Is App Economy Dead? Fintech Gets Real About Challenges

empire-startup

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—“Is the app economy dead? When was the last time you bought an app?” The question was directed at Vivek Nasta, founder & CEO, Scout Finance at the panel discussion on fintech by Empire Startups last October 17 at Rise

Nasta was suddenly speechless, as the audience chuckled nervously. Who bothers to purchase an app when many of them are free to download?

Even if Nasta didn’t respond, he did say how it’s tough to satisfy customers these days. “They want speed…They’ll ask for everything. And use one percent (of a feature),” he said. Still, he thinks it’s important to address this and find an answer, even if he it’s very hard to make money on mobile.

“It’s about anticipating what people need,” he said.

In the talk about the challenges of mobile fintech, Nasta was joined by Ed Robinson, cofounder, Stash; Raffaelle Breaks, VP of Global Digital Experience, American Express and Travis Skelly, SVP of Venture Investing, Citi Ventures. It was moderated by Matthew Hooper, VP of Open Innovation at Barclays.

It was Breaks who probably gave the most relevant question of the night, “How do we emulate customer experience online on a desktop and from one’s smartphone?” She also craves for some proper automation in fintech.

Skelly, for his part, thinks it’s still hard to aggregate all accounts.

Hooper asked the panel about the sustainability of apps, as there’s only so much space you can use on your smartphone.

“Apps will still be there,” Robinson said.

Answering for American Express, Breaks said, “Desktop still comprises most of our user base. While engagement is higher on mobile, people just don’t check their account all the time.”

This was echoed by Skelly who said fintech apps are not meant for heavy use or activity compared to some social media apps, naturally.  However, he thinks apps will still be there. He even sees incumbents and startups fighting it out.

Breaks noted how its customers still prefer to call someone at the company instead of interacting with an app.

On making apps relevant, Nasta said apps should have some two-way interaction and good user experience.  He doesn’t believe in a mobile only solution for fintech.

What makes them successful in this challenging environment?

Robinson believes it’s his 24/7 approach to the business. He believes in building trust and engagement. “We provide information ASAP or we lose them.”

For legacy companies, targeting millennials has not been easy as they’re likely to use instruments that are popular in their age group. “These customers may heavily skew toward iOS which is hard to infiltrate,” Breaks said.

In terms of targeting a broad audience, Breaks thinks small countries are good test areas for new fintech initiatives, especially underserved and underbanked markets.

Fintech is also looking into replicating their platforms with artificial intelligence, but it’s still early to tell where that is leading.

What do new fintech startups need to do to succeed in this space? Robinson said, “The more you can get the cadence of iterating, making changes and updating the app, the better off you’ll be.”

With fintech becoming more democratized, however, Skelly thinks branding will take a hit. “People don’t need to know what card they use on an uber, for example.”

This development should allow small underserved markets access to new fintech tools which is in contrast with countries like the US where banks are strictly regulated.

“(In the US), it’ll take a year’s worth of specking to make an app for a bank,” Nasta said.

“We’re still in the early innings,” he concluded.

Healthcare Technology Offers Opportunities if You Can Cure Pain Points

health-tech

NEW YORK—Opportunities abound in healthcare technology, but many challenges prevail. It takes its sweet time to scale. It takes some pivoting to reach product-market fit.  It’s better narrowed down to a particular category than spread out. And perhaps the most challenging of all, it’s tightly regulated that every time a healthcare specialist or entrepreneur opens his mouth, you hear HIPAA compliance all the time. HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which requires protection and confidential handling of personal information, among others.

At Workville last October 11, Jason Malki’s Alley Boost meetup assembled a great panel of startups in the health space to talk about health technology.  The guest speakers were Ram Swaminathan, founder and CEO of Buddi Health, a startup innovating on a disruptive deep learning platform focused on the US healthcare revenue cycle space;  physician Atul Kumar, mentor and angel investor  for healthcare IT startups; physician Philip Christian, DreamIt Ventures managing director for health; and Samir Malik, SVP/general manager of Genoa Telepsychiatry.

Many healthcare technology startups are looking for automated and interoperable healthcare information solutions to improve medical care, lower costs, increase efficiency, reduce error and improve patient satisfaction while also optimizing reimbursement for ambulatory and inpatient healthcare providers.

Other than the tight regulations in this vertical, the panel thinks many health tech startups have not pinned down this one thing: the pain point they are addressing.

