‘Winners of tomorrow will have AI,’ says VC

NEW YORK— The Data Driven meetup has always been an effective mix of show-and-tell demos and fireside chats with its guests. Last September 27, New York’s most well-attended meetup held its most inspired event this year with its impressive lineup of guests, packing every inch of the cavernous 480-seater AXA Equitable Center. A four-panel group of VCs from Silicon Valley talked candidly about building businesses around artificial intelligence while other speakers talked about the new things they are doing in their companies.

Steady host Matt Turck of First Mark Capital interviewed the VCs Jeff Chung, managing director at AME Cloud Ventures, Mike Dauber, general partner at Amplify Partners; Jake Flomenberg, partner at Accel and Aditya Singh, partner at Foundation Capital.

“Winners of tomorrow will be because AI was behind their product,” Singh said.

The adoption stage is early, but Singh believes “customers want solutions, not individual pieces,” he added while emphasizing how his company “helps you get customers and establish product-market fit.”

Flomenberg, for his part, thinks “we have a loose definition of AI.” He sees potential in computer vision.

Dauber thinks AI is real—if only the hype just finds the right mix but then there’s Google. “Google is who I am worried about. I think they can beat us senseless. On top of that, he thinks “access to (second round) capital is not easy,” he said.

Chung looks forward to having medical records scanned that leverages big data.

The healthcare industry is an endless curiosity for VCs, but Dauber probably put it best, “Healthcare is the most exciting and terrifying vertical,” adding how it faces so many regulations.

Even if money flows to startups in the artificial intelligence space, Dauber thinks “technical people are hard to find” to expedite any development.

Chung agrees: “It’s a challenge if you don’t have a strong foundational team. ‘It is a challenge whether you are here or in San Francisco. Many are coming from academia”

The summer hiatus certainly did the Data-Driven Meetup some good as it offered more interesting presentations.

Other guests were Noah Weiss, head of Search, Learning, & Intelligence at Slack; Praveen Murugesan, engineering manager at Uber and Jeremy Stanley, VP Data Science at Instacart (the one-hour grocery delivery platform). Weiss talked about Uber’s beginnings, how it unfurled from IRC chat, text messaging and Facebook. And lest everyone has forgotten, it made its start as a game.

“Macro trends plus the shift to mobile (formed) into a perfect storm,” Weiss said.

Now Slack is looking into addressing the increasing volume of communication by making people focus on the conversation they really need to read. Categorizing messages in terms of priority as well as having a fully “indexable” searc should help someone catch up with a team if he missed a day or two.

Carlos Guestrin, Amazon professor of Machine Learning at the University of Washington, and founder and CEO of Turi (a machine learning startup recently bought by Apple) also had a great presentation along with Kostas Tzoumas, founder and CEO of Data Artisans (a company implementing Apache Flink, stream data processing).

With Instacart, Stanley talked about how its 100 staff works to make sure it delivers within 60 minutes as it tries to capture its 600-million market with its product and retail partnerships. “Delivering orders really matters….(It’s) critical for customer happiness,” adding how it has achieved profitable unit economics driven in part by huge decreases in fulfillment time.

How does Uber operate in 75 countries and 500 cities? Murugesan credits its thousands of city operators; on-the-ground team who run and scale its transportation network and hundreds of data scientists and analysts as well as its engineering teams.

“We do A/B experimentations, spend analysis, build automated data applications,” he said, adding it has a scalable ingestion model – homegrown streaming ingestion solution and Hadoop Data Lake (no more limits to storage).

Guestrin exclaims, “Machine learning is hot, but can you trust it. How do we know they’re working? “You deploy a model and do A/B testing.”

He used Netflix as an example and how we trust its AI system.

Legacy technologies stall plague big companies

NEW YORK— Rigid architectures, maintenance gaps and lack of updates have plagued many big companies, and may have affected an airline’s recent issue when flights were delayed or canceled. This has put a spotlight on legacy technologies – the topic at Tech in Motion’s meetup last September 22 at the West Monroe Partners offices.

The speakers shared their thoughts on legacy technologies.

Melanie Colton, VP of Product & Technology for Hearst, has transformed and helped to grow Hearst Magazines’ digital business through the delivery of the core content and distribution platform.  She has built and modernized Hearst’s approach to product development and technical execution, as well as grown a fledgling organization into a fully functioning product and technology department.

