How I Failed My Startup & Tactical Advice So You Don’t Fail Yours (2 of 4)

Reason #2: I didn’t spend enough time on user research.

I recently failed a startup that I worked on for over a year. It wasn’t an “I raised $5M, built a team, launched a product, and got bought for less than fair market value” failure either. I failed to raise $1, failed to build a team beyond myself, and failed to launch the product.

The four terrible reasons I didn’t spend enough time on user research were:

  1. I felt like I knew the space really well.
  2. I consistently underestimated timelines to build vs. prototype features.
  3. I thought I wouldn’t get valuable feedback on lousy prototypes.
  4. I enjoy coding more than getting my ideas and work ripped apart.

Why I should have spent more time on user research:

1. I would have pivoted my product way faster.

When I started, I focused on helping people optimize the customer journey of getting a new travel credit card, earning the bonus from that card, and efficiently spending points to travel for nearly free. I skipped the user interview stage because I believed, “who doesn’t want free travel?!” It turns out the people hate credit cards, and there’s a relatively small portion of people who are interested in getting a bunch of credit cards, even if it means free travel.

2. My data models would be pristine.

I love coding. I refer to coding as “the modern-day whittling”: you can create something from nothing. As opposed to marketing work I’ve done in the past, at the end of a day of coding, you walk away being able to see what you created tangibly. Every day I got to code, I walked away with a sense of accomplishment.

3. I’d have more stories to share with investors and potential co-founders.

In my time developing the app, I spoke to two investors. That’s a problem in itself, but what I heard from both was that they didn’t want to hear about my “world-domination billion-dollar autonomous finance for products and money flows” plan. Instead, they wanted to listen to stories of people who experienced pain, tried to solve it with a lousy solution, and why my app provides a better solution than the customer’s lousy one.

Tactical recommendations for spending more time on user research:

1. Remove user recruiting barriers by building a customer board.

Setting up a customer board was the smartest thing I did.

The request says: Over a year ago, I set out to create a mobile app that makes saving for travel easier. I made every mistake in the book, but the biggest two were: 1. Not asking for help when I needed it 2. Not getting continuous feedback. I’m getting better at both. To that end, I’m building a “customer advisory board” for the app (aka an email list) where I’ll shoot out an email a week asking for effortless feedback on the latest prototype, feature, concept, etc. If you’re interested in he

2. Use The User Interview Exchange to get more user interviewees and usability testers for free.

Finding user interviewees and usability testers in your target market is time-consuming and expensive, so I built The User Interview Exchange to make the whole process free and efficient. Every time you help another founder out by being an interviewee or usability tester for their research, you earn a token to interview someone in your target market. It’s free to use, you get folks applying to be interviewees instead of you reaching out, and you get to network with other founders working on extraordinarily cool stuff. It worked for me, and there’s no cost to trying it out.

3. Collect remarkably specific stories.

Investors are professional bullshit detectors. They get paid to listen to you and then decide if what you said is truth or bullshit. Also, the chances are slim that an investor has personally experienced the problem you are solving or have identified, so it’s essential that you clearly explain the problem you solve and color in the lines with memorable stories. Almost every response to an investor’s question should involve a“for example” user story.

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Mike Chirokas

Mike Chirokas

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I'm a marketer, developer, and tinkerer who recently failed a startup. Here to tell my story so you don't make the same mistakes I made.