There are many, many steps when it comes to building a product and many can be unique to the situation, but there is always one task that is the same for all of these. No matter what. No matter when.

And that is sharing your idea, prototype, or product with others – also known as user testing or user research.

But…here is what I often hear from clients when I talk about this step:

  • But Abe…I don’t want anyone to steal my idea when I talk about it to them.
  • But Abe…I don’t need to test with users – I know exactly what they want.
  • But Abe…I don’t have time to test with users, we have to be first to market. I need to start building now.
  • But Abe…I don’t have the budget for fancy user testing.
  • But Abe…I don’t know where to find people to be my testers.

This. is. bullshit. When you tell me the above, what you’re really are saying is: “I don’t want anyone to challenge my perfect idea-baby.” and/or “I don’t want to put in the time to do this – I just want to do the fun part – which is locking myself in a room and coding up a monument to my own genius”

Showing or talking about your app is scary. You’re making yourself vulnerable. You’re allowing others to poke holes in your idea, your design, your code. But guess what? It makes not only you, but also your product stronger and ultimately more succcessful. I’ve never ever had a client say “I wish we hadn’t spent time on that” or “The user feedback was useless”.

So first, we’re going to debunk these common excuses. Then we’re going to cover how to user test – now that you have no excuses.

But Abe…I don’t want anyone to steal my idea when I talk about it to them.

Having an idea isn’t special. I have dozens of app ideas each week (pretty much all of them are dumb). It’s the building of the idea and making sure that it’s problem is a common/compelling one. How do you know if others have this same problem? By asking them. How do you know if this idea is dumb? By asking people.

But Abe…I don’t need to test with users – I know exactly what they want.

Really? You and every one of your users is exactly the same? And there are enough of you to make a profit? Just humor me and talk to a few other people who would be interested. Learn a bit more. You might be surprised about how similar, yet different your audience can be.

But Abe…I don’t have time to test with users, we have to be first to market.

It doesn’t matter if you’re first if your product sucks. Many of the most popular products out there weren’t first, but they did take the time to get it right. Building then changing, then building, then changing after you’ve launched is going to be painful and expensive. User testing doesn’t have to take weeks, it can take as little as 3-5 coffee sessions and it will save you hours in churn. (It might even save you from building a failed product to begin with).

But Abe…I don’t have the budget for fancy user testing.

You don’t need expensive or fancy tools. Whip out some Google Surveys, take some old fashioned notes and hit the pavement. User testing is genuine sweat equity – no expensive developer required. Honestly, I encourage most of our clients to do the user testing themselves, with us as an advisor. If you’re not elbow-deep in feedback, how will you truly understand your own audience? This is not something you should outsource and doing it yourself = cheap.

But Abe…I don’t know where to find people to be my testers.

Um…if you don’t know of anyone who would be interested in this product, how are you going to find customers once it’s built? 👀 👀 👀

But okay, maybe the problem goes more like this: “I know my user’s are construction workers – but how do I reach those people directly?”

The internet is a wonderful and magical place my friend. Check out industry forums for your kind of user. Check out Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, LinkedIn groups, local meetups, post a question on Quora, etc. You can even go next-level vulnerable and go to a REAL LIVE place with these kinds of people and talk to them there – home depot, the park, a bar!

The worst thing that could happen is that you ask your question and you get crickets or someone saying no thanks. The best is that you have awesome, long, meaningful conversations with your potential users and come away with a bit more insight.

So I’m convinced. Now how do I do this thing?

There is no “perfect” path for user testing and there are a few different ways to arrive at the same result. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Even doing one of these types of testing will set you far ahead of your competitors.

Early Days – Idea Validation through User Discussion

What: Validate that your idea/problem area is even good/common. This is when you’ll decide if this idea has legs. Are people willing to pay for this product? Are there enough people to make that payment worthwhile? We prefer at this stage to start firming up the idea with a Lean Canvas exercise.

How: Talk in person to 10 – 20 potential users. This is a casual conversation, where you’re mostly listening and saying “tell me more…”

Ask them general questions like the ones below. The questions below came from this excellent resource.