On core pointers when launching a startup

Christian: Ask yourself how big the problem is; every good idea does not turn into a business

Malik: (Startups rely) bias-to-action (thinking). Listen to the market, interact with the market, talk to them. Healthcare moves in cycles that Snapchats don’t. It takes a lot of time.

Kumar: Think of what status quo (is doing). What is existing paradigm? Think of the workflow. Starting point (for learning) has to be with providers

Swaminathan: (Be aware it is) compliance-heavy. Do your market research. Who’s going to pay—payer, provider or patient? Study why other startups fail. Look at sales cycles.

Why healthcare industry is slow to change?

Christian:  A physician will ask himself, why he is risking himself and the patient (for a new health technology). Onboarding is real headache

Malik: Decision-making is not as liquid

Kumar: Healthcare is highly regulated but (people know) it’s where opportunities are.

Swaminathan: Policy changes may take 10 years. Liability for a provider is so high. Liability and regulation stifle innovation. You have to win over lots of people, so many decision makers. It probably takes 2 years to get into an agreement, not 8 months.

What are the best ways of cutting sales cycle?

Christian: You have to understand your customer in and out.

Malik: (Develop) personal relationships, spending time with (potential clients), do cold calls, send them articles, listen to their (concerns) as we did for more than 8 months (at one point)

Swamanithan: Pivot a problem before you sell. Keep pivoting until your startup/service becomes a good product-market it. Linkedin works; reach out to physicians there.

How can startups stand out?

Christian: There are lots of copycats, 8 to 15 companies (may have the same platforms). They don’t have bad ideas, they’re just redundant. Make sure your (personal) story connects to your startup. Be realistic where the market is now.

Malik: Turn things into actionable data. Incorporate machine learning

Kumar: Differentiation is so critical. Success lies in metrics. Look into case studies—before and after.

What are exciting emerging trends?

Christian: Technologies that can manage costs

Swamanithan:  Locking up data sets, how algorithms can crack the code, how to better assess risks. Reach out to Google and Microsoft (for partnerships)

$2T Insurance Tech: ‘Pie is Big (Enough) for Everyone’

policy-genius

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK – One can expect more fusion of tech and insurance (insurance tech) as the companies see opportunities in tackling the $2 trillion insurance industry. This was the topic at the NewFinance (NY Chapter) meetup with guests PolicyGenius, Extraordinary Re and Softheon last October 6 at Rise.

Now, why would anyone even bother using insure-tech when the traditional way of buying insurance still exists? Most of the presenters think the pie is big for everyone.

“No winner takes all. The important thing is to find out your core competency and to find the crack (where you can go in),” said Eugene Sayan, founder, chairman, and CEO of Softheon.

If it means less people are working as insurance agents, David McKay, chief technology officer of PolicyGenius, made this clear: “The average age of an insurance agent in the US is 59.”

“We are not an aggregator, he said, adding later that “we earn the same way as an insurance agent.”

Established In 2014, PolicyGenius last raised $15 million to expand its price comparison insurance brokerage platform. It offers a path to life insurance, long-term disability insurance, renters insurance and pet insurance through tailored advice and no-pressure purchasing. And who doesn’t want that last part, right?

How much does giving advice play a part in its business? It sounds a lot, the way McKay said that “about 18 million people are stuck shoppers.”

On the site, one will find online quotes for policies and an application process as well as other information.

Set for launch in early 2018, the next presenter, Will Dove, CEO of Extraordinary Re, is building the first trading platform that creates a liquid market for $22 trillion of insurance liabilities. It has reportedly two US patents and substantial work completed.

As a trading platform, it will concentrate on facilitating the coverage of (re)insurance and capital markets.

Dove said investors will have direct access to broad range of insurance risks, be able to customize an insurance investment portfolio, offer a new tradable instrument, with liquidity that enables investors to trade in and out of long-tail risks, plus have non-correlated returns.

For (re) insurance companies, it will hopefully simplify, accelerate and reduce cost of accessing capital markets; reach capital to finance innovative contracts not supported by actuarial models; broaden scope of risks that can be transferred to capital markets; offer new tools for Risk & Capital management, trading insurance exposure on the platform and foster new product innovation.

Last presenter Softheon is engineering the next generation of health plan solutions with innovative and easy-to-use products that revolutionize the way everyday people access healthcare insurance.

It carries five platforms to help its partners quickly adapt to industry standards, manage client data, and grow its membership. This year, it collaborated with health plans, brokers, employers, and governmental organizations in all 50 states to care for over 1.6M lives.

The meetup was hosted by Ashish Singal.

