Should early stage start-ups invest in user research? The whys & hows of it

Sonal Malhotra
Nov 27, 2020 · 5 min read

The biggest conundrum for early stage start-ups is the constant tussle between resource constraints and the desire to build an exceptional product that gets funding. In this scenario, letting your target audience help you build the product of their dreams could really benefit.

If you are an early stage start-up or are at the brink of kickstarting your business, read on.

To begin with, let’s assess the constraints that your start-up may be facing:

Less Time

You have tight deadlines to ship your product.

Less money

At early stages, you have a limited budget and are constantly looking for investments.

Limited human resources

Since you are building your team from scratch, you are still in the midst of hiring the right people. You and your partners most probably are multi-tasking across various functionalities of your business.

Focus on launching the product and expanding it’s reach

In early stages, your main focus is on getting your product to the market and reaching your target audience.

Besides the above stated very genuine constraints all start-ups have in their early stages, there are a multitude of misconceptions too which inhibit the founders from prioritising user research. Some of them are:

Myth 1: User research is expensive

If you assume all research work is high-cost research, you may be missing out on the benefits of getting user feedback early on. There are a variety of low-cost research methodologies one can utilise.

Myth 2: Investing is UI design is good enough

UI/visual design doesn’t replace the value of good user experience (UX), for which you need to connect with your target demographic.

Myth 3: Research is time consuming

You may be running on tight deadlines and that may deter you from investing time in conducting research sessions with your users. Fret not, for time-stretched start-ups, multitude of agile methodologies are at your disposal.

Myth 4: Founders know what their users want

If you or your team believe that assuming the role of the user yourself will lead you to the right insights, you may not realise how an outsider will react when introduced to your product for the first time.

Myth 5: Friends and family can give relevant feedback

There are social pressures for them to tell you that they like the product and they don’t want to be too harsh. The outcome may be biased.

Myth 6: Testing the product, once ready, will do

It’s a much safer strategy to invest in user research before doing the full product design & development effort. Sometimes it is too late to make modifications after development as it costs more time and money.

Now that we have covered why delaying user research is not a good idea. Let’s look at the advantages of doing user research from the get go.

Advantage 1: Product differentiation

Good UX is no longer a nice-to-have, but one of the core differentiators between a new startup and its more advanced competition.

Advantage 2: Substantial long term ROI, low UX debt & tech debt

If you are committed to constantly employ user research, you will be able to track the ROI of user experience informed by users. ROI in the long term is always way higher than short term monetary gains of skipping research.

You can avoid costly fixes of development problems later down the road (tech debt). You can even avoid complete overhaul or mega changes in product design (UX debt) if the probability of a “less than ideal” solution is reduced by checking with the users throughout the product lifecycle.

Advantage 3: Access to deep psychological insights, better UX

User research adds value to the product where market research can not. Surveys can get to the “what” but qualitative studies get to the “why”.

This in turn helps in designing an effective user experience that increases acquisition and retention.

Advantage 4: User-focused company culture & enhanced collaboration

If you build an empathetic, user-focused company culture that aligns the product and business strategy with the core needs and goals of users it will lay a strong foundation for a high quality product.

Besides, it will help your team collaborate better as you can solve differences in opinion of “what should we do now?” by replacing it with the phrases: “let’s test it” or “let’s see what the research showed us.”

To make things more concrete, let me introduce the varied contexts in which you can make use of user research:

A context list for user research

As you noted above, there are a multitude of situations in which user research is a great value-add! Though it is also understandable that due to resource constraints, you may be perplexed on how to make best use of limited manpower & time to get things going.

Hence, here’s another guide to help you decide who can pick up research tasks as per your start-up stage:

I hope you find the guide above useful! You must utilise the power of user research in all aspects of your business whether is it product, service ecosystem, value proposition development or communication design. Having said that, if you are a product firm, product research is a non-negotiable.

As per the stage of your start-up, here’s a guide on how you can go about conducting user research for your product:

1. Formation of the start-up: The main goal at this stage is simply to execute on anything, which the startup can then leverage to obtain funding.
2. Most crucial time as you are busy detailing out exactly what your product will offer.
3. The stage of ironing out any issues before your product sees the light and is exposed to your user base.
4. Now that your product is out there in the market, you need to develop a cycle of getting feedback and making modifications to make your product closer to the needs & desires of your users.

I hope you realise how connecting to your users from the get go is the secret sauce to making products your users will come to love and associate with. Consider your users to be your collaborators and see how your product soars great heights!

Make products for your users with your users.

Did the list of whys and hows inspire you? How will you connect with your users and develop a long lasting relationship with them? What concerns you about incorporating research for your start-up? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


From idea to product, one pixel at a time.

Sonal Malhotra

Written by

Artist/ UX research manager at Grab



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