The Katelyn Bourgoin Hypothesis: You Can Talk to 300 Customers and Still Build the Wrong Thing

Katelyn Bourgoin is a 3x founder turned product discovery coach, specializing in helping startups use the jobs-to-be-done framework. In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we talk about the mistakes many organizations make when they think they’re doing the right research and what you can do to make sure you don’t fall for the same traps.

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Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Katelyn Bourgoin Hypothesis: You Can Talk to 300 Customers and Still Build the Wrong ThingHow did Katelyn go from marketing and PR into the world of startups? What was it like starting two businesses at the same time? How did her restaurant consulting business get acquired? How did she get started in customer discovery as she was building Vendeve? What did Katelyn’s initial discovery process miss? How did that lead her to consult on doing customer discovery the right way?

What does doing customer discovery “the right way” actually mean? How did she bias her own customer interviews? What are the traps in talking to customers about a hypothetical future as opposed to what their needs are right now? How do you get customers to focus on what they’re doing right now to solve their pain point?

How do you use a “jobs to be done” framework for customer discovery? How do you navigate the different approaches to this framework to find something that works? What is a switch interview and how does it work? How do you find out what’s behind a customer’s decision to switch services, and why is that the best time to talk to them? How do you reconstruct the factors that lead them to switch and use that to pull actionable insights for your product?

Why is a customer’s first use of a product so critical? How do you put “jobs to be done” into action in your day-to-day product development? How can this change your organization’s structure? How do you separate good-fit from bad-fit customers? Why is it just as important to define who you’re not looking for?

What pivots did Vendeve go through, and what mistakes were made along the way? What were the costs of not working with a technical co-founder? How are the strengths and weaknesses of startup founders reflected in their companies? How can startup founders or product leaders launching a new product learn faster?

Quotes From This Episode

“The fatal mistake that I made was that I didn't know how to do customer discovery the right way. So I was inadvertently biasing everyone of those 300 interviews.” – Katelyn Bourgoin Click To Tweet “Don’t talk to people about what they might do, understand what they are doing and where their unmet needs are and where your product could come in as a solution.” – Katelyn Bourgoin Click To Tweet “A lot of the companies that I've worked with, they're very broad in who they're going after. And they haven't really determined what represents a customer that'd be a good fit customer versus a bad fit customer.” – Katelyn Bourgoin Click To Tweet “A lot of founders think they have the ideal customer down. But if you talk to their teams, their teams don't know. Their teams are on a different page, their teams are running in a different direction.” - Katelyn Bourgoin Click To Tweet


Holly: Hi and welcome to The Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startup founders and product leaders build high growth products, teams and companies through real conversations through the people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I’m your host Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science. This week on The Product Science Podcast we’re sitting down with Katelyn Bourgoin and excited to talk to with her about both customer discovery and product discovery as well as founding startups and learning some hard lessons, perhaps.
Katelyn: Oh most definitely.
Holly: Okay. Awesome. So I would love if you could start by telling us a little bit about your background. I know that you’re are a three-time founder and now you are coaching and training and consulting, I think.
Katelyn: Yeah.
Holly: But if you could tell us a little more. What were those steps along the way? That would be awesome.
Katelyn: Sure. So I started my first business at 25. I’d graduated from PR school and I started just doing freelance PR and marketing work. And that was kind of company one and grew that to be, I think at our largest we were a nine-person team. We were doing mostly branding and PR work as an agency. We got to work with some great, cool clients like Target and Holiday Inn. But most of our clients were smaller businesses and startups. That was kind of my exposure to the startup world, was actually having them as clients. Around the same time within about a year and a half after starting that company because I’m a glutton for punishment, I also created a restaurant consulting business. We did all of the marketing and PR consulting and then I brought in other specialists to help on the consulting end.
Katelyn: Restaurateurs, designers, sommeliers, mixologists, that sort of thing. So that company got acquired within about two years by-
Holly: Okay, pause. Sorry go ahead. Who’d it get acquired by?
Katelyn: Oh that’s okay. Is my sound all right?
Holly: Yeah. No, I just wanted to ask you a question before you went into the rest of the story. But tell us who it got acquired by and then we’ll go back.
Katelyn: So by another startup. So I don’t even know if that startups around anymore. That was several years ago. But yeah, at the time that was kind of my introduction to the world of building online startups. Was having them as clients, then also having my company acquired by one.
Holly: Interesting. So I definitely want to hear the rest of your story. But I actually wanted to ask, you say it’s because you’re a glutton for punishment. But I’m wondering like what made you decide to start a restaurant consulting business when you were already running a PR business? Do you just love restaurants? Or like what got you into that?
