Katelyn Bourgoin on the Importance of User Research for Startups

Katelyn Bourgoin on the Importance of User Research for Startups

With 90% of Startups failing, it is important that we understand our customers’ needs in order to ensure success.

In this episode, we speak to Katelyn Bourgoin who takes us through the ins and outs of the Customer Discovery process and why it should be important to startups, founders and small businesses.

TL;DR

In this episode, we look at five angles of customer research:

1. How should you structure customer interviews

A great kind of visual example of this is that nobody wants a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole.  You buy the drill to get the hole and then Jobs To Be Done brings that kind of a step further and says OK, you don’t even want the hole, you want to hang a picture on a shelf or whatever that might be.

When you realize and you think about your customer’s problems from the perspective of what they’re trying to get done, it can help you to build better stuff. It can help you to market that much more effectively and have much more effective messaging.

2. What sort of questions should you ask in customer interviews

The top three questions:

  • Before you bought this product, what other solutions or tools were you using to get that job done?
  • What was the first time that you actually considered needing a better solution?
  • Now that you are using our product, how can we improve it?

3. How far should you go to get background information on customers

Target one kind of segment which will help you start spotting patterns and help you to figure out if this segment is the correct one to focus on or not.

4. When should you handle the customer discovery process yourself, and when should you hand it over to a professional

Bigger corporations are used to bringing in professionals, and leveraging these people’s expertise to make decisions. Sometimes they are not as married to their original idea/strategy as a small team might be. With small teams or startups that are just starting out or founding something new, I don’t recommend outsourcing customer discovery. As you are not actually going to gain any benefits, and won’t be making that relationship with a customer stronger. As a result, you won’t understand them better.

5. Trust Hacking

The idea behind trust hacking is that I wanted to encourage high growth teams to re-frame the way they think about their objective instead of that objective being just growth. The objective should be increased trust because when you focus on increased trust you are making your messaging better.

You need to make people feel like you get them and you’re building the right solution for them. When trust becomes the metric that matters you, your business will grow. It’s actually the first step to growth. You can always find different hacks, you can change button colors, you can come up with different little things here and there to get a little extra surge of traffic or surge of people using your product in a different way.

Ultimately what makes them stay and what creates sustainability is trust.


Intro

Nick: Hey everyone, welcome to the very first episode of Bleeper.

In this episode, we speak to Katelyn Bourgoin, who joined us from Canada. Katelyn specializes in helping frustrated founders identify their best customers and figures out what triggers them to buy.

Katelyn is regarded as an expert in the field and has been featured in CBC, The Huffington Post, Forbes and more.

We spoke to Katelyn in order to understand why customer research is important and how founders can leverage some understanding of the skill set with growing their products.

Background and career

Nick: Hey Katelyn! Welcome to the show. Can you tell us a bit about your background and career?

Katelyn: Sure. Thank you so much for having me. I sometimes say that I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve started businesses spanning the tech the marketing and hospitality sectors.

I have dabbled in a little bit of everything. I sold my first company in 2015. I got the bright idea that at that time I had a marketing agency (branding agency) and I thought “Hey, I want to stop exchanging my time for money. So I think I’m going to start something more scalable. Maybe I should do a tech startup!”

I was kind of naïve enough to think that that would be easier. Anybody who’s coming from the startup world knows that it’s not. But yeah, that’s really what started my path into the world of startups. That was I think 2015 or 2014, and fast-forward four years now things are going well with the startup in the sense that we’ve got a lot of initial traction.

We’ve attracted some great investors. We’re growing fairly quickly, but there were lots of barriers and bumpy roads along the way and ultimately decided to shut that down last year. In the last year and a half I’ve been figuring out what the future looks like for me and took all the learnings and the amazing network that I built while working on my startup and decided to focus on an area that I was particularly passionate about which is customer development and using customer insight to drive growth and business decisions. That’s where I’ve been focused more lately and that’s really the work that I do these days.

Nick: Okay great. I’ve had a look at your website, and you’ve really done some interesting things.

One of the things that really stuck out for me was how you said that you love how the world’s most successful businesses don’t just get lucky. They have a unique DNA. Can you elaborate a little on that for us?

