min to LISTEN
March 2, 2021

How to Use Customer Research to Design and Sell Better Products

Shay Howe
Shay Howe
VP of Platform Strategy

Designing products and then selling them is one of the biggest challenges for startups and entrepreneurs. After all, whatever you create, it has to be something that people care about. It's not easy selling something that solves a non-existent problem.

And this is what I talk about with my guest Shay Howe. Not only is he the VP of Platform Strategy at Active Campaign, but he also mentors startups at TechStars about designing and selling better products.

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We covered:

  • The biggest mistake people make when it comes to designing a product
  • Why less is more in design and marketing
  • Focusing on the core and knowing what it is you stand for
  • How restricting yourself can force you to build a better product
  • Understanding what problem your product needs to solve
  • Is there really a problem that needs solving or a perceived problem
  • Taking an existing problem and solving it in a new way
  • The most important question to ask potential customers
  • Testing results and knowing if something is tangible or not


Full transcript:

Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers.com. The no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for people sick of shady aggressive marketing. I'm your host Louis Grenier. In today's episode, you'll learn how to use customer research to design and sell better products. My guest today is the VP of Platform Strategy at Active Campaign.

You know, Active Campaign used to be just an email marketing tool. If I'm not mistaken, now it's a customer experience automation tool. So they've added a lot of stuff into their feature sets. He's also a mentor at TechStars, a partner at Prota Ventures, which advises a lot of startups on the topic that we're going to talk about today. He used to be the VP of product at a few startups as well, and the UI engineer at Groupon as well. His CV is really long and very impressive. So that's why I'm super happy to have you Shay Howe on board. 

Shay: Welcome. Thank you for having me pleasure to be here, though. 

Louis: So designing, selling products, I mean, this is kind of the probably one of the biggest problems, the biggest things that, that, that folks out there have to do.

Whether you're in marketing or design, you have to sell it. You have to create something that people care about.  From your experience, advising folks startups, owners like entrepreneurs and working at each campaign and other companies before, what would you say is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to designing a product?  

Shay: Ooh. When it comes to designing a product it's designing the wrong thing. Like one of the things I've had to learn throughout my career is You can design, you can build anything, but that doesn't necessarily or inherently mean that you should. And a lot of us skip that step where we really begin to identify and validate the problem we're digging into.

And it's easy to do because, you know, The toolsets, you know, how to design, you know, how to build but to go out, to talk to people, to be told your ideas incorrect, or to refine it and like, let it take shape is the hard part. And that's the part we so frequently skip. And that's, I see that all over the board.

I see that from people who are just starting to people who've been doing this 20 years, that's a critical step, excuse me, a critical step that's often missed. 

Louis: Okay, so I'm sure we're going to talk about that and how to do it appropriately. Before going into a kind of a step by step, and then I'm going through those steps.

What would you say is another mistake you see folks make in this concept? And it could be on the design of it and then on the selling of it. But I suppose I suspect it's part of the same. 

Shay: Process, right? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if I wanted to like distill that, like distinctly down into design, if I like to strip away like the market and things like that from it. It's generally over-designing things.

And not like, I don't know what, like, where the saying came from, but like the good designers and the best designers. Like, know they're done when there's nothing else they can take away from the design. Not in the fact that like, There's nothing else that they can add. Right. A lot of folks start by just trying to add things and cram in all the different artifacts or things they think someone might need.

It is the more experienced designer who's going to think about, like, what can I take away? Right. How do I really simplify and reduce the problem down to its most basic core? And that's where you, like, you see a lot of good work done in that scenario. 

Louis: I love that. And I tell you why I love that because I think this advice could be applied to the marketing processes in general.

 And the innovation process in general, like coming up with new ideas or new solutions to existing problems or how to stand out it always comes down to. I think as humans, we tend to really like to see what we can add to stuff. There is a very good book called Different by Young Me Moon if I'm not mistaken.

And she talks about this innovation by augmentation, which is simply doing things slightly better, adding more features slightly cheaper, slightly, you know, just add stuff. The good example would be the, you know, those razor from Gilette, like where it's like two blades, three blades, four blades, you know, and it's interesting that looking at what you can remove on, on is kind of a way to shed some light into what matters, right?

The more you add stuff, the more clutter, the less. What matters is visible, right?

Shay: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this is a silly example and probably maybe overused, but if you think about cell phones and like the personal device assistants, right? Like back in the day, like the thought was like, it should be a small computer, right.

It should be able to do anything that a computer can do. I think it was like the original Palm Pilot was like, no, it needs to basically do, like, I think it was four things. It was like, you need to have access to, your to-dos, your notes, your calendar, and your email, or, no, maybe it was the, not even your email,

I think there's just like contacts, right? And everything else they're like stripped away from it. They even talked about like the individual, I forget his name, running the project, like walking around with a wooden block, the size of, what the Palm Pilot would be. And he'd like, it like literally there's four things it's got to do and what you're proposing doesn't fit those four things.

We have to get rid of it. It ballooned, right. They started to add more to it. I think a,s years and things evolved, and then Apple comes around and comes out with an iPhone that like at the time, didn't even have picture messaging. Like if you think about that, like the multimedia messaging side, like it didn't do where plenty of other phones were well past this at that time.

