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Here’s what I learned hanging out with Jason Fried (danshipper.com)
306 points by vanwilder77 on Jan 7, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

But the human brain is very good at talking about specifics. Questions like "can you walk me through what you do everyday" or "are there any repetitive tasks that you do day-to-day" will lead you down a much more interesting path. You’ll find problems that your software actually can solve.

Great advice. I like to take this even deeper:

  - What is the next thing you do?
  - Who do you call / talk to / pass this to?
  - Show me that form with real data on it.
  - What's the worst thing that happens? 
  - How often does that happen? (hourly, daily, etc.)
And my 3 favorite questions (which are often very revealing):

  - What % of time does that happen?
  - On a scale of 1 to 10, how good is that?
  - What is the #1 thing needed to take that to a 10?
Also, I try to ask these questions to > 1 person. The discussion of 2 or more people coming up with the answer is often more educational than the answers themselves.

I have at least 10 years of real work in my pipeline thanks to these techniques. I never worry about "make something people want".

Great post, Dan and Jason. Thank you!

As far as getting into specifics, how have questions like "How often does that happen?" worked compared to questions like "when is the last time that happened?" In other words, having the user speak about a particular instance versus generalizing about a "typical" day.

"tell me about the last time that happened" is better than "how often does that happen?"

How often doesn't tell you much. Plus it's unlikely to be accurate - people just don't keep track of things closely enough before you ask a question like this.

But "tell me about the last time" is specific and someone can tell you a story. Then you can dig into it.

Talking to people who just bought or just quit is great, but if that's all you do, a lot of key insights will be missed:

- Talking to people who didn't buy, but instead bought a competitor.

- Talking to expert users who've been with your product for a while to learn what they're doing with it you never even considered a possibility. Or to learn what they thought they'd be able to do, but could never quite make work well.

- Talking with all sorts of people to refine your elevator pitch and figure out how to secure the earlier parts of the funnel. Just because someone bought doesn't mean they're the only oracle of why people might buy. They could simply be early adopters after the latest shiny thing.

These are all things I've done with success.

#1, talking to competitor's customers, is what led me to invent spreadsheet notebook tabs on Quattro Pro at a point when most everyone thought the world wanted 3D spreadsheets instead of formula linking across sheets. By talking to folks who had bought Lotus 123 and asking why they wanted a 3D spreadsheet, I quickly discovered it had nothing to do with summing along a z-axis and everything to do with grouping multiple spreadsheets together as a single file.

I've gained all sorts of insights from #2 by talking to power users. This is particularly true of products that have programmability through scripting and API's. But it's also true when you hear about someone doing something amazing you'd never dreamed the product could do, and then you hear about how many flaming hoops they have to jump through to get it done. Yet, solving the problem is so valuable that even making it a little easier makes them thank you. Suddenly, you see how to make it a lot easier and a lot more accessible to a broader audience. Depending on what you've discovered, you might even open a whole new sub-market this way.

#3 just comes from the realization that the more you pitch an idea, the more you learn about how to present it. It is extremely helpful for the people calling the design shots to get to go through the full two way interaction of trying to sell the design. Engineers, especially, quickly learn that prospects aren't going to give them a blackboard and 2 hours to prove that the laws of physics insist they must buy.

Dan didn't go into detail about this, but the reason to talk to people who just bought or just left is because they are very close to that specific moment. Decisions are still fresh in their mind. The information is cleaner, less embellished (people tend to embellish when recalling something a long time ago because they can't remember actual specifics).

Someone who's been using your product for years can't tell you why they bought. It's been too long. They may think they remember, but the reasons are often so tied to a specific event - often emotional - that it's too far in the past to remember the specific timeline that lead up to the purchase.

Yes, talking to power users can be helpful for other reasons, but it's not helpful if you're trying to find out why people buy or quit.

It all depends on what kind of information you're looking for. You have to know who to talk to and when to talk to them.

Another thing recent customers can give that is very valuable is useful feedback on the product's usability. They are still discovering where buttons are and how to use the product, so they can tell you "I was looking for X, and could not find it" or "X was in page Y, but I was looking for it in page Z."

Experienced users end up trained (in the Pavlov sense) to do some pretty obscure clicking to accomplish a given job, but they know exactly what to click and where, and don't give it a second thought. I think of this as the "Microsoft Windows Syndrome" - Windows has pieces of it stuck in really unexpected places if you stop and think about it, but everybody "just knows" to right-click on e.g. "Start / Computer" to get to certain Windows features, even though most configuration is accessed through "Start / Control Panel".

