Midpoint: peer-to-peer foreign exchange

I’m increasingly getting the sense that everything is possible in FinTech, at least from a peer-to-peer (‘P2P’) perspective. For example, marketplace lenders like Funding Circle and Zopa are all based on a P2P model whereby borrowers and lenders can transact directly.

I recently learned more about P2P foreign exchange services by listening to an episode of the London Fintech Podcast which featured John Booth, Co-Founder and Director of Midpoint. Midpoint is a London based P2P foreign exchange firm which facilitates “international money transfers at unbeatable rates.”

These are the main things I learned from listening to John Booth from Midpoint:

  1. Intermediation in peer-to-peer money transfers? – In the podcast, both John Booth and Mike Baliman, the podcast host, made the point that P2P money transfers still require a degree of intermediation, either by a bank or a P2P currency matching platform like Midpoint. The point was made that ‘opposite transactions’ – where the buyers and seller match each other immediately – almost never happen. You’re still most likely to be needing a middle man to match the relevant currencies (see the Kantox example in Figure 1 below).
  2. Waiting for a match to happen – Midpoint guarantee that the execution of a transfer will take place within 24 hours. John Booth made the point that P2P forex transactions sometimes take time to match, in spite of the simultaneous buying and selling that takes place through its platform. As a result, you won’t know upfront what rate you’ll pay for the trade. Booth made the point that there’s always going to be a need for a “fallback deal with the market” to ensure trade gets closed out in a reasonable timeframe.
  3. White label solutions – Like many FinTech businesses, Midpoint has kicked off some successful white label solutions and partnerships with the likes of accounting software provider Xero. They thus provide a seamless experience for private clients and SMEs wanting to pay their foreign invoices at the best possible exchange rate (see Fig. 2 below).

Main learning point: Listening to Mike Baliman and John Booth talking about peer to peer foreign exchange made me realise that it’s not entirely P2P, at least not on the consumer side. There’s still a need for some form of an intermediary to match currencies and platforms like Midpoint might still need to fall back upon ‘the market’ to ensure that transactions are executed upon within a reasonable timeframe.


Fig. 1 – Visual representation of Kantox’ intermediary role in facilitating peer-to-peer money transfers between companies and the wholesale FX market – Taken from:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 16.43.33

Fig. 2 – Midpoint and Xero, facilitating payment of foreign invoices – Taken from:

Related links for further learning:



Tags: , , ,

My product management toolkit (9): playing devil’s advocate

How often do you get agitated when someone starts challenging your product idea? What’s your typical reaction when people ask critical questions about your assumptions or an idea that you’ve come up with?

I have to admit that I’ve learned – and will continue to learn – to not take challenges or criticism personally. I now even go a step further and will either play the role of devil’s advocate role myself or will ask a team member or customer to take on this role. As uncomfortable as it can sometimes be, looking at the worst case scenarios or poking holes in a solution can really help in creating great products and avoiding critical mistakes.

Tool 9 – Playing devil’s advocate


Taken from:

Why is it important to play devil’s advocate when developing or improving products? – As a product manager you can easily become wedded to your ideas or solutions. Especially as you get further down the product development cycle, there’s a serious risk of developing tunnel vision and becoming blind to any product or market risks. You can avoid this risk by inviting or assigning someone with the task of picking holes in your idea or assumption. This ‘someone’ can be another team member, a business stakeholder or a customer.

What are the benefits of being challenged? – I see three main benefits to creating a challenge where you’re constantly looking for (critical) feedback, always looking for things that could cause your product to fail:

  • Identifying and sizing risks early and often – Creating a culture where it’s ok to ask difficult questions or to learn through failures will help you identify and mitigate risks early on in the product lifecycle. This approach of teasing out risks will ultimately save your business a whole lot of precious time and effort, since you’re not waiting until the product has been launched to have difficult conversations.
  • Creating a more collaborative culture – If your colleagues understand what it is that we’re trying to achieve and why, having team-wide conversations about what is or could go wrong with a particular idea or product will become much easier. You’ll be surprised how creating such a culture will give others in the team a sense of ownership. Instead of just the product manager owning a problem and the team owning the solution, these boundaries will disappear as soon as people feel comfortable asking challenging questions.
  • Being on the front foot – I recently came across by a talk by Astro Teller, scientist and entrepreneur, in which he stressed the importance of doing a “pre-mortem” at the start of a project or product lifecycle. The goal of this pre-mortem session is to “predict failure”: identifying where things are likely to go wrong and to collectively assess this likelihood. I’ve added some more detail about what goes into a pre-mortem session in Fig. 1 below. “Asking the 5 Whys” is another simple technique you can use to proactively challenge an idea (see Fig. 2 below).

