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How Basecamp “interrogate” their customers to build a world-class product using the jobs-to-be-done framework

Ryan Singer | Head of Strategy

  • | Customer Success | Product Strategy | Psychology | Retention | UX Design
  • October 2019
  • EP30

"Interrogate" your customers

Learn how Basecamp talk to customers to level up their product

Today on Churn.fm, we have Ryan Singer, Head of Product Strategy at Basecamp and the author of Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters.

In this episode, we talked about how Basecamp utilized the Jobs-to-be-done framework to gather customer feedback, framing it from a supply and demand angle, and how it helped Basecamp’s product team deciding on which problem to solve.

We also discussed how Ryan goes about finding the right customers to interviews, his interviewing methods, or in his own words, closer to “interrogation,” and why jobs-to-be-done interviews should never be about your product.

Ryan also explained why the cost of running a business is parallel to customer happiness, and shared his number one advice for anyone who wants to build a product today.

As usual, I’m excited to hear what you think of this episode, and if you have any feedback, I would love to hear from you. You can email me directly on Andrew@churn.fm. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

Mentioned Resources

Highlights

Time

Finding out what customers really want by using the Jobs-to-be-done framework 00:04:01
Seeing customer’s feedback as “supply and demand”, and honing on the precise problem to solve 00:05:00
Ryan’s mindset when it comes to prioritizing the “jobs” gathered from Jobs-to-be-done interviews 00:05:12
The targeting process Ryan used to recruit Jobs-to-be-done interviewee 00:10:00
How a product success team handles different feedback from various buyer personas 00:13:37
Ryan’s go-to method when “interrogating” customers for feedback 00:15:00
Using an analogy of “buying a car” to elaborate a buyer’s journey and analyzing the customer interview 00:16:19
How Ryan constantly monitors customer happiness to prevent churn. 00:18:04
Why the cost of running a business is parallel to customer happiness 00:20:07
Ryan’s #1 advice to someone who wants to build a product. 00:24:01

 

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Ryan Singer

Head of Strategy

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About the podcast

My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.

In the real world tackling churn and increasing retention is one of the hardest problems a subscription business faces.

In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.

Transcription

Andrew Michael
Hey, Ryan, welcome to the show.

Ryan Singer
Hey there. Nice to be here.

Andrew Michael
It’s fantastic to have you. For the listeners. I think again, Ryan’s one of those people that needs no introduction. But Ryan is currently head of product strategy at base camp is also the recent author of the book shape up, stop running in circles and ship work that matters. Base Camp itself is a project management team communication software used by over 3 million accounts, runners worked on all levels of the software stack from UI design to back in programming and strategy. Over 16 years of base camp is also designed features used by millions and invented processes that teams use to design develop and ship the right things. It’s currently focused on understanding what the customers are trying to do, and how to make the product fit them better. So my first question for you, Ryan, is how, like, what is the very first place you start when trying to figure out what your customers are trying to do?

Ryan Singer
We actually look at ourselves, we from the very beginning, we built base camp for ourselves, because the thing that we wanted just didn’t exist on the market. And that’s actually still true today. So the core of base camp is still driven by our understanding our attempts to sort of understand the problem that the problems that we have in the problems that come up for us. And fortunately, you know, we’ve we have no shortage of problems. Because we’ve we’ve grown and and also the sort of software ecosystem around us has changed. So you know, the, the first web version that we built for, for a team of three or four of us back in 2003 2004, is different than than the software that we use now with a team of over 50, and, you know, web version, and iPhone and Android versions, and all kinds of things. So actually, we’re primarily driven from that, then, of course, you can get a little bit off track from time to time in terms of, you know, we we actually had a very, very tight, clear, obvious sort of definition of the market, when we first started, because we were selling to firms who were exactly in our situation, we were a web design firm, and we were building this software to manage our back and forth with our clients. Just the painful sort of, you know, game of telephone, where the client gives the feedback to one person who’s a different person than the one who’s actually doing the design work. And then then you have to do the work and show it and then kind of get all the feedback in the same place. Again, it was too easy for things to slip through the cracks. So we built this as this kind of centralized place where all of this conversation about the work was going to happen. And everyone would see the same thing, everyone would be in the loop and and nothing would, nothing would fall through. And for a while, this was a very kind of simple, easy to understand universe that we lived in, because like I said, all of the other client, other people who are using base camp are just like us, of course, a few years went by, and then maybe I you know, it was around 20 1020 12, we started to talk to customers. And we started hearing that they were in all kinds of different industries, you know, it had grown kind of beyond that foothold. We were hearing from, from churches, from architects, from lawyers, from all kinds of different firms and all kinds of people in different types of industries that we didn’t understand. So we did kind of reach a point then where I felt in the dark, you know, I didn’t know kind of where to make an improvement or how to make an improvement because there were things that we wanted. But now we had so many customers in different types of industries that, that it wasn’t obvious if we made a change for us that it was also going to be good for them. You know. So that was actually where I reached for a tool called job to be done interviews that I learned from Bob master. And basically, the technique is to to interview, it’s kind of a friendly interrogation. Actually, there’s there’s no script, and the whole question as you’re trying to get at the chain of cause and effect that led up to the purchase. So it’s not, you know, what do you want out of out of a product? What do you wish for? What do you hope for? It’s none of that. It’s all What happened? What did you go through? What When did you first have the thought that what you were doing wasn’t working. And, and and where were you struggling and what was going wrong. And by figuring out kind of what, where people were struggling and, and and why they started to look for something different than what they were using before. And then how they eventually made trade offs and chose base camp taught us a lot actually about but what base camp is good for, and why all these different firms are using it. And so actually doing a period of that research was for me, hugely helpful, it was a little bit like I was in the dark, and then they put on some night vision goggles, you know, and then I could look around and, and and see what the dynamics were and what was working and what wasn’t. So that that that helps to kind of clarify my vision of, of what was important and what wasn’t. And but at the same time, you know, there’s no formula for this. So