Katelyn: Sure. That goes back to my own experience and trying to build a high growth company and seeing that what it comes down to in those early years is really just being as customer-centric as you can.

When I talk about having a unique DNA, what I mean is they are really taking the time to understand their customers. To understand why their customers are buying their product and what they’re trying to achieve in their lives; and what messages are going to resonate with them. Also, leveraging all of that customer insight to basically test things. A lot of companies that are some of the fastest growing are companies that have made a habit of doing a lot of customer research.  Then using what they have learned to test different ideas and use rapid iteration to move the needle. So it comes down to that the unique DNA is really just about being customer driven and customer-centric and not being afraid to fail at things and keeping testing your way to success.

Structuring customer interviews

Nick: One of our biggest challenges at Bleeper is that we understand the customers that we have in the WordPress space. We have about 60 000 active websites using our product in WordPress.  We’re trying to break away from WordPress now and go straight-out SaaS to try target every type of site out there. One of the biggest issues we have as a company is how to conduct customer interviews. We know our customer in WordPress, but we have no idea who our customers are and what they want outside of WordPress. Can you maybe tell us how you go about structuring customer interviews?

Katelyn: The first thing I would do is I would commend you for recognizing that you don’t know that customer outside of WordPress and realizing that the way to start that kind of foray into that world is by doing customer research. A lot of companies won’t admit if they’re not super knowledgeable in a particular audience and they don’t always start with research.

Customer interviews are really powerful tools and I love customer interviews as the start of customer discovery because they can help you figure out what your ideal customers are trying to achieve and what they want in an ideal solution. You can leverage what you learn from those customer interviews and basically develop some assumptions and then test those through surveys where you get a bit more feedback and you’re able to have more and more critical mass coming in and answers.

A lot of people just do a survey, they send it out to friends and family or people in their kind of peer network but they don’t actually take the time to speak directly with customers or if they do, they don’t leverage those interviews and do them right. So congrats to you guys for doing that.

When it comes to doing customer interviews, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time both researching best practices and testing them in my own business and with my clients in the last year and then refining it and trying to find a process that really works well for smaller teams that don’t have the resources to hire people, this is their job.

They need to basically have you know founders or marketing people or X product managers doing this off the side of their desk. Trying to figure out strategies that will work for those smaller teams so that they can still leverage the value of customer entities has kind of been a passion of mine.

I would say that what really inspired my work as of late, it is a customer research framework called “Jobs To Be Done”. Jobs To Be Done was popularized by Clayton Christensen who wrote a book. His most recent book I think was from 2016. It was called Competing Against Luck and a lot of people know some of his earlier works such as The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. In The Innovator’s Solution he kind of started talking about and hinting about this framework called Jobs To Be Done. Then in his most recent book Competing Against Luck,  really that’s what the whole book is about “Jobs To Be Done”. But the concept behind Jobs To Be Done is really interesting. Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor. He has a great team behind him. What they did was they studied 20 000 thousand different product launches and these were products being launched by big enterprise companies and by small scrappy startups.

They wanted to see what the success rate was among those companies and if they could kind of use what they learned to identify how does success happen and if there any correlating factors. What they saw was that of those twenty thousand product launches. About 93% of them failed, in that they just really didn’t ever live up to the expectation of the company that built this product in the first place. They had huge aspirations and the product just kind of fizzled.

Then they looked at about 7% of products that did really well, and what they’re trying to figure out is, what can we tell about these companies? What brings them together? What makes them unique? Is it just luck or are people just getting lucky when it comes to coming up with the right solutions? What they end up seeing, was that the correlating factor is that all of those companies had a product that helped somebody get the job done better.

This is kind of the concept of “Jobs To Be Done”. What they say is that we don’t buy products and services, we hire them to do jobs for us, and when you understand what jobs your customers are hiring your product to do, you can make sure that they keep hiring you to do it and that you do that job better than any of your competitors.

A great kind of visual example of this is that nobody wants a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole.  You buy the drill to get the hole and then Jobs To Be Done brings that kind of a step further and says OK, you don’t even want the hole, you want to hang a picture on a shelf or whatever that might be.

