Are You Listening? Channeling Voices into Usable Intel

Gathering Intel

Hillary Sinclair has been a member of Founders Network since September 2018. She’s also been a prominent FN member in our San Francisco Chapter. To receive peer mentorship from Hillary and over 600 fellow Founders, please request an invite and join our global network.

As Founders, we often have loads of voices coming our way: investors, advisors, customers, users, and teammates.  We’re inundated with vast amounts of data from marketing statistics (website, social media, ads, etc.), sales funnels, revenue, various surveys, and more.  How do we cut through all the chatter to get actionable intel that helps shape the vision of our companies?

First things first: Create your core tenets about your value proposition, customers, users, pain-points, competitors, etc.  Have those ready, and be prepared to change as you learn. Get curious and start listening.

Gathering Intel in Person:

1. Go Snooping: Invest time watching users where they make decisions about your business model.  At Wheesearch Beauty, we watched makeup fans at stores like Sephora and Macy’s, seeing what they did and talking to them.  Conferences are also a treasure trove of information, not just the panels, but also networking and conversations.  Get testimonials, so have your phone camera ready!

2. Focus Groups: Create focus groups where your demo lives.  Some companies spend a mint on these, paying for recruiting, moderators, etc.  Our key demographic is college women, so we have had several focus groups at Menlo College; women wheeled in their makeup bags, played, shared and more.  For 2 hours, we paid them each $20 and fed them pizza. Sometimes they completely confirmed our direction, and other times we had to rework aspects so that we could improve.  Another founder pays a few users to come in every week for 2-3 hours and the whole team – especially the engineers – watch and listen.

Gathering Intel Online:

1. Marketing and Social Media: All the big channels – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and even Pinterest are a goldmine.  How do they speak? What gets the most chatter or engagement? We read thousands of reviews, watched hundreds of videos, and focused on what people loved or griped about, especially how they said it.  Contests can also help: in a recent contest, we asked one multiple-choice question that challenged our core thesis as part of their entry.  We had thousands of responses, affirming what we thought. Pick your top 20-50 social media channels and dig in regularly. Also, watch big brands, who are great to learn from with their massive teams & budgets.

2. Your Product: Is it set up for feedback?  Most importantly, is it easy?  Track each visitor, each search on your platform and regularly distill the information; also rework your profile questions. Mary Palmieri’s The Beauty Marketplace has “Tell Us Your Needs” front and center, with easy dropdowns.  At Wheesearch, we have an iconized slider and radial system that captures info at the same place where they get search results.  Users immediately see their Wheepinion added in a different color circle, reaffirming that their voice does indeed matter.

3. Ask Multiple Ways: At Wheesearch, we see differences between how users self-identify and what they want.  For example, in their profile, most users rated themselves low on Skin Sensitivity and Sensitivity to Smell.  However, searches revealed the opposite: the vast majority of users had sensitive skin and/or did not like makeup with strong fragrances.

Gathering Intel Offline:

1. Create a Core Advocate Group: Find people passionate about your world and bring them on board.  Pay them, give them sneak peeks, nurture the relationship, ask for feedback. Their loyalty and word of mouth will help you more than any marketing.

2. Teammates and Boosting Culture: Are you listening to great ideas internally? Every member of our team has made improvements to our platform.  By knowing their voice matters, teammates become more confident to share suggestions. Jeremy Sicklick of HouseCanary has a dedicated Slack channel so that teammates are thanking others throughout the day and highlighting what they are grateful for.  Using a service called Bonusly, each employee is also given $50/month to reward teammates at their discretion.

In Conclusion:

Every Founder has to define their own listening mix, tuning their ears, eyes, and systems to always being open to refining their core tenets.  By continually listening and refining, you continually shape your direction and regularly stress test it as your product and the market evolves.  You never know where the best and most helpful feedback might come from.

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