you’re delivering. Use this as an opportunity — you’ve now had the opportunity to create a champion in the marketplace, and solicit your first customer.
Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing articles speaking with entrepreneurs and their successes (and failures) related to engaging their customers to build better products.
This does not mean that your customer is always right.
Your parents and your friends don’t count; they are not going to give you the feedback that you really need to hear.
In order to support some of the objectives outlined in this article, there are a couple of books that I recommend in order to provide some fuel for the fire.
Four Steps to the Epiphany
Business Model Generation
Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur