User Research. The Why, How and When.

A full overview of all you need to know to get started with your User Research

User Research. The Why, How and When.

In this post I will share with you:

  1. What user research is
  2. How it improves your startups chance of success
  3. Some of the fundamental principles are that I believe you should know.

Whilst user research can apply to many different stages of your product, I will focus more on Introduction (or early stage), that is, when you’ve got a new idea and you’re more focussed on first figuring out whether it’s viable in the market.

Product Life Cycle stages

The most important thing in the beginning is to find a good market, one that you can reach and acquire customers cost-effectively and have the technical capabilities to build something small in a given time period (I believe 6 weeks is plenty as there is an opportunity cost of delay, and markets are always changing). There’s always the risk that too much planning or procrastination means you miss the boat and need to go back to the drawing board on your assumptions.

Why do User Research

When I first ever started doing User Research, I thought it was a scientific process, but I couldn’t really connect the dots on why I needed to do all this, after all, isn’t it just about selling and getting customers? What was all this User Research wizardry 🤔?

As a Founder, you want to find market problems, create solutions to those problems and take these solutions to market. Really - you want to solve problems, that people are willing to pay for. The alternative is getting sooo excited about your idea that you pull, push and struggle to understand why everyone who says they like your idea or would support you - isn’t ready to pay for it.

Visual representation of demand: Coffee Shop

User Research reduces the risk of this happening and in my experience, it’s really is valuable for writing your copy, addressing objections (which helps sales) and giving you a clear direction of what to focus on. Every-time I get to this inflection point, I get into flow and the magic happens.

What is User Research?

Disclaimer: I am not a Senior User Researcher. If what they say contradicts what I say, generally listen to them.

Back to business. So User Research is good for:

✅ Understanding who the product is for
✅ Understanding why it’s valuable to them
✅ How they want to use your product
✅ Help you avoid making bad assumptions

User Research can be both qualitative 🗣️ and quantitative 📈.

  1. Quantitative research is designed to gather data points in measurable, numerical form
  2. Qualitative research relies on the observation and collection of non-numerical insights such as opinions and motivations.

In the beginning, it’s common for people to start with generative research. This helps you to define, segment your market based on needs, motivations, attitudes; and understand how they want to use your product, how they are using your product) - good ideas emerge from that understanding.

Qualitative Research

This is a little less structured, but helps us get individual one-to-one insights which we can draw themes from the more we get more data points.

The best way to learn if your target customer needs a better mousetrap is to get outside the building and talk to them.

Qualitative user research is about listening, not speaking to your users.

  1. Set up 5–10 individual interviews (no groups) with someone you consider your target customer.
  2. Be open-ended with your questions — you are here to listen and learn, not sell your idea to this person.
  3. Create an interview script to make sure you ask the critical questions in the same way for each interview.
  4. This will make it easier for you to look for response patterns across individual interviews when you do the post-analysis research
  5. Asking general questions about the challenges they face when attempting to complete a task and ordering those challenges from greatest to least

Knowing how people currently solve this problem will give you an idea of your potential competition. If they do not currently have a solution for this problem, it is an indication that the pain associated with it is extremely low and that there is no opportunity here.

Knowing how happy they are with their current solution will allow you to determine if there is an opportunity to better meet your target customers’ needs. The happier they are, the harder it is to convert them to a new solution even if yours offers extra benefits.

Lastly, knowing what would make the person happier with their current solution gives you an insight into what sort of added value might drive your target customer to switch from their current solution to yours.

How many user interviews should you do?

A guiding principle is:

  1. Start with 5
  2. Increase by up up to 5 more depending on domain complexity
  3. Multiply by the number of persona’s cover red
  4. Add 1 - 3 interviews to work out process kinks if you’re new to this
Generally, most researchers find that they get what they need after somewhere between 6–12 interviews. Personally, I’ve found that after 5 or 6, you just start hearing the same things over and over - Veronica Camara, UXPlanet

Quantitative research

NB: This is why I say your product only needs to be “good enough. As long as the end-to-end experience does what you need it to do, you’re ready to start driving traffic and observing how your target segment behave in natural settings, without any handholding or prompts.

So quantitative research is typically dealing with large aggregated data sets (surveys,  Google Analytics, Mixpanel) and they are good for telling you how people are using or want to use your products.

What are A/B tests?

A/B tests are a technique to measure the impact of your enhancements (new images, improved text, Red or Green button) and to be more scientific in your decision making so you can:

  • Stop speculating with your team and confirm if you’re making the right decisions
  • Quickly iterate when you are making the wrong decision
  • Use data to convince investors/partners/etc to invest more in you as you can prove you can control growth