How to Build Products Users Love

Part 7 of Stanford’s How to start a startup class. Presentation by Kevin Hale (Founder Wufoo, Partner Y Combinator) sharing insights on how to build products users love. All notes are consolidated on a single page here.

How do you build products people are so passionate about they want the company to succeed?
Think of new users like people you need to date. Existing users are people you’re married to.

– First impressions are important for the start of a relationship.
– First time interaction: no room for error. Make your homepage, landing pages, plans/pricing/login/signup/first email/account creation/login link really good
– There is taken for granted quality and enchanting quality, shoot for the second one
– show your personality immediately

– Vimeo, makes you feel like the experience is going to feel different
– Cork (social network for wine lovers): signup form offers funny tips below each field. Makes you like people behind this, gives personality to the product.

– Chocolat: when trial expires they change the font to comic sans

– Wufoo programming contest, prize was a (real) battle axe, makes people program for weapons 😉

– just like in real life, it’s ok to argue every once in a while
– Real life and startup equivalents:
Real life vs startup
Money = Cost/billing
Kids = User’s clients
Sex = Performance
Time = Roadmap
Jealousy = Competition
In laws = partnerships
– user support is what happens between all the steps of your funnel
– programmers and designers are divorced from the consequence of their actions (= users complaints)

– before launch, everything looks perfect, no negative feedback
– after launch, one needs to get into customer support, but also fixing crap, business crap, hiring crap, and well, crap. We thing of all the crap things as something we want to outsource to other people. But you don’t want to outsource because it divorces you from users needs
– Feedback driven development, everyone should do user support
– Ex: Kayak has a red phone that customers can call. Reasoning is that after 3 clients call the engineers to fix a problem, engineers start fixing the problem and stop getting phone calls about it.
– the four horsemen of why people break up: criticism (“you never listen to users”), contempt (someone purposely trying to insult another person), defensiveness (trying to make excuses), stonewalling (shutting down). Stonewalling happens all the time in startups (which is one of the worst thing you can do, cause of large churn)
– good founders do support all the time [example: when I met Craigslist’s founder he was constantly answering customer emails – after more than a decade in business]
– in feedback form, add “emotional state” drop down to let people communicate on how they feel (filled 75.8% of the time by users despite not being mandatory)

– there is a direct connection between how much time we spend being exposed to our users, and the quality of our design. Direct exposure is important. Minimum every 6 weeks for at least 2 hours.
– Wufoo: developers exposed to users 4 to 8 hours a week
– Knowledge gap is the gap between your users’ capabilities to use your product, and the knowledge they need to use it well. Adding new features increases the knowledge gap.

– constantly add energy to the relationship
– Ex: Wufoo had a system where new features would be listed and timestamped. Every time a new user would login, his last login time would be compared to the list of new features, and he would get an alert showing him what’s new since he last came to the site. This really showed users the team was catering to their needs, and that the product was lively.
– send thank you cards to your users (handwritten).
– also something you want to do with your team. Ex: “king for one day” at Wufoo. One person would be chosen as the king, and could decide what the company would work on for a week-end. Allowed to release new features very quickly, and made people feel like they had made a difference.

– best price
– best product
– best overall solution

– Everyone at the company had a todo list on a dropbox named after them. At the end of the week, review would happen on what has been done or not.
– Nobody hired only based on interviews. Actually had people work for a week on a project before they would get hired
– make sure people have writing skills (for customer support), ask them to write a letter for 15m during interview

I am an entrepreneur and researcher passionate about understanding the social implications of digital technologies.
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