Leadership Lessons from Young Digital Founders

ibm-think-leaders

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK – “I think AI will co-create our reality,” said Aaron Nicholson, co-founder of Studio Transcendent who was at the IBM Think Leaders meetup last October 4 at Rise, along with Ita Ekpoudoum, founder and CEO of Tigress Ventures and Josie Hines, co-founder of Art Frankly.

Nicholson’s Studio Transcendent is a maker of premier virtual reality experiences with focus on cinematic storytelling for many big clients.

Asked how he started, he said candidly, “I could never get a job.” Reflecting on his most trying times, he said, “I wanted to quit a lot of times, (because I found out that) people would not act as rationally as I would expect them to act.”

He shared some of his insights about leadership and learning:

  • Have the ability to learn and apply what you learn
  • We need to be information absorbers
  • You need to know (how to do) apps now, hinting at how the educational system doesn’t teach it unless you’re taking a tech course.
  • Listen to signals (akin to gut feel)
  • There are two types of people in this world: Those with no ideas and those with so many ideas and how it’s hard for both because we only have so much time every day. But get your hands on one thing. Go make it.
  • I don’t believe in competition. It makes me tense, less creative. But I believe in collaborating with them later.
  • On closing (a deal), relax. Let them be attracted to you

Originally from Nigeria, Ekpoudoum said she founded Tigress Ventures to help women entrepreneurs, professionals and investors to help themselves and each other. She honed her people skills from her work in the financial and technology companies such as Goldman Sachs and American Express as well as TravelClick.

“We pair visionary entrepreneurs with accomplished professionals who know to turn ideas into realities, helping entrepreneurs scale their business and providing professionals with high impact advisory and leadership development opportunities,” she said.

Her thoughts on leadership:

  • I had an idea years ago but didn’t know anything, so meet people; go out of your industry
  • On sales: you have to articulate your business in 30 seconds
  • If you have a strong team you can scale

Hines of Art Frankly talked about what seems to be a Linkedin for artists.

Art Frankly is an online jobs and recruitment platform for the visual arts community to seek and post jobs, list spaces and discover other opportunities while building a professional presence.

It serves artists, curators, researchers, gallerists, students, and creative professionals in one place.

What’s his advice for the rest of us? He thinks giving appreciation is important. “I have consultants who work full time and appreciate the work they do for me.”

Hines said he gets helps from a “hodgepodge of different sources.”

The meetup was moderated by Robert Schwartz, Global Leader of Strategy & Design, IBM iX.

Concierge Startups Offer House Calls for Dental Work, Errands and Beauty Makeovers

concierge-startups

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK–There are now house calls for dentists, errands and laundry, even beauty makeovers. In the tech concierge space, this is no longer surprising. But here’s the thing: These companies are offering these services to seniors, the market many tech startups are ignoring when it’s a sizeable enough market. More than 44 million Americans are 65 years old and up.

Carla Caramat, CEO and founder of housecallsdentists.com, Zachary Jones, Business Development head of nancy.care and Rachel Doyle, CEO and founder of glamourgals.org presented their respective concierge businesses for seniors last September 29 at the Aging 2.0 meetup at Brookdale Battery Park in lower Manhattan.

Caramat, who has over two decades of success as an entrepreneur in health care management in San Francisco, offers her dentist house calls in New York and San Francisco.  How did she figure out if her idea was viable? “About 70 percent of seniors live in Manhattan. On top of that, her target audience is not covered by insurance.”

When you make a dental appointment, Caramat said two people come to your home – the vetted dentist and dental assistant. Yes, the company also does X-rays at your home and works with care managers as well.

Jones, co-founder of Portea Medical, a provider of home healthcare services in India and Malaysia, says the startup was named Nancy, because it’s a popular name among seniors. Nancy is a tech-enabled senior care concierge service that allows family caregivers to remotely care for their loved ones by using a smartphone app. These include home grocery deliveries, laundry, haircuts and errands.

For Jones, the industry is in its nascent stage.  He recognizes seniors don’t buy things online, but the daughter does. “It’s a much more involved process than you think.”

Other than family members, who can the seniors trust to take care of them? “We understand it’s the most vulnerable market. We use social proof as our vetting process. It’s similar to how you rate your Uber driver.” He adds that the analytics will bear this out.

Doyle said GlamourGals caters mostly to women: “Women outnumber men 8 to 1,” she said, although she said she wouldn’t mind extending their service to men.

As a young woman, it may hard to figure out why Doyle’s business caters to women two or three times her age, but she has been at it for more than a decade.

