Getting to the Why: 5 Ways to Extract Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is a double edged sword. Startups need customer feedback to iterate, but making sense of the firehose of information can be overwhelming.

Startups cannot build their companies in a vacuum devoid of customer feedback.

Customer feedback comes from all over the web including Twitter, user forums, Facebook, and Yelp. How do you take this disparate set of comments and make sense of it?

Value vs. Solution Feedback

Let’s talk about two different types of customer feedback you’re startup should be looking for. You’re startup should be placing customer feedback into two buckets: value and solution. Let me explain.

Value feedback helps you understand if the problem you sought to solve is important. To build a successful startup, you must solve a problem that makes your customer open up their wallet and give you money. This type of feedback sounds like:

“I don’t have a need for your product right now.”

“I like your product, but I can’t justify the cost.”

“Your product isn’t the right fit for my needs.”

Solution feedback helps you understand if you’ve adequately solved the problem. This is just as important to your startup’s success. You need to be sure that you’ve solved the problem you claim to solve. This type of feedback sounds like:

“Your product is missing [feature]”

“I need to be able to [end user goal]”

“How do I [end user goal]”

You’ll need to account for both types of customer feedback when trying to learn from your customers. Let’s look at different ways to collect customer feedback.

1. Using surveys for customer feedback

Surveys are the go-to market research solution. They can provide both qualitative and quantitative research insights. If you already have customers, a survey is a great way to gain both value and solution feedback.

Assembling a survey has never been easier. Survey Monkey, Typeform, and Google Forms all allow you to create a customer feedback survey in minutes at little to no cost.

Keep your surveys simple

Use very simple surveys. Long surveys will create abandonment and you won’t gain the insights you’re looking for.

Keep your survey to no more than 10 questions including demographic questions. If your survey is anonymous, demographic questions will help to know a little more about the customer without knowing their name.

Don’t ask leading questions

Leading questions will bias your survey results. Don’t do it.

Bad survey question: Many customers make software purchasing decisions based on price. What influenced your decision to purchase [product]?

Good survey question: What factors did you evaluate when deciding to purchase [product]?

Use open-ended questions to start

Open-ended questions are a good place to start when writing your first survey. Open-ended questions allow respondents to type their own response instead of forcing options on them.

2. Using Net Promoter Score for continual feedback

Many software product companies use the Net Promoter Score as a metric for customer loyalty. The premise is a simple survey that asks 2 simple questions:

  1. How likely are you to recommend [brand, company, or product] to your friends and colleagues? (0-10 rating)
  2. Why?

Responses of 0-6 are your detractors,  7-8 are your passives, and 9-10 are your promoters. By subtracting the percentage of promoters from your detractors, you form your NPS score.

Image Source: Medallia

The theory is that a higher NPS score correlates to higher customer loyalty. The score’s effectiveness is debated. What I like about NPS surveys is actually the second question.

Read every survey response. When your customers respond to an NPS survey, they’ve taken the time to tell you why they either love or hate your product.

When you read through the survey responses, you’ll begin to see patterns. Hone in on those patterns and use one of the other methods in this article to learn more.

Delighted is a new tool that will help get you setup and tracking NPS in very little time.

3. Use customer interviews to gather feedback

Customer interviews are one of my favorite ways to gather customer feedback. You can gather both value and solution feedback in every interview.

You can conduct customer interviews in person or remotely. I’m particularly fond of in-person interviews because you will be able to understand the customer’s environment along with your feedback.

Learn about them as a person

Take the opportunity to have a natural conversation with your customer. Don’t make the session feel like a research study.

Speak naturally and observe how they respond. Try to understand them as a person.

Ask about their usage of your product

You’re there to learn about your product, so ask questions about how they use your product.

What does [product] do well?

What doesn’t [product] do well?

What frustrates you most about [product]?

Understand why they were looking for your product

Ask questions that give you insights on why they purchased your product in the first place. Try to understand what motivated them to purchase your product.

4. Exercises and games can help discover unmet needs

Innovation Games are an excellent way to discover unmet needs with your customers. There are a variety of options that you can use to gather all types of customer feedback. I’m particularly fond of a game called Speedboat.