Colton said you do inherit a system when you move from one company to another. When do legacy technologies need to retire? “If it (does) not meet actual business needs of the company (or) things need to rebuilt in a smarter way,” she said. “It was at that moment (we thought) we needed to start over.”

One time, Colton asked questions about old systems in another company she worked for, she was surprised to hear from the employees, “We don’t know (it) but we don’t touch it. No one here knows how to make it work.” Typically, she said, “You don’t understand your system you’re afraid to touch.”

Other points she raised about the problems of legacy technologies:

  • Leveraging open source tech is good
  • Listen to the whole problem and not just the individual components
  • (There’s ) fear and lack of investing
  • Some systems are expensive to rebuild
  • Organizational issues

Rafael Schloming, CTO and Chief Architect of Datawire, is a globally recognized expert on messaging. Previously, Schloming was a principal software engineer at Red Hat, where he led Red Hat’s technical engagements with the AMQP community. Rafael has a B.S. in computer science from MIT.

Before taking down legacy technologies, Schloming suggests looking for a good fit to solve your problem, and to evaluate the costs.

“(You don’t want to) put a square peg on a round hole,” he said.

A brittle system will not be any good. When that happens, more central governance is needed.

Joe Mongiat, a senior technical architect in West Monroe Partners’ Technology Integration practice, has more than 12 years of experience managing, designing, and implementing technology solutions that help clients realize a variety of business and operational benefits—from scalability and expansion to user productivity to information visibility. “If you think ahead of time, you can avoid costs,” he said.

Look at your organization, what tips the scales—the process and change management? How do you know if you can keep work internally?

“If you build something you have to pay to maintain it. There’s always a balancing act,” he said, adding how important it is to really have a clear vision and road map.

Map customer journey, offer loyalty programs to boost app value

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.”

Video for automatic transcription; video tool designed for storytellers

NEW YORK — How would you like your video to be automatically transcribed? At the NY Video Meetup at Conde Nast last September 21, Auto Edit 2 took only a few quick steps and minutes to upload a media, put a speech-to-text system (with the help of IBM American English) to work, and voila! — you got yourself a saved transcription.

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 improves the audio in your videos.  The demo showed how the app cleans its sound and mazimizes its volume. As you save them using various filters, the original video remains in the same resolution. 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.”

‘Who’ else is a social platform? Count in 3D, VR content

NEW YORK—So “who” is not a social platform these days? Even Sketchfab sounds like one the way it has amassed 100,000 members who publish 3D and VR content for everyone to share. And it has all the top guns for clients – Adobe, Facebook, Microsoft Hololens, among others.

Sketchfab’s Alban Denoyel, co-founder and CEO, was at the Hardwired meetup last September 14 along with Vibhu Norby, CEO of b8ta, a retail store designed for trying and buying new connected devices; Ben Einstein, general partner of Bolt, an early-stage VC firm focused on hardware and IoT; and Anthony Batt, founder & EVP of WEVR, which handles VR content production and network.

“3D is eating the world,” Denoyel said, as he showed samples of how 3D has been used to preserve cultural heritage, document world events, and market products and change how we see places, people and food.

Using Sketchfab is easy. You can upload files in almost any 3D format, directly on sketchfab.com or using one of its exporters. Once models are on the site, you can embed them on any web page and share on other platforms like WordPress, Facebook, Kickstarter and Linkedin.

Vibhu Norby, CEO and founder of b8ta, came from Palo Alto present at the meetup as well. B8ta is a retail store like no other. It sells IoTs, connected devices and other hardware products.

For Norby, a retail store is a place to “discover, engage and demo” a product, which websites can’t do.

Today, retail is demand-gen, not demand fulfillment, he added.

Launched December last year, b8ta think stores can be used to funnel awareness.

Norby said pricing is the most important decision and you should build a strategy around it. He also thinks you should budget 15 percent of your margin for reverse logistics and customer support.

Before the last presentation, host Matt Turck sat down to talk with Bolt general partner Ben Einstein whose company invests in hardware and IoT devices.

He discussed the technical and product risks for hardware startups, pointing out the difference also between low-risk products like Fitbit and high-risk products like the Roomba.

Fitbit is a low risk proposition, because it simply calculates your steps where high-risk products can be far more complex and harder to market.

Bolt’s clients in the past include top tech companies such as Apple, Disney, Google and IDEO.

Last presenter was Batt of WEVR, a company that produces virtual reality content and has a VR platform called Transport.

Transport hopes to entice brave artists and storytellers to work in virtual reality and deliver a constant flow of high quality simulations to millions of new headsets.