Again, just focusing on the basic core, like nail the experience from this, and you can iterate and evolve as it goes. Obviously, the iPhone is far more complicated today, but it was at the core. What’s the real problem we're trying to solve? And how do we like compact that into what we're going to deliver to get off the ground?

Louis: It has interesting ramifications in human psychology and how we see choice, right? The paradox of choice. The more choices you have in front of you, the more it's overwhelming, and also the less of the features you use, the more you feel like you are missing out, and you should use the other, the more you feel guilty.

So you take a decision. On, I'm going to use that for this. And then you realize that you can do plenty of other stuff, but you don't use it. It actually creates anxiety, and it makes you feel regret about the choice you made. So that's super interesting. And that's exactly, as you said, I think I could extrapolate that to the craft of marketing as well.

I think the experience marketers know what to remove what to focus on and are not adding fluff for the sake of fluff. And that's definitely something that I've seen so many times over and over. You've. Go ahead. 

Shay: This is really, it takes a willingness to be bold in that scenario, right? To like actually stand for something.

And that's where you see a lot of marketing goes sideways. Like you'll read the lead or you'll read the first paragraph and you're like, I don't know what you stand for. Okay. I have fundamentally invested 30 seconds into this and I am no wiser for those 30 seconds. 

Louis: It makes me laugh that you say 30 seconds as a huge, [inaudible] that's very variable, right?

Like that makes you think. When you think about it as a designer or a marketer or whoever crafts things for people to make changes in their life. 30 seconds is a long fucking time. 

Shay: That's being generous. Yeah. 

Louis: Yeah. It's a long time when you're bored or when you don't like what you're seeing, it could be a very short time when you enjoy your, moment.

So you gave a good, great example here of focusing on the core and knowing what you stand for, and being bold in that sense. Could you probably, could you come up with another example? To illustrate this point I have if you're completely lost I can talk about it a bit, but I'm pretty sure you have some. 

Shay: I'm sure I could come up with a few if I can blend Active Campaign into the conversation where I currently work. Right. We have a few pretty core like values. We hold true to how we think about our customers and where we build. And one of those is We're the anti-all-in-one. We think like the products that are like, Hey, we're going to be everything and all things to everyone.

They're fundamentally, just not that good. And it's irresponsible to think that you could build your entire business on one platform. Our belief, our ethos is the idea that you can stack your tools together and you should be able to have your tools actually work together and provide orchestration between how those integrate to one another.

So as we go about building certain features and making different decisions, like for us, it's. We're not going to do that because we don't believe we'd be the best at that in the world. Right. And that, like, we'd rather integrate with the tools or companies that are going to do that well, versus trying to build those features or functionalities ourselves.

They'd be like another example of just like, you've got to kind of know where your core and your heart is, and for us, that's automation. 

Louis: So that means that you've decided not to build certain features, knowing that other, not competitors, but other compliments like products have it. There's no point building it cause it's not part of the core right? 

Shay: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you just like, you have to measure that outright. And understanding like, what is it we want to do? What do we uniquely want to solve? Your customers are going to push you. They're going to have requests. They're going to try and drive different demands into it.

Some will be valid, some won't right. I think you kinda. You don't have the ground by which, like, you know, directly where you want to go. It's very hard to filter that feedback or get a sense of how do I respond to that, right? Like how do I actually ask the next question to follow up, to see if that's really valuable or not?

Louis: I'm going to share an overused example I know, but that's, it's something that, I have the detail of it I had never heard before. It's about Google when they started as a search engine, right. So they were competing against Yahoo at the time that had notoriously a shit ton of links on their homepage.

I mean, there was everything from weather to news to whatever. I think it's still the case. So they focus on only the search and internally they actually had someone in particular was really adamant about the number of words on the page, and they were counting. And as soon as it went over a certain threshold, I'm going to come up with a shitty fucking number, like 80, words or plus they were like, Nope, Fuck we need to remove stuff.

So you've heard that as well, right? 

Shay: Yeah. I mean, like the words were dozens, right? Like it was like, I want to, it was like in the fifties or something like it was incredibly low. And like, yeah, there's not like a, there's not even like a sentence of text on there, like the homepage, right. It's a few links to where you need to go.

But other than that, like it's just, you're here to search, like get into it. 

Louis: And I know, obviously when you pass, move, when you move past the homepage, and then you look at the fucking clutter of ads, and they still have simplicity about it, I think they still are true to their ethos. And it's, I know it's kind of survivorship bias to look back at a fucking multi-billion dollar company.

I'm trying to look at lessons, but when I think it's interesting because. I don't know how many companies that would have been able to stand their ground that much for that many years. Obviously now they have so many other products, but like the search, it sits very close to what it used to be under pressure to have added stuff to it should have been immense over years and yet this, they stood their ground. 

Shay: Yeah, I absolutely agree. 

Louis: So that's the second mistake. Really interesting. Let's talk about the third one if you can think of one, if not, we can move on to how to actually, you know, go through the steps to design and sell stuff.

