7 Reasons Founders Should Do User Interviews More Frequently

User interviews drive more than just the features and functionality of our products and services. Startup founders have found unexpected positive side-effects of conducting user interviews.

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Putting our heads down and building as fast as possible without user feedback is like walking up to the golf tee box on our first outing of the year with a 1-driver and expecting to land 250 yards straight down the fairway. It's technically possible, but ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, the ball will fly out of the tee box, crack into a tree 80 yards away, and forever be lost to the golf gods, leaving us in the same spot and a lost stroke.

As a technical founder, I know firsthand how easy and fulfilling it is to put our heads down and drive at a product for weeks on end. Seeing a new feature come to life that solves a problem we have personally struggled with is an unparalleled feeling; moreover, the visual evidence of output feels like we're making progress.

If we don't spend a significant portion of time conducting user interviews, we end up with a product that we:

  1. Spent five months longer to launch
  2. Don't know who to sell it to
  3. Don't know how to sell it
  4. Don't know how to market it
  5. Have no idea how to price it
  6. Can't explain it well to investors
  7. Have no way of getting feedback for it

Founders like us can avoid the six pitfalls above by conducting user interviews in the customer discovery phase. Below are six reasons why founders should conduct user interviews for customer discovery.

User interviews help founders:

1. Launch faster

Especially at the beginning of a startup, time is a scarce resource. The faster we launch, the quicker we can get feedback on our product and make improvements or pivot. Launching faster is the most apparent reason to conduct user interviews. By conducting user interviews for customer discovery, founders can prioritize the first feature that solves a problem. We feel confident launching a very minimum viable product because we know that the minimum solves one thing.

2. Define a precise market

Often we start by solving a problem we encountered in the past, so we need to find everyone else like us, right? Wrong. Who we sell to and who uses the product is often very different. Just as necessary, who we sell to at the very beginning, and who we sell to years into the work, is often different. Finally, the keyword here is precise. Who are the personas that we leave a user interview and feel the overwhelming sense of, "they get it!" What do they do? Where do they do it (country, company size, industry, etc.) I've had success in the past, asking the question, "How did you first learn that you needed to do x?"

Here's an example of what I learned in the first round of user interviews for The User Interview Exchange (UIX). I hypothesized a target market would be perfect for UIX was startup founders in the customer discovery phase. What I learned doing user interviews was that founders don't know what user interviews are or what customer discovery is. On multiple occasions, I heard that they only started doing user interviews after an accelerator rejected them, or an advisor shared The Mom Test book with them. Those who did them from the outset learned to do them from instructors in an entrepreneurship or UX course. In other words, selling to founders is an uphill battle. My target to sell to is accelerators, advisors of startups, and instructors, even if founders are the end-users.

3. Learn how to sell the product

Fancy folks call this partner or channel marketing. User interviews help us discover the precise moment our target market finds the problem and how they acquire the goods, services, and technologies we provide.

In a B2B business, are there specific platforms that we need to integrate into (i.e., CRMs, ERPs, procurement platforms)? Perhaps there are certain industry groups where our target hangs out. In B2C, what's that moment that someone first felt they needed to, for example, improve their credit score. Asking the follow-up questions, "why did you decide to solve the problem that way?" and "do you remember where you were when you did x?" helps uncover some of these answers in user interviews.

Listening closely to the keywords our target market uses when they talk about their workflow and the solutions they use today gives us a leg up when we sell the product. We come across as more authentic when we empathize with potential customers. Not to mention the confidence in responding to common concerns. I find using the keywords my target market uses builds street cred.

4. Learn how to market the product

If we know where our customers hang out, we can start to understand where we should advertise. We also know the keywords our target segment uses when they encounter the issue.

A perfect example of this is writing SEO-generating content. After doing a dozen user interviews, I walk away with a dozen questions and the long-tailed phrases my target segment uses; it's SEO gold. Targeting only the most critical and relevant keywords and platforms optimizes our customer acquisition costs (CAC) - investors eat that up.

5. Determine how to price the product

Two of the 7 Questions To Ask In A User Interview help get at this. Combining responses from the questions: "How much did you pay for that?" and: "How much time did that take?" gives us a general direction about how much we should ask for the product at the outset. Those two questions also provide us with insight into our competitors and what we should price. User interviews help us uncover the most significant pain points in a customer journey - that's where the value is.

6. Explain the product to investors

The chances are slim that an investor has personally experienced the problem we are solving, so it's essential that we clearly explain the problem we solve and color in the lines with a user story. If we do a dozen user interviews, we should walk away with two dozen stories we can confidently share with investors. If every response to an investor's question involves: 1. How we have thought about, already solve this, or why we decided not to focus on it, 2. A well-structured data point, and 3. A "for example" user story, we feel confident in our response, and the investor has more confidence in us.

7. Get the first users

The sneaky bonus side-effect of user interviews is that even though we are specifically not selling, sometimes the folks we're interviewing are so encouraged by the solution that they become our first users. If we find that they are not the right target market, they can sometimes offer us someone in their network. The first 25 users of UIX were a result of user interviews I conducted.

Sign up for The User Interview Exchange and get your first user interview today.

Authored by:
Mike Chirokas