This article from April 2018 on Entrepreneur.com covers the top four reasons startups fail. They list reason #1 as “inadequate testing,” and then quote a number of experts. Let’s grab those quotes and break it down to see how every quote is actually about UX and User-Centered Design.
Greg Wright, founder of HATCH pitch, says: “Failure to test and validate hypotheses and assumptions,” and “Premature scaling (seeking/obtaining funding too early, ramping production/team/advertising before achieving product market fit).”
This is certainly user testing but is also a bit of user research. Whenever we talk about “product market fit,” we are normally really saying one or more of the following:
- We didn’t do enough user research to know what the customer’s problems and pain points really are… so we built the wrong thing.
- We were sure our target audience was some version of “everybody… everybody can use this.” Without focusing in on particular segments or archetypes, we built something for nobody.
- We built what we liked but found out later nobody else really needed it.
- We had a decent idea but poor UX/bad execution of that idea… so what we built isn’t what the target audience really needs.
Discovering poor product market fit in testing is too late… and implies that a proper UCD process was not undertaken.
Keith Hopper, CEO of Danger Fort Labs, adds, “Not addressing an important enough need that customers are willing to pay for.” Ben Hsieh, program manager of Nest, and Jason Cole, CEO of Da Primus Consulting, both agree that “not finding product market fit” is a main cause of failure.
Eric Mathews, founder and CEO, of Start Co, says a big cause of failure is “building something nobody wants. This accounts for about 50 percent of failures. (This) is mitigated by doing thorough market and customer discovery. Before building anything, we tell our founders to go talk to 50 of their real customers.”
So it’s really not “inadequate testing” as much as it’s that so many startups don’t engage a UX expert. These accelerators make it sound like the startup should be talking to their customers. But startup founders can be biased, which would lead to flawed user research and purposefully or accidentally manipulated data saying yes, people want this.
This is why I always suggest that startups work with a UX expert.
Whether that’s a freelancer, agency, or someone they bring in house, they shouldn’t try to do it themselves. Let a UX pro do this AND listen to him or her when they tell you that your startup product, service, or idea might be the wrong direction. It could save you from failure.
Ashish Bhatia, founder/MD of India Accelerator, points out, “(Success is achieved) only by bouncing your idea off users. Go out and meet the customer. Get your hands dirty.”
Alyse Daunis, program manager of Launch Alaska, adds, “Poor customer discovery. Early stage companies that do not go out and talk to potential customers often fail. It is critical for founders to test their value propositions and customer segments early on to answer questions such as, Are we targeting the right customers? Is our product or service a ‘must have’?”
The better questions are:
- How does your customer do this now?
- Where are their pain points or problems in how they do this now?
- If they had all the magical powers in the world, how could this process be faster, easier, more delightful, less stressful, etc.?
For example: an app that helps friends find a place to go drinking.
When I was doing the Bay Area startup thing some years ago, I met a startup that (no joke) was creating an app to help friends plan a night out drinking.
There are so many ways to find places to drink (places this group of friends already knows, Google Maps, Yelp, Foursquare, Instagram, Facebook, heck even Facebook recommendations). And there are so many ways a group of friends can communicate privately (email, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, group Zoom conf call, this is a long list).
So why would they need an app specially to do this one single task? A task they are already successfully doing? If this startup did flawed user research, they would talk to potential users and find out yeah, people would like more ways to plan group booze-ups. But if a UX expert did this research, we are likely to find out that people currently have few to no problems finding places to drink and coordinating friends.
It’s not just about “go ask users” if you are asking users the wrong questions.
Startups are still very guilty of asking users the wrong questions. And when piles of VCs, accelerators, blogs, etc. are saying, “Get out of the building, step away from the mirror, and ask users,” it sounds easy. We will just go ask users if they need this.
But people like to be nice. They like to say yes. “YES an app that helps me and my friends coordinate bar hopping sounds great. Sure, we’d use it.” But is that accurate?
The lessons here are that startups need to do more user research, design products that are excellent executions of super ideas, and then user test them. Yes! But they have to start learning that they may not be able to do this themselves. They might not be good at UX and UX tasks. They might be too biased and might skew the results of interviews. The tail might wag the dog.
We suggest strongly that startups engage a UX expert. Senior level or higher. You have a lot riding on this. You are a great programmer or you are hiring great programmers. You want a great artist for your product. Get great UX too. Don’t circumvent that or imagine you can do this yourself. Too many startups are still messing this up.
Of course, we are available. Consultation calls are free. Yes, we sign mutual NDAs. Let’s talk about your startup idea and how we can help save you from failure.