If there’s one piece of advice for product managers early in the development of their product to follow, it is to spend more time validating their idea. There’s nothing better than riding the high of creating a product, but in our experience, you will end up with better product-market fit if you take time to focus on validation first. One of the easiest, cheapest, and often most effective ways to validate a product early on is through user interviews: interviews conducted with potential users from your target market so you can gain a better understanding of who they are, the problems they’re  aiming to solve, and how your product could solve those problems.

It’s never too early to get the ball rolling on user interviews, though we recommend you prepare a business model canvas to outline your assumptions about your product’s value proposition and potential market. The purpose of your user interview is to validate these assumptions through real-world conversations.


Who to interview

There are a couple of things to consider when selecting participants for your user interviews: first, make sure you’re interviewing potential users from your target market. You likely won’t get a whole lot of valuable feedback on your app for healthcare practitioners by interviewing your plumber. While diversity is important it is equally as important that your interviewees provide value.

Topics included in user interviews include:

  • a person’s background
  • occupation
  • use of technology (either at work or personally, whichever is relevant)
  • goals and motivation
  • pain points


Preparing for User Interviews

Preparing for user interviews is the first step in ensuring you gain the insight you need from the interviews. Come in with an idea of the bigger picture. What are you hoping your app or website will accomplish for your target market? User interviews are a great way to collect data that will help accept or reject any hypotheses you’ve developed.

To help achieve consistent results from your interviews, equip your moderator with a script. That said, it’s also important that the conversation doesn’t feel too scripted. Your interviewee should feel comfortable and the conversation should flow naturally. Remember, this is supposed to be a conversation between people working together to solve a problem, not an interrogation.

It is crucial to the integrity of your user interviews that your questions are not leading. Leading questions are questions that are framed in a way that leads the person answering to give a sought answer. For example, rather than asking “when would you find using my app most useful?” you could ask “would you find an app like that useful?” and then follow up with the question regarding when. Start by asking questions that can be answered with yes or no, then follow up for details. This way you’re never making assumptions and you’ll be more likely to get an honest response.


The Moderator

Keep in mind, the moderator can make or break a user interview. The moderator’s tone and pace should match that of the person being interviews. The moderator should remain neutral and non-leading, while also remaining interested and curious about the interviewees’ responses. Passion and enthusiasm are great, but only if it’s genuine.

While you can conduct user interviews on your own, there are pros to having someone conduct them for you. It’s not much of stretch to suggest a founder or product manager may feel as though they “know best” when it comes to their product, and it may be difficult to hear things that go against their preconceived ideas or beliefs. If the founder does conduct the interviews it’s important that stay open and curious. If the interviewee feels as though the person conducting the interview is taking criticism poorly, they may opt to tell them what they think they want to hear instead of what they truly believe. 


Conducting the Interview

There’s some debate about how much time you should spend conducting user interviews. While some suggest quick and easy 10 minute interviews, others prefer longer 30 to 45-minute interviews. Our advice? Do what feels right for your business. User interviews can be conducted by one or two people, a moderator and a notetaker. In situations where there’s just one person conducting the interview, it’s best to record the conversation and transcribe notes later. Nothing kills the flow of a good conversation faster than someone asking for a minute to write something down!

As the interview wraps up thank the participant, and be sure to give them a token of appreciation or compensate them for their time. A trial, discount, or free download or subscription of your product is also a great way to add value for many B2C products.

Are User Interviews Necessary?

We understand that running a right ship, especially pre-revenue, is extremely important. That said, we can’t recommend product validation practices like user interviews enough. If the product you’re solving is not a problem you have yourself, the insight and information you’ll gain will be invaluable. User interviews can shape you MVP and help you prioritize potential features. If your budget is a concern, consider them an investment in your idea rather than something holding you back; the path to a safer way forward.