Listen Up!

A few months ago, we received an email from someone who wanted to hire us. “I committed the ultimate startup sin: I made an app and I’m not sure who it’s for.” They noted they had several conversations with potential users, but it was obvious they weren’t asking the right questions and weren’t really listening to the answers.

One of the questions they asked was, “Would you use this?” This is never a good question to ask. You never can really know what motivates people to say Yes or No. Are they being nice because they are related to you? Are you paying them to be part of a study/test/focus group? Are they, in that moment, imagining themselves using it but in reality they’d never buy it? Are they having a bad day and feeling generally negative about everything?

Teams, and even founders/owners, often think they know what their customers truly need. And they know it without having talked much to anyone. Or when they did talk, they didn’t ask the right questions and did very little active listening.

Taking an active listening approach means going into conversations with a small, core set of questions, then shutting up and letting the conversation go where it wants to go. Conversations like this can take time, especially if you want to get to the core issues.

Active listening requires being open, being flexible, and being vulnerable. The last one is especially true if you’re getting feedback on something you’ve already made. “There’s no reason I’d ever want to use this,” is a perfectly acceptable response and likely something you won’t feel good hearing if you’ve put effort into making The Thing™.

Most people are getting in the way of their goals by looking only for answers that fit what they want or expect to hear; they are missing opportunities to learn more about their product or service from the perspective of those who use or might use it.

If you’re making art, you probably don’t need to talk with anyone about what you’re making. If you’re making something people will use, and possibly pay for, it’s worth having a conversation or dozen.

My pitch to you: take a chance. Take time to have a conversation with people and, most importantly, let them do most of the talking. If you want help doing this, or want to learn how to do it, we’re here for you.