Day 65

We're building a startup in 80 days in public. Day 65 was on Apr 20 '22. You can find today's entry at Day 67.

Today's posts:

Early user feedback

When you launch the first version of your product it’s likely to have serious flaws. If you want to discover what these flaws are you’ve got to figure out (a) what your users use your software for and (b) what changes you need to make to make them happier.

This sounds trivial, but it’s not. Especially when you’re busy building you can easily forget to pause and think in this critical phase and shred your chances for future product/market fit in the process.

First, you want to know what your users are trying to accomplish. This tells you if your users are who you anticipated using your software. If you have the -right- kind of users you want to figure out if your product website is targeted at them, and if your marketing efforts are successful at reaching them.

What do I mean by “right users”? Well, very early adopters tend to be different from the users you’ll get down the road. Early adopters are more technical, care more about power-user features, are less inclined to pay for software, and more likely to give extensive feedback. This initial set of early adopters is really valuable because they are so willing to help. But in most cases your core customer base will be different and also have different priorities. This mismatch is dangerous. Early adopters can lead you astray.

It’s not just early adopters that are unrepresentative. Any users that use your product in ways you hadn’t anticipated are dangerous to listen to. It’s too easy to get persuaded your app needs to grow towards a very specific niche, when really, by doing so you alienate 90% of your real user base. Always listen carefully to all feedback, but if the feedback comes from the wrong type of user it’s best to stay the course. If you really need to make a big change in direction your users will continue to remind you, so no need to do anything rash.

The world is a big place. If your first 100 users are lukewarm about your app it could mean that your app stinks. But maybe your app is just confusing to use for the first time. Or maybe your website gives the wrong impression. Lack of enthusiasm is not a great sign, but neither does it mean you have to pivot or redesign or start over. Minor tweaks will do. Look for a new set of users from a different pool, and see if you get a better reception.

Remember that users who give feedback unprompted are outliers. You’ve got to reach out to the quiet users, too! Track, in the most primitive way, whether users are active. If you have users who use your app every day for a month that’s a very clear sign you’re on to something. Email them, and ask them what the #1 feature is they’d like to see. It’s so easy to do, and you might discover that this quiet set of users are your core market and deserving of your full attention.

Solicit feedback in the app itself. Add a feedback button. Maybe add a poll so users can vote on something. Lower the barrier to give feedback — any feedback — as much as you can. This way you’ll get feedback from a wider group of users. And be really responsive and thoughtful in your emails to users. Most people expect poor customer support, so they won’t go out of their way to write down what they think. If you get the chance to surprise people with good customer support they become way more likely to suggest improvements to your product.

However, be weary of people who email you pages of ideas but who haven’t really tried your software yet. It’s a lot of fun to talk to people and to get excited about the different directions your product could go in. But it’s also a distraction if this conversation is with people who haven’t really explored your product. When people have a pressing need they really try to use a product to see if it solves their problem. They’re willing to put up with flaws and shortcomings in your product as long as you get the vital stuff right. And if they haven’t tried your product that tells you something. Which user sends the feedback is as much of a signal as the content of the feedback.

As for the features/changes you want to make, we’ve written about that before. In short: make the first impression really good and nail down the core user experience. Many good features you won’t have time to build for another year or two and that’s normal.

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