you do your best to get a clear understanding of the demand side. And here the demand side, when I when I refer to that it’s in contrast to the supply side. So usually, we’re always defining what we’re doing in terms of supply, you know, what can I build? What can I make, what the what is the feature going to be? And even when customers come to us with requests, trying to tell us what they think that they want, they express that in supply side language, you know, so the customer will say, can you please add a button for this? Or can you please give me as a way to sort like this? Or or can you please build a calendar view like this. And those are all solutions. It’s all supply side language. And so the work there is to backtrack it into the demand side. And the demand side is isn’t about a particular solution. It’s actually all this stuff, the context around the problem. So what was going wrong? What were they trying to do? What else did they try? Why? Why did it matter? Then? Why did they live with it for so long before then? And why was that the moment to try and make a change? You know, all of that contextual stuff is is what we’re trying to understand in order to then make some kind of a judgment of fitness between some idea we have for what we should build next and our best understanding of what is actually important to customers.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, I think that’s it reminds me of like that quote with Henry Ford, when he says like, if they asked him what they want, they would say faster horses. But I think that quotes is really often abused and misused. And it’s really sort of comes down to like really trying to understand what your customers are asking for. So like you say, I like how you phrase it from the the supply and demand side of things. It’s not really just about the end result, the features are what actually looking for, but what they’re trying to get done, and what are the problems they’re trying to solve? Yeah,

Ryan Singer
the customers, they don’t have to make trade offs when they ask for something. You know, if the customer says, Hey, can you please build a calendar into base camp? They don’t have to make the trade offs of how much time is that going to take? And what else are we going to stop doing in order to work on that? And what does that even mean? Where does it end? You know, we have limited time, we can’t just build a calendar forever. And a calendar alone could be an entire business, right? This whole company could just be making count and just be making a better calendar every day, all day for the next few years. Right? There’s so many aspects to it that what are they interaction design for dragging an event between different cells on a on a day view versus a week view versus a month view? Or how do you align people’s schedules? And how do you do the different types of notifications to ask for permission to to add something to a calendar or to see if there’s availability? I mean, it is a huge part, right? And and if we if we want to look at that and say, okay, maybe we have an appetite to spend, at most, maybe six weeks on improving the calendar based on what we know about what our customers are trying to do, what percentage of them we believe this is going to be helpful for and all the different technical issues involved, then then what we’re in a position where we want to understand the specific, specific situation that drove the customer to ask for a calendar so that what we’re building is much, much less than a calendar, or it’s a 10th of a calendar. But the whole question is which which 10th? He’s know, which which aspects of calendaring, what did they need and what was driving that request. So if we dig back to the demand side, we can get a definition of that problem that says are, this is more about seeing free space for a shared resource at a scale that’s, that’s, that’s larger than that that’s, that’s at the day or larger. versus this is about scheduling meetings and packing in playing calendar, Tetris with, you know, 30 minutes at a time on a day view, it’s a very different thing.