When you realize and you think about your customer’s problems from the perspective of what they’re trying to get done, it can help you to build better stuff. It can help you to market that much more effectively and have much more effective messaging.

So that big preamble is basically the way that I think about customer interviews, and so I use a kind of “Jobs To Be Done” style interview.

Switch Interview

What I do is I basically want to get them to tell me the story that led to them buying a product, whether that’s my product or if it’s a competitor’s product that does something similar or provides a similar solution to get that job done. What I want to learn is what made them switch to that product.

This is known as a “switch” interview. I start it off and I say “you recently bought x”. I want you to think back to the very first time you started thinking about needing something like x.  I’m going to ask you a lot of really specific questions and dig into the detail.

I want you to think back to the very first time you started thinking about needing something like x.  I’m going to ask you a lot of really specific questions and dig into the detail. What I’m trying to do is create a mental timeline of that buying journey.

What I’m trying to do is create a mental timeline of that buying journey. They’re not used to usually customer research being done that way. We all get those calls from companies on the phone where they’re doing a survey and you’re going to be asked the same five questions.

This is really about pulling out as much detail from your customers as you can. The reason this type of method works is because it’s in understanding the kind of emotions that are at play and the forces that are at play that lead to your customer switching from their old solution to their current one that helps you to figure out what they’re looking for.

Ultimately, I am sure we’ve all had the experience where we’ve tried a product. We had expectations of what we wanted that product to do or how we wanted it to work for us. We gave it a shot, but it doesn’t necessarily do it and it doesn’t get the job done. Even if we don’t get rid of that product right away,  maybe we signed up for a yearlong subscription or maybe it’s something that we bought that physically now exists in our house.

If it doesn’t actually get the job done that we originally bought it to do, then in our mind, we’re still looking for the next solution. Especially in software – with so much software being subscription based, you really want to understand what it is your customers are trying to get done.

This is so that you can help them to do that better than any of your competitors. Giving them a reason to keep hiring your product over and over as in they keep paying for the subscription. That’s the method that I use, and if you look it up on the internet and find interview scripts that kind of teach you how to do this style of interview, it’s called a switch interview.

Top three customer interview questions

Nick: In the customer discovery process, this methodology that you take up? Can you share the top three questions that you normally ask in that interview?

Katelyn: I’m trying to kind of pull the story out of them, that led to them making their switch but depending on whom it is you’re getting the chance to talk to. Sometimes you don’t have time to do a formal interview.

Sometimes you run into somebody in a coffee shop, and they’re talking about using “x” product and you want to take that opportunity to do a little bit of research or sometimes you can only get 10 minutes of somebody’s time and so you have to do a shorter interview.

The questions that I really like to make sure I always ask because I get some really great insights from them are:

Before you buy/bought our product, what other solutions or tools were you using to get that job done? In your case, it’s a chat app. You could ask your customers “before you started using bleeper, what other tools or solutions were you using to communicate with your customers to better understand them?” What you’ll learn is that oftentimes there are things that people are thinking of in their mind as potential solutions to getting their job done. You might not see them as direct competitors to what you do. They might say, “Oh well, I set up you know, automated email sequences”, or I would hop on a call with people when they had questions. So in the “Jobs To Be Done” world, even though those might not be direct competitors in that they do the same thing in the exact same way that you do it. They are definitely competitors because they’re the reasons why somebody might not use your solution. They may already be getting the job done using this other method. That’s an important question to ask.

Figure out what else are they using to get the job done. Then what you want to figure out is – what is not working with the product?

The next question that I would typically ask if I don’t have a lot of time and I’m going to ask three questions is what was the first time that you actually considered needing a better solution? What was going on in your life or business that made you start looking for something else? What’s great about that question is you’re going to expose what’s known as a triggering event.

Basically, something triggered in their life that made them start seeking another solution. They may not have bought right away, but it took them six months to actually start buying. If you know the painful events that are happening in somebody’s life that is pushing them to start seeking a better solution – that’s great insight when it comes to figuring out your marketing.