Shay: Yeah. Well, I mean like, do you want like I can give you some constraints, like even outside, like the digital world, if you will. Yes. I'm like, cause I mean, I like I'm actually, I love a good constraint. Like to me that really helps like narrow and shape a problem. Right. And it lays out like this is the challenge we have to overcome.

So  I've heard this story, like how the shot clock in basketball came to be. Have you ever heard this story by chance? Nope. Okay. It's really interesting. I'm going to mess up some of the details. It's been a while. 

Louis: I always do as well, don't worry. 

Shay: Essentially like back in the day there was no shot clock and basketball games were basically boring.

Players would just basically move up and down the court at their own speed, their own pace. I think like, There was one season, like the NBA championship, the score was like 24 to 18 or something. Right. To put that in comparison today I think those scores are like above a hundred, right, on both sides, more or less.

I mean, I don't know, I don't exactly know, but a much slower pace game. And so the people watching, the people attending games was essentially like falling. So basically, they were like, all right, we're probably just going to like cancel and get rid of the NBA. And there was an owner of, one of the teams was like, Hey, like, eh, that's not good.

Like, I have a lot of my wealth and personal investment in this game. Like I don't want to see it go away. So what he did, he essentially said like, okay, I'm going to put clocks on each side of the court, and I'm just going to have my team scrimmage each other. And essentially, I'm going to tell them they have 24 seconds per possession.

Right? So by the time you get the ball in bounds, you have 24 seconds to take a shot and score or turn the ball over to the other team. And as he had his team scrimmaging, one another, like the game picked up, right. Players are moving up and down the court out of necessity. They had to. He invited some league officials over, other coaches, other owners, everyone kind of got hooked on this, and they were like, all right, like let's just try it.

Like, let's implement the shot clock as a rule in the NBA. And since like, I think it's just fundamentally changed and re-evolved and imagined the game. But based off a constraint of, Hey, like, let's actually shape and focus this a bit further. 

And so that's a beautiful example because it shows that adding constraints adds value, right?

It's like. It’s counterintuitive when you think about it simply to actually restricting certain areas, certain parameters, like time or whatever height, it could be anything in sports and other stuff. Forces you to change behavior and to change things so that the rules become the game becomes more enjoyable.

And in general, things can be changed for fundamentally. I mean, I'm thinking about, for example, when you look at the webinar environment at the minute or what's going on with just webinars and online events and [inaudible] and stuff like that. You know, pretty much every single one of them are like a long sales page, where everyone talks for a long time with slides that are just boring as fuck.

What if you change the rules? Right. And that's what we've done at Hotjar where I work, where we decided, what if we could change things from long boring salesy, virtual summit webinars to five minutes per person only. So what if you add a constraint like that? And it changed everything because it forced them then to distill everything to one core insight for them to stop selling their stuff.

It forced them to focus on the value and it added an incredible amount of value for people by reducing the time. So I love that example because that's, that's one thing that people forget about exactly in the, in this world where you want to add stuff and add more things and do all things for all people restricting yourself is super interesting.

Louis: Do you have another example on that or? 

Shay: Yeah, I mean, I could keep going on those Sure. So even if I stay off of the digital landscape for a minute. All right, so when I was a kid if I can share some stories. So at one point, my father was cutting down a tree. And as he's cutting down the tree with a chainsaw I remember essentially a chunk of bark or wood, what have you, flew off the balloon of that chainsaw, got stuck in his eye, right? Hit his retina. The story ends, he's good, everything is safe and above board. But what was interesting is as part of the recovery for that, doctors put an eyepatch on as good eye, and essentially they didn't want to let his good eye try and overcompensate for his bad eye.

Right. So they forced that eye that had, you know, the strain on it actually work a little harder, right. To catch up with what would be you know, his good eye Funny enough, like not there long after I ended up breaking my humerus. So that'd be the bone that basically goes from your shoulder to your elbow. Nasty kind of wicked break.

After a good three months in plaster repairs cast, part of my recovery was actually putting my good arm in a sling. When the cast came off, I wore a sling for a little bit, and the doctor, I remember the appointment he's like, all right, so we're going to move the sling to your other arm.  I was like, wait, that doesn't make sense.

Yeah. Yeah. And he's like, no shit, you have to use that arm. You got to get stretched. You have to have muscle back in there. Otherwise, like there's going to be atrophy, that like you won't overcome. So again, like constrained my good arm, so that forced me to use my bad one. I've done that in projects with people.

So I'm building something, right? My role in that scenario is usually on the basically design front-end development. And I'll work with a backend component or you know, partner of that. I've been in scenarios where we'll flip those roles. Like, Hey, like you do the design and I'll do the data modeling and structuring of these things.

Just to test ourselves just to say, Hey, like if we actually stripped away what we knew. Thus, we can't overcomplicate what we're about to do. What is the actual outcome? And then if we run on that for just a moment and we come back together, look at each other's work, it's going to be just different.

And like, if you and I are going to work on something, right, like say we switch roles, you look at the work I'm doing that is normally the work you do. Probably is going to open your eyes to some things like you haven't thought about before or that you might believe are overly simplistic, but might just be smart enough to work.

And I think vice versa is going to be true as well. Right. You know, you might come up with designs or some developments that not the way I probably would have done it but doesn't mean that they're not value or, you know, won't actually work. Thus, I could learn something from them, if that makes sense.

Louis: It does. Yeah. It reminds me of this method as well.  I think it's, I'm not going to remember the name of this, but it's basically brainstorming a way to brainstorm by imagining that you are another company with completely different set of values, completely different environment.

So let's say you, you design it as if you're Disney, design it as if you're Tesla. You design as if you are, I don't know if I'm in a restaurant in the fifties and it forces you to look at different alternatives. And I think it's really nice way to overcome biases, right? Which is, I think what you’re implying about over-complicated and stuff like that, is this bias of thinking that everyone knows as much as we do and stuff like that, right? 

Shay: Yeah. Yeah. I think there's like, there's value in one, just like breaking your habit in that scenario. Right? Like giving yourself perhaps a little bit of a constraint. Let's you have to break your habit. And I think fear plays a big part in that.

A lot of times we don't want to do it. We're just like that seems discomforting or disorienting. But it's when you stretch that, I think like you're going to grow, you're going to learn more That's incredibly valuable to do. I don't like recommending shine from that. 

Louis: Any other, I'm asking you a lot of examples, but they are very interesting so I'm asking more. Any other example of ways to break through the habits and do things differently than you've tried instead of just switching roles? Have you tried any of the things to add constraints? 

Shay: Yeah, I mean, like on the constraint side a lot, right? Like, think about be it a style guide or design guidelines, right?

Like using one of those to work on a project to basically say, all right, here are my components, or here are the areas like that, I need to, I'll say abide by. And that might be a strong word, but you know if my font sizes, colors. If the grid, the structure of things that are already determined for me, like.

Awesome. How do I play within that? Like how do I actually like to remove away the work of thinking through visually? What does this look like, inline me to go deeper into understanding? Okay. What? Well, what's the real problem I'm trying to solve? Who has that problem? When do they have it? How are they solving that problem today?

Is there any value in me even solving this? Like, is there a new technology that allows me to create a better experience for them? Or am I just wasting my time trying and solve this problem to start with right. I think you can get to like the heart of what that is a bit closer and faster. 

Louis: Nice. So I think we've covered a lot of grounds there. And so the first mistake you mentioned was building, designing something that it wasn't even helpful in the first place, like basically doing something that wasn't needed. 

So let's go through kind of a step by step. I know, as I said, at the start, you advise folks who are creating, selling products, whether they are very experienced or new. Let's imagine that you are mentoring me or someone else through this process. Let's imagine they have something all ready to show us because usually, that's what happens. Right. They have more than an idea, they have some MVP in place or whatnot. What's what do you look at first? What question do you ask? What do you like to get into? 

Shay: Yeah, I am really trying to understand what problem they're trying to solve.

And seeing how well they can like kind of unpack and articulate that. Best case scenario they're solving a problem they've had or experienced themselves. Right. That's, you know, a lot of people talk about like that founder market fit. That's kind of what, you'd be looking for in some of those scenarios.

It's not always true, right? Like sometimes people just have innately good ideas. It's really certain to understand, like how have you validated it? What is the momentum you have behind that? And I'm asking those questions twofold. One is like, get me up to speed. Like, let me actually understand the problem you're trying to solve and you know, where you're going with it. 

But also I'm trying to understand, have you done that work? Like, have you checked that box yourself, to begin with? Cause if you haven't like we might have a problem right there. Right. So I'm trying to get a sense of what that problem is and then it's, you know, digging into.

Okay, well, how are you going about that? What does that actually starting to look like? What is the product what are the interactions there? How are you bringing about to life to solve that problem? That make sense?

Louis: It does. I'm going to ask you a very basic question, but I think it's, it sounds basic, but I think it's, it goes deeper because I know everyone talks about it.

Whether it's marketing entrepreneurship in general, in design, it's about this problem. Do your users have this problem and whatnot, but what does it actually mean? How do you define, like when someone summarizes that problem to you and tells that to you, how do you know whether it's a good problem definition or whether it's like not really a problem, not really painful?

Like what is the, at the core of what is a problem? 

Shay: Yeah. Oh, that's a big, that's not a basic question. That's a really big question. Like you're trying to understand is there, is that really a problem? Or is that a perceived problem? And then is there a market behind that has, you know, attention or value to wanting that problem to be addressed?

How you peel back the layers of that is tricky. Like the questions, I'm not going to ask, right. And this, even if I'm not advising, if I'm building something myself, like. I'm not going to ask people how much they'd pay for something. I'm not going to ask people you know, would you buy a product that did this or do you think this is a good idea?

Like you're setting yourself up to like, have a difference between what customers say and what they actually mean in those scenarios. Right. So it's actually trying to like, pick behind what would be any broad ideas, any generalities, any fluff, any hypotheticals? And honestly, even compliments they're getting on their work.

Like the, like that to me is all bad data. 

