You just launched your shiny new feature. You know the engineering is solid, the design looks polished, and it’s different than any competitors out there. A few people sign up, but it’s not the viral sensation for which you hoped. After launch is where the real work begins - it’s no longer an idea, it’s online and available for customers to review.
Amy Saper is no stranger to this type of problem. She has worked on iterating product features for Twitter, Uber, and now Stripe. In her interview with Moonlight, Amy shares her tactics for talking to users, digging into their needs, and figuring out how to prioritize next steps.
So, what is product marketing?
In Amy’s role at Stripe, she helps bridge the gap between internal teams and users to create a customer-centric thought process. While startups may not need a specialized product marketer at the early stages, there are some key takeaways that leaders can learn and implement in their day-to-day.
“I like to think of our work in three distinct areas. As a product marketer I help inform product development, own the launch strategy and messaging, and then I focus on adoption and engagement after launch.”
See the bottom of this post for Amy's product marketing guide!
Why talking to people matters more than engineering
In the early days of a startup, teams have to be selective with their resources. There’s no big team, not much money, and there might not even be a product. This early stage is when leaning on user feedback to make strategic decisions is most important.
“You don’t want to get into a situation where the engineering team is spending time and money building something that no one will use. Don’t just listen to me; it’s YC’s mantra - make something people want."
In 2013, Amy was responsible for launching Twitter’s business in the Middle East. She was spending time with technology leaders in places like Dubai and Cairo. When she met with potential users in Dubai, they asked for access to a specific advertising product that was not yet available in the UAE. Amy took the feedback to her team in San Francisco, and they prioritized launching the product in Dubai.
The new feature was a flop. Companies had asked for it because they saw US-based companies they admired taking advantage of it. But it turned out they didn’t have a clear use case for the feature. While the product team understood the engineering needs, they didn’t dig deep enough into underlying user needs in a new market. It’s important to pressure test the product feedback and requests you receive from your users to ensure you’re making the right engineering and product tradeoffs.
“Every corner of the world has a different set of cultural norms, which affect not only how technology users interact with products and features, but also how different professions are viewed. For example, when I lived in Asia, there was a widespread aversion to professional risk that didn’t really exist in Silicon Valley. Even working at Google was seen as a risk to some families, much less starting a company! With the context gained from living and working abroad, I really internalized that companies can’t just take something that works in Silicon Valley and expect it to work in a completely different culture.”
Having empathy for users goes more in-depth than putting engineering resources behind a problem and duplicating product experiences. Startups need to understand how to solve the right user need instead of just building a new feature.
Make something and see what happens
Once you have access to users, a whole new world opens up. You can tap into them whenever you’re looking for direction or ideas. When Twitter was a smaller startup, Amy created the groundwork for a significant product innovation during an internal hack week. This project took minimal engineering time and resources, but ultimately drove a significant portion of revenue for the company.
“After speaking with mobile app developers for months about their product needs, I developed a clear understanding of the product they needed in order to drive mobile app downloads on Twitter. Based on this information, I led a Hack Week team that laid the groundwork for Twitter's Mobile App Install product. We created a prototype in a week, got it out into the world, and had enough user feedback to launch the first version of the feature within several weeks.”
This type of quick iteration is a well-tested process in the tech world. Google Venture’s book Sprint goes into detail on how small teams can do research, prioritize needs, launch a prototype, and get valuable user feedback within five days.
Why do all this work just to verify an idea? It's because you need to figure out if people want what you’re building. It takes far less time to create a low-tech or prototyped solution than to spend months of time and money building out an idea that no one will use.
Start talking to users, right now
It can be scary to reach out to users. Ideas often sound great when you’re working with your team in a theoretical world. But products are not validated until you talk with real customers.
“My first job in tech was at a mobile gaming startup called Tapulous. I first learned about user research at Tapulous by hanging out in the game chat rooms and asking users what they wanted to see from us. Among other things, this led me to start an avatar store, where gamers could purchase clothing and accessories for their avatar. I wasn’t a gamer myself, so this type of hands-on feedback from our most engaged users was incredibly valuable.”
The tactics: Get the right kind of user feedback today
Amy has spent almost a decade understanding users and making strategic decisions based on the results. Here are her favorite tactics to get the right kind of feedback:
Make it easy to do user testing: The whole team should be talking to users at the early stage of a startup. To make it manageable, set clear and actionable goals. For a founder, it could be getting five users on the phone each week. For an engineer, it could be working the support channel for an hour each week.
Ask repetitive questions: Create an interview script and ask the same set of questions repeatedly. It’s easier to find themes by collecting structured data. An easy way to notice patterns is to schedule an entire day of interviews so that it's easier to identify trends in user feedback. Make sure to take notes and present it in a format that anyone on the team can easily refer to.
User test your roadmap: Users should be the final decider on whether new features go into development before any code is written. Do a feature roadshow a few times a year where you tell users or prospects the product plans, and find out if it’s something they would use. A great question to ask is “what does this feature need to include for you to use it?”
“I don’t think having a product marketing person is important for most early stage startups. But the tenets of understanding your user, thinking about messaging, understanding how your product is perceived in the world - those are really important ways to make good decisions.”
Turning feedback into actionable results
Once you understand users, it’s time to take action. Even with the right process in place, each person on the team brings a unique perspective. Managing these different viewpoints is where structured feedback comes in handy.
During a planning session, take all the feedback you’ve collected and look for patterns. Surface themes that come up frequently in conversations with customers. It’s important to notice the frequency that you get a user suggestion, and how strongly a person cares about that topic. You might hear lots of people asking for the same feature, but it doesn’t matter unless they care.
Once the trends are clear, it’s time for one team member to guide directionality based on business implications. This person can help identify topics and decide what the most significant priorities are.
“Prioritization comes down to data, user research, and gut instinct. It’s rare that features are easy to build, frequently requested by users, and directly tied to your biggest priorities. Don't blindly build what your users ask for, but I’ve found user feedback to be an enormously helpful input in a road mapping and launch process.”
Your guide to Amy's product marketing pillars
Pillar 1: Informing Product Development
- User Interviews
- Customer research ("voice of the customer")
- Market and competitive analysis
- Beta testing
- Surfacing product gaps
- Providing Input in product roadmap
Pillar 2: Launch
- Positioning and messaging by product area
- Creating Sales collateral
- GTM leadership and planning (aligning working teams)
- Beta feedback
- Doing Marketing beta testing
- Working on Pricing
- Creating Case studies
Pillar 3: Adoption & Engagement
- Goal-setting and metrics
- Core messaging
- Defining target audience and key value props
- Working with the broader team to run product adoption and awareness campaigns
- Events, conferences, speaking
- Thought leadership content by product area
Further reading: Amy’s three must-read product books
Amy leads Product Marketing for Stripe Connect. A Bay Area native, she has a BS and MBA from Stanford. Previously, she helped scale Twitter from a pre-revenue startup to a global public company, in roles ranging from developer partnerships to international expansion, based in San Francisco and Singapore. When she’s not helping marketplaces and platforms start and scale their businesses, you can find her traveling the world with her husband (she just visited her 50th country!) or walking all over San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter, @amy.