Then the last question I always ask if I only have time for 3 is “Now that you’re using our product, how can we improve it?” It’s in understanding what you’re not helping that customer do, that can help you to figure out what to do next with your product. In software, so many companies have infinite directions they could go. They’re always trying to figure out just what does the product road map look like? What should we actually be building versus what we shouldn’t be building? What’s neat about “Jobs To Be Done” is it kind of gives you a framework and a frame of reference for thinking about the maturity of your product. You can think OK, if the job that we get done is, “we help salespeople to identify their hottest leads”.  Then if that’s what they need from me, that’s one of their jobs to get done. You can think creatively as a company about different ways to do that. One of my favorite sayings comes from Steve Jobs – “it’s not your customer’s job to know what they want”.

That’s so true. It’s not their job.

A lot of customers know that they’re unhappy with something. They know that something’s not working for them and some of them will volunteer potential solutions. As the innovator, as the person who’s the visionary for your product, it’s really on you to say “OK. When they say they want “x” feature, what are they really trying to get done?” Why do they think that’s the solution?

Oftentimes the customer will make recommendations that aren’t great but what’s really interesting and what you should be listening for and paying attention to, is why they’re asking for those things. This means that there’s a part of what you do, that says you’re not able to get the job done for them the way that they need it, and that’s an opportunity for innovation for your team. Does that make sense?

Nick: It makes a lot of sense. The customers that you’re interviewing outside of the coffee shop – let’s say you’ve actually scheduled an interview with a customer. How far would you go in getting background information on that current candidate before you actually interview them?

Katelyn: Well, the most important thing is if you’re planning to use the switch interview method, is asking if that person is using something else to get that job done.

Maybe you know that they’re using a different type of solution. You don’t want to talk to people who aren’t trying to do the job, if that makes sense? Those people aren’t necessarily going to give great insights.  If you’re kind of a B2B solution and there might be multiple levels of decision making before somebody approves buying your thing.

You want to talk to the decision makers, not necessarily the end users because it’s decision makers in a switch interview that are really going to be the ones who can tell you about what led to that switch. You want to talk to the end users as well as part of user research but for this style of interview, it’s really important to talk to the decision makers who actually chose to start using that solution.

There’s so much software that people can use to get something done. Using a spreadsheet may not be nearly as good but it’s probably one of your biggest competitors. A lot of people don’t think about that when they think about other competitors.

Sometimes a solution isn’t another piece of software or another specific product but it’s kind of a duct tape and elastic band solution they put together themselves. Those are great to learn about too because again, one of the things I like to say is that the biggest competitor for a lot of companies is a spreadsheet. There’s so much software that people can use to get something done. Using a spreadsheet may not be nearly as good but it’s probably one of your biggest competitors. A lot of people don’t think about that when they think about other competitors.

You want to know that they’re using something similar to get the job done, and when it comes to understanding their background information as a company from a strategy perspective, a great opportunity is to identify and narrow down on a niche type of target customer. That early stage customer that you’re going to really put your energy into creating a great experience for.

When it comes to the background information, choose people that fall into that demographic. It can be tricky if you end up talking to 10 people and they’re all from totally different industries, totally different styles of businesses or lifestyles. If you’re B2C, you may feel like you’re aimlessly wandering because you’re going to hear a lot of different information. Whereas if you talk to one target segment and you do even just five interviews with people who fall into that target segment, you’ll start to spot patterns that really help you figure out if they’re the right ones to focus on or not.

If they are great, keep talking to them, get as much information from them as you can. If you’re not feeling a connection, they don’t really have a problem that your product solves, they’re not dissatisfied with their current solutions, then try talking to a different customer segment and start the process all over again.

If you’re not feeling a connection, they don’t really have a problem that your product solves, they’re not dissatisfied with their current solutions, then try talking to a different customer segment and start the process all over again.

(Source: Katelyn Bourgoin)

Nick: I suppose one of the biggest difficulties in being a founder is that you need to dabble in a lot of things. Customer discovery is quite frankly one of those things that you have to get involved in. At what point do you think founders should take a step back from doing this role himself or herself and bring in a professional such as yourself?