Louis: So just to summarize that a problem is not a set of compliments that you receive or a set of assumptions you have, or a set of things that people tell you that they could potentially do in the future. All right. So that's not that. What else is it not?

Shay: The like, Someone giving you an idea, right. So if I'm presenting something to you you being like, Oh, Hey, like what if you tried this? Or what if this did X or Y like those could be good ideas, but again, like if you don't know the heart or core of the problem, you're trying to solve, like that's going to lead you astray.

That's going to like take you on this long path that eventually, like you're going to be deep in the woods and not really know how you got there. Right. And like, without that footing, what does it mean? You're, it's, I'm out here. I have ideas, but I don't know what they're grounded to. I don't know how to actually bring those to market or where like where our attraction to those could be?

Louis: So a problem in that sense would be what is the thing that is preventing a certain portion or a certain set of people to go where they want to go. And it's not a location most of the time, it's mostly like the job that they want to be done. Like the thing that they have in mind that they want to achieve, what are, what is the main thing that prevents them to do so. And so that could be most of the time people think about it in function in term of actual things that prevents them.

 But a lot of time it's actually psychological it's, in fact, a job to be done is psychological in nature.  It happens in your head, right? So it could be anything from, you know, I want more control in my life. I want more surface[inaudible] feel better. I want to have a better body.

I want to have more money. I want... that's sort of a problem. I mean, I'm just trying to define it in my own definition would be, yeah. This thing that prevents you, from going wherever you want to go. And you're actively looking at passing through it or solving it. If you're not, if it's just a, just a small nuisance, you don't have a job to be done and just have a job.

Like it's you think about it, but you don't want to do anything about it. 

Shay: Yeah. I think something to note too is like I'll talk to other people a lot and I'd be like, there are actually very few new problems in the world. But most problems we've already encountered. I think the big difference is technology is now enabling us to solve these problems in different manners and to create better experiences.

Right. Uber is not a revolutionary idea, right? Like actually like on the surface of a bad idea, right. You've been told your entire life, like don't talk to strangers and don't get in cars with strangers or, don't talk to strangers on the internet and don't get in cars with strangers. Uber's entire like hypothesis is like, Well, you could use the internet to get a stranger to come pick you up and take you somewhere.

Right? Like on the surface is such a bad idea, but it's solving that existing problem of hailing a cab is a pain in the bones. You never really know what, like what it's going to cost you. If you get stuck in traffic. If we could change that using technology and at a moment where, Oh, everyone starts to have cell phones, all those cell phones generally have GPS.

As a perfect market cross of saying, Hey, there's a good product fit and there's a good market fit here. Let's dig into that for a minute. Right? Well, let's run some hypotheses and test to see. Will this actually work, right? This is not a new problem, it's an existing problem but solved in a different way using technology to create a better customer experience.

Louis: So it is a good problem, and it's not a new problem. Like it's, as you said it's something that is an existing problem that you can solve differently. A problem is not an idea that someone has told you all, some future states answer the[inaudible], I, we, I'm going to do this or whatnot. And it's also something that, I mean to be successful, to be able to solve it, something that people need are actively looking to solve. And I know it's, I mean, I know it might sound obvious, but it's actually something that you see a lot is like, it's actually not big enough constraint that makes me think about it day and night, or like, I actually want to actually do something about it.

It's a small thing. Like, I mean, I'm wearing slippers at the minute. Right. And they're not the most comfortable. Yeah. I wish I had better slippers but I'm not going to go out of my way to buy new ones. Do you know? So it is a problem they're not the most super comfortable, but I could care way more. 

Shay: Yeah. Yeah. It's not reaching a threshold of like, I actually need her or want to change this. And sometimes those problems, like that's where like the questions will matter how you dig into it matter. Because like what your answer to that might be, I just need a more comfortable slipper.

Right. But maybe it's just a nice pair of socks, right. Or maybe it's not a slipper it's you know, it's a sandal, it's something else. Hard to tell. 

Louis: So when you work with folks and you want to decide whether it's a nice problem to solve, what do you advise them to do?

Like you said, you want to make sure they do the work. What is the work? 

Shay: Yeah,  honestly, it's getting out and talking to some people, right. Like doing the research behind it. I am like. I dunno, I get like you, you want to talk about the things that like frustrate you in marketing. One of the things that frustrates me and like some of the triggers I have is when people are like, I am data-driven I did a bunch of research.

I have all this data, it proves X, Y, and Z, but that doesn't prove anything. Like I can go get data to support pretty much any argument. Right. The data doesn't tell you why. Right? Like very specifically, like if you're in, like the quantitative side of data is not telling you why something is what you think it might be and you have to go out and talk to some people and really fill in like, what is the qualitative side of this argument?

And if someone hasn't done that, massive red flag despite how attuned to the problem they might be or how they think it's being perceived You don't like your slippers doesn't mean that I'm not wearing the same pair and don't love them. Just don't know. Right. If we keep this analogy going. You got to go out and talk to some folks, Hey, do you not like those slippers too, right?

Like, like, you know, how do you feel about them? What would make them better? Right. Like, dig into that a bit further. 

Louis: You already mentioned a few, but if you had to pick one question, that is probably the most important to ask potential customers. What would it be? 

