A Quest for Product Market Fit Through Interviews — Storyly’s Odyssey

Cansu Tetik
Product @ App Samurai
11 min readNov 2, 2020
Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

It’s been a few months since I published a post about Storyly’s first launch on Product Hunt, in fact, it was not just about the launch but a brand new product adventure for our team in App Samurai. Since then, we’ve been exploring the in-app engagement universe, trying to get in the shoes of marketing professionals, getting to know the in-app lifecycle of a user as a whole, and trying to claim our seat in this giant ecosystem. In this post, I will share our techniques and discussions to interpret the interviews we conducted so far through our journey to find the Product Market Fit for Storyly.

What is Storyly?

First things first, just a quick summary: Storyly is a small-sized mobile SDK that applications use to bring the well-known story format to apps of all categories. Storyly stories enable the brands to use this endless space to showcase their content or even monetize using deals with their business partners. Thus far, as the name implies, we focused on the bite-sized story format; but actually, we are constantly endeavoring to find disruptive, advanced yet simple ways to make app marketers’ lives easier in the very compelling mobile engagement world (You can find the story of why we position Storyly as an in-app engagement tool in my previous post.).

As the first version of Storyly was essentially about the power of stories inside an app (any app), we launched Storyly 2.0 in which interactivity and its effects on deepening the relationship with end-users were under the spotlight.

Allow me to place this guiding statement from Marc Andreesen’s post on Product Market Fit before I begin talking about our efforts to find it:

“In a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the startup.”

The “pull” in this sentence made us think, a lot. It sure sounds easy to comprehend, but what is it really? To me, the answer lies within the Jobs-to-be-Done framework. I will get back to this shortly.

The Interviews — including the Sales Calls

Why JTBD?

Although no framework can cover everything in exploring the needs of your target audience and not a single one is a one-size-fits-all solution, using some JTBD practices has been extremely helpful during the way. When you search for the framework it is highly likely you encounter examples from B2C products or services. Storyly is built for app marketers (including social media and content managers), product people, app owners, and indie developers. Our primary persona is a marketing professional, trying to engage more users in the app and lead to more conversions if that suits the business model of the app.

Therefore we cannot undoubtedly fit the common JTBD examples to our interviews, because we build Storyly for making businesses better at beautifying their mobile apps, and reaching their goals; not for end-users directly. Even though Storyly users are advocates of the businesses they are working on, they are human-beings too. They have motivations. They have needs and they want things. They want to be promoted, they have different ways of defining and measuring success in their jobs, they have anxieties (for instance, most marketers hate having to communicate with the development team for their needs.). When we deep dive into their motivations, we figured that the aforementioned small list is a subset of why they can be our customers and how we can apply JTBD on them.

Coming to the pull force in Marc Andreesen’s quote, I will use Alan Klement’s notion on the Forces of Progress from his book When Coffee and Kale Compete to summarize this concept:

The Forces of Progress according to WKAKC

The Forces of Progress is a set of factors that affect the purchase decision of customers. Push and pull forces generate demand, while inertia and anxiety reduce it. I am not going into the details of these forces, but for the sake of clarifying what we had in mind as practicing JTBD in our interviews and also its strong connection with the market-product-customer relationship, here is a recap in a nutshell:

  • When people are doing well with their current situation, there is no internal or external push to change the way things are. External push happens when customers’ lives change somehow without their full control; internal push happens when customers are not just happy with their situation and want different solutions.
  • Simply put; pull is the direction of motivation. It can happen with the idea of a better life, eventually a specific product pulls the customer towards itself. The market pull from Andreesen’s quote above works just like the demand generating pull force that brings customers to a product. The market pulls the product and the product pulls the customer when you have the Product Market Fit. The market wants to make a progress, akin to the customer.
  • Anxiety in choice happens for the future at the moment of deciding to use a product. The “Is this product going to solve my problems?” feeling. Anxiety also happens while using the product, strikes when the customer faces a hitch about the quality of a product.
  • Inertia, by definition, is the tendency to remain still and unchanged. In Job Theory, inertia is usually interpreted as habits, as the habits that stand in the way of choosing a product (most people do hesitate to change their routines) and sometimes customers use the new product, but their habits while using the previous solution strike against the new one. This behavior likely ends up in churn.

Job Theory provides one perspective and is one methodology that guides us to figure out the root problems of the in-app engagement world. We have sets of questions for different personas and app categories, but it is safe to say that the Customer Jobs, as the theory, is the foundation of our interview sessions. In the interviews, we are constantly looking for the forces that motivate or demotivate our target audience about Storyly or any other solution as well as trying to get into the minds of their end-users.

Two main types of interviews

  • Problem discovery and validation. Explore the needs, understand what motivates the users, form hypotheses and try to validate them. If validation does not happen, leave while you can.
  • Product validation and optimization. Validate your product, test your MVP and prototypes, optimize, improve and move on always using the interviews and feedback.

We practically try to separate the interview sessions for the above types. Because there is the risk of getting into so many product feedback, you may lose your chance to discover the problems. Or, some users (specifically, if they are heavy users of your product) can give feedback of great value, if you use your one shot for exploring only, you may regret it later.

Initial interviews

Storyly started as a new ad placement in mobile applications for increasing monetization. While developing an MVP, we had countless interview sessions with potential customers. That initial interviewee group included enterprise marketers, startup founders, product managers, and so on. Our game-changing learning from the first exploratory interviews was this: In-app engagement and event conversion are more common challenges, and there is no such tool providing our solution. Also, monetization problems are much harder to solve. There is a huge implementation cost in programmatic advertising, and the market barrier is high. Thus, even though we kept monetization problems in our mind, we wanted to take smaller steps and focus on the engagement goals of mobile applications.

We knew by then where to put our core work.

