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Talking to users (defstartup.org)
127 points by Plugawy on Nov 23, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

Here's an easy way to start a conversation with new trial users:

Send a simple, one-line email that asks them what they hope to achieve with your product/service.

"Hi, saw you signed up for Acme, welcome! What are you hoping to get out of your trial?"

(I've written about this before: http://www.gkogan.co/blog/question-for-saas-trial-users/)

Personally, both as a consumer and as founder, I feel like intros like these come across as a bit aggressive, like I can almost read into the email that you want to sell me something. I prefer an intro of the lines of "Hey, glad to see you on board, I'm the founder of $company, let me know if you have any questions or if you just wanna chat, I'm around". Not that I have the data to know which works better, but to me it makes more sense that the intro is about just talking about the product rather than how can we get you to buy from us best.

I feel like I'd probably parse that message as non-information, since I know I can send them an email if I want to (but I probably won't).

What has led me to submit feedback most often is having a fairly prominent "send feedback" button somewhere on every page. It means as soon as I notice a problem or think of a useful feature, I'm immediately able to press a button and write even just a one sentence suggestion.

I would never respond to that type of email. I would however respond to the question posed by the grandfather.

Much better is "Hi, I'm the founder of Acme. Can I buy you lunch and talk about your thoughts on our product?"

hm... I like this. :) Does it work? Have you tried?

There aint no such thing as a free lunch.

What email subject line do you find works best in conjunction with this email?

Anything short and casual like "Question" or "Reaching out." If the subject is short enough then the body of the email (the actual question) will often be visible in the inbox preview, letting people see it's just a short question and not a long and robotic message.

>What are you hoping to get out of your trial?

Some confirmations that your company will deliver the whatever Acme supposedly provides according to what your PR and (insert here either "really nice" or "stupidly infested by senseless icons and page-centered stock images") site promises.

I'm inclined to disagree with the author's thesis. I agree that talking to users is essential, but I think his heurstic is arbitrary: "You’re doing it right if you can get a third of potential users to pay you money within a month of initial contact."

The real number you should be targeting is the number of users you need to pay in order to build a sustainable business, that could be above 80%, it could be below 5%, it could be 0 . . .

This is something that varies widely by business and I don't think it's good advice for a company that falls outside the scope I imagine the author is thinking of.

The premise is that you should aim for a higher conversion number because it forces you to focus on a more narrow audience segment. I think that's really sound advice, and might go as far as to say that's the key to building any business. Typically any business can find 1 person who loves their product, but then extrapolate incorrectly or slice the wrong segment to focus on. Higher conversion number means you've started to focus on the right segment.

I was wondering something along these lines. In a freemium model, you don't want to only be talking to paying customers, so you have to segment into two tiers, and this metric doesn't work. However, it isn't a bad starting point when you're targeting paying customers.

From my experience, I disagree with the heuristic of money paid within the first month for knowing if you are really talking to users, because it doesn't apply especially for enterprise SaaS, where you likely to have a direct sales model, and as a co-founder with no sales experience at the beginning, as you continue to sell subscriptions, let's say the same functionality within a product, you will improve as a salesperson, closing deals earlier and by that heuristic, you know what your customers want.

Consistent user engagement with the product is a better metric to build such a heuristic, because user engagement is direct correlated to value IMO. That's why I am a fan of even charging $1 per month for a product, because it easier (relative to having given it away for free) to increase pricing based on the value you deliver to your customer, which can be measured through user engagement with the product.

> user engagement is direct correlated to value IMO

It is not. At RethinkDB we had great user engagement, but people were unwilling to pay (or unwilling to pay enough to keep the business going). The heuristic of getting money in early avoids markets with bad fundamentals (developer tools is one instance of such markets).

Building a DB is a large endeavor, it's hard to see being able to get people to buy within only a month of contact for it (without playing with it and such). If you were to start from scratch again with RethinkDB, do you feel this logic still applies?

I would build it as a PaaS business (e.g. see Firebase), although that's a bad business for other reasons (impossible to effectively compete with Google Cloud and AWS).

Why not rent out access to AWS / GC instances running your software?

Do you think the one-month horizon applies to enterprise products as well? If not, how does the metric change? In some industries a sales cycle lasts 18 months before culminating in a multi-million ARR contract. I'm curious given your experience with a database product that perhaps could have gone down that path.

This post mostly applies to hunting deers and rabbits[1]. Elephants and flies are different.

The concern with new founders working on enterprise products is that it's very easy to convince yourself you're building for the enterprise when you really aren't. RethinkDB is case in point -- it's not the type of product you sell to a CIO (even with MongoDB, very few if any large organizations run on it -- it's mostly limited to silos). We found that we could capture at most $100k in value annually, and $1m contracts were ten years away.

My advice would be to either (a) not start enterprise companies unless you really know what you're doing, (b) start enterprise companies with consumer adoption models (Slack), or (c) if you must start an enterprise company, get really spectacular advisors who regularly spend enough time with you to understand your business intimately, and then listen to them.

[1] http://christophjanz.blogspot.com/2014/10/five-ways-to-build...

This post makes no sense to me. The goal of talking to users is not to sell them something. The goal is to better understand their needs/attitudes/pain points/etc. so that you can improve your products and services.

That eventually leads to product/market fit (and therefore revenue), but putting a conversion goal on user research sounds more like a sales activity than true user research to me...

Did I just miss the point of the post?

Yes, you kinda did. User research is very hard to believe when users aren't putting their money where their mouth is. It doesn't even matter if you take users to a credit card form and then throw away their card details. The fact that they were willing to take their credit card out for you means they actually, genuinely care about this pain point, in a non-theoretical way.

I'm not sure about the magic number here, but as a user, I do know that I appreciate hearing from the company.

Years ago I signed up for Todoist and I was so impressed by the emails and communication that I got (on top of it being a fantastic product) that I subscribed to premium and have been ever since.

I'll be honest, I really don't appreciate it. I've become very leery of giving out real information when I have to before downloading some trial product[1], because if I put real email addresses and phone numbers, I start getting hounded by sales reps. It's not worth wasting their time or mine.

[1] typical case is, some customer of ours has a weird piece of third-party enterprise software that is flubbing up one of our products. Anti-virus and web proxies tend to be particularly over-aggressive, both with dorking up other software, and with the sales reps.

I do too, and it doesn't hurt that usually good communication has equaled a very good product or service.

Some companies which have particularly impressed me with their onboarding communications are Survata (a YC company, https://www.survata.com/ ), and Octopus Deploy ( https://octopus.com/ )

Overall I agree with the spirit of the article but 30% could be too high based on the vertical you are in. Collecting feedback when you dont have direct connection to your users ( like you don't have email address ) is hard. Progressively engaging with users and asking/helping them what they want to accomplish will yield lot of insights.

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