Katelyn: Well that’s a good question. I typically, when it comes to doing customer research for an organization, only work with larger companies. Companies that may have 250 employees or more.

The reason is that by that stage they have a product or solution that’s working. If they’re trying to release something new, I can help them with that. They’re used to bringing in professionals and leveraging those people’s expertise and leveraging those to make decisions, and sometimes they’re not as married to their original idea or original strategy as a small team might be.

When it’s a small team I wouldn’t recommend outsourcing customer discovery. That’s like outsourcing “dating your potential future partner”. It might save you some time to hire somebody else to date your boyfriend or girlfriend but you’re not actually going to glean any benefits.

When it’s a small team especially if you’re founding something new and you’re just starting out and you’re trying to figure out if you should build this thing or not or if you should start this business or not – I don’t recommend outsourcing customer discovery. I think that’s like outsourcing “dating your potential future partner”. It might save you some time to hire somebody else to date your boyfriend or girlfriend but you’re not actually going to glean any benefits.  You won’t be making that relationship with a customer stronger. You won’t understand them better. I really don’t think it’s something that should be outsourced until companies are at a much larger size and then I’m still very thoughtful about getting the clients involved in the analysis process. Rather than me going off and doing the customer research doing all the analysis and then dropping a report on their desk. I’ll go off and do the customer research which takes a lot of time.

I’ll kind of chunk that information up into some patterns that I start spotting and some high-level categories. Then I’ll bring the team together that is going to be responsible for accepting the strategy for getting on board. I’ll play audio from my interviews for them – the key things that I heard and together we’ll start analyzing some of that feedback and coming up with “OK, what does that mean?

There are things that the internal team is going to hear or pick up on that I as an outsider won’t pick up on. There are potential opportunities that will be missed because I didn’t know something was important. Somebody may be talking about a big industry change that might be coming but they just kind of casually mention it, and I hear it a few times but I don’t realize that it’s an important contextual piece of information. I may not flag that to the team.

For me, it’s important to really get the team involved. I would say, what is important is if you do want to bring in somebody from the outside to help with some of this and be part of the process – it’s kind of like hiring a wedding planner. You don’t want to leave all the decisions up to them because it won’t really feel like your day, but be part of the process. Let them deal with the logistics, let them deal with finding the right people. Let them lead some of the interviews, so your team can learn how to do it. Ultimately this is one of those skills that every team will eventually need to have in-house anyway. It’s like as your team grows you need more specialized skills in your team. Having your early team members be part of this process is really smart.

Trust Hacking

Nick: That makes a lot of sense. Just to sidetrack you a little bit, I read an article you wrote on trust hacking. Can you explain to our listeners what this is and why it should be important to them?

I’m a big believer that growth is and will continue to become exponentially harder.


Katelyn: Basically I’m a big believer that growth is and will continue to become exponentially harder. The reason is that the barrier to entry, to start something new has almost gone to zero. People can launch a new service business in an hour. People can create a new piece of software in a week and a half. It’s not hard to build this stuff anymore.

What’s hard is to get attention and we as consumers, and potential buyers, are really overwhelmed by people fighting for our attention. The reason that I created kind of the trust hacking framework is not about trust hacking. Some people hear that and think that what I mean is to take advantage of people’s trust or try to hack their trust, they don’t realize the motivations.

Growth hacking is about the company achieving their goals which is to grow. The only way that a company can grow sustainably (especially in our current business climate) is by focusing on creating customer value by creating trust. In reality through people just talking about that product. It’s never been more important for businesses to get word of mouth.

It’s never been more important for businesses to get word of mouth.


Whether that word of mouth is people directly talking to their friends in the kitchen or posting about products on product reviews on Amazon or product time or whatever it might be. The idea behind trust hacking is that I wanted to encourage high growth teams to re-frame the way they think about their objective instead of that objective being just growth. The objective should be increased trust because when you focus on increased trust you are making your messaging better.

You need to make people feel like you get them and you’re building the right solution for them. When trust becomes the metric that matters you, your business will grow. It’s actually the first step to growth. You can always find different hacks, you can change button colors, you can come up with different little things here and there to get a little extra surge of traffic or surge of people using your product in a different way.

