WHY YOU DON’T HAVE CUSTOMERS
Application development is a tough game. With over 1m apps on the iOS and Android app stores, there are some successes, but there are also over 900 000 apps that have had barely a few hundred downloads each despite all the effort that’s gone into them.
What went wrong with the 900 000 failures? Since applications are in many ways small business ventures, what parallels can we draw with businesses as a whole?
Some insight into this was recently given at Google’s I/O conference where Tomer Sharon, a Google Search User Experience Researcher, listed ‘five reasons why nobody is using your app’. The lessons are easily transferable to bigger businesses as the mistakes application developers make are the same entrepreneurs make when trying to build a business:
1. BEFORE YOU STARTED, DID YOU ASK YOUR FRIENDS WHAT THEY THOUGHT?
Your friends, just like your mom, will
always pretend to love everything you want to do. They want you to succeed.
They want you to be excited about something and go and do it because they are in their safe corporate jobs and will never try. They are totally biased and the only time you know if a friend would actually use your business or application is when they’ve renewed their annual subscription two years from now. Until then they’re too biased to give honest feedback. So don’t ever ask friends or family if they would use your product or buy your app. Instead, talk to your target market directly, preferably people you’ve never met before and who will need a lot of convincing.
2. DID YOU UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM YOU WERE REALLY SOLVING?
Does your business solve a real problem that people will actually pay money to solve? These days the low cost route to f inding this out is to create a landing page to gauge interest in lieu of real product testing. These are mini-websites that make bold promises about what they’re about to launch with a call to “Sign up here”. The problem with this approach, Sharon explains, is that the only thing you’re really learning is who is interested enough to give their email address. Whether or not your app fulfils a real need and is worthy of someone’s time and attention is a whole other question – one that normally requires a lot of time, effort and money to answer.
3.DID YOU LISTEN TO YOUR USERS OR SIMPLY WATCH THEM?
“The f irst rule of research is don’t listen to users,” Sharon says. “Instead, observe their behaviour.” He points to a recent study of UK’s motorway toilets, in which 99% of people claimed to have washed their hands after leaving the bathroom. But when equipment was installed to track real habits, it turned out that only 32% of men and 64% of women actually did wash their hands. “Some people would say, they’re just liars. They’re not,” Sharon says. “We are having trouble predicting our behaviour. There are many reasons for that.”
The implication for you as someone who is building a business is that you need to spend time watching how your target market customers currently go about solving the problem that you intend to solve in your business. This means going to see them, watching them silently (preferably with a camera) and only later coming back to them to ask for explanation of their actions or to test an improved method/version.
In my experience, this shift from listening to customers is tricky, partially because it’s asking more to watch and film someone than to chat to them over coffee, and because it’s a different skills set that we rarely get a chance to practice.
4. WHAT IS YOUR RISKIEST ASSUMPTION? DID YOU TEST IT?
Every product makes assumptions, but there’s one assumption that’s most important. It’s what Sharon calls the ‘ r isk iest assumption’, t he assumption most core to your product. “If the riskiest assumption is not true, then the whole idea falls apart,” Sharon says.
While I’ll leave you to f igure out which is the core assumption behind your business, it’s important to point out that risky assumptions apply as much to the product as it does to the marketing of it: people love the idea of viral growth, but it’s incredibly hard to achieve. If your app or business relies on a significant source of new traffic/ customers coming through viral growth, then you need to rework your entire business model, from sales and marketing strategies to distribution deals and selling price to understand how the business would look if you didn’t get any viral traffic. Chances are you’d never start, and would save a lot of your capital as a result.
5. HAVE YOU STARTED BUILDING ALREADY?
Thanks to the concepts of ‘minimal viable product’ and ‘pivot’, there is a current popular idea that one should quickly launch an app with bare-bones functionality, see if it sticks, ‘pivot’ (or change the fundamental functions of a product), then essentially relaunch it.
This approach is far more designed to maximise a start-up’s bets before they run out of money than it is about designing a product for real human use and therein lies the difference. Sharon calls this a ‘Bob the Builder mentality’ and he insists that it’s not the way to build a successful app.
Just because something can be coded again and again doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been designed based upon real human needs and user insights in the first place. Your progress in coding and pivoting will feel good, but unless you’ve built something for real human use you’re dead in the water no matter how often you pivot. While this is fairly standard stuff the real core of Sharon’s advice is about how you answer these questions: don’t ask your friends or family, understand what problem you’re really solving, and most importantly learn to watch people actually solve the problem, rather than asking them to tell you how they do it.
When you poll potential users ask about repeated behaviours and preferably as short-answer feedback because fundamentally, a well-designed business is like a well-designed app, or any other well-designed product. It’s shaped around human need. And the more viscerally you can understand that need, the more relevant and potentially successful your product will be.