Andrew Michael
Absolutely. It’s almost like, wanting to know how deep the rabbit hole is, and then how many people that can actually house at the same time. So like, not going down endless routes and product development cycles for a simple feature that potentially would solve the same problem. But the next thing is, what was interesting is that you mentioned that the being you started out and I always loved the base camp story is that you’re building a product was specifically for you, you understood the problem extremely well. And I think often like this is where the premise starts, is people come up, trying to solve a problem of their own. And in the beginning, there’s quite strong demand. And as they start to grow, they start to open up to new markets and to new audiences. And then, as you very well put it, this sort of you felt like you in the dark and building a product as well, like, when you were four people made sense, you believe in the context. And but then looking at the problems you have today, at 50 people, those are vastly different problems to be solved. So how do you like, understand? And how do you prioritize the market that you’re building for as you start to expand out and not get lost in sort of too many different directions and have a bit more clarity? So you talked a little bit about jobs to be done? But then in the context of jobs to be done? How do you sort of prioritize the actual audience and knowing which jobs from this audience you want to be going after?

Ryan Singer
Well, I don’t think there’s any type of an algorithmic answer to that, really, I feel extremely lucky that I work somewhere where we found a problem that we understood enough, and that enough people had that, that a lot of people bought it and started using it, and they continue to tell each other about it, you know, I feel like my main responsibility is, is to not screw it up. Yeah. And so, so that, honestly, my focus is more about where, not the core, the absolute core of the product, because we we got lucky, you know, we found something that was a real problem that a lot of people had. And I don’t think there’s any framework to just to just do that, I think that it, there’s got to be an element of, of circumstance and, and, and good fortune coming together for that to happen. But, but but we could have probably screwed it up 10 different times by now, and had everybody run screaming to some other platform, you know, if we had made enough of the wrong changes. So, so a lot of it for me is about understanding. There’s something here that’s working, you know, because we have people coming to us, and there’s interest, and we’re over that initial hurdle, where something about it works. But there are a lot of things about it that maybe don’t work, or, or could be working better, or areas where people struggle, and they consider switching to an alternative. And the the interviews allow me to learn where people struggle, because struggle is is the is where all new behavior starts. You know, so if, if I can see why, for example, somebody puts certain pieces of work in base camp, but other pieces of work, they don’t put in base camp, then I’m really interested in Well, why why why isn’t that in base camp? Why is that in this other tool, right? And then they can see, they can say, Oh, well, I tried that. And then, but I can’t really do this, and I can’t do that. And, and so a part of it is just trying to learn sort of what’s working and what’s not, and then prioritize based on that, when we did the the the job to be done work. I came out with I mean, we’re lucky with base camp, because it actually does, it does a lot of things for people we had literally five different even six actually with a quite small, the last one was fairly small, but we had five or six different clusters of meaningfully different context and outcome that drove somebody toward base camp. And, and and sort of defined how they valued it. And out of those different jobs that we found. Some of them were really attractive, in terms of clearly if somebody has this job, and they come to base camp, they’re going to stay and they’re going to embed this into the heart of the way that they work. And this is going to become sort of business as usual for them, which is is good for them. Because it means that we get to make good impact on quality of life, you know, for how they work and, and, and how they feel with with communicating as a team. And it’s good for us. Because if it’s really embedded into their process, that that’s means better lifetime value. So I actually did a kind of ranking of the jobs through that lens, you know, which of these is something that a job that we’re good at doing, because very often, you know, people will reach for you for something that maybe you’re not actually good at doing. And then that presents an opportunity to better communicate what you’re good for, and what you’re not good for. And to kind of filter that traffic coming in. And, and, and, and looking at which of these things are make better business sense, which of these things are likely to have a more, you know, a better lifetime value for this customer. And so that allowed us to sort of prioritize which things were more important. And, and and at least, you know, I think a lot of this is about what you don’t do. So there’s a lot of features and enhancements we could build, that would cloud the product or start to take it kind of in the wrong direction or or dilute it or make it unclear what it’s really good at. And we’ve been working really hard to to clarify for ourselves kind of what what the core of the product is and where the work needs to happen strategically.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, I think it’s very easy to go down that path of like taking the product in a direction, just like becoming a feature factory. How do you sort of gauge a pulse and Is this something you’re regularly checking in with customers to understand how far off like the track you’ve taken your product, or the new sort of interview techniques, post users starting to use the product that you keeping tabs on and trying to understand people’s perceptions and understanding of your tool.