Doyle said she was inspired to give beauty makeovers when she was a teen back in 1999. Today, she organizes teen volunteers to provide ongoing companionship and give beauty makeover to women in senior homes. “We’re building a movement of compassionate leaders.”

How do they market to seniors who mostly don’t care about forming habits around using apps, the internet or technology?

Caramat said she markets to them by releasing quarterly newsletters and doing SEO. For his part, Jones said they reach out to the daughters of their target market while Doyle relies on press coverage, which is not surprising given that her startup offers complimentary beauty makeovers – a story that gets media covering it.  “When you have a great story, you can utilize the press.”

“You have to have confidence in marketing to people twice or three times your age,” she added.

Allison Becker hosted the meetup with Lauren Covello of FORTUNE Venture as moderator.

How Mapping Customer Journey, Offering Loyalty Programs Boost App Value

loyalty-programs

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK–How do you boost the value of your app? Last September 20, Follow Analytics’ Mobile Marketing Meetup, hosted a talk with New York’s marketers talking about how to market apps. “Map a customer journey,” says Roxanne Ong who thinks doing so is a good exercise.

The transcription reportedly takes about 5 minutes to process regardless of the length of the media.  You can export a video sequence of selection as they appear chronologically in the video. Or you can export them in the order you selected them, getting you closer to make a paper edit.

Another presenter at the meetup, Verse, may be in a crowded video editing space but its DIY interactive platform is such as breeze to use. It’s a quick in-and-out experience. It’s great for independent storytellers who don’t have the luxury of an editing team or the skills of a coder to embed the images to a site. Headlines and other text in the images also allow for written questions to be clicked and led to the video portion of the question.

Next preseneter TVU offers web-based live video solutions. It transforms the way video content is captured, transmitted and shared from anywhere for viewing on the mobile, tablets, laptops and televisions.

Future Moments’ new app and its fourth one, AudioFix, is an iOS app that gets rid of extraneous noise. The demo here showed how the app instantly optimizes volume using 11 noise reduction filters. As you save them using various filters, the original video remains in the same resolution. However, one can reduce the file size of video for easier sharing using a compress video option.

Host Steven Rosenbaum said his meetup group would not be possible without its audience, where one was inspired some to create video storytellers on YouTube like The Storyscape, which makes learning (some for kids and even adults) sound like “Dave Chappelle and Erkyah Badu hung out in Mister Roger’s neighborhood.”

How to Turn Students As Your Brand Ambassadors

brand-ambassadors

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK— Targeting students? You’ll need campus ambassadors for your brands. The best part? About 68 percent of 5M college students wouldn’t mind.

That was the key takeaway in the meetup hosted by AlleyBoost + University Beyond, an influencer marketing event geared toward Gen-Z and the college market, last August 31 at Workville near Times Square.

Doug Messer, CEO of University Beyond, spoke about the best practices of starting and scaling a college ambassador program, along with other panelists.

Campus ambassadors are students who work as an advocate of a company to enhance its brand awareness. The work may involve marketing and sales; product feedback/testing; financial management; or event planning.

As brand ambassadors, they can help increase on-campus brand presence, brand loyalty and customer lifetime value while also leveraging student’s social presence.

Messer develops its talent pipeline by transitioning Campus Ambassadors to Summer Interns to Full-time hires, trying to reach them as early as their freshman year.

Many of them are taught how to do product testing and giving feedback, even sampling products. One can also ask them to do app downloads and doing surveys through focus groups. Other marketing initiative they learn doing include content creating, social media marketing, and email marketing.

Learning organizational complexities involve determining a program structure like spending per campus, student management, and team structure.

The associated costs include student recruitment, student compensation, management costs, and setting a marketing budget, federal and state regulations, among others. Compensation methods include, well, getting free stuff; an hourly pay; stipends; commissions; internship fulfillment; a letter of recommendation; or university credit.

Hiring a minor has legal implications, of course. University Beyond recommends seeking the guidance of a legal counsel. Below are recommendations on how to structure a program that complies with state and federal requirements:

  • Students who work more than 20 hours a week are legally obligated to receive minimum wage
  • Students who are compensated more than $600 a year are required to report their salary on their taxes.
  • Salary and wage laws as well as internship regulations vary by state. Prior to expanding the demographic reach of an ambassador program, check the specific requirement to ensure your program is within state standards.
  • Encourage campus ambassadors to approach their university about receiving credit to their work. This alleviates the need for monetary compensation and ensures your program is within the legal limitations

These tips from University Beyond are designed to help companies recruit, hire, communicate with, manage, and evaluate ambassadors in one centralized location.