Are there any downsides to playing devil’s advocate? – Yes, ‘analysis paralysis’ and ‘death march’ are the most common risks with regard to being open and proactive about things that can go wrong:

  • Becoming risk adverse – I’ve seen instances where people take playing the devil’s advocate to the extreme. They end up spending a lot of time upfront to discuss all the risks involved or reasons not to build a product. As a result, ‘analysis paralysis’ arises and product managers becoming risk adverse. Time boxing the time spent on playing devil’s advocate helps overcome this issue.
  • Death march – “Trust” and “respect” are key words when it comes to talking about product solutions. What you want to avoid is creating a culture where people stop coming up with new ideas because they worry about their ideas being shot down at any opportunity. I believe this can be solved by adopting basic feedback skills. For example, if a person is looking to critique a particular idea, the onus is on her to provide constructive feedback, explaining the underlying feedback rationale and presenting options for solving the problems.

Main learning point: Getting internal and external feedback as early and often is a critical prerequisite for successful products or service. We can make this feedback more focused and valuable by actively encouraging people to play devil’s advocate. Even though this technique might not always be easy, it will help you identify and manage risks or negative impacts early on in the development and go-to-market process.


Fig. 1 – What to cover in a pre-mortem – Adapted from:

  • Kill product ideas early – Use a pre-mortem with your team to explore why a particular idea is likely to fail. Encourage people to try their hardest to prove that an idea is never going to work.
  • Explore the hardest parts of an idea first – We all know how easy it is to get excited about an idea and think/hope that a problem will be easy to solve. With the pre-mortem, however, team members will challenge each other on the complexities and risks of an idea. You’re thus effectively encouraging the team to kill ideas instead of committing to ideas that aren’t going to work.
  • What’s the negative impact? – Using techniques like impact mapping can help uncover any negative impacts that your idea might have on the overall customer experience, resources, market positioning or legal aspects. Yes, product managers need to be brave, but you’d rather identify any major product risks upfront and see if/how they can be mitigated.
  • Vote for ideas to be killed – The best way to make people feel comfortable about killing ideas early is by enabling them to vote or deprioritise bad ideas.
  • Ideas worth pursuing – As Astro Teller argues, the net benefit of a successful pre-mortem is that “the ideas that survive this process (the ideas you literally can’t kill) are the good ideas worth pursuing.”

Fig. 2 – A simple way of asking the 5 Whys to look closer at a problem or an idea – Taken from:

  • The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

Related links for further learning:

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Agile, Product Management


Tags: ,

Book review: ValueWeb

Chris Skinner – author of the bestselling book Digital Bank – recently published ValueWeb: How FinTech firms are using mobile and blockchain technologies to create the Internet of Value. The ‘”ValueWeb” covers the rise and importance of blockchain technology, describing it as a key technology for authentication and transactions. Skinner positions blockchain technology as a means to an end, with the ValueWeb being the ultimate outcome. The ValueWeb, being closely linked to to the Internet of Things, allows machines to trade with machines and people with people anywhere, in real-time and at virtually no cost.

The blockchain can be used as a shared ledger for shared economies. One of the things I liked about the ValueWeb book is how Skinner removes all sense of buzz around blockchains by stressing the fundamentals which underpin this new technology: “The blockchain creates a marketplace for globalised value exchange that is trusted, secure and irrevocable.”

These are the main things that I took away from reading Value Web:

  1. Mobile as an authentication tool – Skinner makes the point that mobile “makes invisible banking visible.” He also explains how mobile serves as a very effective authentication tool, based on four key mobile attributes (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Africa shows the way to the future – The book’s chapter titled “Africa shows the way to the future” felt the most inspiring. In this chapter, Skinner zooms in on the success of M-PESA in Kenya. M-PESA is a pioneer with regard to facilitating mobile money transfers between people in Kenya, through mobile network operator Safaricom, a subsidiary of Vodafone. Through M-PESA, a mobile wallet, the mobile phone is acting as a ‘value exchange mechanism’, making it easy for people to send and receive money. M-PESA’s “agent network” is the key component here. Agents in Kenyan towns take money and text the agent in the location the money needs to be delivered. The agent in the receiving location gets the text message and then issues cash to the target recipient.
  3. Digital currencies –  The ValueWeb is based upon two key technologies. Firstly, mobile, which enables people to exchange value in real-time and facilitate real-time authentication (see point 1. above). Secondly, digital currencies, to provide a store of value to exchange. Bitcoin is the key value currency which started it all. The key thing to know about bitcoins, and the different variations of this cryptocurrency, is that it was the first ‘enabler’ of online value exchanges, conducted in real-time and at very low processing cost. Skinner offers a good overview of what the bitcoin is (see Fig. 2 below).