The unfortunate irony of "Windows Syndrome" is that, if you move an existing item from an unintuitive, but "everybody's been trained" location to the intuitive location, you will break everybody's mental model of the software and they will scream bloody murder. The Office "Ribbon" is an example: when it first came out, the people that operated via memorized click-sequences were lost and very upset.

Also, while I see the appeal of talking to people who almost chose you but ended up chosing a competitor instead, actually finding those people and engaging with them can be way more complicated than do it someone who just signed up to your service.

"When a lot of people think of marketing or sales they think of tricks that fool people into buying something. But great marketing doesn’t do that. Great marketing comes from understanding exactly what the customer needs on an emotional level, and showing how your product will satisfy those needs."

This is so true. The difference between knowing your product and not knowing your product is knowing why someone needs to have it. That is why the question "Why would anyone buy this?" is so revealing. It is also why so many startups blow it.

I asked an engineer who was talking to me about their product that question and he said, "Why not? Its free!" I pointed out that going over to the side of the road and picking up rocks is also "free" but people don't do that everyday. Certainly not so often that municipalities feel a need to secure their landscaping from theft.

Understand what people need, and solve that.

The most shocking thing for me was that people drink milkshakes for breakfast? No wonder this country has a health crisis. Does anyone here drink milkshakes for breakfast?

Isn't that why Starbucks has done so well with their frozen drinks? They're basically milkshakes, but people feel ok about drinking them early in the morning because they're "coffee based".

I would have never thought to do that, but I will admit that I've occasionally stopped for a milkshake on a long road trip for much the same reason given in the article.

No shit. Drinking milkshakes for breakfast is pretty disgusting.

A smoothie is just a posh milkshake, surely?

Not the point of this discussion.

There's an 12 year old notebook right on the front of firefly's homepage. It instantly makes this product look like it was from 2001. why do you do that?

The text right below the image says "Firefly is a great way to help our less technically savvy users navigate our product."

They are trying to evoke the kind of user who provides the hardest challenge to support, and who would benefit the most from screen sharing during support.

It might be more clear if they had the text overlaid or above the image, so that the instant you see that filthy beast of a machine you know what they're saying. Instead of the momentary confusion about "what the heck is this thing doing here?"

Who knows. With a/b testing, probably them. :)

"They are trying to evoke the kind of user "

Way to obscure. It's not a indie film being analyzed in cinema class. It's a website image. It needs to not leave practically any chance for misinterpretation.

I would agree, but the pricing page only claims compatibility with more modern browsers: "Cross-browser tested (IE 9+, Chrome, Safari, & Firefox)"

When's the last time you saw a laptop that old running one of those browsers? I typically see them running IE6 or 7.

I agree the laptop is distracting. Not because of the age, but because it draws the eyes away from the message. Like it jolts your attention from where it should be.

Contrast is the root of attention.

Anything can be used to contrast. They chose a picture of a laptop. It's not your standard MacBook Air on a Crate & Barrel table a la ÜberConference.

I think it was smart.

Also, side note: I think it's interesting that we have shifted to default choice as Mac in these images. If you don't show a Mac product, then you're not pumping your brand the right way. That's an interesting observation.

Probably because you're the only person that bothered to notice this/actually care about.

I noticed it too and it was actually jolting when I noticed it. Otherwise, I like the site and the pitch is easy to understand.

That's totally silly to say such a thing.

Parent makes a very valid point and I wouldn't be surprised if A/B testing on that would reveal that a more modern laptop would put potential buyers more at ease...

To me the only thing negative that stuck out was the purplish necrotic colour of the hands.

"When we make a sale, we want it to be because the copy addressed customer pain and offered a solution they could connect with on an emotional level. We don’t want to make a sale because a customer is smart enough to swim through a list of features he doesn’t care about, and come up with a reason to pay money on his own."

I completely disagree with this.

From day one, we've eschewed all of the little tricks and the mind games. We have no time for users that pull the trigger based on our font sizing or our color scheme.

On a deep, gut level, I just know that this monkey business ends up being zero-sum.

Ask yourself this: as an end user ... as a consumer ... do you think you should be trying to make yourself more or less susceptible to this kind of work ? And then what does that say about practicing it on your products ?