  • What’s your relationship like with [topic … e.g. money, fitness, etc]
  • How do you currently go about [problem / task]?
  • How much time do you typically spend on [problem / task]?
  • Tell me about the last time you tried to [problem / task]?
  • What do you like about how you currently [problem / task]?
  • What is the biggest pain point related to [problem / task]?
  • Why do you keep doing [problem / task] … why is it important to you?
  • What type of work arounds have you cerated to help you with this?
  • What’s the hardest part about [problem / task]?
  • What are you currently doing to make this [problem / task] easier?
  • How does this [problem / task] impact other areas of your life / work?
  • What other products or tools have you tried out?
  • Have you paid for any of these other products or tools?
  • How did you hear about these other products or tools?
  • What do you like or dislike about these other products or tools?
  • Are you looking for a solution or alternative for [problem / task]?

Who: Find interview subjects through Facebook Groups, Meetups, Social Media (Instagram/Twitter), Family/Friends. Ask every single interviewee “Is there another person you think I could talk with who also potentially has this problem / could use a tool like this” Grow your pool. You’ll use this pool continually as you develop your product.

The Specifics – As Needed Polls

What: When you find yourself saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” it’s time to ask your users a few targeted questions. Further refine fuzzy areas with this “one-weird-trick+.

How: Send short surveys to 50 – 300 people. Distill some recurring questions from in person interviews into 3-6 short questions. Set this up using Typeform or Google Surveys. Incentivize with gift cards / stickers / high fives.

Who: Email the link to your survey out to your interview list. Post the link on channels from above (social, family, network). Potentially look at services that offer curated audiences like Survey Monkey or Usertesting.com.

Prototype Time – Talking about the actual product

What: You’re ready to have users actually use your product – not just talk about it abstractly. While you’ve nailed down the big picture with previous user research – this is the “testing” part of the game. This can be done using a drawing of your product, or a design, or a rough coded prototype. User testing at this stage is making sure you have included the right features, organized in the right way.

How: Sit down with 5-10 people and watch then use a version of your product. This doesn’t need to be coded. In fact I strongly encourage you to slap together some design prototypes first before you’re attached to your beautiful, perfect, thorough code. Create design prototypes with a program of your choice: Balsamiq, Invision, Figma, Powerpoint/Keynote.

Allow for a user to generally explore your product, discuss their thoughts. Then ask a user to complete some common tasks for your product.

Big note: DO NOT SHOW THEM HOW TO USE IT. Use all of your willpower to remain impartial. Allow them to potentially flounder, get confused, or frustrated while clicking through. This is the point of user testing. It will be okay. Watching someone struggle in the prototype phase allows you to make changes to prevent all of your real customers from feeling this same pain. You will not be there in real life situations to jump in and hold their hand, so don’t do that here either.

Record these sessions with a tool: Zoom, Lookback, or Maze. This allows you to revisit areas later and see exactly what the user did while talking. Take notes of “moments of interest” to review and improve upon later.

Who: These should be your target users – your ideal customers. Focus on getting the UI/UX of the product right with the demographic that most closely resembles who this is for. One note about these users. Since they are looking at an actual object they will be tempted to suggest improvements, new features, etc. Use them to discover faults in the interface, but be wary of solutions they recommend – remain focused on what features set best fits your MVP size.

That’s It! You can do it! Please do it!

At the end of the day, it takes time to test your product with users. It takes confidence to approach others and ask for their time too. It takes bravery to put something that isn’t quite formed in from of others and ask for their opinions and it takes patience to sift through the feedback and discern what nuggets could make your product and ideas stronger.

The results, however, are so, so, so worth it. You’d be surprised how supportive and helpful others can be when it comes to building something new and it might even set you on a path to a product that could be more successful than your wildest dreams.

If you ever need a potential user, a pep talk, or some guidance, feel free to reach out to LunarLincoln. We’re happy to help you build the next big thing (or next tiny thing).