Ryan Singer
I think that there’s different phases that come and go, you know, I really think of it as, as a so for me the job to be done interviews that I did, and then the analysis, that was a tool that I reached for because I felt lost. So when I was in the dark, I needed something I reached for a tool, and then I use that to get more clarity about what’s going on in terms of demand, and then I was able to make some priorities strategically from the supply side. If I don’t always feel like that, you know, there’s so like, I’m in a period right now, for example, where I have, I have a lot of it is about what I hoping that we can do, you know, in the near future, lot of things I’m really excited about, it’s the opposite of feeling in the dark, I feel almost like a feeling of urgency like Oh man, this thing, I really want to start building this really sort of want to work on that thing, you know, and, and in that phase, I’m not going to drop what I’m doing and go do some research. Because I’ve got stuff to build, you know, and as a team, we have a lot of exciting ideas together that like we can just go and we can do stuff, you know, but who knows, maybe maybe six months from now, maybe a year from now, who knows, maybe we’ll feel differently, maybe we’ll build some of those things, and then we’ll feel like we won’t know what to do next. You know? So I think a lot of it, it just has to do with sort of taking the temperature and feeling what’s going on, at the higher level of the company in terms of where do we have a lot of confidence, where do we have uncertainty, because this thing about, you know, customers struggle, and that’s when they look around to to to, to get rid of their product that they’re using and to try something new. The same thing is true, internally, in terms of how we work as a company, if nobody’s struggling, you know, at a sea level or a senior level, we’re not going to we’re not going to change what we’re doing, we’re not going to drop what we’re doing to go and try and learn. You know, but but and this is where I think a lot of people who who are focused on research really have a hard time because they’re trying to do research all day. And then they’re running around the company waving their papers at everyone. Everyone says, Okay, look, I got work to do, like, you know, interesting, but whatever, you know, and then the researcher, researchers, thank you yeah, but this is so important to nobody wants to listen to me, you know, but then as soon as something happens, maybe maybe a growth, a growth curve starts to flatten or, or more, you know, something troubling appears in the data, or, or there’s a gut feeling of we don’t know what to do next, or perception of risk that if we make the wrong move, there might be some, some ripple effects that we don’t understand. It’s only when you get into that situation where there’s something kind of pushing you to toward research that that then you then then then I’ll clear the calendar off. And I’ll make some calls with customers. And doing this. The jobs to be done method that I learned only requires talking to about 10 different customers, you have to do some thoughtful recruiting, so you get a nice variation and who you talk to. But because the interviews go so deep, and you’re there’s so much data per interview qualitatively, it’s like each interview is like a whole terabyte of film. You know, and and it’s amazing kind of how much you can get with a with a with a quick dive back into the customer base when we need them.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, let’s go a little bit deeper on that. So you mentioned like, around 10 people, you’re done, you need to speak to you’re very thoughtful in terms of who you’re targeting, like, what would your targeting process look like? What would some of the criteria that you’d want to to be pulled out to get this audience?

Ryan Singer
Well, so the first thing is, we need to have some sort of a sense of what is the question that we’re framing, we have to know what we’re going after, to some degree, right? We’re not just going to go talk to anybody and say, you know, what happened? Like, why did you buy base camp? So for example, we had a when we, when we did the when I did have an earlier round of interviews, maybe a few years back? A huge question for me is, I want to understand what is what is the same across industries, that’s leading people to base camp. So I don’t want an explanation of why a web designer uses it and why a lawyer uses it. I’m looking for the overlap. What is it about base camp that’s drawing both of these? And that sort of the high level? Like, what, what is base camp do for them? And what what, what is the competitive set even? What are they even switching from? So I had very broad questions there. And so when we did those interviews, I wanted to actually try and talk to some people who were from some different who are in different industries. So you know, we were talking to a doctor, we were talking to somebody who runs a vet, we were talking to somebody who does restoration from people’s homes were damaged by fire. We did when we talked to some web design people, we talked to some contractors of different kinds, I mean, was really a big spread. Later on, we had some different questions coming up about iPhone behavior, we had some very tricky questions about the UI, you know, it’s interesting, you get down to that really tiny real estate on the phone. And you have to make even more trade offs about sort of what to elevate and what to push back in the interface, you know, because there’s just isn’t that much room for stuff? So you have to figure out, what’s a feature? And we had some, we had some question students about when, in what situation to someone reaching for the phone, to add it to do on the phone? And why would you add it to do on the phone instead of on your computer? And, and because we wanted a deeper understanding them? I’m not at my computer, right? Because you will be at your computer later. So which which tasks? Do you kind of hold back? For when you get to a computer? And and in which tasks? Don’t wait for that? And they happen right there? And then and and then where do they struggle with that? Where the struggles around that. And so for that case, we needed to specifically recruit people who, who were using the iPhone, you know, Who, who, who had been it, we didn’t necessarily need to speak to people who bought the app. So before we were recruiting people who we knew were the the account owner, versus here, we it wasn’t necessarily to recruit based on whether you bought the app or not the fact the mere fact that you were that you had the app, and you were you were adding to us was was enough, you know, and then and then there, we really wanted to get a good spread of, we didn’t only want to talk to people who were adding to us all day from their phone. And we also wanted to talk to somebody who added to do maybe once from on their phone or or a handful of times, and then and then didn’t do it again. You know? And and then there’s also the question of how often did they do it on the, on the desktop or not. And that that gave us that plus a little bit of a mixture mixture of talking to people from different industries and stuff like that, we ended up with something like eight different dimensions actually, that we were recruiting on, which sounds a little bit fancy, but it wasn’t that big of a deal, it was just a few different things to make sure that we considered in our surveys when we when we when we sent this out to customers to ask them to talk to us.