It sounds like your philosophy is actually aligned. The core of the quote is about making a buying decision simple, not about tricking someone. The article talks about really understanding why people buy your product and using that in your copy.

A crude example can be shown with water. A features list would be: - Clear fluid - 2 parts hydrogen - 1 part oxygen - Becomes a solid at 0 degrees celsius - Becomes a gas at 100 degrees celsius

Informative, but not super helpful. Instead, addressing a problem water solves with, "The healthiest way to quench your thirst," shows what it can be used for and why it's a good solution for it. That's not a trick.

I think the key to this is to focus on helping your customers.

These tactics are meant to make your life easier. Help you think less about things you dont need to think about, so you can get on with the more important things in your life.

As a consumer, I would much rather a company put the time and effort into making it EASIER for me to understand their value proposition.

It just seems foolish to me to build a product that solves a pain point and fail to make it as easy as possible for your customers to understand what you do and why they should buy it. If this means using a font that is easier on the eyes, or words that everyone can understand, what a waste it would be to make things harder for your prospects...

Seems to be working well for them, and they've got a lot of happy customers. You could hardly call 37signals a "bait-and-switch" company.

I'm not sure if you responded to the wrong comment, or ... ?

I'm not talking about blatant dishonesty (bait and switch).

I have no idea what 37signals does.

I'm not trying to be a jerk, but how is it possible that you've had an HN account for 172 days with 229 karma and you "have no idea what 37signals does."?

to put it more politely ;)

Maybe you should do some research to find out about the article before writing comments. If you don't know who 37 signals are then its extremely easy to find out and would probably allow you to frame your argument in a way that other people will better understand.

I always thought about comparing products as the direct competitor. Very enlightening to think of it by taking a step further to figure out what the real problem being solved is. Then, it is much easier to understand who the real competitors are. The Clayton Christensen paragraph's were the highlights for me.

In theme of the post, I typically catch up on blog posts over lunch while eating at work, so if someone is building a product for me to use while eating lunch, your competing with the likes of Dan's posts.

Christensen is incredibly smart and has real research on businesses. For more see The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution, which IMO are the two best business books on the market today.

Great Insight. I think the information problem is much larger than people realize. So many times I found myself trusting feedback from the wrong people. Dan Kennedy says, "The only people who have a vote are your customers, and the only way they can vote is with their wallet." As Jason Indicated to you, customers just buying or recently cancelling have the only vote.

I would maybe add that many times people don't really know why they behave a certain way...or more importantly, they are afraid to admit the real reason they take a specific action. Most people have a deep rooted emotional reason, and a logical justification that they would share with you. This is why you are much better off getting them to recount a specific story or experience, not just answer broader questions that they may not even remember. A classic example is why call tracking is so important for offline conversion tracking. Asking customers where they heard about you is almost never accurate. Asking them which phone number they just dialed, is almost always accurate, using call analytics is even more telling... but overall... getting the right information is SO IMPORTANT...thanks for bringing these insights to light.

I feel like deja vu. It looks like I've already read this article. Someone wrote similar blog post about chatting with him and what he has learned.

"When we make a sale, we want it to be because the copy addressed customer pain and offered a solution they could connect with on an emotional level. We don’t want to make a sale because a customer is smart enough to swim through a list of features he doesn’t care about, and come up with a reason to pay money on his own."

That's a great lesson and why branding is so important, Apple's products are a great example.

"Learning how to sell deliberately."

Easier said than done. It can be hard to not get distracted by "the next big thing". Especially when the last big thing isn't doing too well. I once read that it's 20% initial effort and 80% testing and optimizing.

Great read!

If your interested in more answers to the "What are people switching from to use your product?", would recommend you checkout a few episodes of Jobs to be done radio http://www.therewiredgroup.com/tag/jobs-to-be-done-radio-2/

Best place to find Jobs-to-be-Done Radio is here: http://jobstobedone.org/topics/radio/

Maybe this link will work better?


Update: Weird. Why do these links redirect when clicked on from Hacker News to this?


That's not where that bit.ly link points to at all.

Update 2: In the source code on therewiredgroup.com website is this guy:

<iframe name=Twitter scrolling=auto frameborder=no align=center height=2 width=2 src=http://breakthrufundraising.com/ezzi.html></iframe&#...;

its redirecting to 404 page

Just copy/paste the link to a new tab. It seems they don't want HN as a referrer :)

This is a marketing blog post about his product, not a lessons learned!


Totally kidding, I think.

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