How to Start a Startup — W08

How to manage. How to run user interviews

Here are a few takeaways from Stanford/Y Combinator CS183b — How to Start a Startup — Week 8 lectures.

Lecture 15 How to Manage Ben Horowitz, Founder, Andreessen Horowitz, and Founder, and Opsware

Lecture 16 How to Run a User Interview Emmett Shear, Founder and CEO, Twitch

How to Manage

“When you are making a critical decision, you have to understand how it’s going to be interpreted from all points of view. Not just your point of view and not just the person you’re talking to but everybody else, even people who aren’t in the room and even the people you hate which is hard to do when you are a CEO and harder to do when you are leading the revolution. In other words, when making critical decisions you have to be able to see the decision through the eyes of the company as a whole.”

How to run a User Interview

  • Who you talk to is as important as what questions you ask and what you pull away from it. There is no recipe for figuring the target user for your product.
  • You need to answer the question: “Who is my user, and where am I going to find them?”. Figuring out where to source people is harder than you think it is.
  • There are actually a lot of groups that aren’t necessarily obvious users but who are potentially critical to your app’s success. At the beginning of your startup you want to have the broadest group you possibly can.
  • When running the first set of interviews don’t ask questions about optimizing user flow or its specifics it can be distracting because users think they know what they want and will ask for a faster horse instead of a solution to the actual problem.
  • Just because you don’t get anything out of talking to the first person doesn’t mean there are not going to be more people who actually have a problem. It is important to talk to different extremes of people. Go find people who are different.
  • Once you have an idea how do you know if this something people would actually switch to? You can validate that by building something and see what happens or go do user interviews to test that idea further before you start building it.
  • Avoid the question “Is this feature actually good or not?” The one thing you don’t want to do is to show users a feature and ask them for feedback. If you ask, “Is this feature good?” often they would say, “Oh yeah that’s great.” but when you actually build it, you find out that while they thought it was a clever idea, no one actually cares enough to switch.
  • Money Test — Sales is the cure-all for this problem. It’s one of the most validating things that you can do for a product. Get people to give you their credit card and I guarantee you they are interested in the feature.
  • When you talk to expert users of your product, you will receive very detailed feedback. If you think that you should go and address these problems you are wrong. If people are using your service in spite of those issues then that means they are probably not your biggest problems. So compare groups of people and compare the level at which they argue.
  • At Twitch, the people who used our service cared about completely different things than the people who didn't use our service. We focused on the latter because this was the stuff that was so bad that people weren’t even willing to use our service.
  • If all you do is look at your competitors and talk to people who use your competitors’ products you are not learning enough to expand the size of the market. You want to talk to people who aren’t even trying to use these things yet. People who thought about it maybe, but who aren't into it. Find out what they say.

User Interview Mistakes

Most startups don’t do user interviews, but the ones that do their most common mistakes are

  • Showing people your product. Don’t show them your product. It’s like telling them about a feature. You want to learn what’s already in their heads. Avoid putting words in their mouth.
  • The other thing is asking about your pet feature direction. Don’t ask people, “Would you pay for a subscription? Would you use this feature?”
  • Another big mistake is talking to people who are easily available rather than people that you really need to talk to.

Record Interviews

  • Record your user interviews. There is something magical about showing your team the real user interview than asking them to just build. Recording interviews also stops you from taking notes which can be disruptive.

Repeat User Interviews

  • The really important interviews are from a pool of people that you care about and this pool is going to shift over time. The people who get you started for the first six months are not the ones who will be using your product three years later. It’s very important to keep doing these interviews.

*Photo by: Tau Zero