Shay: I honestly like there, isn't a question, and that's going to sound weird, but it has to be a conversation. Like, like the research you do, you can't, if you go in there with like, I think you can have a checklist of things you're trying to learn. Rarely do I go in with a checklist of questions I'm going to ask because what I want to do is find a conversation and kind of let them get to the problem I'm trying to solve, but let it be an organic flow.

Right. I want you to be a very casual conversation, that where we get into the heart of talking about something, to where eventually I'm getting the answers I need. But they know I never had to ask specifically the question at hand. Right. So if we were to like role play this for a second. Say I'm building I dunno, like a calendar software, a competitor to Calendly or something of that.

Like, I'm not going to be like, Hey you know what calendar do you use? Your Google calendar, outlook? Like what's your calendar look like these days? Right. Like, I'm probably gonna be like, start with like a basic, like how's work going. Right. And it's just like, Oh, works good, you know, highs and lows.

You know, we're in a pandemic, like it's busy. Oh yeah.  Has your schedule changed? Like working from home versus being in the office, like how's the average day change. Right. And like, I'm going to start to unpack the conversation and like, let us get to it. But let it flow a bit further than just being like, okay, how long has your average meeting. Right. Like 30 minutes, next question. Right? Like it's gotta be more of that conversation if that makes sense. 

Louis: It does. And I think that's the mistake that folks make when because they're not so confident about it. And the, they have the fear of talking to people and I know this is a difficult thing to do at the start, right. So it takes a bit of experience to know that yeah, you need to treat it like a genuine normal conversation.Very much like you wouldn't meet someone at a bar and just getting straightaway into a very intense question. You would, unlike what I do at, on the podcast, you actually are nice. You should be nice.

And you should ask more questions at this start. But yes, you talk about the wider context and then you start to peel off the layers until you got to something interesting, but you don't want to also ask too much, too many, like leading questions. That make them answer in a way that you want to answer, that you want them to answer, which is like, you know, about to do the Calendly alternative, you know, asking them, do you use any, anything like you know, Calendly or anything like that?

And they might say, yeah. So what don't you, what don't you like about them? And all the negative, you get, if you're not trying to get to the, no, it's more like From, yeah. I mean, I'll probably ask them something like from zero to 10, how satisfied are you with it?  And if they say something below eight or nine, I would ask why. If it's above that, I would probably ask.

Okay. So what is the score like?  Tell me how you use it.  And trying to unpack it. And she'll, they might mention something that they don't like, but if they don't, then you can force it. Right. So you need to be careful of that. Right? Any other advice on, talking to people?

Shay: Yeah. I'm in those conversations I'll try and like get some level of commitment from them.

Like again, like what people say and what people do can be inherently different. So let it be a conversation, let that go for a minute. But towards the end, I'm going to try and wrap it into a commitment from them, right. To actually, okay. I think I've learned what I need to learn from this.

But there is a final test to this and that's to see, like how strong are you? Do you feel that pain? What would you go through in those loops to actually have a solution to it? And the commitment doesn't need to be right, would you buy this? You know, the commitment can be like, that's interesting.

Let me, I want to dig into this a little bit more, like, can we talk next week? Like, Hey, can I, you know, could I send you an invite for an hour next week, to dig a bit deeper into this? I want to show you some things I'm working on right. Like a commitment could be, do you know anyone else solving this problem?

Could you get me contacted to them as well? Right. You can start to like, spread that out a little bit. For new companies, like those become your early adopters then too, right? Like you start to build that network as it goes. But trying to push for some type of commitment is going to, you know, really try and tell you, like, you might have a great conversation. Like, Hey, can you know, could you refer me to anyone else who has this problem? They'd be like, no, I don't know anyone. Okay. 

Louis: Well, I don't have any friends, so I don't, there are three types, right? It's time, money or reputation. If you can't get either of the three, you're basically fucked.

So time, can they give more time to you in the future? Or money, can they, are they willing to spend money right now? Like actual cash and reputation, which is also a good one. Like, can you intro me to people if they're like, not so sure? That means that they don't want to put their reputation in jeopardy by recommending something that they think is shit.

Shay: Yeah. Yeah. 

They might just be leading you on our conversation to be nice. They don't want to be controversial or kind of dig into making you feel bad about it. Yeah. 

Louis: Especially like when you talk to Americans, be very careful with those. People, they're fine, [cross talk] Apparently the more you go to the Eastern Europe side, the more they're going to tell you exactly what they think It's true. I mean, I'm making massive generalities, but it tends to happen. It tends to happen. Okay, so you talk to you, talk to them, you understand whether there's a problem we're solving or not.

You make sure that they talk to people. What's next. 

Shay: Then it's like rolling your sleeves up. Right? How do you put that into action? Right? You got, you have a pretty good hypothesis. You probably have some good research behind it. Hopefully, it's refined a bit of that idea. Right. Like again, if it's not a new problem and we're going to solve it in a different way, how do we test that?

How do we like narrow that down into the smallest or sizeable list theory, if you will. So an example of this I have a little side project around leadership coaching and one-on-ones. My hypothesis was as a manager, it's hard to switch gears and say, I'm going into a one-on-one meeting.