Katelyn: Well my husband is a restaurateur. And I had a lot of exposure to the restaurant world. You know I had worked as a server all through university. And I saw that a lot of restaurants they didn’t just need marketing help and PR help. They really needed a more full suite of services. They needed to make their whole experience better, they needed to have a more cost effective menu. A lot of them were losing money ’cause their menu pricing was out of sorts. Because I had the experience and exposure to that world because I had so many friends who were restaurateurs and because I had my own team that was already doing a lot of work with restaurateurs through my first company. I thought, hey like, why don’t I try this out as a niche?
Katelyn: Launch it as a second company. We’ll do all the marketing and PR stuff but I’ll bring together these other folks. And really what I was trying to see was if that was where I wanted to be. If I wanted to go full time into being a restaurant consult company. And I was fortunate to have that company acquired. Along the way what I really learned was that what I was hungry to do was build a more scalable company. And that’s where the bright idea to do my first startup came from. So that’s kind of the, how I got to 2014. And in 2014 I knew I wanted to do something more scalable. At the time I was kind of toying with a few different ideas. One of which was doing … This was actually 2013.
Katelyn: One of [inaudible] doing like online courses. And your audience might be familiar with that world a little bit. There’s companies like Skillshare and Udemy and there’s lots of like places now where you can go and buy online courses. But in 2013 there wasn’t as many. It was still somewhat new. But there were a few kind of like thought leaders who are pretty big players who were making good money. And that was a concept I had in my mind. On reflection some of me always wonders what my story would be like had I done that instead of trying to do a tech company. But you can’t go back in the past. And I learned so much throughout the journey of building my startup.
Katelyn: So kind of fast forward, my idea is I … When I was launching my first two companies, I was pretty scrappy. I didn’t have a lot of money. I was trying to figure out how to get the services and skills that I needed to grow the businesses using what I did have. Which in the very beginning when it was just me and I was freelancing, was less money but a lot of time. And so I had this bright idea to do a skill swapping platform. And that’s where the kind of like, was version one of my tech company which would later become [inaudible 00:05:50]. And that’s where I had my first foray into customer discovery.
Katelyn: And I learned about the concept of the lean startup and the importance of going out and doing customer interviews. And I was part of this program and it was a accelerator and we were moving and I was supposed to do 10 interviews a week for eight weeks. And I think I ended up doing 30 and ended up doing 300 in total and thought that I had done all the right things. And thought that I was launching the right thing. And through my customer discovery kind of discovered that there was this unique customer segment that was already swapping skills offline. They would be hungry for an online solution and those were women service providers. So ended up focusing the company specifically on women.
Katelyn: and long story short, four years past, we raised venture capital. We’d do significant pivots, Forbes magazine is calling us the next LinkedIn for women and it all came crashing down. And so-
Holly: So … Yeah. I’m not gonna let that be a short story. So take me back to when you … First of all your second business got acquired. What happened to the first business?
Katelyn: So the first business, I still have that team and I mostly rolled them into the startup. So stopped taking on client work, stopped operating as an agency but kept the team and they all kind of became my startup team.
Holly: Okay. And how did your second business get acquired? Because I know in the … For some of our startup founders that, they might be a lot more aware of how those things happen. But I think for people who are deeper in companies, it just kind of seems like this magical thing. So I’m curious to hear a little more. Like had you been aiming for that? Did you have conversations? Were you trying to develop that?
Katelyn: It wasn’t necessarily something I’d ever even thought was going to be on the horizon. And funny enough some of your startup founders might resonate with this. The gentleman who acquired it, his company was a startup that helped restaurateurs to figure out their finances. And he was trying … It was a soft space service but he wasn’t making any money with it really. It wasn’t his big venture. What he was actually successful with was his consulting services. And so while he’d really invested a lot of his time and energy in building his app. What was paying the bills and actually generating a lot of revenue for him was his consulting services.
Katelyn: So when I brought him on as a consultant as part of my restaurant consulting company. And he saw the talent that I brought together and the processes we had in place and the brand we built and the customers we were reeling in. He wanted to be a [inaudible] part of it. And at the same time that he was looking to be a bigger part of it, I was thinking about wanting to do something more scalable. I really wanted to move out of the consulting kind of like exchanging hours for dollars model. And so him and I started talking and it just made sense for him to take over and acquire the business and keep operating it. And I believe that he ended up shutting down his last company but still successfully running his restaurant consulting business.
Holly: Oh there’s a great lesson in there. Because I think a lot of people are able to create consulting businesses and think if they only had an app it would all scale. And they wouldn’t have to put all this time into their consulting business. But that is much easier said than done.
Katelyn: Ugh. So much easier said than done. I see it all the time. And it’s heartbreaking now because at the time I was just as naïve. But I mean, now I see accountants and safety companies and just a lot of kind of traditional service businesses that end up hiring a dev firm and like paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch something that just gets no attention. And it’s just a shame to see. And it happens consistently because they’re not doing customer discovery in the right way. And that’s kind of … That’s what’s been the focus of my work over the last year and a half since I closed down [Vendeeve 00:10:10]. It was looking at the mistakes that I made, thinking I was doing all the right things.