Andrew Michael
Very interesting. So really starting off with something specific that you want to understand from that just looking at the dimensions that you want to be able to break and break down their problem and break down that understanding by you mentioned a few times now interrogations, and I like it as a concept as well of like really trying to get insights out from your users and really being thorough in the research methodology. But what is your typical process? I’m like, what are some of the questions that you asked him that you tend to find or be able to get some of more of those meaningful insights out of so you’re not asking just generic questions, like you said, Of? Why did you purchase base camp? What are some of like your go to questions in an interrogation?

Ryan Singer
So this is a whole subject of actually learning how to do these interviews. The thing that is I’ll make I’ll make a comparison. You know, if you think that someone, if someone performed a crime, you know, let’s say, let’s let’s be dramatic and say murder, right? Yeah, you don’t have a standard question. Right? You don’t you what, like, you don’t have a list of questions that you ask, did you do it? Why did you do it? I mean, these are, these aren’t the questions, the questions come from trying to, to, to figure out what the what actually happened? You know, so where were you the night of the 13th? You know, what I mean, this kind of a thing, like in front of you at home? Where, yeah, were you at home or not? And, and, and, like, you know, so it actually, it’s all about figuring out what what the actual story was. So we start with, there’s a, there’s a fundamental criteria that if we want to learn about purchase, then we only talked to people who actually made that purchase. So we’re not doing any speculative behavior, no hypothetical paint behavior, only people who’ve actually been through the process of making the trade off and deciding, you know, because before you actually buy, your needs are your what you think your needs are. And what you think you want is very different than what you end up buying very often, you know, you go looking for a car, and what you think you want changes as you go through the process of learning. So, so we only talked to people who actually did the thing who actually made the purchase. And then the first question is simply, so where I, you know, when did you buy? You know, and it was, I think it was, you know, maybe about a month ago, and what was going on around that time? You know, why, why then, right? And, and then when did you have the first thought, and, and then we kind of build up a timeline, from first thought to because nothing happens randomly, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s a whole series of dominoes that have to fall for somebody to change their behavior, or make a purchase. So it starts with the first thought. And then from the first thought, you go into a phase, which is like passive looking. So first thought we’d like with a car would be, you’ve got, you’ve got a car that has quite a few miles on it, it’s starting to get older, and it starts to make a funny noise. You think in, you know, not sure am I going to want to repair it as a time to get something new. But But something, something is not the same as it was before. So you have the first thought, then you you start to actually notice cars again, on the road, you know, there’s this period where you don’t look around at them at all. And then all of a sudden, you’re noticing which brands you like, and which ones you don’t and you know, colors and you’re seeing all kinds of things. And you remember, you know, your friend gets a car, and you asked them a few questions about it, because suddenly you’re interested. So this is like passive looking, you’re not actually going to a dealer, you’re not actually doing setting aside time in your life to do research. But you’re noticing, right, yeah, and then and then some kind of an event happens, that that kind of kicks it up that that that makes you more interested in solving it. So if you can be that the sound starts to get worse. Or it could be that you hear about a sale that’s coming up. But something happens, that’s sort of time bound, where you think you know what, I really should actually figure this out. So then you go and you go into active looking. And that’s where you might do some some Google searches, or you go to a dealer, or you talked to a friend who’s very knowledgeable, and you’re trying to actually shape for yourself what the outcome is that you want, and what trade offs you’re going to need to make to actually get this thing done. But then you still haven’t decided, and usually there’s a there’s a final event as a second event that needs to happen to really create a time pressure. So that might be that there’s a

