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Eric Migicovsky - How to Talk to Users
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About the talk

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

Transcript and lecture slides here: https://www.ycombinator.com/library/6g-how-to-talk-to-users

This lecture is part of YC's Startup School, a free online program and global community of founders. Register and join the community at https://www.startupschool.org/

Timestamps

00:00 Introduction

2:00 Write code and talk to users

3:20 Mistakes in user interviews

5:55 Five questions to ask

14:58 Idea stage

19:32 Identifying best first customers

25:20 Iterating towards product/market fit

30:55 conclusion

00:00 Intro

02:00 Write code and talk to users

03:20 Mistakes in user interviews

05:55 Five questions to ask

14:58 Idea stage

19:32 Identifying best first customers

25:20 Iterating towards product/market fit

30:55 Conclusion

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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I run my name is Eric migicovsky. I'm a partner here at YC actually started the company that threw y-combinator back in 2011. I start a company called Pebble. We made 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 this, do that. The technical had a product leads of the company. They can Outsource This research to other people and I can hire his a product or 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 free classic scene from the movie Office Space, where they? There's an individual. Who says the person, who, who is the go-between between 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 rigidity of

the core, the core members of your company. I don't want to develop the skills. I'm talking to users. So you do not have to hire someone like that. I had to be the go-between. Talking to users is so critical that at the core of kind of ycs teaching. There are only two things that you must do in order to start your 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 had a present today is actually synthesized fantastically in this book actually written by a wife. He found her called the mom test. The name of the book comes after the process in which we probably all go through where we want to tell our parents about the company that we're working on. And we I think that by talking to people that love us and one more to support us. We're actually extracting good or useful information about how to make it 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 explains his three common errors that we make when we try to, when we try to conduct these interviews. The first problem, the first mistake, that we pretty much all make as 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. But during a user interview, that is not the time to be pitching. The project, the goal out of great user 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 we need to talk about specifics around the problem area that you're trying to solve that the user may be going through. Second mistake that we pretty much all make it. We talked about hypotheticals we talked about what our product could be. We talked about features that we

want to build. We ask questions like We asked 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 in which 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 asked, 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. So we can tend 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 to take notes and listen to what the user saying. Because in that span of time to 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, when you return to your co-founders, you're bringing card data, real facts about users lives to the table. I think that there are five great questions that everyone can ask during their 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 drop off, but put yourself back in the position of Drew, the founder of drop box in 2005, when he was initially working on trying to be the initial idea of Dropbox, while working at, I was studying at MIT. Imagine you're in the computer lab at MIT and you're sitting next to your friend U-turn and you ask you working on this project to create Dropbox and you want, you want to learn more about how other

people are sharing files. So you can learn, you know, are these other potential users here or one of the problems that I can help solve that this new technology. So you turned your friend and you asked, what is the hardest part about working on a group project with school computer? You send me my computer lab, the perfect contacts for asking that kind of question. And you begin, open-ended conversation, trying to extract information about how that person currently works on group project together with friends. Hopefully, you'll learn about specific pain points. They have like they lock onto

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 a 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. It was 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 account of that problem. So, for example,

in the Dropbox case, you may be talking to your friend and learn about a week ago. I specific time frame. Who are they working with which? Which, which, which 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 past 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, their sure project with their, their project with us. If I was at heart, would be 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 may be the problem may be 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 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 products, how you explain to new potential, users the value of the benefits of a solution in general customers. Don't buy what they don't buy the W. A B, A Y. Sol. In the Dropbox example, they may not be, they may not be excited and Overjoyed at seeing one. Now, have this kind of file syncing tool that can that can keep all my files and think with all the by the why he'll say for this exact product. This product will help with this exact problem that I

had just two weeks ago, but I was trying to work on a project with some of my friends. So answers 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. For question is, what if anything have you done to try to solve this problem? One of the biggest things that that I've encountered well, while helping YC companies over the last few years is that if customers and potential customers are not

already exploring potential solutions, 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. So this question tries to get at the root of that of that, that issue is the person who encountered this problem already trying to solve it. So in the Dropbox example, you working on a project you're talking to someone who's worked on projects in the past. Try 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 with four computers. So they could talk in real time to see each other as You are working on the project. Maybe they, maybe they experimented with you. Maybe they tried. Setting up as one of the top comments and Hacker News posted during the original Dropbox on. Maybe they've seen our sink and David already solved. This problem with SFTP, or something like that. Again. You want to ask this question for two reasons, one is to figure out whether the problem that you're