Speedboat helps you to understand what your customers do and don’t like about your product.

The game uses a simple metaphor to tease out product deficiencies. The boat symbolizes your product. Game participants add anchors to the boat that symbolize the things that slow down the boat.


Here’s an example of the low effort required to play Speedboat. All you need is a boat and some sticky notes.

As participants play the game, they’ll begin to group similar anchors together.

5. Usability testing will extract solution feedback

Conducting regular usability tests will help you gain solution feedback from your customers. The barrier to usability testing is remarkably low.

The goal of user testing is to understand how your particular solution works. The great part about user testing is that you don’t necessarily need to use current customers to get solution feedback. is an excellent resource for conducting rapid usability tests at a low cost.


Harnessing customer feedback will transform your business

Using all five of these methods will help you turn customer feedback into actionable steps to improving your business.

The collection of your customer feedback may be overwhelming. Break down your feedback into value feedback and solution feedback and look for patterns.

Patterns will help you form hypotheses for your next great product feature or idea.



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Introducing The Startup Product Manager

Dear startup founders,

Today’s the day. I’m launching my first service offering just for you. You’ve launched your first rev of your product, you’re growing your company, but you find yourself stuck between closing early sales and shipping product. You really need a product manager, but you don’t have the time to recruit or the budget to hire the right person.

I’m here to help.

You see, I’m a startup veteran with five years of experience leading product for web and mobile products. I managed product at Central Desktop through an acquisition.

After a few months of searching for my next adventure, nothing seemed right. My passion is helping startups continue to ship incredible products.

So today I’m launching an offering for early stage startups that need the help of a professional product manager.

For just $1500 per month (and no equity!), I’ll be your trusted product advisor to help you carry your product’s vision forward so you can focus on turning your idea into a company.

Here’s how it works:

Monthly check-ins

Each month we’ll have a check-in call via Skype or Google Hangouts. We’ll review key metrics, customer feedback, development timelines, and competitors.

Throughout the month, we’ll be in contact via email and using a web-based collaboration tool.

Idea Validation

I’ll help you validate new product ideas. Send me the napkin sketch from the bar and I’ll break it down and evaluate the idea. I’ll talk to some of your customers (or target customers) and see if the idea has legs.

Product Strategy

We’ll work together on formulating a killer product vision, strategy, and roadmap. Your startup’s growth will hinge on building the right products for the right market. Let’s not waste time and money building the wrong things.

Wireframing & User Stories

Let’s face it, sometimes the most mundane tasks need to get done. I’ll break down your ideas into wireframes and user stories for your development team.

Sound like a good plan?

Great, let’s get started now.

Still in doubt? No problem. There’s a 100% money-back guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied by the work I provide in the first month, I’ll provide a full refund.

Got questions? Send me an email.



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How to eliminate risk from your startup idea

Whether you are new to startups or a startup veteran, you will face the fear of building something that nobody cares about. Startup founders (myself included) build before validating ideas. This guide is not intended to replace the fantastic work of Steve Blank, Marty Cagan, or Eric Reiss. They have all spent many years doing research and failing to bring us these concepts. If you are a startup founder and haven’t read their books, you need to.

So you have an idea that you want to develop. You’re excited and you want to just start building. If you are anything like me, you love to get to the building. You want to get your hands dirty in Sketch, spin up your Heroku dynos, and in ten minutes you write your first line of code.

Slow down turbo.


How do you know if your idea is worth building? How do you know if a market exists? You don’t need an MBA for this, I promise. Take a pause and follow these few steps to eliminate the risk from your idea.

  1. If you’re looking to raise VC to fund your startup, this process will show potential investors that you know what you’re talking about. VC pitches are full of market stats, industry trends, and sales pitches about the next great idea. Imagine if you showed up and pitched a VC saying.

    “I’m building [your idea], I have iterated the idea 10 times while talking with 10 target customers and all 15 customers are begging me to build this product. Oh, and here’s some market stats and trends.”

  2. If you are self-funding your startup, this process will help to eliminate the risk of wasting money.
  3. If your goal is residual personal income, this process will give you a jump start on finding your first customers.

