10/7/2014– Kelsey Breseman
In order to be successful, a startup needs to know its customers. The company needs to talk to users, try to understand their needs, and react accordingly.
I’ve talked to a lot of our customers, largely because I’ve been taking lead on support since we started shipping product. But most of the time, I’m talking to prospective customers, customers who have questions about the delivery of their packages, and the self-selecting few who reach out to the team.
Jon decided, sometime in September, to individually email 100 users and personally ask for their thoughts. I decided to follow up Jon’s effort with one of my own: I sent out over 500 individual requests for feedback to our early backers, asking them what they thought of Tessel so far, what they’d made, and what they might like to see in the future.
I sent the emails out one at a time, and adjusting the wording a bit where I could; if I’d had previous contact with a customer, I’d try to follow up on that interaction. I tried changing around my tone so I wouldn’t sound automated. Ultimately, I did everything I could think of to invite genuine conversation and useful feedback.
Around 16% of the people I emailed responded. Where useful and appropriate, I kept up the conversation. For some respondents, feedback requests funnelled into support, tracking down packages or finding examples and documentation. Others had very specific ideas for our company direction, and I discussed with them individual use cases and specific design concepts they needed.
In order to keep track of the body of correspondence, I worked through the whole process in Zendesk. I tagged each email that I sent with one tag, and had Zendesk automatically add another if a customer responded. I could then add my own tags to try and break down response types.
With one set of tags, I broke user reaction into five mutually exclusive categories:
- Has not yet used Tessel
- Happy with Tessel
- Has not yet received Tessel
- Unhappy with Tessel
- No opinion stated
I also added a set of descriptive tags for things I saw mentioned regularly:
- Has run across bugs
- Hasn’t used Tessel much
- Called out first run experience as good
- Has plans for big projects
- Called out docs as good
- Doesn’t know what to do next
- Seems to have hardware experience
- Developing a product
- Using Tessel in education
- Using Tessel in a workplace setting
My tagging wasn’t rigorous enough to merit statistical analysis, but it was useful to pull out these specific, common reactions. However, these lists are in order from most frequent to least.
I also pulled out quotes of specific feedback from emails, for example describing a use case or project, or details regarding a desired case or module. These, I collected in another sheet. After pulling out quotes, I categorized them thematically (e.g. “cases”, “product development”, etc.). If a specific piece of feedback spanned multiple categories, I broke it out onto multiple lines, to keep the feedback focused. This let me grow themes from feedback snippets in an organic way.
The feedback quotes were extremely useful. By filtering for different categories, it’s now easy to see several views on how people feel about our documentation, or about Tessel’s performance. Keeping the original wording and context also has great value; the way a user talks about a feature gives insight into their expertise in hardware and software.
Interestingly, the key themes were different in this set than the specific reactions I’d tagged:
- Ease of Use
- Compatibility and Integration
- Remote deploy
- Powering Tessel
- Tessel 2
Of course, I must again stress that the feedback from these categories was specific and often conflicting. But even when reduced to mere categories, it highlights what’s on our users’ minds.
Taking it to the team
Feedback from users should be pervasive in a startup, especially one as small as we are. So I took this distilled version of the many feedback response emails, sent it to the team, and scheduled a discussion.
Everyone read through the feedback, then we opened the meeting with each person silently writing post-its of the things that stood out or surprised them. We then followed up by trying to identify the strongest user needs.
The two strongest areas that stood out were:
- Users felt the need to make a “final” project: in the form of a case, a specific form factor, external power, etc. They felt that this need was not yet met.
- Users were often unsure where to go next. Nearly all agreed that the first run experience was excellent, and were impressed by how quickly they could get a light blinking and a sensor collecting data. However, they weren’t sure how to take next steps– say, combining different modules, using the GPIO port, or taking ideas closer to productization.
There were also some less abstract and very clear wants:
- More modules– though there were few repeats on requests for specific modules. (We have a module suggestion form here if you’d like to weigh in)
- Cases– ideally with a power source built in
- Remote deployment of code
We continued to discuss for an hour or two, putting our company plans and vision in the context of user feedback. Ultimately, I think we’re headed in the right direction, but it’s useful to factor user needs into the current design phase for the specifics of features and interface.
I’d also like to call out a bit of specific follow-up:
- Tim is taking point on a docs page redesign. We’re hoping to make it more navigable and complete, and to add more tutorials in the vein of start.tessel.io.
- Kelsey and Jon will be working together to put up a page offering support for those of you who want to take your prototype and turn it into a product. (But don’t wait for the page to go up; email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss.)
- Eric is working on more modules. He’s also working on a way to make hardware components of tessel more modular, such that we might be able to scale a PCB that’s more specific to a given use case.
- Jia and Eric have been working with manufacturers to produce module extension cables. We’re making sure the quality is good before we mass produce and sell them.
- Ken is working on bug fixes and compatibility issues.
- Jia is working on Wifi bug fixes.
- Kevin is working on Fractal, which should help streamline product development. It’s under development.
- Kelsey will look into modular case solutions.
We really appreciate your feedback! If you’d like to add your opinion, I’m listening: email@example.com