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Eric Migicovsky - How to Talk to Users
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About speaker

Eric Migicovsky
Partner at Y Combinator

Eric Migicovsky founded Pebble Technology (YC W11), which was acquired by Fitbit in 2016. While studying engineering at the University of Waterloo in 2008, Eric began building smartwatches with a group of friends. In April 2012, Eric and his team launched Pebble on Kickstarter, where it became the most successful crowdfunded project in Kickstarter’s history. Pebble sold over 2,000,000 watches.

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Topic: Business

YC Partner Eric Migicovsky outlines a framework for asking questions and collecting feedback from your users.

You can find the lecture slides and transcript here: https://www.startupschool.org/videos/63

It's not too late to sign up! Register now through August 4th at https://www.startupschool.org/.

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I run my name Siri put your house key of a partner here at YC actually started the company that through y combinator back in 2011. I started a company called Pebble we met one of the first smart watches. I am really excited to be here to talk about talking to users because this is one of the perennial things that that you always hear about as one of the critical factors in starting a company the best Founders maintain a direct connection to their users throughout the lifespan of their entire company. They maintain a direct connection because they need to extract information

from their users at all different stages of running their company often times people think that, you know, they're the cor thermostat do the CTO that the technical had a product leads of the company. They can Outsource This research to other people in their salespeople. They can hire I'm headed products, but at the core the best companies are the ones where the founders themselves maintain a direct connection to their users. If you are the CEO is your job is in your job description talk to customers. So take the time to learn

how to do it. Well, All founders need to I need to participate in this process as well. If you're the engineer, if you're the developer don't think that you can escape this process just because you're the person who told him there's I pre classic scene from the movie Office Space where they there's an individual who says the person who uses I know how to talk to people. I have people skills. And that is one of the things that you do not want to have happen at your company. You want to make sure that the founders and the the original did

the corps the corps members of your company. I don't want to develop the skills for talking to users. So you do not have to hire someone like that. I had to be a go-between. Talking to users is so critical that at the core of kind of ycs teachings. There are only two things that you must do in order to search a company you need to code or build your product and talk to users. So this is easier said than done. I want to provide today some tactical advice on how to plan your strategy for talking to users as well as some some questions and

strategies that you can use to conduct your own user interviews at the beginning of your of your company. A lot of the advice that I have a present today is actually synthesized fantastically in this book actually written by a y c founder called the mom test. The name of the book comes after kind of the the process in which we probably all go through where we want to tell our parents about the company that we're working on it. We I think that by talking to people that love us and want to support us we're actually extracting good or useful information about how to get a gesture or

improve our company, but at its core this is not the best way to get information so the mom test as Rob actually explains his three common errors that we make when we try to when we try to conduct user interviews the first problem the first mistake that we pretty much all make Is we talked about our idea? We're Founders. We love to pitch idea. We love to talk about the the product that we're working on butt during a user interview. That is not the time to be pitching the product that goal out of great. Use. Your interview is to extract

information from the person that you're talking to to extract data that will help you improve the product or improve your marketing or improve your positioning. It is not to sell them on using your product. so at the core of a great injury user interview, you need to learn about there like need to talk about specifics around the problem area that you're trying to solve that the user may be going to Second mistake that we pretty much all make is we talked about hypotheticals we talk about what our product could be. We talked about features that we want

to build. We ask questions like Yes questions. Like if we built this feature, would you be interested in using it or would you be interested in paying for it that is wrong instead talk about specifics that have already occurred in the user's life. This will give you stronger and better information wish to make product and Company changing decisions. You also want to talk in general about the the user's life. You don't want to just talk about the specific problem or sorry the specific Solutions, you're presenting try to extract information about the users the path that led

them to encounter that problem. Ask them questions about their life and in kind of more broader and more broader ways to extract context around how they arrived at this sub from learn about their motivations learn about why they got themselves into that problem in the first place. And the third trap that we pretty much all fall into. Is that we talk we talk a lot or Founders were always pitching investors were pitching employees were trying to hire people were trying to I'm partner that we intend to spend a lot of our time talking in a user interview try to try to restrain