Katelyn: Being part of a really rich and active startup county here in Atlantic Canada and seeing a lot of my friends making the same mistakes and having the same challenges. And then I just kind of became obsessed with that problem. Like, well if all these people are building the wrong stuff and they all think they’re following the lean method and doing it right. Where are they going wrong? And that’s kind of led to the work I’ve done in the last year and a half.
Holly: Yeah. That’s awesome. I think you hit the nail on the head. And still see people doing this all the time. And for those of us who are deeper in the product discovery or have been in that for a long time, it can actually seem kind of shocking, I think anyways. When we go out and talk to startups and see that new startups are still making the same mistakes that people in the industry were making 10 years ago. But I think that it’s a lot of it has to do with human nature. And of course the allure of having a successful tech company is stronger than it ever was. So people are flocking to it. More people are trying it. And of course they don’t all know all the lessons learned, yet.
Holly: So let’s hear more about your lessons learned. So you … When your company gets acquired, you have your first company, the team from your first company. And you say, okay I have this talent together. So you’re already starting off with more that zero ’cause you’ve got a team you’ve worked with. And then you have this idea and you want to go out and do it. And it sounds like you joined an accelerator. Tell us a little more about those early days and how did you end up with those steps. And what did you learn in those interviews? And what did you think you learned, that you later learned was wrong?
Katelyn: So that’s a great question. So when I was just kind of toying with it, I didn’t even know necessarily what a startup was. I was fortunate enough to go through a program at a local university that was the first one probably in, one of the first ones in Canada to be based on the whole starting lean method and the concept of you don’t have to build the whole thing. Like build your MVP, build measure allure and that thought process. To me as an entrepreneur who already been in business for five years at this point, that was just like everything I wanted to hear. Because it gave me license not to be a perfectionist which is often in my nature.
Katelyn: And learning about the importance of doing customer discovery was really foundational. I knew that it was something that I hadn’t understood in the past. And as having run a branding agency it almost gave me a bit of shame too. Because it was like I wasn’t doing this with my consulting clients. Like, how was I not going out and talking to more customers all the time? How was I just making all these random assumptions based on survey and like online observation and market research but actually not talking to them. And so it was really, really eye opening.
Katelyn: Now the kind of fatal mistake that I made was that I didn’t know how to do customer discovery the right way. So I was inadvertently biasing everyone of those 300 interviews. I would go out and I would get the person on the phone and I’d talk about my shiny idea and how cool it was. And how we were gonna build it, why it was important. And they would invariably be like, yeah that sounds really great. Like, cool. And then I’d be like, so would you use this? And like, yeah I would definitely use it. And like you know, sharing ideas and this and that.
Katelyn: Not really understanding that somebody’s start talking to this hypothetical future is in fact probably something you should totally ignore and discourage. Because you don’t want to talk to people about what they might do, you want to understand what they are doing and where there unmet needs are and where your product could come in as a solution. I didn’t know that at the time. And so I thought that I did all the right things.
Holly: So … Yeah. So I want to dive into that even deeper because it’s refreshing to hear somebody talk about not just talking to customers but talking to so many. I mean you had really … Like 300 is way up there on the number of conversations that you’ve had. Some of the most prolific interviewers that are startup founders that I’ve talked to have been in the couple hundreds. Right? But I think what you’re saying really hits home on the fact that talking to customers is better than not talking to customers. But it’s still not enough. You have to actually know how to have a customer discovery conversation. And you have to be able to pick up on whether you’re learning things and whether you’re learning new things. Whether you’re getting diminishing returns on those conversations.
Holly: So I’m curious, while you were going through all of those, what else were you doing? Did your team … Was it a discovery phase before any designs? Was it alongside designs? Was it … Basically was it a continuous process or was it a phased process? Where you said, all right. All these interviews, then we’re gonna come back, we’re gonna have the perfect plan and we’ll build it.
Katelyn: So it was a little bit of both. At this time still operating my agency ’cause it’s paying the bills. And so I’m going through this program and the evenings and in the day we’re doing agency work. Then I had the oppo … After going through that program when I made the decision I was gonna commit to building up this product, I was invited to join an incubator. And it was the first of it’s kind. I believe the first of it’s kind in Atlantic Canada. But it was awesome. It was like I got to be introduced to all these other product entrepreneurs. There were a couple people that were there that had sold their company for, I think the biggest acquisition of one of the teams that was there was like 80 million. So it was pretty good. And that was in like two years.