The process for eliminating startup risk is a pretty simple concept. The hard part is suspending your biases listening.

Eliminating Risk


1. Identify the target customer.

You’ll need to take your idea and figure out who will use it. This isn’t just an exercise to write down a user persona. This is an exercise in understanding people.

Who, in your network, would you identify as the first customer of your product? Go talk to them.

Ask questions and listen. Try to understand them. Understand their daily work, their environment, and their life.

If it doesn’t come up in natural conversation, ask about the problem your idea is trying to solve. For example, if you are building the Uber for car washing you might ask questions like:

  • How often do you wash your car?
  • Do you use car washes?
  • What is the best car wash experience you’ve had?
  • Do you have a go-to car wash?

Listen to their answers. Suspend your own personal understanding of the problem. It is easy to hear what you want to hear to validate your own understanding. Listen with intention for things you don’t already know or haven’t thought of.

Do this same process 10 times with people in your network and you’ll form a strong understanding of your customer.

2. Iterate your idea.

Your original idea most likely was wrong, so you’ll want to iterate the idea. The key in this step is to iterate your idea, not the exact solution. You are trying to learn and craft your value proposition in this step.

From those 10 conversations you had with potential customers, you’ll likely have picked up on patterns. Adjust your idea to fit the new knowledge about your target customer.

Go back to those 10 people with an offering and see how they respond. Present them with a primary value proposition. For example…

“What if you had an app to order up a carwash while you work?”

Sit in the silence as you let them respond. You’ll be able to gauge their excitement by body language and initial response. You’re looking for enthusiasm and excitement. The best scenario is that you don’t get enthusiasm on the first attempt because this allows you to ask questions and refine the idea.

If you do this step well, you’ll end up with 10 potential customers that are ready and waiting for your product to come to life. In the most ideal scenario, these 10 customers will be your first evangelists to help you kickstart your marketing efforts.

3. Iterate your prototype.

Now that you’ve got an idea that’s worth solving, now you get to start building something. Eliminating risk is all about validating your assumptions as early as possible. You’ve eliminated the risk that customers don’t exist, you’ve eliminated the risk that customers don’t care, now we’ve got to eliminate the risk that the problem can’t be solved.

Start to build some prototypes of your idea. Start with rough sketches and outlines and talk to your customers. See if the concept makes sense.

Once you’ve got a concept that seems to work, start increasing the fidelity of your prototype. Start doing usability tests and make sure your solution meets the users’ expectations.


The Lean Startup Machine has created an awesome framework for this process. It’s called the Validation Board and it organizes your validation into steps and iterations.

If you do this 3 step process, you’ll cut as much risk as possible to ensure your startups success. If you take one thing away from this article, It’s that you need to talk to real customers early and often. So many startups fail because they assume that they are the experts.

Now go talk to some customers and iterate.

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The journey towards independence

Several months ago I wrote about breaking the fear cycle. Today I bring you the results of what’s possible when you break through the negative thought cycle of fear.

Let me be clear, I am not free of fear and doubt. I am trudging through the muddy waters with the best boots I own. I am beginning the journey towards independence.

For the last ten years I have built my career in technology through hard work and continual learning. I have always held the belief that success was the byproduct of kindness, constant learning, and most of all hard work. Measuring by the job requirements, I was not nearly qualified for any job that I have ever taken. I was, however, qualified in my capability and desire to learn.

Constant learning is the key to growth. Over the last thirty days, I challenged myself to learn some new skills by launching my own web-based product. Over my career as a product manager, I have launched many products and features. The process of delivering a product is not new to me.

The Personal Challenge

This is different. It’s my own product. I designed, developed, tested, and funded the entire thing. My goal was to design, build, and launch my product in less than 30 days and for less than $500 investment. This required me to learn skills far outside my current qualifications.

Why did I want to do this? To start my journey towards independence. When I started working in venture-backed startup world, I saw a huge opportunity to use technology to change the world while banking on major financial equity events. I saw a path where my entrepreneurial mind could be both analytical and creative.

What I have learned in my short-ish time in these startups is that all of these things are possible. One can, in fact, change the world through innovation while working towards a major windfall. What I didn’t anticipate was the fact that this is rare. Often the focus is less on changing the world and more on the major windfall.