Sales calls

Even in the sales calls, we try to find out the real struggles of the leads. We start with their needs and their KPIs, then we often shape the full discussion accordingly. We realized many problems and found ways to solve them, thanks to our conversational sales calls thus far. If I were to recommend just one thing about these calls, it would be to try to understand the how and the why, and do not solely try to sell your product. At least spend the first few minutes on the true problems and goals before jumping into money-making.

The end-user ties the knot

We, as a team, are frequent users of in-app stories in social media giants; just like the majority of our friend and family circles. That’s probably the number one reason for us taking this long to interview the genuine users of our product. We were unconsciously counting on our own opinions about the taste that Storyly leaves in the mouth. However, when we started reaching out to the power users of Storyly apps and e-commerce users who are also heavy social media users; we could easily see many opportunities and gaps to fill in.

Talking to end-users has another amazing effect;

When you understand what your customers’ users want or need, it is often much easier to get to know your customers and become trusted advisors to them.

This is golden considering the influence it has on communication with customers.

How all these could lead to PMF and the Product Zeitgeist Fit

Admitting it is highly controversial, product zeitgeist is a thing for Storyly. Although we dream a lot bigger now we first designed the product as the most popular in-app content and ad format of today: stories. There is an impossible-not-to-see vibe around stories starting from the social media platforms (even Linkedin has stories now!), to the shopping apps, finance apps, apps of all verticals. Therefore, if there is “an age” for stories, it is now. The most important benefit of product zeitgeist, from our point of view, is the ease of explaining the product to everyone. You do not have to be in the software industry, you do not have to have a college degree to understand what Storyly does. This is a great advantage. A simple tool, solves greater problems on its own.

Coming back to interviews, we use the interview outputs to extract the possible deliverables. There is the list of how we categorize the deliverables, with the responsible departments:

  • New product features & improvements — Product team
  • Additions to sales collateral — Product team
  • New use cases — Customer Engagement team
  • New marketing content — Marketing team
  • New case studies — Customer Engagement and Marketing teams

We then discuss the list with the Marketing and Customer Engagement teams, just to make sure we are on the same page about the insights we got from the interviews, the actions to take, our interpretations, the greater outcomes of each, and finally which type of interview (could be end-user or customer interviews) led to this deliverable need.

A small snapshot from our interview deliverables for Marketing and Customer Engagement teams

We argue on and review the business values and the priorities of the insights and possible features mostly within the product team. The deliverable list reflects how the interviews affect our roadmap. We even use the well-known Near, Next, Future syntax for defining approximate deadlines. Note that we try to jot down job stories for each feature (motivation).

I will exemplify to visualize how we form these product features and improvements. We try to extract the patterns we encounter during the interviews, but here I will tell you about two of the most obvious and clear statements:

  • Product Tags. A daily user of an e-commerce app said during an interview: “I would like to see the shoes and clothes in a context without the feel of an ad, and see the prices right there where I am. When you swipe up and you abandon the page, I wish there was a way to know the prices of the pieces that I am interested in only, without getting lost in a collection of clothes and shoes and leaving my story experience.”.
    We wrote a job story on that (which can be seen below), before we interpreted this as a new product “tag” feature on stories, the patterns show that this is something the e-commerce users want in Instagram stories and even in the app. A tag will appear with a single tap on a story, and only include tiny information about the product that it is placed on.
  • Branching Stories. Or conditionally changing the order or even the existence of stories. One of our customer interviews was with a product designer from a giant e-commerce app. She mentioned how they are working for the best personalized shopping and styling experience for the users. This requires trust, and they know they have to win millennials and Gen Z for the highest KPIs because they are the most “aware” customer segment. She added: “If only we knew about their wardrobe, we could help our stylists be better at giving personalized recommendations. But it is difficult to accomplish that digitally. In-app surveys are not immersive enough and we cannot measure their benefit instantly. That is just a place to gather information for later use.”
    Her job is quite obvious; she wants to differentiate how they collect personalized data; right from their users in a unique, responsive, and fun way. When we evaluate this, we figured out having Bandersnatch-like stories could solve her problem. She will be able to ask a question to her users, and the next story changes according to the answer the user gives. Using this, the e-commerce app can build up the most suitable style for the user, and gamify the whole process so the younger generation would love to contribute.
A small snapshot from our interview deliverables for Product team

These lists are helping us find the PMF together with customers and the end-users. Moreover, there is a huge cross-team work here that increases the synergy and we are proud of that.

Does Storyly have “a-ha” moments?

There is arguably always an “a-ha” moment for Product Market Fit, I believe it is hard to see the perfect resonance between a product and customers effortlessly all the time. It does not happen in the blink of an eye, rather it is a process. There is a popular saying about PMF, again by Marc Andreesen: “…you can always feel product market fit when it’s happening.”. We are definitely getting there.

The market pulled Storyly out of App Samurai; we are growing, our customer base is as fast as our development pace, and we are investing in a larger team.

Source: https://www.boredpanda.com/if-it-fits-i-sits-9/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

Here are some reactions from our sales calls and customer interviews that make me feel the sweet breeze of PMF:

  • A shut up and take my money moment during a video call: “I want to throw money at the screen right now.”
  • On the fifth slide of our sales deck: “We already bought Storyly now, you don’t have to continue.”
  • From one of the biggest news publishers in MENA region: “You have a very solid, nice product.”
  • “It’s a game-changer, congrats on what you’ve built.”
  • “I fell in love with Storyly. I don’t know why I have not heard about it before. Storyly should be in all apps!”

We are confident and proud that we are building a product that solves real problems. This only occurs when you listen and understand your users, their needs, in our case, even their users’ needs, and the things that motivate them. It is a quest, a long journey finding the PMF.

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