Who Needs To Get Out Of The Building When I Can Simply Run Experiments. By Andree Huk

The value of people skills increases by the day. Talking to random strangers is generally very easy granted that they have somehow been introduced to you by a friend or friendly stranger or by any other random accident that "broke the ice” for you. There appears to be generally this very high barrier that is so hard for us to cross. It conveniently covers our comfort zones. If you happen to lack any friend or friendly stranger you are left to your own devices.

Startups and early product teams are forced to validate their products and markets. They should validate their value proposition frequently especially in the early days when there are few commitments. Startups have gone into few relationships and have established few dependencies and therefore can change directions easily. Few things are set in stone. This is the best time to reach out to people in ones inner and outer circle, people who might be early customers or even who might not be. The broader the circle the more valid feedback one will receive, the higher the chance for serendipitous encounters that may falsify a business, prove it or even help kickstart it. Tapping into those wider circles is now famously called Getting Out of The Building or GOTB. In fact, designers have called this User Research for decades. But I confess that does not sound so fancy. In any event though GOTB is no easy feat. By getting out of the building and doing user research you are moving towards the outer boundaries of your comfort zone. Shaky waters indeed. But in fact, this circumstance is not the only reason what makes user research so hard. You are trying to reach out to strangers for the sole purpose of extracting value out of them without giving anything back in return. You can counteract by handing out free latte's knowing though that there is no even value exchange. But you know, you are making your life a little bit easier. Nonetheless, it will be hard.

Now, What happens on the day of user research is then simply this: you certainly ask yourself whether those up and coming interviews will really reap any benefits. You convince yourself that whatever data is being logged on your servers or tools will suffice for not speaking to strangers or potential customers today. You stay inside and head back to your laptop. It did not just happen to me in a similar fashion, it does happen every day in many startup offices in Berlin, London, Barcelona, Stockholm and elsewhere, especially Silicon Valley. The thinking goes something like this: My analytics tools are well set up. I have been using those for a while, not much can go wrong here. Reaching out to users is pretty hard work and I am not good a talker anyway. Also, talk is cheap, isn't it? I am afraid it is but talking to the right customers is of so much value because you don't know what you don't know. User research needs thorough preparation but it is surefire way to dig into what you do not know in the early days that can sharpen your value proposition and steer you towards the right market.

Big Data is finally more than a buzzword. Data-driven or data-informed approaches appear to be the lifeblood these days at startups whatever size and shape. It has also already shaped their user research practices so it appears. Although User Research or GOTB has had an impact on non-ethnographers or non-designers alike the bottlenecks we have discussed above make it easy for data related approaches to win over those that require people skills. It feels so enticing as the market is bombarded with more and more niche analytics solutions of any flavor. And so the thinking goes: "There has to be this one tool that can help figure even the most people centric matters."

Now, if you do not believe me let me give you a very personal perspective on practical startup life. We are getting more and more requests from startups and more established companies to conversion-optimize their funnels. More established companies of course have had their tests and trials to figure out their analytics problems. Interestingly, as it does turn out in many cases it is not their analytics approach that is not well established or lacks focus but rather what you simply cannot measure with the Google Analytics of the world or neither with more niche tools. Hence, new or ongoing issues are less likely those that are solvable with analytics but rather those that relate to what you cannot necessarily measure: The People Factor. The human element appears to be a drag on conversions quite frequently. Young companies though have not yet archived product-market-fit although they probably have tipped their toes into analytics-waters so to say. However, they have not had their fair share of trial and error when it comes to analytics and therefore probably are not aware that many issues around their product, their value proposition or analytics funnels may indeed be related to The People Factor. I am afraid that many young startups waste valuable time (which they don't have) constantly focused on what they may be able to measure, unable to reset focus on what may likely be the real drag on their products' traction.

The younger your company the more likely it is that the long-awaited, missing traction is due to a false focus on data and analytics. People skills and related user research are as essential as they have been in the past. They can even help to bring your product back on track towards the right market and customer. So don't be afraid to chat up that random stranger outside of your office. Be courageous and adventurous.

Written by Andree Huk. @andreehuk andreehuk.tumblr.com

back to UX Blog