The problem I have with this line of thinking is that both the opportunity for windfalls and the windfall itself are fleeting. I am more interested in providing a meaningful service to the world, being deeply engaged with my family, and making a significant impact in my local community.

Venture backed startups generally start out with a huge vision and idealism. Somewhere along the way that vision and idealism becomes confused by conversions rates, revenue, and strategy.

I am starting this journey to explore building a small business by solving problems with small sustainable products. A small business that eventually supports my family by providing solutions to every day problems.

Launching Libdox

Over the last 30 days, I have been building a brand new product called Libdox. Libdox is a personal document storage service. I want to liberate your documents from the filing cabinet.

I have never enjoyed keeping paper documents. It always feels inefficient to store a document in a filing cabinet where I most likely won’t be able to find it when I need it. Usually I just throw them away, but in some cases I stored copies in Dropbox or Google Drive. Even when I put them in Dropbox or Google Drive, I could never find them.

I built Libdox to solve this problem. An incredibly simple service to scan or take a picture of your important documents and directly upload them to be indexed and stored securely and permanently. There is no sharing, no public access, just a secure repository for tax receipts, warranties, pay stubs, and any other important document you need to keep.

For this, I’ll be charging $9/month and your first 15 days are free. [button href=””]Try Libdox Now[/button]

Building Libdox

If you remember, my goal was to launch within 30 days and for less than $500. I’m happy to say that I launched the product with a few test users last week on day 27 of the project with a total investment of $419.

Along the way, I hired a developer to help me build parts of the application that I was unfamiliar with. This was my largest expense.

For those that are interested, Libdox is built using Ruby on Rails, deployed using Heroku, Amazon S3 for storage, and Stripe for payment processing.

Through the course of the project, I learned how to build a Ruby on Rails application from beginning to end. I started this journey by taking a course with One Month Rails.

I’ll continue to document this journey as I continue to improve, grow, and learn. For now, I’d love it if you gave Libdox a try!

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Four Ways I Broke the Fear Cycle

Fear is a funny thing. It has a way of convincing you of all sorts of inaccuracies about who you are, what you are good at, and what you’re not good at. Fear running rampant and unnoticed for too long will push you into the dark corner of routine and complacency. Fear will silence your inner voice.

For months I have wanted to begin writing, but I couldn’t decide on a topic to focus on. I sat around trying to decide if I should go for the personal journey or business and product strategy route. I overanalyzed topic ideas and tried to rationalize in my head how each topic wouldn’t appeal to a large enough audience.

I let fear stop me in my tracks. Instead of starting, I let the negative dialog of fear convince me that every idea was bad.

I was afraid that people would read what I wrote and think I had no idea what I was talking about. I had convinced myself that I didn’t have a unique voice to stand out. I let fear tell me that my voice was insignificant.

This fear paralyzed me for an entire year. An entire year.

A year ago I set a goal to build my way out of being employed. I was going to start my own business to build my way out of the never-ending ladder of success. I wanted to build a different kind of success – one that provides for my family without the sacrifices of the nine to five.

This remains my goal and the reason I am beginning to write here. I’m taking the first small steps towards that goal. I know that I’ll mess it all up and get it all wrong, but I know those failures are notches on the belt to success.

Here are the four ways I forced my way out of the fear-cycle.

  1. I made time to listen to my inner self. I found one hour a week where I went by myself to a busy Starbucks. I grabbed some coffee, set my phone down, and sat quietly. Sometimes I read a book, sometimes I just sat there quietly staring at the blue sky.
  2. I forced myself to be more thankful. While I sat there quietly, I reflected on the many things I am thankful for. Some days I wrote them down, other days I just reflected.
  3. I worked to identify triggers. When I felt myself in the fear-cycle, I would take a step back and try to identify the source of the fear.
  4. I changed my surroundings. I had to kick myself into gear with new scenery. The same daily routine was the perfect feeding ground for the fear and complacency to grow.
Don’t let fear silence you. You are unique and have inherent value as a human being. Be bold, speak up, and offer yourself to the world.


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