TABLE OF CONTENTS
How to validate a startup idea? Basics of user research.
In every startup and company, there are numerous ideas that seem fantastic and flawless. However, in practice, a large portion of projects is initiated without consulting potential users. Project managers and founders often believe that they know the market and customer problems so well that their "business intuition" is enough to plan a new product or service. Without proper user research as a foundation, it is impossible to determine whether our idea is genuinely good.
In this article, we want to discuss the topic of user research, which involves studying the needs of users or the target audience. User research allows us to validate the feasibility of an idea, improve it to better suit the users' preferences, and save the project from making poor business decisions based on incomplete or incorrect data.
Not every idea that comes to mind has a place in the market. In many cases, someone has already attempted to create a product or project similar to ours, and it didn't succeed. A prime example is Juicero, a juicer company that released what seemed like a revolutionary solution in 2012—an integrated juicer with a dedicated smartphone app. The idea was based on the assumption that "smartphones are becoming increasingly popular, and almost everyone owns one." However, the problem arose when it was impossible to use the juicer without the app. Juicero's main mistake was relying on "educated guesses" without conducting user research. Educated guesses, based on intuition and personal experience, may not accurately reflect real user needs.
What is User Research?
User research is exactly what it seems at first glance—an investigation into the needs of our users or target audience for a product. There are several methods to understand user needs, and they may not always be the same. Examples of methods to uncover user needs include:
- Interviews with the target audience
- Analysis of reports
- Researching similar applications or ideas—how many users do they have? What are their opinions?
How to Conduct User Research?
Surveys: Most of us have probably filled out a survey at some point, whether it was for student research, on the street, over the phone, or online. Surveys can be conducted remotely or in-person. It's advisable to survey different age groups if we don't have a specific user persona defined. It's beneficial to target people with various interests, problems, and needs. We want to gather as many representative opinions as possible from different demographics that may be our potential user base.
When conducting surveys, there are a few nuances to consider. One of them is surveying the right people and selecting the appropriate target audience. If we want to create a user-friendly application for older adults, surveying teenagers would likely yield unhelpful results. It's also important to survey different social groups, as it provides different perspectives and allows us to better tailor the application to the users.
Another critical aspect to consider is crafting the survey questions effectively. Poorly formulated questions can lead to incorrect conclusions and may be too leading, suggesting specific answers to the respondents.
Interviews: Conducting interviews is similar to surveys, but it allows for more open-ended responses, often leading to interesting and unexpected insights. Like with surveys, it is necessary to formulate questions appropriately and select the right number of participants from the target audience. The principles are similar to surveys.
Analysis of Reports and Similar Applications: Many of our ideas have already been explored, so it's worth analyzing what others have done well and what hasn't worked. By examining user opinions of similar applications, we can discover pain points and address them better than existing solutions. Feedback from users, such as app store reviews, is often honest and highlights the issues that have been significant enough for users to write a review. App reviews can provide valuable insights.
reports allows us to learn more than just what users like or dislike. Based on this data, we can determine the Total Accessible Market (TAM), Serviceable Accessible Market (SAM), and Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM) we want to target. These metrics help estimate revenue potential and guide investment decisions in such projects.
The Impact of User Research on Products
User research allows us to get to know users better, but what are the less obvious benefits?
Improved Development Process and Results – Creating a prototype based on user research allows developers to build functionalities that align with users' expectations more easily. For example, should a clock display in digital or analog form, depending on the target audience's preferences?
Effective User Research streamlines the process and prevents potential communication problems between design, development, and the client (the application owner), which can result in increased costs and delays.
Information for the rest of the team – Survey feedback is a valuable resource, especially for marketing teams. It enables better customization of marketing campaigns, verification of user personas, improvement of existing strategies, and more. User research can help reduce Customer Acquisition Cost and improve the conversion rate of marketing efforts.
After Conducting the Research, What's Next?
After conducting user research and gathering the results, it is essential to draw appropriate conclusions. Presenting data visually through charts and diagrams helps analyze trends. The rest of the team, not directly involved in development, should also see the results as their diverse perspectives can provide valuable insights. The same charts may provide different information to developers and sales representatives. Developers may focus on new features and improvements, while business developers can identify problems to address when communicating with potential clients.
Common Mistakes in User Research
User research involves many nuances, and there are several common mistakes that inexperienced researchers often make. One of these is overemphasizing individual user opinions. If we hear one user's negative opinion, it is crucial not to rush to the conclusion that all other responses are meaningless and make significant changes or conduct new surveys. It is important to approach the results scientifically and consider the percentage of dissatisfied or unconvinced users. If the percentage is appropriately low, we should prioritize addressing the concerns accordingly.
Another mistake is selecting an inappropriate target audience. During user research, unbiased opinions are essential. Surveying employees or friends and family is often unhelpful due to their lack of objectivity. While there may be exceptions when having exceptionally objective individuals within our close circles who belong to the target audience, in general, it is better to survey strangers who have no vested interest in providing biased opinions.
Biased and leading questions are serious and potentially catastrophic mistakes that are more challenging to correct. Poorly formulated questions directly impact the research results. Asking leading questions can yield results that align with our preconceived notions, compromising the objectivity of user research. For example, asking "Which chocolate is the best and why is it dark chocolate?" may not provide reliable insights into the behavior of chocolate consumers.
Properly formulating questions in user research is crucial. Taking a web application as an example, consider a functionality that allows users to scroll back to the top of the page. Instead of asking, "Did you like this functionality?" it is better to ask, "Did you use this functionality?" By analyzing the responses, we can design multiple versions of the component and test them using A/B testing. User research is an ongoing process that continues from the early stages of product development and extends even after the application is released to users. User feedback is crucial for making changes to the application; without it, introducing modifications becomes risky and can negatively impact user adoption.
User research is an ongoing process throughout the life of an application. Poorly conducted research
can have equally disastrous consequences as not conducting any research at all. It is important to remember that in user research, our focus should be on the users. Asking the right questions to the appropriate target audience is key to obtaining valuable insights. Through user research, we can uncover non-obvious information that can lead to innovative functionalities and the creation of truly original and impactful products.
User research not only improves the development process but also provides value to other departments in a company, such as marketing and sales. The findings from such research serve as a valuable resource for these teams, enabling them to carry out their work more effectively.