Katelyn: So there’s some founders that had had success. Founders that knew how to build a product company. And so I got to be part of that environment. It was probably over the course of the next nine months that we balanced doing the paying work that I was using to keep my staff paid. And then in our down time we were working on launching the product. I kept doing those interviews. I would … We’d work early versions was like a clickable envision mock-up, getting people to try that, use that. Again, in my discovery I kept making the classic mistake which now I recognize and now I understand that’s it’s really why so many founders go out and they do customer interviews. And then they go, oh that doesn’t work and they stop doing them.
Katelyn: Like I often get people saying to me like, well Steve Jobs didn’t do customer research which isn’t true. Or the classic, well if Henry Ford would of asked people what they wanted they would of said a faster horse. And what I didn’t know I was doing at the time was I was biasing everything and I was asking people what they wanted. I was asking them if they thought they might use this product, how they would use the product. When what I should of been doing was really understanding how they were currently getting this job done in their life. So people who are going to use a skill swapping platform like those were people that were probably already doing something similar in their life. They were either swapping with other friends or they were finding other innovative ways to get things that they needed for their businesses without having to pay.
Katelyn: And I should of only been talking to those people because I would of learned the most from them. And I should of been trying to understand how the journey for them finding those solutions and what was working well for them and what wasn’t. Because that would of revealed so much more about what this first product should of been. And instead I kind of already knew how I wanted to build up the product and I was just looking to validate it and that was a big mistake.
Holly: You know it’s interesting what you say to me there too about who you were talking to and what you were talking to them about. Because maybe you learn this over the following time but there are even some assumptions in there about who you should of been talking to and who had the pains that this would solve. I don’t know a lot about the skill swapping space. I pretty much offer to swap skills with my best friends because I want to help them. But I don’t ever, you know what I mean? Like I don’t do it with other people much. And I’m wondering, what are the pains that actually drive somebody to swap skills instead of buying the service that they need from somebody? And whether that pain is felt most in the people who are already getting the swapping done or felt in people who didn’t realize this was an option? You know?
Katelyn: Oh absolutely. I think like … Are you familiar with the jobs to be done kind of innovation framework?
Holly: Yes. Yeah.
Katelyn: And so learning about that, do you think your listeners need kind of an intro to that? Or are they, do you think they’ll be familiar?
Holly: Yeah. Why don’t … Well I think they’ll be familiar with it. But why don’t you describe what it’s meant to you. So how has your … So has learning the jobs to be done framework influenced the way that you do discovery now?
Katelyn: Well what’s influenced is really giving me a different way of thinking about the … What are the actual things that people are trying to get done when they use a product? And what are their desired outcomes? And to your point, people, there are lots of people who would probably were looking to save money and get service that they needed that never swapped skills. And me understanding what they were doing instead and what their current solutions were and their challenges and problems with those would of really helped me to shape probably a better product. And maybe not even have launched a product because I might of found that it wasn’t the right solution.
Katelyn: So that … Understanding that framework and using that kind of thought process as a way to create some assumptions when it comes to coming up with a product. And then using a specific style of interview that’s taught in the kind of jobs world that’s called a switch interview. That’s been really, really helpful for me in shaping … In making sure that I’m not just being an innovator and biasing my and my solutions. And I know that [Ash Merera 00:21:14] recently has kind of flipped on what he … He used to talk about doing problem interviews and the importance of going out there and making sure that there was a problem. You know, fall in love with the problem not your solution.
Katelyn: But in one of his recent posts and what’s going to become his new book, he’s working on The Innovator’s Gift. Where he talks about really new, like better products are byproducts of old solutions. Old solutions that are not meeting particular needs and not getting jobs done as well as they could be. And that the way to understand customers is by studying their current solutions and how they’re currently getting those jobs done and finding the gaps and the success gaps in there. And was a conflict that was never communicated or I didn’t find that in any of the startups I was reading at the time. Again this was 2014 so like Clay Christensen’s book The Innovators, or Competing Against Luck, that wasn’t out yet.
Katelyn: Like I hadn’t heard anything about this framework. I really have found that to be foundational in the work that I do now and helping more companies to think differently about what their solutions are. And really understand that if they understand their customer’s jobs they’re trying to get done, built those functional jobs but then also like the emotional drivers, the social drivers that matter. That they can build better products without as much bias.
Holly: So it’s interesting, I like how you brought in some books that have influenced you and some lines of thought. I will mention that I know that the … There is other authors who have written, I don’t know exactly what year their different books came out. But I know Strategyn for example which is Tony Ulwick’s company who’s the other job to be done people. I think that the outcome driven innovation framework involves unmet needs as well and has been around for a while. But I think the thing that I see when I go out and work with people and talk to people is it’s not so relevant what idea exists. It’s relevant which ideas are popular and being followed and how much people have learned from them and how much people are able to follow.
