Get Out Of The Building: The Key To A Product People Actually Need

Let’s say you’ve noticed a problem you think needs a solution. Maybe people care, but then again maybe they’re not bothered. Whichever it is, you won’t find out the answer by sitting alone at the kitchen table.

That’s why -- physically or virtually -- you’ve got to "get out of the building" (à la Steve Blank and his tried-and-tested advice) to ask people how they’re struggling. Because even though your idea seems exciting, maybe no one actually needs it.

The 8 founders on the Founders Programme are in the same position. They’ve got 8 exciting ideas and they need to test whether they’re developing a solution their target market wants.

So to help them, Dharmesh guided the group through a Customer Interview workshop and gave the inside track on running productive timeline interviews with their prospective users.

I heard from the group to find out how they got on putting his advice into practice. Read on for the whys, dos and don’ts of running your own timeline interviews.

First, the group’s ideas

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  • Moy is developing a product to make it easier for consumers to save on everyday shopping
  • Pooja is developing (1) an elderly care startup & (2) a commercial real estate marketplace
  • Dupe is developing a women’s health tech platform
  • Gina is the founder of Code Free Labs, showing non-technical founders how to build MVPs
  • Emma is the founder of Snowball, a children’s savings platform
  • Andre is developing an open-source platform for drug discovery
  • Cameron is the founder of Yvonne, an age-tech startup providing care to the elderly
  • Alicia is developing a product to support people with chronic health conditions

What were the most useful pieces of advice Dharmesh gave you?

No pain, no gain

Emma: “You need to find out “the struggle”. Potential customers often say they’re happy with the existing solutions available. But with the right questions, I found out they had a lot of frustrations.”

Andre: “Probe how customers currently overcome their pain points.”

Alicia: “Listen for points of emotion when carrying out the interviews. And dig into why, why, why.

You'll know when to stop doing interviews when you keep hearing the same things again and again.”

It’s not me, it's you.

Gina: “The focus of a startup is always the customer’s problem and not my assumptions.
That’s where many founders get lost. We tend to fall in love with our ideas.”

Moy: “Not to be solution-focused. And the audience should be doing 80% of the talking.”


A helping hand

Pooja: “Record the interview. Or get someone to take notes.”

How did his advice affect how you ran your customer interviews after the session?

Prep a discussion guide (see an example guide here)

Dupe: “Writing a discussion guide meant my interviews were much more structured and I got better quality data”

Emma: “Customer interviews shouldn't be a firing line of questions focused on what customers would like the future to look like. Often they can't see a better solution!”

Alicia: “The Discussion Guide has given me the breadth and depth to extract learnings and dig into areas that I wouldn’t have previously.”

Focus on the problems

Cameron: “I realised my questions weren’t focused on a timeline to understand the customer’s ‘jobs to be done’. So I changed my discussion guide to focus on their problems.”

Empathise

Gina: “His advice helped me listen better.”

Pooja: “Recording the interviews meant I was far more focused on the conversation. I took away a lot more.”

What have you uncovered about your audience’s problems that you didn’t know before?

Cameron: “I uncovered quite a few different ‘alternative solutions’ that I didn’t consider when I started … This meant diving into those solutions [to see if they] were doing the job or had their own set of issues.”

Emma: “Parents are frustrated by how difficult it was for friends and family to invest money on their child's behalf. Interestingly their friends and family were also frustrated by this same problem.”

Moy: “I was surprised everyone I spoke to so far said they actively searched for [discount] codes on Google.”

Andre: “The importance of an easy-to-use platform. Currently, there’s no open platform which is intuitive or makes it easy to manage tasks relating to drug research (e.g. data management).”

Dupe: “My audience tend to use social media for information on their medical diagnoses. My interviews highlighted many of the drawbacks of these platforms."

How have you pivoted your startup idea as a result (if at all)?

Andre: “I've had to think more about the financial incentives. Feedback to date would suggest this will be tricky - but not impossible - to get right!”

Emma: “My marketing was going to focus on mothers. But the interviews showed almost unanimously fathers set up the savings accounts. So I need to think about my market more holistically as ‘parents’, not just ‘mother’ or ‘father’.”

Cameron: “I’ve adjusted my use case to focus on what people really need to feel safe, happy and confident living in their home for as long as possible.”

Moy: “Not yet, it's too early to tell. I'm just focused on learning as much as possible about the customers’ problems.”

Dupe: “I’ve spent more time considering the importance of moderating an online community, and how to maintain trust and confidence in the platform.”

If you’d like to understand how to run your own timeline interviews (and build a product people want), check out Dharmesh’s full guide on the Path Forward.

And if you found his guide useful, consider re-tweeting it to other founders in your network.

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