friend is getting married, and you you want to go visit them, and you were planning to drive there. But now that your car is is making this funny noise, you’re afraid that if you if you make this long drive to this wedding, and this, you know, you’re going to maybe drive a few hours, that you’re going to get stranded along the way. And you think I can’t, I can’t let that happen. Like, I’ve got to make a decision here, I gotta get this done before the wedding. So now you have a certain kind of urgency that pushes you to make the trade offs. Because until you have to make a decision, you kind of want, you want everything you want cheap and you want fast, and you want horsepower, and you want style. And you don’t I mean, but then once you actually have to make that decision, because you’re running out of time, then you say, okay, what’s actually important to me, and that’s where you make the trade offs. And then you decide. And then after the decision comes actually leading up to the decision is where satisfaction gets defined in the mind. So you you’re making a lot of trade offs in your mind about what you think this is going to do for you, and why it’s going to be better, and what the outcome is going to be. And then you actually pull the trigger, and you make the purchase, you make the decision. And then you have the final phase, which is consumption and satisfaction. And then in consumption, you get to compare is the outcome what I thought it was going to be? And then that’s the definition of satisfaction. So this this is a process that

I learned this from from Bob master in his work.

And he’s done work with, with Clay Christensen on this the best book that is a short intro to it is it’s called competing against luck. And there’s also I mean, it’s it’s a big subject, you know, there’s also a variety of forces that people experience that kind of pull them through this process. But the thing is that there’s no question to ask, in particular, you actually learn kind of how to dig the story out by by When was the first thought okay, and then what happened? And then, okay, but you know, you didn’t there’s, there’s a hole in the story here, I’m not understanding it, like how did why that day what you know what I mean, and, and kind of pushing and pulling and interrogating, and then through that we can get, we can get a sense of what went wrong. What were the so called pushes the things that were happening to them, that were that they didn’t like that they were hoping to get rid of like that, like the, you know, I’ve got it, I’ve got this wedding coming up, I don’t want to get stranded on the road along the way. This this noise is making me nervous, like all these things, and what were the polls, what were the things that they wanted as as as the as the outcome, you know, that I’m going to be able to is it, it might be more social, it might be like, I want the bigger vehicle, because then I’m going to be able to road trip with my friends. And we’re going to have this time together. Or it could be more emotional like this, the car is the place that I go to be alone. And I want actually a very tiny little car, and I were no one else will fit. And maybe that has a little extra horsepower. And this is going to be my place that I’m going to, to get my peace of mind, right like a very, very different criteria, different different definitions of value, depending on the circumstance that they’re in. And so so that’s kind of what we’re what we’re what we’re pulling out of the interviews. And then by doing that, over a series of interviews, we can actually code out the the different pushes and poles and habits and anxieties that were present or not present in each story and then do some clustering on that to pull up patterns. And then we’ll always find is that there are definitely patterns where there are different reasons that bring people in and different outcomes that they seek. And and those cluster them together into different jobs. And then we come out of that with that’s, that’s that’s where the analysis work is.

Andrew Michael
And that’s when they arrive on your websites and this your hair on fire and saying we’ve been expecting you. Yeah,

Ryan Singer
exactly. Yeah, that’s where that came from.

Andrew Michael
Yeah. I love that. So it says, well, like what you’re describing is over and above like a jobs to be done is really like the full buyers journey. And I think this is often like something that’s it’s pretty difficult to map out. But the way you laid out in terms of like, the interrogation process really like understanding what is that that initial thought process, what triggered it to begin with, and then just pushing harder and harder to find the exact steps that led to the process.

Ryan Singer
And the key thing is that we’re not talking about the product. Yeah, the the whole thing is about their process of figuring out what progresses for them. And and, and what trade offs they’re going to make. It’s not about the product. And that allows us to to create this kind of empty space where the product is going to go. And, and that’s what that’s what it feels like to have real design requirements is, is they’re not telling me I want you know, I want this button and that button and I want it to do this, and I want it to do that the same. When I’m in this situation. These are the things that matter. Right, and this is what progress is. And then when you understand the situation and the progress in the situation that they’re trying to make, then then we can take that as design criteria go away and come up with all kinds of different solutions, and try and put them into that slot to see if they fit or not.

Andrew Michael
And we actually doing product strategy and not just churning out feature of the feature. Totally. I love this process. And it’s definitely something like we I’ve also followed base camp quite closely and seen how the jobs to be done framework has really been pushed to the max with you guys. But the next thing I want to think about this then is like looking at it through the lens of churn and retention now so how can like the jobs to be done framework help when it comes to looking at churn and retention and like trying to turn things around within a business?