Main learning point: In “ValueWeb”, Chris Skinner does a great job of demystifying some of the buzz around blockchain technology and bitcoins. By focusing on the value that people can now exchange in real-time, Skinner paints an exciting picture of great opportunities that are are already starting to happen.

Fig. 1 – Mobile as an authentication tool, four key mobile attributes – Taken from: Chris Skinner, “ValueWeb”, p.  47

  • Tokenisation – You can check the customer is who they say they are by locating if they have a second token – a mobile registered to their account – with them.
  • Geo-location – You can geo-locate customers using location. For example, a company called XYVerify does this using telecom masts, rather than a mobile device. The system will establish a person’s location based upon where their signal can be located between different mobile transmitting masts.
  • One Time Passwords (‘OTP’) – You can authenticate who the customer is interactively OTP by text messaging. An interactive text or app-based OTP process means that mobile can offer a great second level authentication tool.
  • Mobile biometrics – Using mobile biometrics can become a very effective way to authenticate customers. For example, Banca Intesa in Spain was using mobile apps for iris recognition and Voice Commerce offer voice verification by mobile.

Fig. 2 – A quick overview of bitcoin – Taken from: Chris Skinner, “ValueWeb”, pp.  81-86

  • New bitcoins are generated by a network bode, and these network nodes are created each time a solution is found to a specific mathematical problem.
  • The people trying to solve these math problems are called miners, and each time they successfully solve the problem they create a new bitcoin.
  • This math challenge is so difficult to solve that there are businesses dedicated to this, with data centres running thousands of computers focused upon bitcoin mining.
  • The reason they do this is that each tine a bitcoin is created, the company or person who solved the problem receives 25 bitcoins, which were $250 each as of August 2015. Hence the bitcoin miners do this to earn virtual currency rewards.
  • Before you can buy any coins you must create a wallet to store them. You can do this by installing the bitcoin client, the software that powers the currency, or use an online wallet, where this data is stored in the cloud.
  • A bitcoin transaction is recorded on a public ledger system called the blockchain. The blockchain is a shared ledger system that means all of our bitcoin wallets can be see publicly.
  • No one knows who made the transaction, but the fact there is an electronic shared ledger ensures transactions cannot be made twice.
  • All confirmed transactions are included in the blockchain. This way, bitcoin wallets can calculate their spendable balance and can be verified to ensure they are spending bitcoins that are actually owned by the spender. The integrity and the chronological order of the blockchain are enforced with cryptography.



Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2016 in Book Reviews, FinTech, Mobile, Technology


Tags: , , ,

App review: Azimo

Money remittance is big. Think Transferwise, WeSwap and World Remit; services that simplify the way in which to transfer money, offering attractive rates and a great user experience. Another good example is Azimo which I used to transfer some money to the motherland, The Netherlands:

  1. How did Azimo come to my attention? – A few months ago I listened to an episode of the “Breaking Banks” podcast in which Marta Krupinska – co-founder of Azimo – explained what led her to start Azimo. I loved her story how she’d fly and back forth between Poland and the UK ‘strapped for cash’ because the exchange rates and commission fees weren’t great.
  2. My quick summary of Azimo (before using it) –  I expect a service similar to the aforementioned TransferWise and World Remit. I would imagine that Azimo will cover a multitude of currencies.
  3. How does Azimo explain itself in the first minute? – “Send Worldwide” is what it says on the welcome screen when I open the Azimo app in iOS. The strap line below it reads: “Transfer money to over 200 countries, in over 70 countries, in minutes” (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Creating an Azimo account feels very straightforward. The only thing I’m curious is about is the 5-digit pin I need to create – in addition to my password. I imagine that this for security reasons, but it doesn’t become apparent to me straight away.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – I feel encouraged when I land on a screen that promises that I can send money in 3 easy steps (see Fig. 2 below). I like that as soon as I start typing the name of the country that I want to send money to, the list of applicable countries starts appearing automatically (see Fig. 3 below). I know that this isn’t a groundbreaking feature, but simple things do help to make the overall user experience feel very intuitive. However, once I’ve chosen The Netherlands as the country that I want to send money, I’m slightly thrown by the screen that I then land on (see Fig. 4 below): I’m not clear why under “currencies” it gives me Euros and Dollars as options, nor I’m clear about what “SWIFT” entails as a ‘Delivery’ option. I know that mobile interfaces come with certain restrictions, but it would be helpful to provide users with some explanatory text, even if it’s just to reassure the user.
  6. Getting started, what’s the process like (3)? – I feel I’m getting close, but then I learn that I have to provide an IBAN code for the account that I want to transfer money to. By the time I come back to the app with my IBAN code – 5 minutes later – I seem to have lost the data that I’d entered previously and I’m back at square one. I wonder whether this is down to simple user error or some security issue that has thrown me out of the standard user journey. I believe it would be good to include upfront the information a user needs to have to have in order to transfer money. Also, a progress bar or some indicator of time or steps left remaining would really help in guiding the user through the process.
  7. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – It did, but I by the time I eventually completed the transaction I felt that the journey could have been even more intuitive; e.g. understanding upfront the bank/account details I need to provide and a better indication of user progress. Even though the overall experience could be improved in certain areas, I was happy with the outcome; payout into my Dutch account happened speedily and I was happy with the exchange rate and the fees that I had to pay.


Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Azimo’s welcome screen on iOS


Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “send money” landing screen on iOS

IMG_3361 (1)

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Choose a country” screen on iOS



Fig. 4 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Send Now” screen on iOS


Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Send Now” screen on iOS


Fig. 6 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Send Now” screen on iOS


Related links for further learning:


Tags: , ,

My product management toolkit (8): learning who my users are

It’s great if you can find out what your user needs are but you’d also need to know who your users are in the first place. There’s risk of us product managers assuming that we know who our users are or how they behave. WRONG. I’ve learned over the years how important it is to know and understand your target audience before you start solving their problems.

Tool 8 – User research, learning who my users are

These are the main things I typically want to learn about my users:

  • Who are they? – Understand the demographics and characteristics of my target users
  • What do they do? – Learn how my target users behave and why

Why is it important to know who your users are? – I always wonder how you can say that you’ve solved a user problem successfully if you don’t know who you’ve solved the problem for. Identifying who your users are or aren’t will help you in three areas. Firstly, comms will improve as a result of shared understanding of user characteristics and behaviours. Secondly, measuring whether you’ve solved a particular problem will become much easier. Thirdly, a thorough understanding of your users will provide a good framework for tough prioritisation or tradeoff decisions.

Why is it important to know what your users do? – As a product person, I believe that fully understanding a problem that you’re trying to solve is absolutely critical. In order to understand what you’re trying to solve and why, it’s important to learn how people currently solve a particular problem. For example, through observation and watching your (target) customers in action there’s so much you can learn about user problems or frustrations.

Learning what your users do is by no means a one off exercise. Before you start designing a feature or write a single line code, understand whether the problem you’re looking to solve is an actual problem for your user. Similarly, once you’ve launched a feature or a service, do go back to your users and see whether it has indeed helped to solve their problem.

What are some of the things to learn about your (target) users? – These are the key things I’ll typically try and learn about my users:

  • What are the key characteristics of my target users? – Think about objective characteristics such as gender, location and age. I believe it’s equally important to understand how users can be best segmented based on shares characteristics or behaviours.
  • Which market segment(s) does my target audience form part of? – Is it an existing segment we operate in already or an adjacent segment where we need to look at reapplying our product or service?
  • How knowledgeable are users about our product or service, and competition? – I always find it helpful to have more context about users in a sense of my understanding e.g. whether users or heavy users of my product, use competitive products, etc. For example, can your users be grouped as “extreme users” – i.e. people who use your product or service a lot – or “limiting users” – people with limited knowledge of your product or service?
  • When do they use – or are likely to use – my product and why? – Understanding the context in which people use your product or service is crucial. For example, do people use the product when they are on the go or when they are relaxing at home?

How can you learn who your users are? – Interviewing and observing are two good ways to understand who your users are and what they do. I’ve outlined some common observation methods in Fig. 1 below. My classic example is Intuit, a big financial software business, who have a dedicated “Follow Me Home” programme whereby everybody in the business visits customers in their natural environment, watching how they use their products. Bang & Olufsen, the high end TV manufacturer, is another good example, as their employees will sit with families when they watch TV in their homes.

If it’s pure user demographics you’re after, your database or CRM system are likely to be your best friends. For example, a simple SQL query will help you to find out about the average age of your customer base.

