/ How To

I asked questions before I built my startup (and got customers in return)

by eelco

About ten years ago I started my first side-project/business it was a service to compare and rate real-estate brokers. It went nowhere.
In the next ten years, I started numerous other things, of which I can only remember a few. Right now I still run one (profitable) business and every now and then start the odd new project.

But there's one thing I never did before I started Muna: interviewing users customers before I started building, designing or developing anything. If you ask me now: I am surprised that I even got one sustainable business.
When asking the right questions, you get to know if the possible problem you are thinking of solving is actually worth your time.

Every customer has a job to be done

It's important to know that you make a product for people. As such I've found the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) methodology invaluable to interview users beforehand.
Example: customers don't want to buy a drilling machine and a hole in the wall, but they want to decorate their wall. "Decorating the wall" is the job to be done in this case. What can you provide to get this job done? This blog isn't an in-depth article about JTBD. If you want to know more about JTBD I can highly recommend "When Coffee & Kale Compete" by Alan Klement.

“Customers don't want to buy a drilling machine, they want to decorate their wall.”

What job do my customers need to get done?

I came up with multiple jobs to be done before starting Muna: have an always up to date employee data (who, what and how much), less stress when a new team member would join.
With this in mind, I could ask: "what do you currently have to do when a new member joins?" or "how do you currently store your employee's details?". This led to the many things founders and managers have to do when someone joins their company: collect their personal details, send over a contract or NDA, remind them to return the signed contract, invite them to a slew of different third-party services (this alone could easily take up to 30 minutes!).
This was enough proof for me that the solution I had in mind, could very well be a viable business. This is when I turned to the next step.

Turn answers into lo-fi mockups

After interviewing people, the trend was quite obvious. The current tools people use to get these jobs done were plenty and all over the place. From DM's in Slack, email attachments, Google Drive documents, and more obscure tools were all used. What was worrisome is that files sometimes got shared, duplicated and changed, and sometimes even lost!
I get it though, running any business is no small feat, and these are things that easily fall through the cracks.
I turned the answers I got in some mockups to explain a possible workflow that would improve their current ones. People are often really visual and mockups made it easier for them to better understand the proposed solution.
The reaction I got on these were nothing but positive. It also raised questions about specifics of a feature, or things that were missing or parts that could be skipped for now.

How to find people to interview?

This is often what many people, including me, have problems with: asking others for help. But don't worry about this, most people, including me, are often more than happy to help.
As such start with your own network. Apart from the persons in your contacts, look on Twitter, Facebook groups and Slack teams you are part off. Got a B2B product already? Send a friendly email to some of them.
I tried to do video-calls whenever possible. This was to make sure I could more easily and quicker ask follow-up questions—making sure to get every drop of useful information out of them. Where this was difficult I went with a simple Typeform using only open questions, no multiple-choice questions. This resulted in fewer answers, but the quality was better.

Result? A more precise "minimum viable product"

Bootstrapping a business, and even more when you are a solo-founder, means you have to be precise about what to do and more importantly what to leave out. Which feature will make it into that famous "MVP", what can you postpone for later and what can you leave out altogether?
Without having asked potential customers any questions, you wouldn't have known the answers to this. You would have added features they wouldn't use or missed features critical for the first iteration.
For Muna, and its first customers, this meant a focus on onboarding. Providing tools that make onboarding painless and smooth.
This won't be the sole focus of Muna though. Right now it already is easy to add financial details, adding emergency contacts and more. The list with (requested) features is quite long too! I am excited to get to work on it.

Don't stop interviewing your customers after you launched

The fact you launched with a focused and nice MVP doesn't mean you can stop interviewing (potential) customers. Use the same technique to ask how they currently go about certain "jobs". Don't talk about any ideas or possible solutions before that. For Muna, I like to add a way to track days off for employees, but I am not sure how to go about this just yet. Interviewing people will give new insights how they currently do this. Maybe they already use a tool for this. Maybe they don't track this at all. Do they track hours off (yuck!) or parts of the day? How many days? Do they have different types of days off, e.g. vacation, holiday, parental leave, etc. These are all questions that are impossible to answer yourself.
If you feel generous you can always provide a nice, little incentive in the form of discounts. Any modern payment provider makes it easy to set up discounts in any way possible.

“Want to exchange 10 minutes of your time for 10% off for a month?”

Interviewees became customers

Once I had a clear idea of what Muna should be (and later become), I set up a landing page and shared that with some people. The leads I got from there and the people I interviewed got an email every now and then with some updates on the progress.
Some of these interviewees became customers! As a little token of my appreciation, I offered them 30% discount on the plan of their choosing. I continue to interview them every now and then and try to keep the relation as personal as possible.

As makers or builders, we can get excited about a new idea. This gets fuelled by the fact we think "it will only take a day or two to build". For one this is rarely the case. And if you are in it to turn it into a profitable business, you can not forget you are dealing with real people. Talk with them, listen to them and extract the useful tidbits out of their answers. Rinse and repeat.

If you like to talk about this more or have questions, I am happy to help! Shoot me an email.

Craving an organised organisation too?

Muna is built for the next generation companies, like yours. Modern teams that call internet there work domain. Muna makes onboarding and managing all employee data less painful.
If you start today, you will get 20% off for 6 months (valid until the end of June 2018).

Cover image photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

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