I just came out of this strategy session, so now I have to switch gears and basically be like, okay, like, I'm going to have a conversation around how someone feels and what's going on. Would that be easier if there were questions to help prompt that conversation and get it started? And would managers pay for that?

So even before building out like a platform where people could log in and submit their answers and dig in, it is a landing page that said, Hey, are you willing to pay $9 a month to get five questions emailed to you every month? Or excuse me every week. Right? And you just ask those questions to your team at your leisure and whatever meetings you have, but the thought being there's value in the question. Took two hours to build, right, to test. And then how do we get that into the market? So Yeah, it's kind of like getting back to like the basics of lean, if you will, like, all right, how do we really size that down and test it? And how do I do that in a way that like, I can learn if this is going to work this week or not, right? Or if I have a different problem.

Louis: This week, So that's the timeframe we're talking about, right.

It's not about just overly thinking about it and whatnot. Okay. So let's talk about that a bit then testing that within a week, like gaining results, knowing whether there's something tangible there, a problem to solve. So what would be your, it seems like your advice is making sure that you described a problem in a simple way and you put something out there and you show it to people. Right. But the question you've asked there, like you said, would you be willing to pay nine euro or $9 is basically the question that you shouldn't have asked that you said we shouldn't ask a few minutes ago, right? 

Shay: Yes and no. Right. Like what I'm not gonna do is ask you how much you're going to pay for something. Right. I can generally start to understand what, like, where there's a value in it. Like. I have taken that conversation a step further from not asking you what you would pay. Like I'm more so trying to understand is this even a problem you have?

Right. And once I validate that, then I can actually test like a price against it.  

Louis: So how do you validate that, If there's a problem?

Shay: Sorry. Say that again. 

Louis: How do you validate that? How do you validate that there is a problem when you test it, how do you test that? 

Shay: So it's going back to those conversations. Yeah. Like through that, I'm identifying, okay I think this actually will work. I'm putting a price on it. Like in that scenario of going live based on a number of like other market research, if you will, of just like, okay, are there similar tools, where are they priced at? Going to the core of it, right? Like if you really know what you're doing or like what you stand for in this scenario, you're probably thinking like, Hey I'm building a tool specifically for managers.

It's not an HR platform. It's not, you know, this conglomerate thing. So like, what is a price point that an individual would feel comfortable paying for? If they could or could not expense it? Based off the relativity of like what they're getting, like the value of it. What, like, what could that be estimated at?

Like, you're kind of putting a flag out. The next question you could be going into is like, okay, say no one bought that, like, say like that didn't work, then I think you have to peel that back and say like, okay, well, Was the price too high, maybe. Did I have the wrong audience maybe? Like you have to start to experiment from there.

If that first take doesn't work. Right. So my first test there would not be changing the price actually, cause if you get that wrong like you shouldn't be leaving a lot of value on the table. My first like take there and be like, well, let's go try a different audience. Right? Like if I built that product and put it on product hunt, And then get anywhere.

Okay, let me go see if I can find a community or a forum to go get more feedback from and share it there and see if I can actually like spark up a bit more dialogue around what people are thinking about this. I would try and expand the reach of it before I'd go in and change the price. 

Louis: So remind me, what's the three steps of the lean methodology are it's ideation. Test, fucking improve or something like that, is it 

Shay: I'm Googling it. Identify plan, execute, review. I don't know. 

Louis: Feel, measure, learn. 

Shay: There you go. There you go. 

Louis: All right. So learn was the first step that scaling was described where you're learning from the interview of your customers and whatnot. Build, so you've done this into some sort of product and then measure the work.

What can we learn? And then, yeah, it's simple, but it's actually not right. It's simple to explain, but it's to nail that and to have this, the maturity and the experience to know that you need to go through this cycle as fast as possible. And it works for anything, whether it's marketing design, entrepreneurship, like when you have that in mind, when you have to absolutely force yourself to do something as quick as possible, it's it changes a lot, right?

Shay: Yeah. Yeah. I mean it does. But it doesn't have to be it doesn't have to take a long time either, right? Like you can speed these things up. One company, I was mentoring was doing a fitness app. They're trying to see if you like your personal trainer you know, would you want that over your phone?

And they're hanging up signs around trying to get people to peel off a number, download the app. I was just like, But have you just hung outside of the gym and just talk to people coming in and out, like speed up the process, like find the way to short circuit this, right? Like, get a little bit more creative around it.

You can do that again. Like I, I put that in like times of days, not weeks, months, years, right. Purely like work through those. 

Louis: So what are the shortcuts that you tend to, advise. So one of them is getting closer to the ideal audience without like, getting out of the building, like the cliche.

But it's true. Like actually trying to find folks who refute your audience. What other shortcuts have you seen, have you advised folks to take? 

Shay: It can all vary, right? Like how you find an audience, how you go out and talk to people like there's plenty of ways to do that. It kind of depends on the problem you're solving, but it's usually trying to identify like, where, like where do those people hang out?