Ryan Singer
Well, I have to say that I haven’t been in the situation where there’s been a major where there’s been a churn problem. And so I haven’t I haven’t had to solve that. So I’m aware of the fact that that that Bob and some other folks have done really deep work on that using using them using that methodology. But I haven’t been part of it. So I can’t really speak to that. You can’t.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, so you’ve been in lucky, a fortunate position where you’ve like you say you’ve really found a nail that product market fit to begin with? Are there times, maybe you strayed off a little bit, you always managed to pull it back into to get to the point that it wasn’t impacting the business too much.

Ryan Singer
Yeah, I mean, we we have people, I am working on that proactively. So through the interviews, and through talking to people I’m trying to learn, where are the things that go wrong in the app that lead them that lead them to think about other options? Or what are the things that they’re complaining about, you know, it’s just hasn’t reached a level where it’s like, we have a term problem, and we have to go attack that, you know, it’s we were kind of working at it very proactively. So it’s not that we are just floating around in the sky, you know, just just half asleep, because everything is fine. It’s we’re constantly paying very close attention to how things are going and trying to make the right next move about about what is the right thing to build next? And what is the thing to improve? We’re very, really focused on that yet. It’s just that it’s from a proactive place.

Andrew Michael
Absolutely. I think like and through all this, the episodes that I’ve recorded so far, the podcasts, I think the absolute best places like the prevention is better than the cure neck. So with the way that you focus, as well like and really trying to understand what to build, like who’s our target audience, like really having a clear crystal picture, you’re able to then go and sort of almost eliminate, turn on the other end, because you’ve really spent that time like trying to understand who these people are, what are we building for them, and not just focusing on features and becoming a feature factory.

Ryan Singer
And the other aspect of that is, and here I’m I’m kind of quoting Jason base camps founder, because this is more from his experience than mine. But he often talks about how important the cost side is that if if costs are low, then then the urgency is going to be lower if if there’s a challenge, right? Yeah. So if you if you hire a bunch of people you didn’t need to hire, and you have a whole bunch of complexity that you that you that you didn’t actually need. Now, if your costs are too high, then as soon as there’s a problem, man, you have an instant crisis. Right? Yeah, versus if costs are low. And now you’re seeing that the the, the charts are starting to tip a little bit in the wrong direction. You’ve got time. Yeah, that’s huge. That is so important. And so undervalued, you know, I mean, base camp could be 10. x are way more than the headcount that it has right now. Yeah, easily. And and we’d be in a whole different world. And we’d be feeling an entirely different urgency. Whenever we see the derivative of that of signups or whatever, tilting one way or the other, you know, and

Unknown Speaker
so that’s, that’s huge.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, I think it’s incredible what space camp has been able to achieve with Team size that you are, and over the years been able to stay so nimble and small.

Ryan Singer
Well, that brings us I think, to another really important aspect with all this, which is that there’s no there’s no cookie cutter answer for strategy, right, we all have to figure out for ourselves, what’s going on in the market and where the demand is, and how we can address it and what we can offer. At the same time, if we don’t have a really strong shipping muscle, if we if we can’t reliably, set a target, and then go after something, and build it, and finish it in the amount of time that we wanted to spend on it, and ship it and move on to something else. If we don’t have that muscle, then it doesn’t even matter how good our strategy is, you know, we can have the best idea in the world for what’s going to reduce churn. But if it turns into some never ending project, or we have too much technical debt, and then we have all kinds of quality issues, then then we’re not going to be able to reach that outcome. So it’s really important also, you know, I think the cost side is is is is a condition that needs to be in place so that we can be healthy, and we have room to think, and that at the same time, we need to have this shipping muscle this is this is what my new book shape up is all about. How do we actually define projects? How do we choose what to bet on? How do we set the expectations around our bets so that we actually work on the thing that we said we were going to work on it, we don’t work on something else? How do we stop when we say that we were going to stop and not have these kind of never ending projects? And how do we give the teams the autonomy, to actually build this stuff themselves, without having to hold their hands the whole time. And that frees us up as people who feel responsible for the strategy or where the product is going to keep thinking about what to do next, you know, instead of kind of being stuck in the day to day operations of trying to get stuff built and trying to make decisions with on the ground all the time.

Andrew Michael
Yeah, I’m not gonna ask you how do you do that? Because I think everybody should go out and listen to the book and read it themselves. But have we asked you one last question, think as well for today run because it’s been a pleasure having you running up on the time now. If you had to give like one piece of advice to somebody going up now, in this new market, in the today’s age with sort of the ability to build and create products, fair very easily, like, what would be your number one piece of advice for somebody wanting to build a new product today? In competing this today’s market?