Holly: Because there’s also definitely cases where a thought leader will write a book that shares some things that work really well for them but everybody misapplies it.
Katelyn: And that’s the challenge that’s [inaudible 00:23:54]. Like I don’t know if you’ve experienced that. But as I started learning about it my first foray into it was Clay Christensen. And then reading Tony’s stuff, Alan Klement another kind of loud voice in the jobs to be done world. I think that jobs to be done is you know, you look at the lean startup and a success of that and how it’s so popular. And it’s a framework that’s … In execution there’s lots of processes and exercise in the ways to apply it. But really the kind of build measure learn loop is pretty easy for people to understand. And what I find is like people like things that they can easily understand.
Katelyn: And jobs to be done there’s a lot of misinformation about it, there’s a lot of competing methodologies and there’s a lot of animosity and like confusion in the whole jobs to be done community. And so it’s tricky because I think you mentioned Tony Allwick’s work, like what the talks about as being a job and what people like Clay Christianson and [Bob Moesta 00:25:07] talk about as a job are at odds and they’re not the same thing. And the very specific step by step process for outcome driven innovation that Tony talks about is not the way that Bob Moesta, who’s kind of like the guy who inspired the book Competing Against Luck, would talk about it.
Katelyn: And so it’s tricky. And that’s kind of part of what I’ve been doing is trying to figure out how do I tease out the stuff that’s actually actionable and helpful for founders to understand. So that they don’t get into the minutia and the complexity of this kind of like … It feels like it’s a turf war almost.
Holly: Someone I was talking to recently called it a religious war. But yes.
Katelyn: It’s crazy. And the thing is who care who’s idea it is. What matters is how does it help teams to build better products? And I think that it’s a victim of the … People want to own the concepts because that’s … You know, if you’re a consultant you want to own your framework. But I think that that’s partially what’s really damaging it spreading and being more helpful. Because it’s … Everyone’s trying to own it. And there’s not enough collaboration and just creating an easy to follow system for people like the lean startups.
Holly: Yeah. So there’s one thing you mentioned in here that I want to go back to. So for the record, I am not an expert on jobs to be done, myself. I came through a different school that I think sort of gets to the same principles of human behavior. But using different words and frameworks. And I’ve always sort of had the feeling that everything that the jobs to be done school teaches is really solidly grounded in human psychology and behavior. But that they’re a bit tripping over their feet with some of the words they use. And I’ve just decided not to use them, those words. But I come more from the background of user centered designed and product discovery and those frameworks.
Holly: So I’m not familiar with a switch interview is. Can you share a little more about that particular technique and what that means?
Katelyn: Absolutely. So this is part of what I teach companies too today. But the idea of a switch interview is that if you really want to understand what jobs your customers are trying to get done and what triggers them to buy then you can use this tool called a switch interview. And the idea of … You know in jobs to be done the concept is that people don’t buy products and services. They actually hire them to do specific jobs for them. And if the product works well they will hire it over and over again. So whether if it’s a subscription service they’ll keep paying the subscription. If it’s a physical product they’ll keep using it in their home or they’ll buy it over and over again.
Katelyn: But if the product doesn’t help you to get the job done the way that you hoped it would then you’ll fire it and hire something else. And so the concept of a switch interview is that one of the best times to understand what it is that somebody’s trying to get done is when they have recently switched. So if you already have customers then you can interview them about switching to your product. Most of the time people are interviewing their own customers. They’re spending all their time talking about their product or their customer’s goals with their product.
Katelyn: What’s unique about the switch interview is that what you’re trying to do in the course of that interview is basically create a timeline of everything that happened between the time that they first started thinking that their current solution wasn’t working, through to them actually buying your product. Because what’s interesting about the buying process is that it actually almost always follows the exact same timeline. Now that timeline might happen in 20 minutes or it might happen in 20 years. But there are various stages that are consistent across the timelines. And so the timeline starts with the first thought.
Katelyn: The first thought is usually triggered by something painful in your life. When you go, this current solution isn’t working, it’s not helping me to make the progress I want to make. It’s not helping me get the job done. At that time you usually will start passively looking and noticing things in your environment that might actually be a better solution for you than what you’re currently using. But you may not be motivated quite yet to actually go and make the switch. Typically then something else will happen. It’s another event that will happen that will trigger you to go, okay this really isn’t good enough. I need something else.
Katelyn: And I’m going to start actively looking at other options. And so this could be like going and doing an online search or talking to your friends or trying different products. Then usually something will happen again like that triggering event that moves you from, okay I’ve been assessing all these options through to I’m gonna buy this thing and consume it and make a decision. And if you can talk to your customer and try to get them to recreate that buying [inaudible] and really just talk in like exacting detail about what happened all along the way. They will reveal things to you that they could never reveal in a survey or typical interview because there’s ways that they’re making decisions that they themselves may not even know.
