IndustryWatching Your Customers is Brutal

Ryan Carson
writes on December 27, 2012

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I got a haircut recently and my barber asked what I do. I explained that I’m the Founder of Treehouse and that one of our goals is to take someone with no web development skills, get them job-ready, and then place them in a job.

I explained that once you work through the Become a Web Developer Learning Adventure, you will be ready for a Junior Web Developer role at $40,000 per year.

He is 47 years old and said that he was trying to switch careers to make more money and find a job that was easier on his back and shoulders. He was really interested in working through the Treehouse curriculum so that he might be able to get a job as a Web Developer.

I asked if I could meet him once a week in a coffee shop to see how he was doing and to get feedback on whether or not Treehouse was working for him.

Watching Over the Shoulder

I sat down with him at a coffee shop for our first session and I asked if I could watch him sign up for Treehouse and get started. I thought it would be a good chance to do Customer Development.

It was painful.

Problems with our on-boarding were immediately apparent. Our curriculum is very high quality and up-to-date, but it was obvious we were doing a terrible job of guiding our Students to the right courses.

This was a great reminder that we must make time to sit down with our customers and actually watch them use the product. No amount of wireframing or postulating about user experience wil ever replace in-person user testing.

We’ve prioritized fixing the on-boarding problem and it’ll get sorted out in a quick 2-week iteration by one of our Designers.

Getting out of the Building

This experience was a great reminder for me that one of the best things I can do as a Founder/CEO is leave the office and talk to potential customers. This is what Steve Blank calls Getting Out of the Building and it’s been a tremendously valuable practice for me and Treehouse. I was becoming disconnected with our Students and this meeting really woke me up.

What’s your Story?

Please share your experiences with watching your customers use your product and what you learned. Thanks!

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