Like what, where are they naturally going? Right. You know who is like your, you know, who do you estimate to be your target demographic? Like where can you find them? There's an easy way to just like, tackle into that. The other side, like again, like dig into potential constraints elsewhere rather than going out and building your own website to try these things.

Like maybe all you need is a landing page and maybe on bounce or Insta page or something like that will allow you to get off the ground. Right. So you can test it. You know, maybe you can go to survey monkey and run a survey tool already, like, existing audience rather than trying to build your own to then survey. Like there's a lot of different ways you could probably short circuit things.

If you just think about it for a moment.  We're smart people, you know, humans, we have a tendency to over-complex, like make things overly complex strip that away for a minute, right? Like. The best solutions are often pretty obvious and very simple. So I think like for me, like when I have a tendency or I feel myself like moving or pushing things like a bit too far I'll slow down and be like, hold on.

Like what, there's gotta be an easier answer to this. Like how do I reduce some variables to this conversation? You know, how do I make this more approachable? 

Louis: So there's these this principle called the, I don't know if you've heard of it, probably have Occam's razor. Probably not pronouncing it properly.

Occams or Occaims or whatever O.C.C.A.M and basically it's the fact that the simplest hypothesis of more complex ones will likely win because complex ones have more points of failures. Yep. And that works for everything. Like it's the law of nature and evolution shows you that it's, there's a lot of, you know very simple yet effective stuff going outgoing around. And it's a very nice way to think about stuff like, yes, the more complex, your things, your thing is the more points of failure there are to be so start small. 

Shay: Yeah, no, I really liked that. I had a manager of years back, he used to say, the process is a suboptimal solution to another problem.

Right. Like, we're always trying to layer in process, but it's like, what's the real problem? Like where, like, why is that coming and being defined and like, can we actually solve the root of it versus continuing to add process? Cause it isn't, we're going to need processes around our processes. 

Louis: I think that comes from humans, lack of control and feel that they need to be in control.

I think as soon as you remove, as soon as you let control go to someone else, like your audience to take the decision for you, that's when it becomes nerve-wracking because you don't have control anymore. It's in people's hands. So you want to keep it as much as a possible plus to you to feel like you're in control.

I used to do that at the start of my career. I used to fucking horde ideas and plan them and never do anything because yeah, it felt good to be in control of my own ideas and never putting them out. It sounded in my head, there were perfect, 

Shay:  Yup. And then like that scales too across teams, right? Like. Being able to let go of some of your own ideas and favor to test others. I think like it's a, shoot, where did the disagree and commit come from? I feel like Jeff Bezos has talked a lot about it at Amazon, but I don't think it originated with him. The thought that, yeah, the thought that you and I can, so adamantly disagree on something, but we don't let the disagreement draw a line between us and like put us into paralysis.

That eventually, like one of us is like, Nope. All right, cool. You know what? I don't agree with what you're saying whatsoever, but I'm going to get behind it 110%. I'm going to give it everything I have much like it was my own idea and we're going to find out and we're going to do that in a way that allows us to work faster, not sit here and continue to argue and debate this to death.

Louis: So it's been attributed to Andrew Grove at Intel. There you go. And then Amazon added it in 2010 as one of their value. Have a backbone, disagree, and commit. Yeah. Nice. Okay. Well on that note, I think I want to thank you Shay for your time and for going through all of those questions. I'm just going to ask you one last question before I let you go.

What are the top three resources you recommend? Listeners right now could be anything from books to book guests, to software, to events, whatever. 

Shay: Yeah, I'm a, I do two things. Like I'm a very kinesthetic learner. I learn by doing frankly. I can sit in a classroom and you can lecture me. I really understand when I start to put my hands on it.

So that's what I'm always advocating for others, albeit. I know they might be different learning styles, but yeah, to me, there's no better way to learn than experience. Right. So where you're getting that on the job great. Where you can't build a side project, right, as you know, do something in those extra hours if you can afford to do so.

On the book’s front. I love to read as well, very adamantly reading. So you know, if you're on the you know, the research and you're digging in as like a founder early stage there's a book called The Mom Test, kind of a horrible name, but a great book. It's about how to talk to customers. How to actually like have those types of conversations and the idea that, it's not just a question that's going to unlock it. It really is a sequence of things of getting to know them and their problem and where the value for you might be. I'd also dig into Traction. Traction's another good book. Traction, like how any, I think is How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth or something.

But have you read it by chance?

Louis: Yeah, it's the 19 channels, right? 

Shay: Yeah. Yep, exactly. I think that's a good idea, a kicker. I loved Obviously Awesome by April Dunford, like from a copywriting standpoint, I think it's really smart. More mature brands and you're growing like there's a book called How Brands Grow, like what marketers don't know. I think it was by Byron Sharp. I don't know. Yeah, it's awesome. Do you have a copy? 

Louis: I do. I agree. I love it. 

Shay: It's a sharp book.  

Louis: Marketing science is full of bullshit, which is always nice, but Shay once again, thanks so, so much, a lot of great examples, a lot of great insight. I think everyone has got a lot of value out of this episode, for sure.

So thank you so much. 

Shay: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to come on to share and have a conversation. So thank you.