Ultimately what makes them stay and what creates sustainability is trust. That trust leads to them talking about your product, to using it, to loving you as a brand. That leads to sustainable growth. That’s where the concept of trust hacking comes from. If your listeners are familiar with the growth hacking framework, the idea being you come up with an assumption and you test it. You measure the results, and you are always working in this kind high-tempo testing or iterative model. Trust hacking works very much the same way, but what’s different about trust hacking is that when the things you’re doing are not working – I encourage you to go back and do more customer discovery because there’s something wrong about your assumptions, there’s something wrong with the customers you’re targeting or the approach you’re taking and just completely blindly testing more stuff without going back. Doing more customer discovery may not help you figure out what wrong fast enough.

(Source: Katelyn Bourgoin)

Where to from here?

Nick: Katelyn you’ve given us a lot of insights in the customer discovery process and I just wanted to thank you for that, but now a little bit about you. What does the future of Katelyn look like? Where do you see yourself in three years?

Katelyn: I really like that question. My business is taking a bit of a shift.

I’m probably not going to be working directly with clients in a consulting capacity going forward. I’ve got a few clients that I’m going to say yes too, but for the most part, I’m really moving to a workshop model and I’m creating an in-person workshop that is done over two and a half days.

It’s about figuring out who your best customers are and creating a growth plan to get more of those customers. It’s really about giving teams the opportunity to do some of that deep strategic work, that so often doesn’t happen because you’re just bogged down with the day to day of running the business.

This new workshop is called Customer Camp. I’m based here in Atlantic Canada, and I’ll be rolling out across Atlantic Canada but I’m also chatting with some folks about bringing it to Las Vegas and California and potentially the Middle East.

That’s going to be my main thing. Going forward I really want to create this awesome workshop that people come in, they get offsite, they get out of their office and they work through the hard stuff that they don’t often invest the time in. They’ll have all of these great takeaways at the end, so they’ll have a customer guidelines book that they can share with any new team members who’ve come on board. They’ll have a growth plan that’s actually backed up by customer research that they’ve done.

That’s kind of my new thing and then if people want to work with me and they’re not in one of the locations where I’ll be doing this in-person workshop – I also have an online course that focuses on helping people to get better at customer discovery that’s developed for more of an early stage audience.

If you’re in the process of figuring out how to get product market fit, your pre product, that’ll be a great workshop for you. There’s a link to that on my Website at HTTPS://katelynbourgoin.Com/ People can check that out and you can actually go on and check out the first few videos and learn a little bit more about Jobs To Be Done and about what it’s like to build a new company today and what some of the challenges are before you actually buy the course to get a sampling of what that content is like.

Nick: Well, that’s great Katelyn. It seems like you reduce the learning curve for founders by quite a bit with your course, so we’ll definitely look into it ourselves.

Katelyn: I appreciate you saying that. I believe that content has no value.

I know that sounds funny coming from someone with a marketing background but really the purpose of content in my opinion. Nobody wants to learn something if it could be done for them or if they could avoid having to learn it and still get the outcomes that they want. The thing about customer discovery is as it sits right now, the best way to do it is still to talk to people. A lot of founders I know, spend an enormous amount of painful time trying to figure out how to do that.

I took everything that I learned over the last year and a half, studied all the different methodologies and just tried to distill that and figure out how could I help founders and small teams to learn this as quickly as possible and get the results from the research as quickly as possible. They can make smarter decisions and feel confident to do the right stuff. The workshops aren’t that long and that’s by design.

You get all the different tools that you would actually need. It’s not just learning what to do. You actually get the stuff you need to do it. That’s really my focus, is just helping people to avoid having to read all the books and do all the research themselves to figure out how to start. I hope they’ll just be able to go “OK, this is exactly the step by step way I’m going to do it. Awesome. Moving forward.

Nick: That’s great Katelyn thank you so much again for your time. You’ve been amazing. You’ve really given a lot of insight. We appreciate you coming on our first ever show. Thank you for that, and we’d like to wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Katelyn: Thank you so much. This is great and I look forward to sharing Bleeper with my audience and telling them more about you guys.

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