Thanks to the work by Eric Ries and the Lean Startup movement, startups are using the scientific method to build products, test markets, and grow their userbase and revenue. One of the tenets of this movement is for founders to "Get Out Of The Building" because there are no answers inside your company walls. Typically, this means that you need to use networking skills to meet with people in your market, validate your idea, and understand the pain points they have. While this is a mandatory approach before launching your MVP, it is extremely hard to get out of the building when you are trying to move from MVP to a great product.
Since launching Postwire at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC last May, we’ve done hundreds of product releases. In the same time, we’ve grown our DAU several orders of magnitude while keeping the same team size. Our four-person product team consists of three (killer) engineers and me. Depending on the hour, I do everything from wireframes for new features, triaging user stories and bugs in Pivotal Tracker, doing calls with partners, testing changes before we release, to handling the lions share of the live chats in SnapEngage and support requests in Zendesk. Given all of that, how am I supposed to find time to get out of the building to validate our idea and market?
Ever since our first beta release, we’ve had SnapEngage and Zendesk set up for Postwire. At first, it was rare that we had more than a few tickets a week. On a typical day, we now have at least 10 live chat requests and another 5 support requests. While it is sometimes annoying to deal with support questions and issues, this gives me and my team ~15 times a day to interact with our users. We could simply answer their question and move back to “our day job”, but we’d be missing a huge opportunity to learn. Here are some ways that you can leverage this opportunity:
1. Ask Why - Always get to the root cause of their question
A user chatted with me the other day asking if we could turn off commenting in Postwire. Since commenting is a pillar of the social interaction in Postwire, we do not have a way to turn it off. Instead of telling him no and moving on, I asked “Why would you want to turn off comments?” It turns out that this user is CEO of a company that runs clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies. He currently uses six-figure cost software to syndicate content for these trials, but he thinks Postwire could do a better job. The one problem he had was that he couldn’t allow comments due to privacy rules. We have a meeting on Friday to discuss kicking off a huge trial with him, potentially meaning thousands of paid users for us. If I had simply answered his question, I would have missed this opportunity to help him solve a problem that our product is very much capable of solving.
2. Ask how they describe your product to their colleagues or friends
If you are lucky enough to get 15 live chats a day and you ask this question, you are aiming to get the majority of them replying with a similar message. If there is a large variance in answers to this question, it’s probably a good time to revisit your messaging on your homepage and in your marketing content.
3. Ask them how they heard about you
I know that most of us have Google Analytics, Mixpanel, KissMetrics, or some other analytics system tracking all of our users, but there’s nothing like hearing first hand where a user heard of you. Was it from another user, press, your blog, or somewhere else? Since users who reach out to you can be your most valuable early adopters, you can use their responses to acquire more people like them.
4. Ask them to describe one thing that really annoys them about your product
We’ve been asking this question since the beginning. At any moment, anyone on our team can rattle off the top three annoyances that our users have. We use this as a constant reminder to balance new features with improving what we already have. The best part about this question is that when you fix it, you gain some huge fans.
After asking one of these questions, you’ll be shocked about how much the user will open up. The best part is they are using your product in the moment they are chatting with you so their ideas are fresh. Also, I’ve found that users who are the type who use the live chat are the ones who will be your best users in the early stages. They “get it” and they’re typically willing to bear with some workarounds while you round out your product.
If you don’t have a live chat capability, implement one immediately. This is the easiest and most lean way to “get out of the building” without having to extensively network and spend time at coffee shops away from your team.
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