The other panelists in the meetup included Katie Sanfield, executive director, Student Brand Ambassador Program of Kaplan Test Prep; Joljit Tamanaha, CMO & CFO of Fresh Prints, a custom apparel startup with “campus managers” who build and run the business at their schools.

George Garcia, founder, All Axcess Tour & Management has focused on curating and directing collegiate-centric initiatives on both a national and international scale. All Axcess T&M serves as a boutique marketing and management firm that specializes in management, branding, and the curation of artists, brands, events, media and entertainment concepts.

Microsoft’s Cognitive Services Demonstrate Detection of Emotions in Human Face

microsoft

NEW YORK—Last August 25, Nick Landry, senior technical evangelist at Microsoft, held at demonstration of Microsoft’s Cognitive Services and its 22 APIs (previously called Project Oxford) at Microsoft Reactor at Grand Central Tech.

Imagine an API that could detect the emotion in a person’s face in an image, not to mention tell someone’s age, which became hugely popular when people used the technology from the How Old Do You Look app?, which it is improving; not good news for those who hide their real age.

Now Microsoft is allowing developers to customize the new Cognitive Services. This was highlighted in previous events of Microsoft this year.

The rebranding to Cognitive Services also means that it brings together Bing, Oxford and Translator APIs.

The new Cognitive Services APIs include emotion (comparing facial expressions); entity linking (a textual analysis function); face (facial recognition); linguistic analysis, speaker recognition, speech (speech to text); video (vision analysis); WebLM  (an SDK for the Web Language Model).

Seeing AI shows how these new capabilities can help people who are visually impaired or blind understand who and what is around them. See how it works here https://youtu.be/R2mC-NUAmMk

Landry demonstrated how developers can use all these services at the meetup.

Cognitive Services is reportedly a nod to IBM’s Watson, which has been marketed as a “cognitive computing” product, one that’s based on the way the human brain works.

‘Trust is essential in sharing economy’– Sundararajan

sundararajan

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—Trust is essential in the sharing economy.

Last August 17 at Rising Minds, Arun Sundararajan, sharing economy expert and New York University Stern School of Business professor talked about his new book, “The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism” as well as that salient ingredient in how things has worked so far this economy: trust.

If you’re not in this space, it’s really about how your car (for Uber) or your apartment (for Airbnb) and earn from it. For those companies, they make use of the crowd to work for them and if you’re part of the crowd offering any of those services, you get to earn from being part of it. If you have an apartment in Manhattan, for example, you can have it rented out to anyone as long as your landlord approves.

But this only works if you can trust someone to live in your house or apartment or like in Europe, share a ride with strangers. And for some people, they’re willing to sacrifice that to make use of their underutilized assets.

Sundararajan pins down the sharing economy as an economic system with the following five characteristics:

  1. Largely market-based: Enabling the exchange of goods and the emergence of new services, resulting in potentially higher levels of economic activity.
  2. High-impact capital: Opens new opportunities for assets and skills to time and money, to be used at levels closer to their full capacity.
  3. Crowd-based networks rather than centralized institutions or hierarchies: The supply of capital and labor comes from decentralized crowds of individuals rather than corporate or state aggregates; future exchange may be mediated by distributed crowd-based marketplaces rather than by centralized third parties.
  4. Blurring lines between the personal and the professional: The supply of labor and services often commercializes and scales peer-to-peer activities like giving someone a ride or lending someone money, activities which used to be considered “personal.”
  5. Blurring lines between fully employed and casual labor, between independent and dependent employment, and between work and leisure: Many traditionally full-time jobs are supplanted by contract work that features a continuum of levels of time commitment, granularity, economic dependence and entrepreneurship.

The sharing economy has created many thriving businesses for one reason other than trust: Weak regulation, but Sundararajan thinks it should adhere to some regulatory measures, a reinvention of regulation, as most of regulatory interventions have been governed at the local level. Most of these businesses are national, if not international.

If Sundararajan had his way, he would call the sharing economy “crowd-based capitalism,” because the former still leaves a fair bit of ambiguity.

The event was hosted by Rising Minds at the Soho House.

With Product Management Interviews, You Must Listen 90% of the Time

product-management

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—At the Product School last August 3, Marty Cagan presented an hour-long talk on product management and the importance of managing new products and features of your startup using a customer delivery toolkit, which includes one important body part – your ear.