Hardwired NYC, organized by FirstMark Capital, is a fast-growing community that explores frontier technology and emerging computing platforms: internet of things, virtual reality, augmented reality, drones, 3D printing, robotics, etc.

Blue Apron uses ratings to understand customers’ needs

By Dennis Clemente

Blue Apron, Verve Mobile and Imaginary Forces present their design process at Buzzfeed

NEW YORK — Ratings provide us a chance to quickly review a product or service, but Blue Apron found out it’s more than that. Melody Koh said, “People rate (our) recipes because people want us to learn more about them.”

Koh was speaking at the Design Driven meetup last September 13 at the Buzzfeed offices. She was joined by Tom Harman, design manager at Buzzfeed; Walter Geer, creative director at Verve Mobile and Alan Williams, creative director at Imaginary Forces.

If you haven’t heard of Blue Apron, it’s about time you did if you’re interested in learning how to cook. The startup provides all the ingredients you need to make a delicious meal in exactly the right portions.

Blue Apron takes care of the menu planning and shopping (providing you with fresh, locally sourced ingredients in pre-measured quantities), so all you have to do is cook and enjoy. You can choose to skip your orders up to 5 weeks in advance or cancel at any time.

People who don’t know how to cook at all like the idea of having ingredients, as it’s time saved going to the supermarket. Once you get the ingredients, you can watch the video on its site blueapron.com to find how to cook your meal.  In terms of portions, it offers a 2-person plan and family plan. You can check out its list of meal choices here https://www.blueapron.com/cookbook

Its 2-Person Plan consists of 3 meals perfectly portioned for 2 people, and is delivered to you once a week. Based on preferences, you’ll receive 3 recipes out of the 6 unique options created by its culinary team each week.The price per serving is $9.99 a meal, or $59.94 for the entire 6-serving delivery. Shipping is always free.

Its Family Plan is for feeding a family of 4 and consists of 4 delicious recipes delivered to your door each week. Depending on the plan, you’ll receive either 2 recipes or all 4 recipes created for that week.

For the week of September 246, here are some meals you should be able to make: Beef & Shishito Open-Faced Sandwiches with tomato, cucumber & Romaine salad; Five-Spice Chicken with Vermicelli, Mushrooms & Baby Fennel; Crispy Catfish with  Kale-Faro salad & warm grape relish.

It will also offer Thai Red Curry & Rice with shokichi squash & eggplant;  Fontina & Leek Grilled Cheese Sandwicheswith romaine, cucumber & radish salad; Broccoli & Spinach Stromboli with fennel-bell pepper salad & tomato dipping sauce.

Harman talked about design process at BuzzFeed, stressing how important it is to have a unified design process, especially when scaling a business.

“A strong design process establishes a shared vocabulary and offers clear expectations,” he said.

He discussed the five design phases the Buzzfeed design team follows with a chart showing the process and how it unfolds in reality

  1. Define. Know the problem and uncover as many constraints as possible.
  2. Explore. Generate as many solutions as possible while exploring the problem space.
  3. Refine. Validate which solutions work before distilling down the simplest design.
  4. Build. Translate this through code and design
  5. Learn. Understand whether the design was successful and whether it needs further work.

Verve Mobile’s Geer thinks that mobile without location is simply display advertising.

Showing how the iPhone can pinpoint your most frequented locations, Geer showed how Verve works to offer only relevant ads.

Founded in 2005, Verve creates mobile ad campaigns for the biggest brands, harnessing the power of location-context mobile data, so the only ads you will see are based on your experiences in your area.

Do you like title designs? The next presenter, Williams certainly does.

If you recall the animated title sequence in Mad Men or the retro design in Netflix’s Stranger Things, the company behind it is Imaginary Forces, a design-based production studio with offices in Hollywood and New York.

Williams showed us how the title design for HBO’s Vinyl came to be. He bought packs of baking powder and used it to create the look for the series’ title design sequence.

“I work using a ‘’method branding approach,” he said, which borrows from the way he actors immerse deep into characters called method acting.

He collects and curates to get the real feel for a project. For Vinyl, it was about “feeling rock and roll.”

Imaginary Forces’ has been doing title designs since 1996 with an impressive roster of clients that include Powerade, Microsoft and Nike.

How to turn students into brand ambassadors

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 new Cognitive Services APIs include detecting emotion

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

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.

Product management interviews: Listen 90% of the time

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 on 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.