Katelyn: And may have never thought about in that way before. And so with jobs to be done they talk about there’s kind of like these forces that are at play that either push people towards making the switch or stop them from switching. And they call them the four forces. And there’s like the push of the present, it’s like the pain or the thing that’s not working currently. And then there’s the pull of the better solution. The ideal world, the way that I’m gonna feel and look and live when I have this new solution. Then the things that hold you back along that journey and it will stop you and slow you done are anxiety. So like, what if it doesn’t work the way it said it would? What if it’s too expensive? Blah, blah, blah.
Katelyn: And then there’s also the habit of what you’re used to doing. Well, you know I already use … Like everything is a PC and if I switch to a iPhone then do I have to blah, blah, blah. Like … And so while you’re doing this switch interview and trying to understand your buyer’s journey to switching to your product, you’re also learning all of these trigger points along the way. And from a marketing perspective, that’s like gold. Which is how I teach it. To really understand and document your buying journey. But from a product management perspective, it’s also gold because people are gonna tell you about all the other solutions that they tried. And usually there’s lots of them that didn’t quite help them get their jobs done and why.
Katelyn: And whether it’s a competitor’s product or whether it’s try and use a spreadsheet or whether it’s hiring a freelancer. There’s gonna be these really emotional and painful things that are happening as they’re trying to find this better solution. And that can be just such rich insight into how to build a better product. So that’s kind of the tool that I use that I really like that comes from the jobs to be done world. And it’s not from Tony Allwick. He does not teach this. This is more from the other camp.
Holly: I see. So it’s interesting to me that one of the things I loved about the way you just described that was when you talked about the emotion and the pain. I think that’s … Regardless of what framework someone’s using, consistency is in good product discovery. And what I call product science, are that you’re talking to people about their past behavior. You’re asking them to tell you stories and you’re pulling out the emotions around it. So you’re getting specific things that they’ve done in the past. Not what you wish they would do in the future or what they think they would do in the future or what their ideal selves would do in the future.
Holly: I think there’s something really great about that. It’s interesting to me that what you just talked about goes a lot through the buyer’s journey. So the decisions that happen before someone gets into the product. Do you also have go to techniques that you love to use for understanding things more on the retention side or the engagement side as we would call it?
Katelyn: So like with this type of interview, typically you’d spend a little of time at the end really understanding their first use of the product. And the theory is that all of their expectation about whether or not this product was gonna satisfy their needs, whether it was going to help them to get their job done, a lot of that will be built up in the journey. And so often times their first use of the product is so critical because it’s going to be their experience with, is this working? Is it helping me to get my job done better? Another … A lots of products that the more you use them the more stick they get, the more valuable they get.
Katelyn: But with this particular interview you would then talk to them about their first use and you’d really want to understand that experience. And you’d document any friction that they had or any delight that they had along the way. I tend … My teaching … Where I kind of position my business is really from a marketer’s perspective. And so this is the technique that I teach to product marketers. But I’m working with some product manager folks to kind of understand more how to apply this on an ongoing basis. Because it’s a technique that’s really good for understanding what jobs are trying to get done and understanding the buying journey and how to leverage that from a marketing perspective. It can inform product decisions. But it’s not the best tool for like continuous innovation on the product.
Katelyn: Intercom has written some really good stuff about how they used jobs to be done. They have a great book actually, it’s Intercom on Jobs-To-be-Done. But what it allowed them to do was basically identify that people were using … This was before they … This was years ago when they did their research. But they realized that people were using their product for four specific jobs. And so what they ended up doing, was instead of having one product that did four things they broke their product into four products. And each of those designed to do the job as good as possible. So one of the jobs was to give customer support inside of your app.
Katelyn: And so they have a solution specifically for that. And one of them was to give at the knowledge base. Use it as a knowledge base for the company. So they built out their separate knowledge space. And so the way that they use jobs as ongoing basis is every time their discussing launching a new feature they fill out an intermission, it’s what they call it. And it’s basically like where they have to list out what are the jobs that this feature’s gong to, that it relates to. And how is this going to help them to get those done better than the way that they’re currently doing it. And it has to tie back to one of their identified customer jobs.
Katelyn: And Intercom’s a really great example because when they realized that they had this four very connected yet distinct jobs that people were hiring their product for. Instead of breaking their teams up in marketing and producting, and marketing and product and dev, customer success. They actually built individual teams around each job. And those teams work autonomously. And all they’re measured on is the performance of actually doing that job better than what people are switching from.
Holly: Yeah. I love that story. Intercom is also a favorite of mine. And they … What you just described also touches on a lot of other key things for product leadership and product management. Which is how you divide up your teams and how cross-functional autonomous teams are more effective and things like that. So I think it’s really, they do put out a lot of good content on Intercom on x, y, z, different thing that they’re doing. I would love in the time that we have left, to take you back to the founder story. So you were telling us that you did all these interviews, you thought you were doing the right thing. And you’ve learned a lot since then, obviously. Since you’ve just walked us through all of these techniques and things that you now know.