“You should be listening 90 percent of the call,” he said, referring to how you let interviewees talk as you hand out questions the rest of it.

But to start, he suggests doing customer research/survey as your build new products:

  1. Understand the market, competitors, user personas and processes
  2. Create a prioritized list of user stories, iterate on designs
  3. Look at impressive existing products

Take these steps, he suggests:

  1. Do a survey. Gather general info about a customer problem and source interviewees, citing how this is fast and scalable (1 hour investment of your time plus get customer response); fun and easy for customers, if you design it right; and everything is recorded and standardized.

The downsides: It’s not good for capturing nuance and details, you will miss unknown unknowns and you can’t drill down into critical areas.

The best practices: keep it short, minimize typing and test on a few internal folks and customers

  1. Do requirements interviews: Get a deeper understanding. Understand user personas, processes

Pros: Captures details and nuances; easier to discover unknown issues/ideas and dig further; develops the customer relationships (for design interviews)

Cons: Takes time (1 hour investment/customer response)

Low sample size (max 5 to 10 interviews per feature)

Best practices:

  • Interview your smartest customers and prospects
  • Send a good pitch email
  • Do a screen share (join.me, hangout)
  • Ask to record it
  • Send questions, document in advance
  • Let the interviewee go off on tangent, if worthwhile
  • Ask if they want to participate interview
  • Once that calls become repetitive, you’re done

Ask good questions

  • Ask broad questions first, then get more narrow
  • Embrace awkward pauses
  • Don’t lead the witness
  • Listen 90 percent of the time

Expand the format

  • Show versus tell
  • Make it interactive

Get some amazing outputs like “a day in the life” description; a flow chart showing current process and variants; prioritizing list of user stories – top ones are your MVP

3. Design interviews. Present design ideas to the user, get input, keep iterating until satisfied

  • Work with a designer to create one or more prototypes
  • Jump on a call and have the user walk through the prototype
  • Iterate based on their feedback
  • When changes start become less frequent, you’re done
  • Can also email prototypes to get feedback more quickly

Best practices

  • Have both PM and designer on the call
  • Get highest fidelity prototype with lowest effort
  • Don’t explain your design, let the user muddle though
  • Don’t argue over design
  • Act on feedback, don’t be stubborn

4.  Do customer visits

Get out and visit customers where they use your product

Pros:  Get the full customer context, tech, processes, personalities, capabilities; gather tons of photos, videos, and competitive research. The downsides? Lots of time (5-hour investment/customer response); can be costly and is a low sample size.

Best practices:

  • Block a few days and bath visits to multiple customers
  • Send agenda in advance
  • Have multiple interview Q&As and/or design prototypes ready
  • If B2B, make sure the right customer stakeholders attend
  • Record as much as possible (with presentation)

5. Do customer summits. Get a group of 5 to 8 sharp customers together and dig into a range of issues.

Pros

  • Fun and inspirational for everyone involved
  • Ideas build on each other to unlock new insights
  • Best tool for building relationship

Cons

  •  A lot f time (8-hour investment/customer response)
  • A lot of money ($1 K/customer to book venue, possibly flying them in
  • Low sample size

Best practices

  • Easier if customers are local
  • Keep it to 5 to 8 smart representative customers
  • Prepare exercises well (ex. design breakout sessions)
  • Use for brainstorming, requirements gathering, and design
  • Make sure others in their organization get customer exposure

It’s important to use the right tools and activities for the job:

  • Market research (surveys, summits, interviews
  • Requirements fathering (surveys, requirements interviews)
  • UX design (design interviews)
  • Pre-release (alpha/beta testing)
  • Post-release (customer tickets, usability tests, usage data)

Make time for customer research:

  • Worst. You respond ad hoc to your gut-feel ideas, customer request and bug filings
  • Absolute minimum. Do proactive interviews, analyzing usage data and examining customer tickets before deciding what to do
  • Basic. The above, plus some onsite visits quarterly NPS score surveys, and occasional discovery surveys
  • Advanced. The above plus frequent focus groups, on sites and competitive walkthroughs. And you use all of the tools well and adopt the latest tech.

If you forget everything else, here are some more tips:

  1. Gather requirements before design testing
  2. Prepare hard for interviews, mostly listen, and use visuals
  3. Document and share insights with the whole company

Individual customer’s input is one data point. You can choose to ignore it. But when the data lines up, act on it. As for the elephant the room; that is, how do you get people to do the survey with you? Do a good pitch in your email and best of all, give a gift card.