Tips on User Research at an Early-Stage Startup

I read Michelle Lotia’s post titled, 10 Tips For Getting UX Research Off The Ground, published on Mind The Product and wanted to share my own experiences in this area.

As I was reading Michelle’s post, whilst very solid advice, I noticed it was pretty different to my recent experience. Michelle mentioned she has been doing this at Not on the High Street for about 6 months, so I’ll assume the company was ~50–100 people and starting to establish a research team. I’m working as part of a 7 person startup with 1 Product person (me), 1 UX Designer, and 0 Researchers. For the last 10 months I have been trying to get User Research embedded into our process and used in all of the decisions we make.

I don’t want to replicate lots of the great advice that already exists in books or blogs, I just want to share my real-world experiences and some tips on what I’ve learned helping embed user research into an early-stage startup.


1. Embrace imperfection.

Not everyone has read Just Enough Research, Lean UX, or whatever professional advice you have. Not everyone cares. At first I would get frustrated that our brand new processes weren’t text-book, or slick. Then I learned to embrace imperfection when I saw that slowly but surely with enough repetition things were getting better. Don’t get frustrated.

2. Recruit like Arnie.

Think of recruiting research participants like how you think about the gym; no one likes it, it’s long, expensive, repetitive, boring… yet completely necessary. Without great participants you wont get great results. It’s a necessary evil that you need to get stuck into, now. There isn’t a ‘one-solution-fits-all’ so get creative and mix it up. Pay a recruiter if you need to.

3. If people don’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Out of sight, out of mind. It makes life a lot easier if you have everything that’s going on up on a wall somewhere. If people can see what is coming up, what you’re working on now, and are fully involved in the results of what you’ve recently achieved, then people will be able to see the value of user research plainly.

4. Act as a coach.

If you’re reading this you’re probably the person leading the user research effort in your organisation. If this is the case, it’s important to coach your team on user research instead of taking on all of the work — not only is ‘user research a team sport’, but also no one will fully understand the processes or the value until they get their hands dirty. If everyone’s not involved, you will run into issues…

5. Don’t be cheap when recruiting

Inspired by ‘How to blow $100,000 saving money’ — don’t try and do everything for no money, it will cost you massively in time and final product quality. We have tried to save money recruiting ourselves, looking for alternative incentives for participants instead of cash, and trying to use our own system of logging user feedback, but all of these things have ended up being more hassle than they are worth. Put aside money for research purposes and you will find speaking to people a lot easier.

6. Just get started.

Just keep going — we’ve come on leaps and bounds in the 10 months since starting this. We are in a good place now, learning with each iteration. Every member of the team who has been involved is a completely different researcher to when they started.


These have just been a few of my experiences getting research embedded into a small, early-stage startup. I’ve probably left off a load! I’d love to discuss your experiences in this area — tweet me Joel Blackmore