How to talk to users

by Eric Migicovsky — YC Startup School Week 3 — summarised

Source: Danielle MacInnes

“If you are the CEO, it is your job.”

“The best founders maintain a direct connection to their users throughout the lifespan of their entire company.”

“If you’re the developer, don’t think that you can escape this process just because you’re the person who’s coding…”

Sounds like we can’t hide from this. We should be happy to be in interviews.

Before we start, DON’T DO THIS

In an interview, “the first mistake that we pretty much all make is we talk about our idea.” Don’t try to sell your product. Learn about their problems in your problem area. Just intro yourself and nothing else.

Don’t talk about hypotheticals — “what would you do if…”. Instead ask about the last time they the thing.

And shut up. Don’t talk much. The loser is the one who speaks first, and you lose information if you speak first after asking a question.

Okay so how should you structure it? Don’t.

Eric suggests that informal and sudden (not planned) tend to work best and as such, we should have this built into our behaviour, appose to it being a planned session where you ask these questions.

Whether off the cuff or otherwise, try to understand what is going on with the issues they face.

The suggestions in the talk were to do user interviews without even looking at or mentioning your product first. This will nail down your idea and reason for what you are going to build.

Suggested Questions:

“What is the hardest part about doing the thing that you’re trying to solve?”

This can help you focus on the real benefit drivers.

“Why was this hard?”

They don’t buy the what, they buy the why. You will know what was most important here.

“What, if anything, have you done to try to solve this problem?”

Shows how important it is to be solved and hence can see if people care, find your competition and if tell you if you can monetise.

“What don’t you love about the solutions that you’ve already tried?”

This is a targeted way to get an edge on your competition.

Some more tips:

  • What would you like the solutions to do? Users will give their own requirements this way.
  • Instead of “Would you like this feature?” create a user flow and ask users “If you want this new product, put your credit card” to get some validation on if it is valuable — even if you don’t charge them at that point.

And you can find perfect first users by finding the largest scores from these questions:

  • Do you regularly encounter this problem? Hourly/Daily/etc
  • How much does this problem cost them today? Money/Time/etc
  • How large is the budget to solve this problem?

How to start speaking to people:

It is nerve racking. What can you do to prepare?

Test your user interview strategy on yourself.

What are the questions you want to ask and how would you answer them. How would you start them and hence yourself talking?

For me and, I wrote this:

How has 2020 and Covid been with your free time? > Yeah good, I think. I have done more exercise than ever(!) which is good, we moved out of London, but I haven’t had much of a social life (it’s hard over the net) and it is harder still to separate work and free time, and so my spare time has either been chilling out or doing hobbies - neglecting the social stuff.
> It feels like I haven’t spoken to many for a long while. Time has flown by weirdly - I can’t believe it is December. But I think some of the reason is this is because it is hard to separate my work, hobbies, and social, and we haven’t been doing much to remember like we would normally.
How has your motivation been through out it all?> Not too bad actually. There has been a lot of time for it I guess. How have you kept or made yourself motivated? > I track every hour of every day. It acts as some accountability on what tasks I’m doing, as well as a measure of loose progress, and a way to recognise how I’m actually prioritising my time. ………Do you use strava? What benefits do you get from it? > I like to review my efforts to see if I’m improving, and I like to track my progress when compared to months or years. Have you ever kept a diary?> No never, other than it being a momento and a way to get your emotions out, I see little value for me in those benefits and hence in spending that time on them.Do you track you money? > I do. I use Monzo to track my spending and use other apps to track my savings. Do you think recording what you do would be useful to other areas of your life? > I definitely do, so long as the output is actionable.When was the last time you reviewed what you did in a day?> I now do this daily through recording of my timeWhen did you list review a large period of time? > I do yearly reviews of my year, as much for a momento as I do for setting goals for the next year. …………How many hours a week do you think you spend working? > I would guess I do about 40 hours a week usually, sometimes more. Before covid it would have been a lot more. I am not including my side project in work though which is probably another 18 hours a week if not more.
How many hours a week do you think you spend do not working, not being social and not doing hobbies (playing on your phone, social media, etc)?
> probably a surprising amount. I would guess at least an hour a day if not 2. Have you considered tracking these to help improve them?...How would you do it? What would you like to know after tracking a few days.

The next step after that is to talk to friends.

They will be the least threatening and though may not be exactly your target customer, they will help you form the questions you want to ask.

Next reach further

“if there’s a specific target customer base that you’re looking to get feedback from, just try showing up.”

Basically, get involved in the group selflessly.

When doing interviews:

Take a lot of notes. It is amazing what you get from them later on.

Capture as much information as possible. Record and video if possible.

Keep it casual.

User interviews to track company’s product-market-fit?

…[The CEO of Superhuman] describes a process where on a weekly basis, he asks …“How would you feel if you could no longer use Superhuman?”

Very disappointed, Somewhat disappointed, Not disappointed.

He measured the percentage of users who answered the question, “Very disappointed.”

if 40% or more of your user base reports that they would be very disappointed if your product went away … That’s the differentiation point that it says, “If you get past this point, your product will just grow exponentially.”…

The blog post he references is here:

And just one more time :


Founder of and Product Owner @ dunnhumby; just genuinely interested in a lot of things. Built racecars, built electronics, now building software

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