12 Common Start-up Product and User Experience Mistakes

Shai Granot, UX and Product Strategy | Reading Time: 5 min.

You have this new creative idea which has tons of potential. You started gathering a talented team of winners and you plan to start developing and raising money for your start up, and more or less taking over the world. Here are some basic principles that will assist you throughout your journey.

(TL;DR): Your start-up is your baby. There are a few things you should know about raising him:

1. You are not the user


Even if you've reached this idea as a result of a real-life problem that you've encountered, the moment you turned into an entrepreneur, you are different. Your users are not entrepreneurs. Thus, your users think and operate differently than you do.

2. Your mom is not the user (even though the start-up is your baby) 


Your mom loves you and accepts you (most of the time) with all of your faults and advantages. Your users, on the other hand, are (a little) less forgiving. More importantly, your startup is the child you are “raising” throughout all days of the week, including weekends and holidays, and you are both his father and mother. It's going to be hard to accept that others will find your kid less than perfect.

3. Your friends are not the users

https://www.flickr.com/photos/algardav/4396326890 - Credit to Alex Davis

Most of the time our friends are similar to us when it concerns our educational background, personal taste and preferences. They are not, however, similar to your users. Because they are your friends, they will not always feel comfortable expressing their opinions (which are not necessarily well-based...). Noted, that the investor you will find (here’s hoping) - is not the user either.

It's worthwhile to dedicate a paragraph to the male entrepreneurs' girlfriend as well. Often I have encountered a founder who is having a difficult time giving his view on the graphic design because “it’s not his thing”. Usually these guys' solution is to ask for a female figure’s opinion: a girlfriend, sister, niece or passing employee. Such feedback usually comes in the form of “I like it better in purple”. As interesting as this is, such a feedback does not contribute much to the product if it does not reflect the actual real users’ point of view.

4. Know thy USER

Get out of the office and meet your USERS (preferably in their environment). Try to understand what characterizes them: age, education, position, personal preferences. Figure out in what environment they operate and what motivates them. How is the problem that you want to solve related to them? How significant is it for them?

Try to identify what distinguishes your business in your users’ eyes, as opposed to the other competitors in the market.

5. The two worst questions to ask users: “WOULD YOU BUY THIS” and “HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY FOR THIS?”

We need to be cautious when interviewing potential users. Many times, they will try to cooperate with you and assist you, but provide you with answers that don’t really reflect their actual conduct. Therefore, there isn’t much of a point in asking users to forecast future behavior, for example, concerning the purchase or use of a product they just recently heard of. Basically, you are asking if they liked your baby or not, before they even met him. “How much are you willing to pay for it?” forces them to come up with a number that won’t fly in reality.

It's best to listen to their story and avoid "leading the witness" to the answers you expect to hear. Try watching them in action and only afterwards ask them about the actions they conducted. Ask follow-up questions in order to understand what motivates your users.

6. Prioritize your users

It sounds simple but in reality it’s quite complicated. When you prioritize you find out that different people in your start-up direct their focus at different users and have different directions for the start-up itself. Many startups try to avoid this conflict by not prioritizing their users. Bear in mind, without prioritization you may not have a clear path and you might waste too many important resources on your less important users.

7. Before moving forward, understand the full

There is a common mistake regarding the development of the MVP (Minimal Viable Product); startups develop only features that require the smallest development effort. This mistake leads many times to the development of features which are less important to users or which have already been developed by competitors.

Define your MVP not only by cost. Map out all of your users and all of the services or products that you wish to offer them.

 Mark out the users or capabilities which are critical for the company’s success and require validation/testing. Now is the time to add up all the costs and then to choose the critical features that require the least amount of effort.

8. You don’t need the most amount of features/capabilities

Many entrepreneurs have a need to provide their users with as many features, hoping that one of them will catch and blow the users away (and lead the entrepreneurs to success). This is a mistake that leads to a great loss of energy in development. Just as bad, the excess in features makes it hard for the users and may push them away from using the product.

9. MVP is not necessarily a running program

https://www.flickr.com/photos/psd/9626226855 - Credit to Paul Downey

Knowing your users and conducting market research will cost you less time than developing a product that does not solve any significant problem and doesn’t have enough demand. The graphic design or even the schematic design, before you even wrote a single line of code, can teach you a lot regarding the chance of success or failure, and the need to pivot.

10.  Plan 2-3 stages ahead (other than MVP)

This is not common, since startups usually focus on their current version. However, if you do a wireframe design of 2-3 versions ahead, it can clarify what your vision is and it can help you synchronize everyone in the company – the product; development and sales – into one coherent vision. In addition, it will allow you a better estimate of your features’ costs and effectiveness and choose a better MVP.

Last but not least, this will allow you to show your investors your long-term vision. Investors like knowing (and seeing) that you have a vision.

11.  You don’t need many users to begin with

Many early stage start-ups try to reach as many USERS, both in B2C and B2B, as possible. On one hand, it is indeed recommended to try and get to users in order to obtain substantial data, so that you can validate your basic assumptions concerning the product and prove that the product is of interest.

On the other hand, it is also important to reach the users who find the product to be one of a kind and of special value. Reaching many users does not necessarily guarantee success; the efforts to try and get as many users at such an early stage might waste energies and even potential clients. Google+ is a good example for this, as it reached 250 million users in just one year. Nevertheless, the product failed mainly because it did not have any significant differentiation from its biggest competitor, Facebook.

12.  Get Ready to Change Directions

Some would compare a startup to a flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii: most of the time the plane is not in the exact right direction and requires corrections to its path. There is a problem with this metaphor though, as throughout the flight of your startup various competitors would suddenly appear and basic assumptions that existed when you took off, will come out to be only partially true and often straight out wrong. Back to our flight from LA, you should be ready to land in Alaska.

The path to a successful landing goes through an ongoing validation of your assumptions  with your users and changing directions accordingly.

Have a great flight!

Shai Granot has been a UX Designer for more than 13 years, including as an independent freelancer for the past 9 years. He previously worked in a UX consultancy and in-house UX teams in a number of companies. Shai has a diverse clientele: from startups with an idea (and a spark in their eyes), to large and settled corporations. He loves to hear the story of a company and its users, and to tell that story through user interface.

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