your at your you're interested in talking and really listen take notes and listen to what the user saying because in that span of time the 10 20 30 minutes that you spend with the user you're trying to extract as much information as possible so that when you return to the office and when you return to your co-founders, you're bringing hard data real facts about users lives to the table. I think that there are 5 great questions that everyone can ask during their I'm there early customer interviews. The first question is what is the hardest part about

doing the thing that you're trying to solve? Let's take Dropbox for an example. Now many of you may not remember A World Before Dropbox, but put yourself back in the position of Drew the founder of Dropbox in 2005 when he was initially working on kind of DVD drop box while working at what setting at MIT imagine you're in the computer lab at MIT and you're sitting next to your friend you turn and you asked you working on this project to create Dropbox and you want it you want to learn more about how other people are sharing files so you can learn you know,

how these other potential users here or what are the problems that I can help solve that this new technology. So you turned your friend and you ask what is the hardest part about working on a group project with school computers? You sending the computer labs the perfect context for asking that kind of question and you begin open-ended conversation trying to extract information about how that person currently works on group projects together with friends. Hopefully, you'll learn about specific pain point they have like they lock on to a shared computer. They have to get their files from

somewhere. They may have a network drive attached to the the university system, but they're working with someone who may not be logged on to a university computer at that time. Maybe you learn about problems with synchronizing of shared work. Maybe you're both working on the exact same document at the exact same time. How do you how do you currently attempt to solve that problem? In general the best startups are looking for problems that people face on a regular basis or that they're painful enough to Warrant solving this question can help confirm

or or I confirm for you whether the problem that you're actually work in the the problem that you're working on is actually one that real users feel is a paint feel something that they actively want to solve in their life. The second question to the point that I was making earlier about trying to get the specifics of the hypotheticals is to ask the question tell me about the last time that you encountered this problem. The goal of this question is actually to extract context around the circumstances in which the user encounter that problem. So for example in the Dropbox case, you may be

talking to your friend and learn about a week ago a specific time frame. Who are they working with which which which would class were they working working out which I was asking was this computer science problem was this a English paper try to extract as much information as you can about the context in which they began solving this problem so that as you develop as you develop your product you'll be able to actually reference real life examples of problems that potential users have had and you can overlay your Solution on

top of that to see if it would have helped in that particular circumstance. The third question is why was this heart? Why was the circumstance in which that student was trying to work on their they're shirt project with their their project with other folks. I was at Hartwood these specific things that they encountered that were difficult. The reason why you want to ask this question is because you'll hear many different things from different people going back to the Dropbox example, you might encounter some people who say that maybe the problem is the number one problem that they

were encountering was when they emailed files back and forth. They ended up duplicating work because they didn't have the exact same kind of document at the exact same time. Maybe other people will say that they submitted the wrong document in the end to the to the professor for their group project because they had my crazy strings of file version numbers on the end. so the benefit from asking this question is not just to identify the exact problem that you may begin to solve with your solution to this problem. But you also begin to understand how you

Market your product how you explain to new potential users the value of the benefits of of your solution in general customers. Don't buy what they don't buy the what they buy the Y so in the Dropbox example, they may not be they may not be excited and Overjoyed at saying I now have this kind of file syncing tool that can that can keep all my files and sympathy all the by the why he'll say this exact this product will help with this exact problem that I had just two weeks ago when I was trying to work on a project with some of my friends Pictures that

you get from customers to this question of why why was this past problem that you encountered? So hard may actually inform your marketing or your sales copy as you as you build out the rest of your product fourth question is what if anything have you done to try to solve this problem? One of the biggest things that that I've encountered while while helping YC companies over the last few years is that if customers or potential customers are not already exploring potential solution to their problem is possible that the problem that you're trying to solve is not a burning

enough problem for customers for them to be even interested in your better solution to this product of this question tries to get at the root of that of that that issue is the person who counters this problem already trying to solve this in the Dropbox example you working on a group project you're talking to someone who's worked on group projects in the past trying to figure out what what tools did they experiment with what tools did they try to use to solve this? Maybe they they solve this by getting all the individuals together in one room to work on the project

before computers so they could talk in real time to each other as You were working on the project. Maybe they maybe they experimented with email. Maybe they tried setting up as one of the top comments and a Hacker News posted during the original Dropbox. Like maybe they are sink and David already solved this problem with SFTP or something like that again. You want to ask this question for true reason to figure out whether the problem that you're solving or you're working to solve is even really something that people are already looking for solutions to and the second one is what

