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Get to the HEART of the matter
Getting to PMF is difficult. But there’s a way to measure that process. Let’s walk through it today.
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The art and science of building a product
Every entrepreneur starts with a problem that goes: how do I fulfill the need of my customer? And that’s where the journey starts. The next step involves finding a solution and building a product on top of that solution. If the product can scale and positively change the lives of its customers with a large economic impact, that’s when you have a winner. But building the product is harder than it seems. The product should not only marry the best of business, marketing, and technology, but it also needs to help the customer reach the solution in the easiest and fastest way possible. Any glitch and the experience is ruined.
This experience is important. And founders allocate a lot of their capital to product managers to facilitate this very role. But in the early stages, it’s probably smarter for founders to be the product manager themselves. We’ve advocated that in the early stages of a company, founders should be the first salesperson, and now we’re saying they need to be the first product managers. No one knows the problem, the solution, and the product better than the founder.
We did a deep story on how you should plan your product journey. But what if the founder comes to a place where they know what they want to build and now they need to understand how they want to build it? To decode that, we spoke to Satyajeet Salgar. He’s the director of product management at YouTube. He’s been part of teams in Google Search in the past.
Here are excerpts of that conversation.
Where’s your HEART?
To put a finger on the pulse of user experience, you have to have a ‘HEART’. HEART is a simple metrics framework designed by Google, Satyajeet says. With a small set of user-centred metrics, founders can measure the user experience on a large scale. Those findings can help make decisions in the product development process. Here is how you break it down:
Happiness: “Measure people’s attitude or satisfaction with your product,” Satyajeet says. The easiest way is usually through surveys or interviews.
Engagement: This involves monitoring the level of a user’s interaction with the product—how frequently, how deeply, and how consistently they engage with it. That will vary from product to product, of course. A stargazing app would likely not have the same level of use as a social messaging app.
Adoption: You have to understand how users are coming in through the funnel. So measures like new sign-ups will count here.
Retention: Are customers returning for whatever amount of time your product needs them to? See if users are dropping off and what user experience may be causing that.
Task Success: Task success is about making users feel like they accomplished their goals. “Several years ago, we were working on making YouTube users go live faster. We calculated the number of clicks and minutes it takes for a person to start and get live. As those measures improved, they started getting more people through the funnel.”
Note: Not every metric applies to every product. “For instance, with consumer products, retention may usually be a good thing. For certain health products, repeated queries could be a bad sign,” says Satyajeet. “Have some idea of the value you are providing, whatever your product is. And choose the combination of metrics depending on the outcomes needed from your product.”
Have a hypothesis upfront, when you are building. Am I building for small customers or large customers? Depending on the target market, rebuild your segmentation.
It’s time to measure
How do you go about choosing measuring mechanisms? That depends. For metrics like happiness or task success, start with looking at your user base.
Is it still the early days? If your product has, say, 40 users, talk to them. Simple.
If the user base is large, surveys are going to be a better option for the job.
There can be exceptions, too. Sometimes, even when you have a bigger user base, it could make more sense to segment those users and talk directly to a few people in each segment. Here’s why. Satyajeet’s team did that while testing a change in a Google product, which already had tens of thousands of users. Because it was still at an early stage of development, interviews worked better than a survey.
If you feel like you understand what is happening with the product because you’re smart about sampling different kinds of customers, go in that direction. Do the work to arrive at that segmentation. “Have a hypothesis upfront, when you are building. Am I building for small customers or large customers? Depending on the target market, rebuild your segmentation,” Satyajeet says.
Here’s the kicker: Consulting companies may be the best and quickest at returning survey responses, but that feedback tends to be from larger sorts of users. If that is not the majority of your target market, to avoid a skew in sample size, you may have to have a representative sample of mid-size and small users to get data from.
For metrics like engagement, adoption, and retention, there are product analytics tools where the dashboard will give you the data you need.
At what moments are you going to seek out this data? Satyajeet has some notes of caution:
With a user base that is going from small to big, try to optimise for how often you can talk to people that are willing to talk to you. “At the points where you start seeing graphs that you cannot explain, you have to sort of say okay, let’s get some more data,” Satyajeet says.
Fair warning: Product management is a bit of art and science, as Satyajeet says. So find a balance. The surveys need to be user-friendly and not irritating. “Never hit the same person with a survey a bunch of times. If you are hitting your best customers with an annoying experience, that is a problem.” On all the products Satyajeet has surveyed for, they either showed the survey to a very small sample or put mechanisms in place so that a person would not see it more than two or three times.
There are practical considerations too. Your approach to evaluating user experience may also be constrained by how expensive it is to get metrics. Satyajeet says, depending on the product, it could be better to spend on product metrics first rather than survey metrics. Why? “Data on retention, usage could tell you that ‘hey, people are dropping off’, and if you are not able to explain why, then that can guide your interviews and surveys with users.”
Remember: All of these metrics work in combination. Always go by what suits your product best. “It’s rarely a linear progression,” he suggests.
Can we release it already?
So your product has won a certain amount of love. It can be tricky figuring out when to stop iterating and when to take your baby to market.
Until you get to that validation of PMF, you’ve got to iterate as fast as possible. Satyajeet reckons the faster you can get something out, the better. But be hypothesis-driven. “Know that in the next iteration, you want to prove that X will happen. The faster you get that out, the faster you fail and move to the next idea, the better.”
There’s a caveat, though. Avoid iterating for the sake of iterating. “Try to iterate product-market fit, and once you hit PMF, try to scale. Once you feel I have something super valuable that consumers like, and if it also applies to another customer, then get it to that market and then scale.” To sum up: If you have ideas, find ways to get to market as fast as possible, but acknowledge that once you have found PMF, there’s a cost to it.
But what does that mean exactly—this cost? A tight feedback loop can be counter-productive. “You’ve changed things and got a bunch of happy customers, but those customers could also complain happily if you change things again. So then you have to be a little more cautious and realise what you can iterate on vs. what you don’t,” Satyajeet advises.
In general, iteration is really good as long as you recognise the cost and you’re not breaking the main thing. Satyajeet offers the example of Google Search. “You might think it does not change much. It looks very static. But in any given year there are 3,000 experiments going on. People are iterating on the margins of the product all the time.”
What Together has been up to ✍🏽
It has been a bit of a busy month. Let’s run you through them.
Outbound sales stack: Our colleague Manav Shah continued on his journey to write about why teams struggle to run efficient outbound campaigns.
The SaaS OS of the world: Manav Garg, the OG Manav at Together, wrote a long form philosophical story on how India is evolving to be the home of SaaS. (Hat tip to the good folks at SaaSBOOMi)
Moving to the future: Our cohort from BuidlTogether is ready to take on the world. Subhendu introduced the world to 6 of the 12 companies who’ve made it through our bootcamp.
A little social media popcorn 🍿
An interesting way of looking at company building
An interesting snapshot of Figma’s journey
That’s it from us for the month. We’ve got an exciting guest lined up for next time. Until then, stay safe, and let’s build Together.