Holly: But help us fill in the gaps. So what happened after all those interviews for Vendeeve?
Katelyn: So we … You know I got confidence that we were on the right approach and then with my background being in marketing, I was able to be pretty successful with building like a pre-launch list. I think we had like 2500 people on our pre-launch list. We got lots of flashy media attention when we actually launched. But like the product itself was not great. Like I was good at like … Like 50% of people who hit our homepage would signup for the app. But they wouldn’t … It wasn’t sticky. And I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Rand Fishkin. He’s the founder of Moz and he stepped down and he’s working on a new company now.
Katelyn: But he wrote a book called Lost and Founder. And he talks about, one of the things in it is that you can always tell where a company’s weak spots are based on who the founders are. And for him, Moz was always good on the marketing and messaging but they weren’t as strong on product. ‘Cause the co-founders that started the company weren’t technical. And so I felt that feels very true to our experience. I didn’t have a technical co-founder and I taught myself how to do UI design. And I think I was fairly good at that but like the back end was shit. Like it was buggy and glitchy and we tried to make the product too big and lot’s of classic mistakes. And MVP really in reflection was not minimum.
Katelyn: Like and not viable.
Holly: Yes. I was gonna say, we tried to make the product too big is … I will call it famous last words for lots of founders. But I don’t how many of them ever come to realize that. So how did you come to realize that?
Katelyn: Because it was just obvious. Like I was like, man what should like … At the time … I was like the people that we’re competing against, ’cause we kind of made a business model pivot which was a mistake. And reflecting back on it, it repositioned us. But at the time I didn’t realize how big a mistake it was or how critical it was. And we had switched from being a free service to swap skills … But it was a free service to swap skills. But again, looking back at 2014 before the kind of rise of all of these online course hubs. The model was, you could swap skills for free but if you couldn’t find somebody to swap with you could buy a DIY course through the platform. And so it was like, you can come here to swap or you can learn to DIY.
Katelyn: And we would be the kind of like vetted marketplace for all of this DIY content. And that was the business model initially. It was difficult to talk about the size of the online course market because it was so, so immature at the time. And so when I would pitch the company to venture capitalists and try to get seed funding, they didn’t get that piece of it. And so after a number of kind of like … And I obviously was doing a really poor job of talking about it because it’s my job to make them get it. It’s my job to express the right things. And so we ended up making a pivot and moved to, it was the only marketplace where you could buy, sell or swap skills.
Katelyn: And so by becoming a buy or sell, by making that part our business model and we would take a transaction fee on when you buy and sell. Not only did we completely shift the focus as a company and our story. But we totally changed the business model and repositioned ourself now to be competing against Upwork and Fiverr and all of these established service marketplaces who … You know we were growing as quickly as they had grown in the early days. It was not sticking and people weren’t staying around. Like we were acquiring customers really quickly, we were acquiring customers faster than Fiverr had. But we’d raised, at the time, $125,000 and they’d raised five million. So it was really, it was lots of rookie mistakes.
Holly: Yeah. And also ties back to what you were just saying about a startup having the strengths and weaknesses of it’s founders. That you were good at acquiring customers because you knew that world. That’s also something I’ve seen as well through out several startup experiences that I’ve been in or known closely. So as we get close to wrapping up, the last thing I always like to ask people is if they have advice. What is sort of your final advice? What is the biggest message that you want to give to startup founders or product leaders who are launching a new product? So they can learn faster and learn from all of us.
Katelyn: I think that the number one thing that I think a lot of companies could be doing better, whether they are super early stage or even later stage companies, so you have to revisit it. Is really understanding their customers and really getting clear about what a successful ideal customer looks like for them. Because I think as I’ve experienced myself, that piece is part of what we were pretty good at. Like we knew who we wanted our customer’s to be. We didn’t build a good product for them but we knew who we wanted to be and we were really good at attracting them.
Katelyn: But a lot of the companies that I’ve worked with, they’re very broad in who they’re going after. And they haven’t really determined what represents a customer that’d be a good fit customer versus a bad fit customer. And so they end up spending a lot of time chasing bad fit customers and sales its selling bad fit customers. And they’re getting into the product and then they’re churning because they aren’t a good fit for what the solution is. And so I would really encourage a lot of companies, that if you haven’t had that conversation recently and if everybody on your team isn’t crystal clear on what a good fit customer looks like then go back and redo that work. Because it’s the … Everything starts there. And your product should be designed for that customer.