are the other competition out there. What will your product be compared against as you as you as you end up rolling extra solution and offering it to end customers. This question is very tactical. What don't you love about the solution that you've already tried? This is the beginning of your potential feature set. This is how you ask the car. This is how you begin understanding what the features are that you'll build out for your better solution to the problem. Now know that this is not the question of what features would

you want out of a new file syncing product for in the Dropbox example, because that's a hypothetical question users in general. I'm not great at identifying the the next features that they want to the product is like the old Henry Ford quote when we were developing the automobile rruges would have wanted a faster horse rather than a car. So this question specifically Target. What are the what are the what are the problems with existing solutions that they've already tried? These are just specifics and you can begin to kind of figure out what the diff the

differential between your new solution and existing Solutions already in the market will be Talking to users as I said before is useful at pretty much all stages of your company, but there's three critical phases to an early stage company. I would kind of Define that as a company that has not yet reached product-market fit in which talking to users would be Extremely beneficial those three stages are at the idea stage before you've even begun developing any any of your product at the Prototype stage or you have the first kind of rough beginnings of your

product, but you haven't really gotten in the hands of any paying customer going to users yet and the third one which is after you've launched and you're in a rating to Ward's product-market fit. How do you guy that Journey? I'll talk about a few tips forum for each phase at the idea stage. You may have the back of a napkin idea. You may have a thought maybe maybe maybe commercializing some technology that you've been dreaming of but you don't yet have any first users. So you need to begin finding the first people that would be interested in either providing information about the

problem that they've encountered or potentially signing up to be your first users the best the best in people come to me to ask, how can I how can I talk and I would I find my freezers honestly. Best companies are our products or services that are built for the founders themself. I'm so start with yourself begin like test test your user interviews strategy on yourself. Try to walk through a situation where you been counted that problem the next step after that is stuck to print is to talk to co-workers to get warm introduction. It doesn't take a lot of people you don't have

to talk to thousands of people every good user kind of research strategy because we just one or two people the critical the critical feature here is executing a unbiased and and detailed customer or user interview strategy rather than just trying to the picture idea to them. Another cool fact that that we've seen some great success with Ashley wifey company in this batch is using this to a white to come in. This batch is actually selling selling products to Firefighters. They realize that cold email introduction but just not working

was not a way that they could get through to the customers. So what they did was actually just dropped by fire stations in person. They didn't even know email them to say that they were coming out of time. They just showed up and he said he could we talk to someone about this problem that were that we got a solution and you know what it worked great. They managed to get dozens of in-person 10 to 15 minute long meetings by showing up. So when in doubt if there's a specific Target customer base that you're looking to get feedback from just try showing up never

feels a little bit weird because it feels like you're imposing on someone but at the end of the day the month But I like to get into his if you truly think that you're solving a problem that your Target customer base is facing you'll actually be doing them ahead. You'll be helping them out by taking their 15 minutes and and learning more about the problem industry events are another great way to to get a high number of new customer interactions. I remember that when I was working on Pebble we actually went to CES which is this large Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. We can have a booth

we just went into gorilla style. We just like randomly started setting up in setting up meetings with potential users and we met them in like the coffee shop outside of the conference. We did that for $0 without any sort of marketing budget because that was where a lot of people in the industry were and we knew that there was like a high concentration of potential people that we could talk to you. Some tips for the stage take notes. Take detailed notes. Like I said before you don't you'll never know until later which key facts of these user interviews may be useful. If you're not great

at taking notes while you're talking to someone bring a friend bring a co-founder ask the person if you could record it when in doubt capture as much information as possible. Keep it casual. Like I said before you can just show up. You don't have to like pre-plan this to you don't have to have you know, 20-minute blocks on your calendar scheduled for days on end of user interviews. Feel free to react. Like honestly, you'll learn so much to the first 5 or 10 user interviews that you know, you'll process will dramatically improve from those person to be used to the next batch. So don't

