Among lean startups, a common mantra is “launch and learn.” Braden Kowitz of Google Ventures Design Studio says that’s precisely the wrong approach and suggests seven strategies that he says will save time and lead to a better product.
If you’re running a lean startup, “launch and learn” is undoubtedly a familiar mantra. But launching a new feature can take weeks or even months, and for a scrappy startup that’s a potentially make-or-break issue. Our design studio works with dozens of startups each year to help teams define their products and features. Through the process of doing this over and over again, we’ve collected a time-tested toolkit of methods for learning that are cheap, fast, and perfect for startups to find those crucial mistakes earlier and then adapt their plans more nimbly. The result is almost always that they ship better products and do so even faster.
Most teams think they need to build an interface that functions and looks real before showing it to customers to get feedback. Nope. It turns out that if you string together a few simple mockups with clickable hot-spots, you can still get great feedback in a fraction of the time. We’ve done this with companies like HomeAway, AVOS, and Duo Security by designing a few screens in a flow and then building a clickable version, using basic consumer software tools like InVision or Apple’s Keynote.
At first I thought these prototypes would be too rough to be useful. But time after time I’ve seen customers engage with click-throughs like they’re real products, and that helps you learn if the designs are working. It’s a great method to use before engineering starts to build a design.
Instead of working in a vacuum, gather data to use as fuel for designing your product. Specifically, go out and find the people you think will use your product and talk with them about the problem(s) you’re aiming to solve. I know you’ve heard this a hundred times. Customer interviews are like flossing — everyone agrees it’s good for you, but it’s hard to build the habit.
It’s easy to get hung up on the details: How do you find people who will talk with you? What do you talk about? Relax. User researchers have been doing this stuff for decades, and there’s a wealth of knowledge about how to do it quickly and accurately. For starters, you can write a short survey called a screener to help you recruit the right people to talk to. Then, create an interview script to help guide the conversation.
If you want to know more, we created a research guide with plenty of tactical tips for finding and interviewing customers. Now you have no excuse. Get out of the building! (Then come back — there’s more good stuff below.)