Ryan Singer
I don’t know if I can reduce it to one point. I mean, I there’s there’s quite a few things to bring together, I think to do well.

If there is one point I think it is.

Don’t follow what the big companies do, as your model. Because a bigger company is not very often you know, you think about you look at a Facebook or you look at at an ad at whatever, some huge company, and and you think that they’re successful. So you think that you should do things the way that they do it. And that is a huge mistake, because they are in a completely different universe with totally different constraints with totally different problems, because of their scale. And when it comes to scale, more isn’t better, more isn’t even more, more is different. It’s a different world. And if you try to use what they used, whether it’s how you organize the business, whether whether it’s the technological technology choices you make, whether it’s the process choices you make, you’re going to fall on your face, because you’re incurring all kinds of costs that you don’t need to bear at your small thought and your small size. So just, for example, a lot of people are a lot of engineering teams are using feature flags. So they have a single code base. And then all the development work that they’re doing is all together in the in the same master code base. And they have to constantly manage kind of which features should be displayed to customers and which ones should be hidden because they’re still under development. You don’t have to do any of that. So many teams are doing that. Because giant teams do that because they have hundred different teams that are all working in parallel. And it’s not possible to integrate otherwise. But we use very long running separate feature branches that we merge at the end of six weeks. And and there’s no problem with that. And life is way simpler, and it’s way easier to manage. Because we’re not we’re not copying them, we’re doing what’s appropriate to our size. Same thing with all of this stuff with single page apps and react, I see so many startups building in react and or some other sort of single page tech stack. And they are paying a huge penalty for that. That is not for no upside. If you use a technology like that, you’re blocking yourself off from having designers work directly on the app, because the designers can’t just provide, let’s say HTML and CSS for a web app, if it has to get turned into this complicated components, JavaScript stuff. So you’re built, you’re putting this big wall between the designers and the programmers, for no good reason. html over the wire, is is is perfectly fast and perfectly suitable for 90% of projects. And it’s for us that that’s a technology choice that we’ve made, that has a I’m sure it has a 10 x difference, productivity massive. Same thing with with, with with phone apps, we don’t need everything that we do to be super native with a fancy animation. Our apps are actually 90% hybrid, where we we use a little bit of native code and interaction in the most essential places where you really need speed and responsiveness. But those are just a few places that mean they have to do with navigation and notifications. And for most of the app where we’re using the web views, and we’ve built a lot of glue to enable that. And that, again, is at least a 10 x difference in productivity. So there’s there’s so many things and also the way that we’re organized, you know, like, we don’t need to have a whole lot of complicated charts and dependencies and, and roadmaps, we’re, we’re a relatively small company, we can just put a few people together and trust them by shaping the work and giving them clear boundaries, and then leaving them alone alone on a interrupted to build that thing. So find a model that’s your size, that successful and and do the things that makes sense at your size. And that way you don’t handicap yourself with a lot of complexity that that is invaluable.

Andrew Michael
I love that. I think it’s amazing advice. And it’s it’s definitely something I’ve never really said to think about before. But it makes total sense to in the way you described it in the way you were going through it. So, Ryan, I just want to say a huge, huge thanks for joining the show today, it’s been a pleasure. Before we go is anything you want to leave the audience with maybe one and let them know how they can keep up to speed with your work. And others should be following what you’re doing and base camp.

Ryan Singer
Yeah, the best place to keep up with what I’m doing is just on Twitter, I’m RJS on Twitter. And then the book shape up is at base camp. com slash shape up, you can read it online on the web there. You can download it as a PDF right now. And we don’t even ask for your email address. And we’re having so many interesting stories from people who are changing the way that they that they defined projects and build projects and how they schedule work and everything like that as a result of that. And if you’re one of them, I’d love to hear from you. You can email us about your experience trying all this stuff at shape up at base camp calm. And it’s been really fun to to have this back and forth with everybody as they improve the way that they work.

Andrew Michael
Awesome. Well, thanks very much for and it’s been a pleasure having you today. I wish you best of luck Now, going forward.

Ryan Singer
Thanks so much.

Andrew Michael
And that’s a wrap for the show today with me, Andrew Michael. I really hope you enjoyed it and you able to pull out something valuable for your business. To keep up to date with turned on FM, and be notified about new episodes, blog posts and more. Subscribe to our mailing list by visiting churn.fm. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you have any feedback good or bad, I would love to hear from you. And you can provide your blunt direct feedback by sending it to andrew@churn.fm. Lastly, but most importantly, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it and leave a review as it really helps get the word out and grow the community. Thanks again for listening. See you again next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai