Start ups that fail to research … just fail.

Smart, focused research gets early-stage product companies be more wing and less prayer.


Brian HerronPrincipal UX Designer

Start up founders need to be bullet proof. The good ones are able to create an invisible force field around themselves to repel criticism and negativity.

They need to be single-minded and have enormous self-belief and conviction. Otherwise they’d never actually get started.

But if that single-mindedness extends to avoiding, ignoring, or dismissing customer insight, then they’ll never actually succeed. The best ones are able to actually listen too.

Why? Because aside from keeping the cash coming in, there are two critical factors why start ups fail:

  1. Lack of market and market fit, and
  2. Not offering a genuine point of difference to competitors.
Start ups need customer insight. But typically, user research is seen as something to be done after the tech is laid done, and the MVP is released: “we’ll do it after we hit our next milestone”.

The smaller the organisation, in many ways, the more it needs to be agile. The more it needs to be able to pivot and to avoid big, risky misspends of money. That means more informed decision-making.

User research allows start-ups in today’s ultra-competitive world to reduce the considerable risk inherent in their business models.

Anyone launching a software product today faces relentless and ruthless competition from other businesses, large and small, across the globe. Clearly, user research has the potential to allow start-ups in today’s ultra-competitive world to reduce the considerable risk inherent in their business models.

Research is often seen as a luxury expenditure for large business. Rather than a critical investment. Start-ups may benefit more from user research than larger companies because the the stakes are so much higher.

But when it comes to start-ups, research has to be different, and not just because of the need to spend limited budget wisely.

Different levels of research can be delivered depending on the nature of both the product and the available budget. And similarly, a business can choose to engage with research at a chosen level of depth. Targeted research sprints, involving small numbers of users can help:

  1. Validate the market fit
  2. Focus and tune a product on key innovative areas
  3. Improve the key workflows of a product
  4. Inform marketing messaging and go to market strategies
  5. develop and prioritised the product roadmap

In some cases, the mythological successful pivot, happens earlier and with less pain – because instead of pivoting after build, projects instead are built out from a place of strength in the form of a roadmap of important core features.

So how much to spend?

If it takes 5m and three years, all in, to get a product from idea to market, your entire research spend should be somewhere in the region of 2-4% of the total. It’s not linear, so that spend probably happens early in your journey. Half is probably spent in year 1 as you understand the market, and support design, prototyping and iteration.

Would you pay 200k to make your product four times as likely to succeed?

It may seem like a lot, but if you were hedging bets, would you pay 200k to make your product four times as likely to succeed?

And getting the five points above aligned, means de-risking your entire programme of work, reducing re-work and misspend, and an easier time getting early sales.

You know what, the industry has known this for years:

Getting stuff done requires blocking out the noise. Making great things, means listening to the customer.

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