feel like you have to do a hundred user interviews all at the same time to start with 103. So it's 5 till you get the hang of it. The third thing is you need to be cognizant of the other person's time. I'm again going back to what I said at the beginning, you know, we love our idea where Founders we love talking, but I guess you need to you need to keep yourself in check and make sure that you're cognizant to the other person's time. Honestly, you'll be able to get probably the best information out of 10 to 15 minute long first interview. That might be all the time. You need just just for

that initial a chat As you move past the idea stage into testing your your prototype with users the next major kind of benefit that you can that you can get from talking to user is figuring out who will be your best first customer. This is critical because it's possible that if you choose the wrong first customer that you may be led down a path that I that constrains you artificially traps you without We getting paid by that first customer. So we created a framework that you can use to begin to identify before you begin working with them who the best first

customers will be during user interviews at this stage. I love to to ask questions that extract numerical answers to three facts about the customer that I'm working with. The first one that I like to get that I want to get to the bottom of is how much does this problem cost them today? And I like to get a hard number either in terms of how much revenue do they stand to earn if they solve this problem or how much how much expense do they currently spend trying to solve this problem? How much money is wasted today as they try to solve this problem? Second

one that I like to get to the bottom of is how frequently do they encounter this problem. Do they encounter it on hourly basis a daily basis quarterly basis yearly basis the best the best problems that startups can can Target are ones that are encountered more frequently. This is usually beneficial for two reasons. One is the encounter a problem on a more regular basis. It means that the customers feeling the pain of that problem on a more regular basis and they'll be much more receptive to a potential solution the second reason why you want to tackle a problem that people encounter in a

more frequent basis is you'll get more chances to know whether your product is actually solving a problem in my case with Pebble. I love the fact that I was working on a device. I was kind of intended to be used everyday you wake up in the morning and you put your watch on that was great for me because I knew that if they weren't if users weren't wearing their watch on a regular basis that meant that I was doing something wrong. So the best first customers are one that had this problem big freaking thing that you want to get to the bottom of is how large is their budget for solving this

problem? You can imagine that it say you're solving something for an industrial assembly line problem in the industrial assembly line. If you're talking to the operator the person who's actually there on the kind of the assembly line, they may encounter this problem on a really regular basis. They just don't have the budget. They don't have the authority to actually solve the problem. That's their boss or that someone above them in the in the office in the headquarters. So again, as you're trying to identify the best first customers make sure that you're trying to make sure that you're

asking questions about whether they actually have the ability to solve the problem given the choice. I like to visualize answers to these two these three sets of customer question as overlapping Venn diagrams with best first customer being at the center of the Venn diagram where they have the highest kind of numerical answers to the three questions that I have like so take a quick example. Imagine if you're working on like a super smart blender that's designed to produced D at the tastiest new fruit smoothies. You talked to several users. They were talking to McDonald's

The French Laundry and cool cafe. You create a spreadsheet that simply has three columns with the answers to the questions that you've extracted through your user interviews. This data can actually be used in prioritizing which customer you I you begin to sell your product to First of her Example The French Laundry is an amazing restaurant up in Napa. Maybe you maybe they have an opportunity to to roll out a new extremely. Fancy over the top smoothie with your new technology. They can extract a lot of a lot of money from each sale, but the frequency is not that high.

There's just not that many customers that are interested in a fruit smoothie at The French Laundry and you're talking to maybe the sous chef at the at the restaurant. So you realize that you don't really have that much money to solve this problem. Even if they wanted to the other potential customer that you're talking to is the Chef at one of the Google cafes. Unfortunately for you Google gives away their food for free to their employee. So that person doesn't actually stand to earn more money or save that much more money. If they were to use your new smoothie technology in their in their

restaurant granted. There are a lot of Google Earth. So they're probably would be a lot of smoothies made per week. But the same time again, you know, they just don't have the budget to be able to be taken to this problem. So you learn to the initial customer interviews that McDonald's is actually the best potential customer retention potential first customer product while even though the the the cost of a new smoothie at McDonald's may not bring in, you know, a large dollar amount per transaction. They have a ton of stores and each of us store Services a ton of people and on top of that

