When my co-founder and I started working on business ideas together in 2018, we both noticed that the way companies operated was changing: more and more companies were adopting a remote first or hybrid model for their workforce.
This observation brought us together — we believed the future of work was going to be remote, and that this was going to introduce a new class of internal operations problems for companies.
As we dug into these remote operations problems, we began running user interviews religiously — they quickly helped us understand what to build (and not to build) without having to write code.
To date, we’ve conducted over 500 user interviews. And we continue to run them because speaking to users gives us insights.
Below is a blog post I wrote over a year ago about how to consistently find individuals to speak with. It’s written in the context of a previous idea we were working on, but the underlying framework still holds true — we took these steps when we ourselves had trouble finding individuals to user-interview.
If you’re having difficulty finding the right people to give you insights on your product ideas, read on — I list 7 steps for how to do this below!
How we found 100+ potential customers pre-product.
When we started Mistro [Now Stable!], we derived immense value from user interviews because they were a tool to help us understand what to build without having to write code.
Initially though, we had trouble finding the right people to speak with consistently — there were large gaps of time between user interviews, and when one actually occurred, it was often with the wrong type of person.
Eventually (!!!), we found our stride.
Below is the framework we used (and still use) to get 100+ relevant people on the phone for a user interview.
As you implement this framework, it’s important to remember that you will always need to meet your users where they are. It’s unlikely they will come to you — your job is to go to them and ask for their time to chat.
Here are our 7 steps for finding the right people to talk with, consistently.
Before we went to ask for time from people, we had to figure out what type of people we wanted time from. This is a trivial but necessary exercise, and essentially boils down to the question: whose problem are you solving?
For us, the answer was remote employees and HR professionals — Mistro makes it easy for remote companies to provide benefits to their distributed teams, and these two groups interact with company benefits the most.
Interestingly, we initially identified a lot more than just two archetypes: founders, finance teams, benefit providers, etc. We settled on remote workers and HR professionals because we hypothesized they felt the problem we were trying to solve most deeply, and therefore would have the greatest insights.
If you’re having trouble identifying which archetypes to start with, a general rule of thumb is to do what we did: pick the 1–2 archetypes that you think will have unique insights. Often times, but not always, this will be the archetype that most deeply feels the pain you’re trying to solve.
Once you understand the type of person you’d like to speak with, it’s time to meet them where they are.
There is a lot of room to be creative here, because people lurk in weird places — here are some places we found or thought we may find our archetypes.
We asked relevant friends, friends of friends, and previous colleagues for 15 minutes of their time. Nobody said no.
There are a lot of online communities centered around ideas, people, passions, etc. If you can identify a group that is based around something that will engage your archetype, it’s a gold mine for user interview candidates.
Obvious examples for us included remote work and HR groups. Non-obvious examples included product, SaaS, and marketing groups (there are a non-zero amount of remote workers in groups centered around their general profession).
Slack groups are similar to Facebook groups in that they are another place where people congregate around ideas. We used them in identical ways.
LinkedIn groups are similar to Facebook and Slack groups, with the important caveat that they tend to attract more professionals. This is good because user interviews are of higher quality. The tradeoff, from our experience, is an increased amount of effort to actually get someone on the phone.
Reddit is a great way to get anonymous feedback from complete strangers. For some of our early hypotheses, we realized we didn’t need to actually get someone on the phone to speak with — written answers were fine. Reddit was a great outlet for this because we could just post our questions and let the internet do its thing.
Specifically, we found subreddits where we thought our users were like r/startups, r/digitalnomad, r/design, etc.
I was consistently surprised by (a) how brutally honest Redditers are, and (b) how many people actually answered.
On occasion, we would stumble upon someone we thought had an unfair insight into some of the things we wanted to learn from an archetype. Instead of a cold Facebook or Slack message, we’d do some stalking. Usually, the person had a personal website, which we used to email them directly. When that wasn’t the case, we used LinkedIn.
The REAL World
If you’re having trouble sourcing user interviews online, don’t forget that your archetypes could be congregating in REAL life too :).
We went to meetups and hangouts centered around topics we thought would attract our archetypes: remote work talks, HR conferences, etc. At one point, we even discussed putting flyers outside of co-working spaces to find remote workers to speak with.
While we never posted flyers, we did interview a handful of people we met through these hangouts — once you’ve met someone in real life, it’s much easier to ask them to chat for 15 minutes about what you’re working on.
After you have figured out where your users are, you still need to ask them for their time. We did this in two different ways:
For communities and groups (Facebook, Slack, etc) we thought were attracting our archetypes we drafted a friendly blurb asking for 15–30 mins of people’s time. Interestingly, we found the more we matched the voice of the group we were posting in, the more likely the group was to engage. Here’s a screenshot of one.
Strangers are just people too, and a lot of them are more than willing to help out.
In any community you join, there will be users that post or reply to content relevant to what you are working on. For us, these were founders asking general questions about remote work, HR professionals responding to relevant questions, etc.
We asked to chat with these individuals directly, making sure the ask was specifically made for them. Here’s a screenshot of one.
People will start reaching out to chat as soon as you put your ask out into the world. Scheduling these chats was actually more complicated than we expected because of (a) time zone differences and (b) people not showing up.
Time zone Differences
When you’re asking for the time of someone who lives halfway across the world, you’re going to have to commit to taking calls at weird times (5am, 9pm, etc). There is no way around this.
To help with the actual math of time zone conversion, we scheduled everything via Calendly because it automatically converted our availability to the viewers timezone.
When people scheduled time to chat, and then didn’t show up, we mainly got frustrated!
Eventually, we found that creating a calendar invite (which Calendly does automatically) and sending a reminder email a few hours before the interview were both helpful. Overall, persistence and an open mind here are key — people will forget they agreed to chat with you.
Finally! You have someone on the phone. Now it’s time to conduct the actual interview. This is difficult to do well — you have a limited amount of time to extract a large amount of information from the brain of your interviewee.
At a high level, the purpose of your user interview should be to validate hypotheses you have about your problem space. Assuming you’ve identified the correct archetypes and got them on the phone, then this will be straightforward because your interviewee is uniquely positioned to validate / invalidate these hypotheses.
The key, of course, is asking the correct questions. My cofounder wrote an in depth post about this, so I’ll defer to her if you’d like to learn more about how to conduct a good user interview.
Before you let your interviewee go, ask them if they know anyone else you can speak with. You likely did a lot of work to get them on the phone and it is much much easier to get another person like them on the phone via a warm connection instead of a cold ask.
At the end of each of our interviews, we asked to be connected to 3 people that the interviewee thought would be helpful to speak with.
As with most anything, if it’s not working, change it!
We redefined our archetypes, tried dozens of different outreach channels, and reworded our asks consistently. The beauty in something not working is the large amount of opportunity that exists to fix it. Good luck out there!!
If you find this framework helpful, or have any suggested edits, let me know!
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