In best case, you already validated your idea in some ways. In any case, you feel confident enough to start building your product. This is the point where you might get carried away with your sprints, deadlines, MVPs or even releases.
However, you should still lift your bloodshot eyes from your computer screen every now and then and talk to the people you are building for.
What can you do? A helluva lot!
1) GET YOUR OWN BUG SQUAD
FOR WHO? For everyone that is working on a prototype, a new version or a relaunch, especially already after the ‘MVP’ phase, planning to go more public than your own laptop.
Ask your friends, your friends’ friends, fellow startuppers and everyone else you have the chance to sit down for 5 minutes and ask them to go over your app/software/website. Simply ask them to keep an eye on any troubling issue or problem they encounter. This is obviously much cheaper and easier than many online methods.
Plus points if you sit next to them and watch them play around with your product. Double points if they are also fitting your target customer segment.
2) DO LIVE USER TESTING SESSIONS
FOR WHO? I recommend it to all those companies that have real-life access to their target market (in geographic or cultural terms). Obviously, this also needs more time and effort than a remote testing process.
On the other hand, it is also more objective as you can actually observe participants test the app and don’t have to rely on their ‘subjective’ comments about their experiences. (Like, you can spot if they spend way too much time at one part of the app/site and apparently get puzzled – this allows you to raise direct questions related to that part.)
These kind of aided tests and usage simulations have been popular in classic market research for a long time, too, also as part of ‘consumer connects’.
In the articles, a social photo sharing app company called Cluster escorts you over the full process of their feature-testing practices.
They start with important details like recruiting necessary types of participants (e.g. via Craigslist postings), establishing the right environment for testing, tech set up, recording the simulations etc.
Practically, all the bits and bobs that ensure the smooth progress of the research. They also include methodological tips like not starting to explain things to participants in order to stay realistic and unbiased. Not to mention the ‘debrief’ process and interpreting the insights – something that is crucial to avoid ‘vanity research’.
These little practical insights make the article surely worth reading if you are thinking about live user test sessions.
THE LOW PAIN VERSION:
Without wanting to spare you all the effort (what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, yay), there are ways to conduct live user tests with less money and time invested. The easiest ways are:
a) Either find remote contacts in your network that meet the characteristics of your target customers. Ask them to meet up for a beer or coffee and smuggle your device (with the app/software) into their hands in a charming way.
* This would open up a loop in the space-time continuum and lead us back to Point 1…except for the fact that in this case, it’s more about the solution fit and the usability in terms of answering a problem in the right way, not about bugs. *
What’s even better, give your interviewees only vague instructions like ‘Imagine your friend just recommended you to try this app…’ (also based on the mentioned TC articles).
3) DO REMOTE USER TESTING WITH FEEDBACK
FOR WHO? For those whose product is in a closed beta or ‘alpha’ phase; anything that can be used independently by users.
HOW? Get a small number of people who will be your test community over a few days or weeks. Give them some instructions or tasks they should fulfill. Or just ask them to try it.
Ask them to send you instant feedbacks of any kind, including random feelings, impressions. Or, ask them to take notes and share them with you.
Plus point if you prepare a follow-up survey or closing interviews at the end, systematically revising key elements of the user path and the general journey.
I have helped startups do something like this before and I really like the idea of these small initial test communities.
4) CONTACT YOUR EXISTING USERS
FOR WHO? For those that already have or had some users (e.g. in a former version). It can also involve people who signed up and gained access but never logged in. And obviously the most valuable people are those who 1) logged in a few times but didn’t stick 2) are your avid early adopters.
If you have their contact data (email etc.), the easiest way is to send out a short letter asking them about their experiences, why they left (if they did), if they had any prob, any disappointment, anything they missed etc. Do your homework and tailor it according to user segment groups (e.g. idle, core user etc.).
Plus point if you manage to do some short interviews with those users that seem to be eager to get back at you.
You can also try doing something similar to your Facebook fans, where it also may be interesting to see how many people are idle versus how many people are actually engaged.
NOTE: People are just people. Don’t expect everyone to respond. But there will be some cool and helpful people who will. Keep on doing this method and have faith in humanity.
PS: and if you still don’t have faith in humanity, check out these amazing animal montage portraits by Yago Partal like our featured image.