Katelyn: And you should … Your marketing’s for that customer and your sales messages are for that customer. And if your not clear on what that is and your team isn’t in alignment on who that is, then nothing else you do is going to be easy. It will always be hard. And so that’s kind of like, if I had to give like words of wisdom it would be, everyone talks about being obsessed with the customer and the customer’s needs. That’s starts with knowing who they are. And it’s really a lot of founders think they have that piece down. But if you talk to their teams, their teams don’t know. Their teams are on a different page, their teams are running in a different direction.
Katelyn: And it’s because often times founders hold so much information in their head, that they think they’re constantly communicating and the messages aren’t getting out to their team. And then when things are changing, team members don’t know either. And so I’ve seen it a lot. And it’s especially dangerous in companies that have just raised a seed round, have bought themself two years of runway, are scaling up. And adding employees and nobody knows who the customer is. And the product team’s building for two different use cases. And it really, it just happens a lot. So that’s my, that’s my kind of like spiel.
Katelyn: But like take the time to go back and make sure that everyone’s aligned on what an ideal customer looks like and what they don’t look like. So you stop selling to the bad fit people.
Holly: Amen to that. I especially love adding in what they don’t look like so people know exactly. You’re not just saying, who do we wish we had? You’re saying, who’s our ideal? And, who’s a bad fit that we might mistake for being a good fit? So we can be really focused.
Katelyn: Yeah and that comes back to understanding their desired outcomes. Like right now, kind of like glance into what’s happening in my world. Like I’m working with a couple of colleagues on bringing together a training program that’ll probably target … We’re talking about targeting B2B SAS companies. And one of the challenges that we see in a lot of these companies is that while they want to be doing continuance customer discovery and they want to be making the right decisions based on customer’s needs. They don’t often even know how to go out and they don’t know how to talk to customers. They don’t know how to ask questions in surveys in unbiased ways.
Katelyn: Like lots of mistakes are being made along the way. And a lot of founders, it’s not from lack of working hard. I mean they’re working insane hours around the clock, trying to keep all the wheels on the bus. And so one of the things that we’re working on is coming up with a program that would basically train what we’re calling research ops people. So you can bring this person into the company who’s been trained in all of these different research skills. And they become like your in-house Google analytics for qualitative data. Like you can ask them a question and they will go out and find the answer. We’re gonna teach them all the ways to find those answers using various frameworks and techniques and tools.
Katelyn: But even as we, being people who have spent a lot of time trying to understand how to do this stuff right. Even we’re falling victim to being too broad in who that initial customer looks like who would be a good fit to hire one of these research ops people. And it’s just a great lesson that it’s easy to tell people what to do and then sometimes harder to take your own good advice. And so I’m constantly kind of like reeling myself back in when I start to get excited and want to move forward quickly. And making sure that we’re doing the checks and balances too that we tell other people they should do. Because it’s kind of that thing, you hear it a lot in the services world. But like the accomplished son has no shoes.
Katelyn: Like I really … You see that a lot and I don’t want that to be us. But I guess I’m just … The point is I empathize with how hard it is because it’s work. And it’s work that a lot of people are doing off the side of their desk and they shouldn’t be. But that’s just the culture of a lot of companies.
Holly: Yeah. So it is hard to do all the things that we teach. But these are the things where, [Marty Kiggins 00:48:19] said in our first episode that in our industry we have the blind leading the blind in a lot of places. These are the things that those of us who’ve seen it work know that the payoff is so high that you have to do the work to make these things happen, to make the room for the customer discovery. To make the room for the analytics, for the continuous feedback and iteration and for the strategy and understanding exactly who your ideal customer is and isn’t. Because that makes everything else easier.
Holly: But if you haven’t ever seen that, it’s easy to get caught in the day to day of well I just gotta like output output.
Katelyn: Oh, totally.
Holly: So yeah. I love that you shared that story. Awesome. Well I think we’re about out of time. So Katelyn how can people find you if they would like to hear more?
Katelyn: So the best place to find me would be on my website which is 00:49:10] but Bourgoin’s a hard last name to spell. So I’d say find me first on Twitter. And I’m at Kate, k-a-t-e-b-o-u-r. So KateBour is my Twitter. I’m probably the most active on Twitter. And then you can find my website there, you can reach out through chat on my site. I don’t always keep my DMs open because sometimes you get a lot of weird stuff. But if you do want to talk to me pop up into my website and use my [drift] there and pop in a comment, we’ll set up a time to chat.
Holly: Awesome. Well thank you so much Katelyn.
Katelyn: Thank you. This has been great.
Holly: Product Science podcast is brought to you by H2R Product Science. We teach startup founders and product leaders how to use the Product Science method to discover the strongest product opportunities and lay the foundations for high growth products, teams and businesses. Learn more at Enjoying this episode? Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s episode. I also you to visit us at to signup for more information and resources from me and our guests. If you love the show, a rating or review would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.