solving or you're working to solve, is he 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 your end up rolling out your 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 wanted. The product is like the old Henry Ford, quote, when we were developing the automobile, or are you just 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 Pacific's 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 spaces 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 to developing any any of your product at the Prototype stage. Will you have the first kind of rough beginnings of your product, but you haven't really gotten in the hands of any paying customers are new 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? All talked about a few tips for a space at the idea stage? You may have the back of a napkin idea. You may have a thought maybe or 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 will 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 near people come to me and asked, how can I how can I talk? And how do I find my first users? Honestly, some Best companies are are are are products or services that are built for the founders themself. I'm so start with yourself again, like test test your user interview, strategies on yourself. Try to walk through a situation where

you been counted that problem. The next step after that is stuck to friends just 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 begins with just one or two people that critical. The critical feature here is executing a unbiased and and detailed customer or user interviews strategy rather than just trying to the picture idea to them. Another cool fact that that we've seen some great success with xbyte

company in this batch is using this to a way to come in. This batch is actually selling selling pax-2 firefighters. They realized that cold email introductions, but just not working, was not a way that they could get through to the customers to what they did. Was actually just dropped by fire stations in person. They didn't even, you know, email them to say that they were coming out of time. They just showed up and he said, he could we speak to talk to someone about this problem that were that we got to switch. And you know what? It worked great. They managed to get dozens

of in-person a 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 showing up whenever it feels a little bit weird. Because it feels like you're imposing on someone. But at the end of the day of 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 a hand. 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 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 in guerrilla-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 could just show up. You don't have to like pre-plan this to you don't have to have you. No 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 five 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 100 user interviews, all at the same time to start with one start at 3. 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 of 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 chap. 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? But 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 to be encountered on hourly basis, a daily basis quarterly basis, yearly basis the best the best problems that start up kit in 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 will 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 that you'll get more chances to know whether your product is actually solving a problem. In my case, with pedal. I love the fact that I was working on a device. I was kind of intended to be used every day and you wake up in the morning, 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. The best first customers are one that had this problem. Big freaking the third 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 or 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 the best. First customer being at the center of the pentagram where

they have the highest kind of numerical answers to the three questions that I have. Like, I also take a quick example. Imagine if you're working on like a super smart blender that's designed to be at the tastiest new fruit smoothies. You talked to several users. So you're talking to McDonalds French Laundry and Google Cafe, you create a spreadsheet that simply has three columns with the answers to the questions that you've extracted through your user interviews via. 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 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 that many customers. Their interests in the fruit smoothie at The French Laundry and you're talkin to maybe the the sous chef at the at the restaurant. So you realize that I don't really have that much money to solve this problem. Even if they wanted to buy 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 news movie technology in their, in their restaurant, granted. There are a lot of Google Earth. So they're probably would be a lot of movies made per week. But the same time again, you know, they just don't have the budget to be able to, to really dig into this problem. So you learn to the initial customer interviews, that

McDonald's is actually the best potential customer retention potential. First customer, if your 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 the store service is 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 customer. The last stage before product-market fit that can benefit from user interviews is actually the process of iterating towards product-market fit. Paul G, cut definition for Park

Market. Fit is when you've made something that people want our country's and also has an amazing blog post about a product Market, fit where he describes it as when 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. It only told him whether he cheated or not. He wanted to create a real-time quantitative system that had better help 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 can 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 doesn't even have to be your entire customer base. It could just be, you know, 3040 users a critical question. How would you feel if you could no longer use superhuman? Three answers, very disappointed, somewhat

disappointed. Disappointed. He measured 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 user base 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 is, 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 you're in rating, you actively have users that you can ask this question up. This can be an immense, 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 testing, 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 I can't seem to be looking at the data and you'll be wondering 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 Voodoo phone number, which is like a direct connection to

customers, pretty high up in the user sign up flow. Second one is don't designed by committee. You can't simply ask your users. What features they want. You have to begin to understand whether 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 of lays out his blog post, or you could ask other tactical questions like instead of asking. Will you be interested in using this new product, or this new feature instead say 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 at the future. This can help. Give you information about whether the feature that you're working on, actually something that the 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 some of the worst bad data that you may encounter is compliments. People may say I love the new design or thing is really useful. You may love that during the course of your 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 can change your which can improve and put your you're probably the second main type of bad data that you may encounter is fluff. Hypotheticals is a generic statement. Whenever you're in the middle of a user interview and you start getting onto onto 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 Based in 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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