Main learning point: Don’t just assume who your users are, make sure to understand their demographics and behaviours!

Fig. 1 – Common observation methods:

  • Field observation
  • Field study
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Guided tour
  • Fly-on-the-wall
  • Shadowing
  • Ethnography

Related links for further learning:


Posted by on April 8, 2016 in Product Management, User Experience


Site review: Carspring

I like cars. I like marketplaces. I worked at carwow. It’s fair to say that cars and marketplaces is a good combination for me. I was therefore very excited when I came across Carspring, a UK based marketplace for used cars. My initial thought was “why do we need another platform for selling and buying new cars, we’ve already got loads of those!.” However, I then looked into Carspring and this is what I learned:

My quick summary of the site (before using it): Another site where I can buy or sell used cars. Given that lots of people in the UK own a car, there are currently about 40 million cars on the UK roads, I’m not surprised to see another player enter the market for used cars.

How does the site explain itself in the first minute? – “A car for every journey” is what it says at the top of Carspring’s homepage. The strapline below that intrigues me though: “Hand-inspected, personally delivered.” This suggest to me that Carspring does more than just being an intermediary which connects buyers and sellers. It gets really interesting when I scroll down the homepage and see a section titled “How it works”:

  1. Choose a Carspring certified and inspected car – Carspring guarantees that all the cars on their site will have gone through a 128 point inspection by the AA and an additional inspection by Carspring’s in-house team before they arrive at the customer.
  2. Select a payment method (finance or buy) – Interesting to see that customers can apply for financing through Carspring, given that this service is heavily regulated.
  3. We deliver the car straight to your doorstep – This reminds me of Shift, a US based online platform for used cars which also does delivers cars to your doorstep. I listened to a talk by Minnie Ingersoll, coo-founder and COO at Shift talking about door to door delivery of cars to their customers.
  4. Relax with our 14-day money back guarantee –  Especially when it comes to buying a used car, I can imagine that customers will feel reassured by Carspring’s 14-day money back guarantee.


Carspring 1


Carspring 2

Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – After I’ve clicked the “Show all cars” button on the homepage, I land on a page which features a list of cars, with the top of the page saying “162 results.” I can see a “Sell a car” call to action in the top right hand of the page, which in my view could be more prominent in order to encourage more people to sell their cars through Carspring. There seem to be a number of cars that are “Coming soon” but I’m unsure as to when these cars will actually become available for sale. I believe Carspring could do a better job explaining what ‘soon’ means for each individual car and alerting the interested buyer as soon as the car has become available.


Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 15.22.43


Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – I look at the product page for a 2012 Fiat 500, I’m presented with a rather large image of this car and a sticky footer encouraging the user to click on ‘buy’ or ‘finance’. There’s something to say for keeping the product page simple for the user to navigate, but the large picture and the footer feel quite overwhelming. As a result of the large image and the sticky footer, it’s not immediately apparent to me that this is a carousel which lets me see one more picture, that of the car’s dashboard. Having thumbnail images of the car e.g. its interior and exterior below the hero image would be more intuitive.


Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 15.32.14

I like how Roadster does its product pages, providing all relevant information at a fingertip. To be fair, the product page contains the same info that Roadster offers, but purely because of the way this detail has been laid out I feel I have to work harder to get to this information before deciding to buy the car.

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 15.40.25


Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 15.42.22

Getting started, what’s the process like (3)? – The filtering function on Carspring works well; the filtering options are clear and I can see at a glance the number of available cars per filter. However, because the supply of certain makes and models is still relatively small, filtering and sorting doesn’t feel as helpful as it could have been if there had been a larger number of cars on offer. For example, when looking at BMWs I started with 7 models and finished with 2 cars after I’d done all my filtering.


Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 15.47.50


Getting started, what’s the process like (4)? – Given that Carspring is a two sided marketplace it’s just as important that the seller of a car has a good experience. For me, Carspring’s biggest differentiator is that it inspects and grades your car. As a buyer, this gives me confidence about the quality of the car that I’m buying. As a seller, the process needs to be transparent and this will come from Carspring inspecting and grading your car upfront, providing sellers with a guaranteed sale price.


Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 08.55.56

How does Carspring compare to similar services? – Carspring does feel very similar to its US counterparts in the aforementioned Shift, Carvana, Beepi and Vroom. The points of differentiation between the various used car marketplaces seem minimal. For example, Vroom offers a 7-day money back guarantee and Beepi does the same within 10 days. What I liked about Beepi is the ability for the consumer to get in touch with person who’s certified the car in question.


Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 14.10.43

Did the site deliver on my expectations? – Yes. I can see Carspring’s model scaling rapidly, and I expect to see their car offering expand very quickly. The site lets users down in some places with usability issues that could be fixed fairly easily. I believe that the ultimate success of using Carspring won’t necessarily lie in the site’s experience, but will depend on the quality of the car delivered to a user’s doorstep. This ‘offline’ experience will determine whether people will come back to Carspring to buy their next used car and spread the word to their friends.

Related links for further learning:





Tags: , , , , , ,

My product management toolkit (7): learning about user needs

A key thing I’ve learned as a product manager is to validate a proposed product strategy or user assumptions before committing a lot of time, money and effort to a specific product idea.

I believe there’s a lot you can learn as a product person about user behaviour without having to rely on a dedicated UX researcher. In fact, lots of the startups I’ve worked at didn’t have a dedicated UX researcher. I thus learned simple ways to learn from users and validate my assumptions. “User research” is a very broad concept, but for me it’s all about user behaviour and feedback throughout the product lifecycle. Let’s start with the first question to ask: “What are the needs of my (target) users and why?.”

Tool 7 – User research, learning about user needs

What’s user research? – I’ve noticed how people tend to use the terms ‘user research’, ‘user testing’ and ‘usability testing’ interchangeably. I’m personally not a big fan of using the term ‘user testing’ since it sounds like you’re testing the user. In contrast, you want to learn about your users; how they, think, feel and act. It’s easy to sit behind your desk and make all kinds of assumptions about your users and their needs, but these remain guesses until you actually get in front of your users. “Validating Product Research” by Tomer Sharon covers the key questions to ask of your users and provides lots of techniques to get answers. Sharon’s book is a must read for anyone wanting to learn more about how to best do user research.

What does it mean to be learning about user needs? – Too often I see products or features being launched based on a ‘hunch’ or on something that a competitor is doing. UX and product management consultant Melissa Perry refers to this as ‘the build trap’: companies going straight into build mode without taking a step back to find out whether a product idea actually fulfils a user’s needs. The sooner you figure out whether a feature or product is worth building, the better. This will save your company lots of time and money in case you learn that your customers don’t want pay for a product or that it doesn’t solve their problem.

When to learn about user needs? – In “Validating Product Ideas”, Tomer Sharon explains that learning about user needs can happen when ‘strategising’ – working out what to build and why – or post product launch. As part of my toolkit I spend a lot of time and effort on understanding needs, ideally before a single line of code has been written. It’s important to do generative research to understand the scale and nature of a user problem before evaluating potential solutions to solve this problem.

How can you learn about user needs? – There are number of techniques you can use to learn about user needs:

  • Interviews – When interviewing your (target) users, listening is absolutely key. I’ve seen product people making the mistake of using conversations with customers to confirm their assumptions, only hearing what they want to hear. When conducted well, interviews can be a very rich source of products ideas and learning about user needs.
  • Observation  One of the reasons why I always like to observe people in their own habitat is that it provides an opportunity to truly understand people’s current behaviour without your product or service. Does the user really have the problem that your product is looking to address? Is is as a big a problem for the user as you think it is? If so, why?  Reframer is a good example of a tool that you can use to note down your observations.
  • Diary study – With a diary study, participants document their activities, thoughts, decisions and opinions over a period of time. The main benefit of this technique is that it gives you a good insight into what your users actually do and think. As Tomer Sharon mentions, “it reveals behaviour that would be hard to remember in interviews or surveys.”
  • Survey – Online survey tools like SurveyMonkey and Typeform provide a quick and easy way to learn from a large number of users within a short space of time. The main downside of surveys, however, is that you’re limited in exploring the ‘why’ behind certain survey answers. Interviews and observation can be more effective in this respect.
  • Experience sampling Experience sampling is a technique that helps you to answer a high level business or strategic question. In an experience sampling study, research participants are interrupted several times a day or week to note their experience in real time; users are being asked the same question repeatedly to strengthen the validity of your findings. This method will enable you to learn more about users’ objective needs and reduces the risk of users speculating about expected behaviour.

Main learning point: One of the key things to learn as part of user research is whether a product or feature really meets your users’ needs and whether the user will pay for your solution. Finding this out as early as possible will help you in validating your assumptions and in understanding whether your idea solves a real user need.

Related links for further learning:

1 Comment

Posted by on March 20, 2016 in Product Management, User Experience


Tags: ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 977 other followers