Before You Start Coding, Do This…

I meet many founders, product managers, engineers, marketers, and investors who get wildly excited about technology. So much so that they miss the bigger picture: their users.

Years ago, I was managing a SaaS platform for text message marketing that was distributed through a network of resellers.

One of my responsibilities was to meet monthly with our VIP resellers, those who generated the highest text message volume. The primary goal was to collect their feedback for new features. In one meeting, they agreed on a feature they all wanted (which is rare). They wanted to increase Likes on Facebook pages.

After a short debate, my team and I approved the request and started working. We were excited! We discovered an innovative way to increase Likes, with an easy-to-use button that allowed users to customize text, color, and size. It was really slick.

And when we launched, it worked perfectly. No issues. But the problem was that we spent too much time focusing on the feature, and not enough time focusing on the users’ needs. Turns out, the users wouldn’t enter their Facebook details. The button was never clicked.

Had we focused on the users first, we would have identified this issue and plotted a new course.

As platform architects, we want to build amazing products that serve our users’ needs beyond anything they’ve seen before.

My team and I focused on the request by our resellers, but we didn’t think through the case deeply enough to understand how it would be used.

How can we understand our users? Follow this simple, three-step process:

    1. Gain empathy of users by observing what they do
    2. Engage with users by asking questions about their behavior as they use the platform
    3. Look for patterns, stand-outs, and experiences you hadn’t considered

One of the primary benefits of technology is its ability to track virtually everything people do with it. Using a tool like Mouseflow, you can add a couple lines of code to your platform and track your users’ entire experience. From recording their mouse movements to logging keystrokes. It’s like you’re right there with them, looking over their shoulder.

Once you build up enough use cases, identify a dozen or so users you can chat with. Ask them questions about their experience and why they made certain choices to learn how you can improve the platform.

You’ll likely notice patterns of friction-points. Document your observations and confirm them with users.

You should first focus on being user-specific, and then on being feature-rich.

Here’s an example. DropBox took a complicated process (FTP), in which users transferred files to each other using a complex process, and made it drag-and-drop easy with a simple interface. They focused on users first, then features. To this day, DropBoxs’ user experience is simple, light in function, and effective.

Building cool features is fun and exciting, but it’s better to make a product with fewer features and launch it to a niche audience, than to launch a product packed with features to everyone. It also makes your job simpler. It’s easier to understand the needs of the few than the needs of the many.

Most of us love getting into the weeds on usability and functionality – the look and feel. We like the sexiness of the design, how the user flows through the pages and interacts with our features.

But our focus should shift away from features and toward solving the users’ problems. Getting to know them, what keeps them up at night, and what their problems really are. Adding value to their lives.

Because a user-focused platform is much easier to sell.

#DIDSaaS #SaaSPlatformSuccess