Startup School Reference Guide for Lecture #3 — How to Talk to Users with Eric Migicovsky

While working to create the Snapchat for voice — — and attending Startup School 2019, I was inspired to create these “Cliffs Notes” for all the valuable content that YC provides to their attendees.

At the core, the best companies are the ones where the founders themselves maintain a direct connection to users, at EVERY stage of the company.

2 sections of content in this video:

1. Strategies and Tactics for talking to Users

2. How best to talk to users, at each stage on your way to Product Market Fit

Overarching strategies and tactics for talking to users

  1. DON’T talk, LISTEN. User Interviews are not the time to sell the user on your product. They are meant to extract data from the user to improve your product.
  1. DO ask the user about the specifics of their problem. Generalities won’t guide you to a solution; specifics help you break down the problem into individual pieces.
  1. DO understand the contextual information about the user’s life that led them to the problem. What are their motivations that got them in to that problem in the first place?
  1. DON’T talk about hypotheticals — hypothetical products or hypothetical solutions. Again, you are not talking about your product; you are talking about the user’s problem.

Specific questions to ask users

  1. “What is the hardest part about [Situation that user is having a problem with]” Example: Dropbox might be in a school computer lab at MIT and ask a student: “What is the hardest part about working on a group project with school computers?”
  1. If the user says what the hardest part is, and you are not solving it, solve the hardest part instead!
  1. “When is the last time you encountered this problem?” This will extract circumstances around the situation. You can then “overlay” your solution on top of that real-world situation, and see if it would have helped!
  1. “How do you currently solve this problem?” This gives you a really clear understanding of how you can market your solution!
  1. Customers don’t buy a thing, they buy a solution to a problem. For Dropbox, they are not buying a file-sharing system; they’re buying a solution to the problem of sharing files on group projects they had last week.
  1. “What (if anything) have you done to try to solve the problem?” If someone isn’t expending effort to try to solve the problem, it might not be that big of a deal.
  1. If people are already trying other solutions, your product WILL be compared against that solution. Dropbox, for example, was compared against emailing files back and forth.
  1. “What is not great about the other solutions you’ve tried?” When you’ve identified the things that are below-average in the other solutions, those are the features in the solution YOU are building!
  1. This is NOT the question of “What features do you want in a new solution.” It is not the job of the user to come up with features — that is your job. Users are also not great at identifying solutions — they are better at identifying problems

Different strategies and tactics for talking to users — at each stage on your way to Product Market Fit

Idea Stage.

Before you’ve written your first line of code, talk to users.

  1. Find first users with problem. This can be friends, coworkers, acquaintances you are intro’d to, or interview yourself!
  1. Drop by in person! When cold emails don’t work, drop by in person! People are MUCH warmer in person than they are over email. If you’re truly solving one of their problems, you’re doing them a favor!
  1. Industry Events. Go in “Guerilla Style.” There are a high concentration of people who may have the problem you are looking to solve; strike up a conversation, and buy them a coffee!

Quick Tips for “Idea Stage”:

  • Take detailed notes.
  • Keep it casual.
  • Be considerate of the other person’s time.

Prototype Stage.

The Prototype Stage is where you have a rough product, and are working towards an MVP.

  1. Identify your best first customer. If you choose the wrong first customer, you can burn money and time!
  1. Ask questions that extract numerical answers. How much does the problem cost? How frequently do they encounter the problem? How large is their budget for solving the problem, and does the person experiencing the problem have the authority to fix it?

Overlapping Venn diagram of numerical answers. Your first customer is at the center of this Venn diagram!Overlapping Venn diagram of numerical answers. Your first customer is at the center of this Venn diagram!

After you’ve launched.

You have a public facing product, and are iterating towards PMF.

  1. Measure PMF - Use the “Superhuman” method: Survey your users, ask them one question: “How would you feel if you could no longer use [my product]?” with three answers: a) Very Disappointed b) Somewhat Disappointed c) Not Disappointed. You have achieved PMF if >40% say “Very Disappointed.” (Note: Full Article on this method here.)
  1. Understand Churn and User Issues-Put phone # in the sign up flow. If you are confused about why 20% of your users are not returning, pick up the phone, and ask one of them why!
  1. Be Data driven — Make sure any new features are driving up PMF. A simple way to determine if a new feature will increase the % who say “Very Disappointed” is by asking users to opt-in to a new feature, or asking for pre-orders using a CC#. This is a concrete action that will very likely translate to repeat usage.
  1. Discard bad data. Compliments are general, and not specific — discard it! Also, if a user veers in to hypotheticals, try to steer them back to specifics.

As always, lmk if you have any questions or feedback!


Dave Goldblatt
CEO @wavechatme | Fb 2007-2017 | Crypto is cool | I like AI too | Knicks, Jets, Napoli, Yankees |