One of the most important skills for creating a successful business is the capacity to listen to customers. More than just being a thermometer of success, users can clarify what is good or bad functionality and offer clear directions on how usability should be improved.

By interacting with a product, users offer valuable information about its interface. As a founder, it’s your duty to listen.

The need for user feedback isn’t limited to those who have established products in the market though. It’s natural to analyse the behaviour of hundreds of users that have been using your product for months, but it’s just as important for early-stage startups.

In this article, we want to talk about how you can get valuable user insights starting from the first sketch of your product. Before you write a single line of code, you can have a functioning prototype that will help you gather feedback even if you’re still in the early stages of your startup journey.

In this article, you will learn:

What is user testing and why it matters

When you hire a designer to create your interface, they will use best practices and their own experience to set up a hypothesis of what your customers might like. However, regardless of how experienced a designer is, they can never be 100% sure.

User testing is the act of putting your product in front of people and observing how they interact with it. Founders need to understand how users feel when they use their product and have the chance to improve functionality before pushing it into the market.

Even though it’s important for companies of all sizes, early-stage startups can especially benefit from it, guaranteeing that you are building something users want.

How to test your product idea early on and still get valuable feedback

Early-stage startups have one big downside when it comes to building prototypes: they cost money and time - two things they’re often short on.

A great alternative is to create a click dummy to test how your product works and what its main functions are. Click dummies are interactive mockups that you can easily create in tools like Figma, Invision or Framer. Most importantly, they are much more affordable and quicker than going through the process of coding a product from scratch.

Who should be testing your product

The ideal audience for your click dummy depends on the functionalities you are trying to test, but generally speaking, the first person to use your prototype will be yourself. Click around and see if you can catch small annoyances that you may not have noticed looking at static views. Congrats! You’re the first user of your new product.

The next stage is to test interaction and flows by passing your click dummy through the hands of everyone in your company.

If you’re testing the general concept of the product, it’s also important to get fresh eyes on your prototype. Can users quickly understand what’s going on and what they need to do while interacting with your interface?

If you already have High Expectation Customers, people who can understand and take clear advantage of your product, it’s really valuable to run your prototype through them too. Just make sure to do it after ironing out most of the creases with other testing groups.

How much user testing is enough

Actually, less than you might imagine. Repetitive feedback starts popping up quite early into the testing phase. Between 3 to 5 deep dives will already give you a good understanding of the users’ pain points, providing incredibly valuable feedback.

"Usability testing is never a waste of time, even if you think you know the answer. Besides gaining design insight, use it as an opportunity to bring team members and stakeholders along for the ride. Show, not just tell. In the process, you’ll garner more support. When in doubt, just do it — it can take less time to run a simple study than the hours consumed by having a full team meet endlessly to argue over something."

Hoa Loranger, VP at Nielsen Norman Group

How much user testing costs

Since there’s no coding involved, click dummies can be incredibly affordable. Even if you don’t have enough cash to invest in external user testing, running it by immediate stakeholders already brings insights that you would never be able to obtain with static sketches.

What you should be truly trying to avoid is building a product users don’t want to use and being forced to recreate an entire interface from scratch - possibly breaking your start-up before it has the chance to take off.

What comes after user testing

The most important step of user testing is to incorporate feedback and improve customer experience. If you have the time and resources, it’s really beneficial to run multiple sessions of user testing before you even start writing the first lines of code. Each time you do so will catch fewer and fewer problems - a sign that your product is as sharp as it can be before it enters the coding stage.

For early-stage startups, creating the habit of testing well and testing often is the key to shaping a product that users will find irresistible.

Debbie Corrano
Marketing Manager