Asking the right questions

One of the things we’re doing with Bormal right now is trying to narrow down the problem or problems we’re trying to solve. We started out in the space of entertainment, and part of the effects of using Bormal is that it normalizes many experiences for us. We’re thinking of many directions to move Bormal, including the mental health space, the education space, and the social networking space.

One of the books I was suggested to read for this is called The Mom Test which talks about how startups should ask questions. It caught my attention because it talks about how when you talk with people about your idea, they’ll most likely tell you your idea is great, that of course they would use it, and they would tell their friends. This has definitely been my experience, and I’d like to move away from it. As a company, we’re not looking to be complimented, we’re looking to move towards solving the right problems.

The book talks about how many times, the reason you’ll end up with these responses is because people don’t want to hurt your feelings. I’ve found this to be generally true as well. I’ve always maintained that people are generally nice, and that’s one of the problems with asking questions about your product or product ideas, people are nice and don’t actually tell you what they really think. Sometimes people will tell you what they think with suggestions for how they can use your product, features they’d like to see, or other things like that. That’s when you should listen, because it’s during those times that they’re telling you what’s missing from what you have.

It’s important to be careful even when people are giving you so many suggestions on what they think you should do or add to your product. Most of the time, what you’re hearing is not about the problem they need solved, but rather about a perceived problem they want solved. In our case, we released an ask your own question feature that many users asked for, yet it’s not being used. I thought about this for a while, and perhaps the problem with this is that people don’t want to have to ask questions, they just want their questions answered and they want us to do the lifting of asking questions for them.

Through reading through The Mom Test, and talking with our advisors at Hyperspace Ventures, I learned that we’re going to have to ask better questions.

Here’s some of the questions we were asking before:

  • Do you like our site?
  • What features would you like to see?
  • Would you comment on questions?
  • Would you react to questions?
  • Have you told your friends about Bormal?

As you can see, these are all quite leading questions, and that’s a big no-no. That’s not the kind of questions we want to be asking to get useful user feedback. These are the kind of questions that get you compliments, which are not what we want.

Here’s some of the questions we will be asking now:

  • In your own words, what is Bormal?
  • What value does Bormal provide you?
  • What is the worst thing about Bormal?
  • How did you find out about Bormal?

As you can see, these questions are more open ended and less leading. As we start evolving Bormal more, we’re also going to start asking more and more questions about the actual problem space. The Mom Test provides some easy questions to get started with learning about the problem more. I think these questions are particularly valuable if you can synthesize them well and you’ve already identified a problem you’d like to solve.

  • Why do you bother with X?
  • What are the implications of X?
  • Talk me through the last time X came up
  • What else have you tried to deal with X?
  • How are you dealing with X now?

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve learned something useful from our mistakes so you can skip making those mistakes yourself!

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