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Product Development on Steroids: How to Embed Research into Early-Stage Companies and Turbocharge Your Success!

Product Development on Steroids: How to Embed Research into Early-Stage Companies and Turbocharge Your Success!

As an early-stage founder or an operator, have you ever found yourself asking questions like:

  • How are customers using the product we’ve built?
  • Do customers find something hard to use in the product?
  • What are the things they like or dislike about the way they use it?
  • Why are some customers using it more than others?
  • In what ways are they using the product differently from how we imagine?

The above questions come in different shapes and sizes, right from the point of ideation, creation of an MVP (Minimum viable product) to the journey to finding the elusive PMF (Product-Market Fit). 

While all early-stage companies face such questions, internalizing a culture of gathering customer feedback at all levels (read: functions) requires some methodology to be imbibed in the long run. When most of your time is spent as a builder/creator, it is common to get consumed in the process of ‘creation’ and miss the obvious part of iteration - spending time on gathering feedback. 

Insights generated from such research, even though without a formal setup, could potentially be a goldmine - and all the ‘anecdotes’ you hear from customers, could help solve a lot of your current priorities, even if you collect user data through analytics.

In order to realize its full value, early-stage startups can follow a simple step by step process below in order to internalize (and later, even evangelize) listening to customers and embedding user research in your product development workflow.

(Note: The terms customer feedback and user research may be used interchangeably going ahead)

Stage 1: Giving feedback a shape and form

Most feedback which is qualitative in nature may already have been present, but is spread across in cloud drives, spreadsheets, slack channels, some in notes or even your inbox.

A good starting point here is spending some time into gathering all sorts of feedback into a single ‘repository’ or a ‘voice of customer’ which could be anything  ⎯ a spreadsheet, a cloud folder, a whiteboard or a Notion page for example.

The benefits of creating one far outweighs the effort required in maintaining it, and with recent developments in a plethora of AI tools, a lot of it can even be automated (included analysis).

This repository should primarily cater to 3 needs:

  • Indexation and searchability of data in a consistent manner through keywords/themes
  • A chronological view of raw data, insights and actionable items 
  • Individuals/teams involved in the process

Creating a repository should not be limited to any single team, or function. 

Each and every function could add to it, making the process collaborative, such as:

  • Customer success/Customer support : Tickets, emails created by users [issues with the product] 
  • Marketing : User Responses to campaigns/ads/experiments [reactions to brand/product/positioning]
  • Design : Observations from Usability Testing [validating or invalidating a new concept, feature] 

Stage 2: Discovering the unknowns with a balanced approach

More often than not, teams of up to 100 in strength face resource crunch, and every single person is trying to solve burning issues on a daily basis to keep the ship sailing. Priorities are dynamic.

In such a scenario, most founders and operators find themselves having to make the choice between having defined ‘processes’ (which is rare) or letting things run in their own flow to keep everything unblocked. 

The opinion that there are just two options which are mutually exclusive is just a fallacy. There are 2 quick steps you can take to get a headstart:

Building a regular cadence

An organized way could be setting up a regular internal cadence to plan, review and share what you have collectively learnt, steps to some of which are referred to here.

As we mentioned in the earlier step, in a time-crunched scenario, it is more important to discover the unknowns. But how does one get to that? 

Answers to the following questions are non-negotiables for this:

  • What are you trying to know about the customer?
  • What are your (internal) assumptions about it? 
  • How do you plan to evaluate and act on customer feedback?

Getting started on the above becomes a breeze with Betafi templates, enabling teams to get rapid feedback coming in.

Share feedback, fast and wide

Feedback in silos doesn’t help anybody and has a lower half-life. It needs to be widely shared across the org to bring it in the culture of the team.

Once you are sorted with answers to 3 questions mentioned, the next step is to spread it further. This is easier in smaller teams - tech gets a feedback loop of how what they’re building is being used, marketing knows how the user is perceiving the brand and business knows what could be the next big thing customers need, given their current pain points.

The key here is such tangible insights being visible, accessible to everyone. Here is how they could look like :

  1. An anecdote from a user which mentions about the time when they found difficulty in using the product or a specific feature.
  2. An email from a user who finally found what they were looking for.
  3. Video/audio clips from customer calls/support calls. 

A repository (recall, Stage 1) makes everything in Stage 2 come alive, and amplifies every step towards bringing you closer to embedding research.

Stage 3: Creating an empathy first culture within the team

Your users said it and you heard it. It was acted upon and eventually the circle of feedback improved the metrics. The burning question is - how does one continually create a virtuous cycle of this as the team size increases?

As the organization grows, so will moving parts of it. How do you ensure such customer obsession sticks around as you move to a growth stage or late stage organization.

Here are 5 ways to go about it:

Invest in making it visible

What cannot be seen shall not be believed. Artifacts (anecdotes, clips, voice notes, emails, reviews) collected from customers' feedback should be made accessible to anyone and everyone. Dedicated slack/Teams channels, newsletters, or post-its, user stories in an office setup make the cut.

Onboarding New hires

New joinees should be exposed to such observations and insights at the earliest to internalize how customers think and feel. Think Stage 1 - getting access to the repository on Day 1 will do wonders. ‘Seeing with the users’ eyes’ and ‘feeling with their hearts’ is the groundwork of empathy that starts here.

Keep it top-down until it becomes a norm

Founders who actively speak with customers bring a cultural shift in the company's DNA within all team members. Quality of conversations matter more than quantity. All you need is 1 big insight

Hiring a team

A dedicated team of user researchers can do more justice as the volume of insights grows to help make the right interpretations, but it is always a good idea for all operators to be hands-on with direct feedback.

Celebrate successes

If research driven product impact wins are celebrated, it will drive a culture of participation for everyone. Small wins attract big wins. 

With each passing stage, you get closer to achieving product-market fit, driving growth, and optimizing product metrics. By understanding and prioritizing user needs, you are all set - not only to embed research as a practice but also set yourself up to weave magic for your users through the experiences you build. Get started today!

About the Author:

Abhinav is a UX Researcher with a passion for creating delightful human-centered experiences in digital products. He has worked with early to growth stage startups in fintech, health-tech and consumer internet spaces across consumer and enterprise products.

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