I’ve been working on a startup that’s in its pre-alpha stages (completely self-funded), and taking cues from the Lean Startup movement conducting a continuous series of experiments in order to validate if we’re going in the right direction or if we need to pivot.  I can’t go into too much detail on what the service is yet, but at a broad level it’s a service to achieve a strong state of health.

In this series I’d like to share some of the experiences along the way.

Over the last few months we’ve been incorporating feedback from our very early pilot users, and we’re at a point where the software is baked enough that we need to start generating a tighter feedback loop in order to more wisely spend our valuable time.

We initially were experimenting with a paid service just to merely validate if people would sign up, and what they’d be willing to pay (which was understandably a big data point for the CFO). However in mind we have more fundamental questions to ask.

Is our business model right?

  • Our initial target market segment naturally lends itself to a supply of potential users that we have access to; we’re merely hooking on to the tale end of an existing use case in the health care industry.
  • However can we actually seamlessly integrate into it (from a process perspective)? How much high-touch involvement would be needed as part of the sales and customer on-boarding process, and are we providing enough value at the health care provider end in order to create a win-win solution for both them and their users/patients?
  • And if we did, how do we not only get users to sign-up, but remain long term engaged (i.e. active) users.

If the model is right, how do we make it work?

  •  If the model is wrong, then we need to pivot and begin testing/validating against other market segments and customer verticals that we have in mind.
  • However if the mode is right, then we just need to make it work, and that’s a question about creating enough value to the end user. Even if the service is free, there has to be enough value proposition that they’re willing to part with their time.

At the moment we have an early adopter health care provider who is willing to refer early adopter users which we’re hoping we can transform into an active focus group/steering committee/advisory team/etc… Whatever you want to call it, it’s another source of valuable perspective. Early adopters are good at this stage in the game as they  know what they’re getting into, have a high tolerance for software that isn’t fully baked, and most importantly are willing to provide a lot of feedback.

Get that feedback

It’s all about feedback at this point – we need to transform all our anecdotal evidence and theories into reality. So with this new round of pilot users, we need to go beyond surveys and have actual conversations with users in order to truly capture their perspective, feelings, and reactions.

Discussing value over functionality

What I was advising to the team executing this exercise is that we need to make it more than just about features/functionality, but rather about value and engagement. What are they looking for, are we delivering on it, and what’s missing/preventing them from being a long term active user.

Active vs. Passive users

I keep emphasizing the terms active and engaged, because I don’t want us to end up with a gym member customer base. Gyms thrive on having a large percentage of passive customers who pay for the membership, but don’t actually use it and at the same time don’t cancel because there’s always this procrastinated hope of using it one day.

We actually do believe in our mission of helping people live healthier lives.

Discussion points

So with that said, as we engage these early adopters/pilot users, although we’ll discuss specific functionality, more fundamental discussion points will include:

  • What motivates them to sign up?
    • E.g. curiosity, live longer, be healthy for the sake of one’s kids, etc…
  • Assessing commitment level towards one’s health.
    • E.g. how much time/effort, factoring in the real world (family, work), do they have?
  • Have they tried other services similar to this – what were the results, and if they failed, why?
  • What does a service of this nature need to deliver on in order to keep them as an active user?
    • What kind and how much value is needed to make it worth their while?
  • What are the concerns, expectations, skepticism about the service?
  • If they were to describe to others what service is, how would they describe it?
    • This is to compare what users perceive the service to be vs. what we’re trying to position it as.
  • What would be a fair price for this service?
  • What price would they be wiling to pay?
    • Which is different than the prior discussion point.
    • E.g. I think a fair price for a luxury cruise is $6000 for a family of 3; but I don’t like cruises, so the price would have to be significantly lower to attract me as a customer.
    • You might need to nudge for some honesty as people feel mean saying “I wouldn’t pay anything” even though that’s what they actually feel. But that is a very valid answer, so if they don’t feel it’s something they would pay for, would they be open to an ad-driven service, or a fremium pricing model?
  • What would be needed to make them a long term active user?
    • I think it’s important not to load the question by rattling off a bunch of features we have on our roadmap and backlog as people are likely to just say yes to every cool idea we have in store.

Touching base before they drop off

On-boarding users is one thing, but we know we have a ways to go with this product, so what’s likely to happen is that users will try it out for awhile and once the novelty wears off and reality sets in their usage will wane.

Fortunately we’ve made usage analytics a first class citizen and can easily detect when this is about to happen. This is a key event to intercept as we’ll want to find out the causes/motivators as to WHY their usage is dropping off.

  • Too time consuming to use?
  • Lack of a support system (e.g. you’re the only one in the family trying to be healthy while everyone else is eating pizza and cake).
  • Not real world enough?
  • Complexity?
  • Don’t really care?
  • Too busy/lack of time?
  • Usability/User Experience issues?
  • Lack of certain features/functionality?
  • Etc…


One Response to “Early stage pilot users – discussing value over functionality”

  1. Tariq Ahmed says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *