This is the first article in a series of posts aimed at sharing what it's like, emotionally, to be the founder of an early-stage startup. You can read the introduction to the series here.
Talking to your users is one of the most awkward activities you have to do as an entrepreneur, but it's also one of the most important ones. And the most rewarding.
There are incredible resources available¹ on how to interview customers. This text isn't about that. Instead, I want to focus on the different feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, that come up for me as I speak to Feelmo users and how I've learnt to handle them.
Briefly, why is talking to users so important? As a founder you need to verify that what you are building is something that someone actually wants. Talking to them doesn't merely mean asking them what they want, as Henry Ford's often quoted adage goes, if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. Talking to users is about figuring out what problems your users have and understanding if your solution addresses them. Ford's respondents at the turn of the century wanted a faster horse because they want to get where they were going faster. They had no clue that something like a car existed, or even could exist. Your job is to hear that the problem they want to solve is getting somewhere fast, not that horses are too slow.
The three main pleasant feelings that come to mind as I reflect on my interviews are:
Speaking to users is also nerve-wracking, terrifying and awkward.
Practice will shake many of these unpleasant feelings, but I doubt they'll ever fully leave you. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way that have helped me.
Needless to say, prepare for your interviews. Other articles can help you structure your interview, tell you how you should ask your questions and so on, but being prepared, knowing what you want to get out of the interview and what questions you want to ask (and why), are in your control. Writing down your questions and going over them ahead of the meeting will help you feel more calm. If you feel nervous or worried, ground yourself with a brief meditation or a quick breathing exercise (I use Feelmo's, of course!). I definitely don't recommend, as I was doing, scrolling through Twitter as you wait for your interviewee to log on as it'll only make you feel more anxious.
Record the interview (with permission!), or ask a colleague to sit in to take notes, so you can focus on the conversation and don't have to juggle listening, thinking, asking and taking notes. Remember, your job is to steer the conversation with a few questions and to listen. Let the interviewee do most of the talking. Do not give in to your anxiety and fill any silence with your blabbering.
Lastly, close with a positive, human experience. Check-in with the person and see how they felt the conversation went and if they have anything else they want to share. You represent your company so you want them coming away feeling heard and with positive associations to your work.
I hope this helps you go into your interviews feeling a little bit more confident, or at least more prepared. Let me know if I missed any feelings or if you have any other tips for managing the emotional load of interviewing better. Say hello!: firstname.lastname@example.org or @mahlb on Twitter.
1) Might I recommend Marty Cagan's book Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, watch Eric Migicovsky (YC Partner and founder of Pebble) share his thoughts on How to Talk to Users or Emmett Shear, founder of Justin.TV and Twitch talk about How to Run a User Interview.
Thank you Christin Hume for the picture.