you happen to get a warm introduction to the you like seafood officer of McDonald's, which I'm not even sure they have but that person actually controls like a multibillion-dollar budget and if they wanted to The problem they would have the authority and they would have the the budget to do so and so you put that information your spreadsheet and you actually do like a simple stack rank that just pulls the best answers to those questions up to the top and you can use this framework for for kind of pulling together all the information that you get from various user surveys to

find the best customers. The last stage before product-market fit that can benefit from user interviews is actually the process of iterating towards product-market fit Paul grams cut definition for product Market fit is when you've made something that people want our countries and also has an amazing blog post about a product-market fit where he described it as the product is just being pulled out of you when you no longer have to push the product on customers. Are there just pointed pulling it from you, but the problem with these definitions of

product Market fit is that they're vague. They're also retroactive in that you have to already have product-market fit in order to know that you've reached it. So they're not as useful for helping you figure out which features you can use which features you need to build in order to generate in order to improve your product to get the product Market fit. You may have heard of the app superhuman, which is a super-fast email client. Will the CEO publish an amazing blog post little while ago about how he built a house. He was actually annoyed with this a vague definition of what product

Market fit is and how it was a lagging indicator that didn't help him predict product Market fit only told him whether he cheated or not. He wanted to create a real-time quantitative system that had that it helped guide his company to Ward product-market fit. And of course it involved talking to users. You got a great blog post on this you could just Google it. I'm just going to touch your kind of touch on it, but I would highly recommend reading the entire thing because it is it is fantastic, but in it he describes a process where on a Wii Basis, he asks pretty much all his customers

but it doesn't even have to be your entire customer base. It could just be you know, 30-40 users a critical question. How would you feel if you could no longer use superhuman 3 answers very disappointed somewhat disappointed. Disappointed. He measure the percentage of users to answer the question. Very disappointed. These are the users who most value your privacy. These are the users who your product has now become a key part of their life is kind of weasel their way into their daily habits. Some analysis that said that 40% or more of your used Bass reports that they would be

very disappointed if your product went away on a weekly basis that that's kind of the signal that's the differentiation point that it says, if you get past this point, your product will just grow exponentially and he evaluated a number of other successful companies and realize that the answer to this question was always around or above I have 40% So again, I probably won't be able to go into it too much more in detail, but I would recommend reading this blog post. If you're at the stage where your iterating you actively have users that you can ask this question up. This can be in a mince

the useful thing for quantitatively determining whether the features that you worked on in the previous week. I'm we're actually benefiting or adding to your product Market fit or detracting from it as well as some other great tips that we found at this stage is, simple hack asked your users for the phone number during sign up because oftentimes to be looking at the data and you'll be wondering you know, why is the data showing this particular kind of learning about our customers and you may be like stinking an aggregate like 20% of people have this problem. Sometimes

it helps to just get on the phone and talk to one person who's encountering this problem. I always encourage Founders to put contact contact info. Haitian vodou phone number which is like a direct connection to customers pretty high up in the user sign-up flow. Second one is don't design by committee. You can't simply ask your users what features they want. You have to begin to understand where those features are truly going to going to help make your product more sticky more useful. You can do this through kind of the the the the advice of those superhuman CEO lays out his blog post

or you could ask other tactical questions, like instead of asking no dude will users be interested in using this new product or this new feature instead say to this. Here's an upgrade flow. If you want this new product put your credit card or do you want this new feature put your credit card information or paying more before you actually built up the feature this could help give you information about whether the feature that you're working on actually something that users are going to use The third thing to do during user interviews at this stage is to remember to discard bad data some

of the some of the worst bad data that you may encounter is compliments people may say I love the new design or men's thing is really useful. You may love that during the course of user user interviews, but actually I'm not useful information because it's not specific. It's more of a general statement about your product and it's not tactical. It's not giving you correct information on what you could change or what you can improve a but you're you're probably the second main type of bad data that you may encounter is fluff. Their hypotheticals is a generic statements.

Whenever you're in the middle of a user interview and you start getting onto on to this hypothetical, you know, what the product may look like in the future trying to steer it back to specifics again, you're conducting a user interview. The picture product but to learn about problems or issues that the user has Wasting their past. I'm so you can improve it in the future. That's it. That was meant to be like a quick quick short dive into talking talking to users. I don't know if we have any time for questions cool. Awesome. I'd

love to answer any questions better than that. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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