Using Design Sprints to increase retention.

John Zeratsky




John Zeratsky
John Zeratsky

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have John Zeratsky, Co-Founder of Character, and the best-selling co-author of Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.

In this episode, we talked about John’s time at Google Ventures, and how they helped hundreds of early-stage startups find product-market-fit using Design Sprints. John then talked about how they first came up with the idea for Design Sprints and why they followed on to develop the process further and productize it into a book.

We then went over the different stages of a design sprint and discussed how using this model can help companies increase retention.

Mentioned Resources



How John helped hundreds of early-stage startups find product-market-fit using Design Sprints. 00:04:40
How the Design Sprints model was born, and why they turned it into a book. 00:11:20
The different stages of a design sprint and how it can help companies increase retention.. 00:20:25


 [00:01:29] Andrew Michael: Hey, John. Welcome to the. 

[00:01:31] John Zeratsky: Hey, thanks for having me. 

[00:01:33] Andrew Michael: It's a pleasure for the listeners. John is the co-founder and general partner at Character. John is also the author and co-creator of Sprint who together, Jake Knapp and the Google ventures team developed the design sprint process.

Prior to Character, John started out his career as a web intern at The Onion. He then led to move into design and health product design roles at feed burner, Google and YouTube. So my first question for you, John, is what was your favorite onion news story whilst working [00:02:00] there.. 

[00:02:01] John Zeratsky: It's pretty amazing that you went back that far.

I think you have to click show more like three times on my LinkedIn to get to the point where it shows that I was an intern at the time. Yeah. And I, when I applied for the job, I thought like this is going to be the coolest thing ever. And not a lot of people know, but the onion started in Madison, Wisconsin, which is where the university of Wisconsin is located.

It was a group of graduates from university of Wisconsin who started the onion and later went on to, they moved to New York, became this big media company, but I thought it was going to be like so cool. And what I was actually doing was just copying and pasting articles from an old CMS to a new CMS. And then.

In 2003 or 2004. So it's pretty bad. It was like pretty rudimentary, but the coolest thing was actually getting to go back to the very, very beginning of the onion. Cause even by that point, the onion was essentially how it is today. It's this like very smart. Cynical kind of satire about current events and whatever, but like going back to some of the [00:03:00] original, the very first issues of the onion, those are some of my favorite stories.

And I remember that the the very first VR addition of the onion, the story was about a sea monster, like the Lochness monster that came out of the lake. Lake Mendota near the campus, near the university. And it's so that headline was Mendota monster malls, Madison, and it was so cheesy.

It had this, it was like black and white. It had this like clearly photo-shopped image of this like sea monster coming out of the water. And I just remember thinking. That's so cool that the onion started with this crappy, like dumb story about this sea monster and, 10 years later, however many years later it was like this incredibly sophisticated, like respected well-known media brand.

So that was a super long answer to a question, but that was my favorite story. The very first. 

[00:03:48] Andrew Michael: It's a great answer I think it's fairly representative of most like ways, businesses and to things like podcasts or books or anything gets started is set just like nothing's going to be perfect from day one.

[00:03:58] John Zeratsky: Like just, yeah. Do some [00:04:00] things. And it's like almost embarrassing. Exactly. Just get it 

[00:04:02] Andrew Michael: out there and then fix it, make it better improve. That's super cool. Yeah, I actually like the onion myself as well. I first discovered it probably like 2005, 2006 and earlier and enjoyed like the satire.

Seen it lately. I'm not sure what they're doing today, but it was interesting back then. Yeah. Cool. So obviously I mentioned in the intro as well the coauthor and co-creator of sprint, I think incredibly successful book and design process as well. It's carried out by pretty much every, I think, a successful startup these days at some point.

Maybe you can talk us through us a little bit, like coming from the background at GV and then how did you first develop the idea and decide, okay, we need to put this together as process and put it out there. 

[00:04:47] John Zeratsky: Yeah. So you mentioned this a little bit, but before joining GV, I was in like normal product design roles.

This was in 2000, really like 2005. 2010. So the industry was [00:05:00] not as mature. So the roles were not as well defined, but basically effectively the same thing that you would imagine as a product designer today, like working with PMs, working with engineers figuring out, what should the product do?

What features do we need making, sketches and wire frames and mock-ups and prototypes and testing things or whatever. And I had this really cool opportunity to join Google ventures. When the firm was pretty young, it had just started in 2009. I joined in 2011. And they were basically like, we want to provide.

Something really unique to the founders that we invest in. We want to provide the type of support that no other VC can provide, because we're, we're connected to Google. So let's, we're going to have engineers. We're going to have marketers designers, Google, people from Google who are going to be available to work with the startups.

And so I was one of the people they recruited to do that. And it was really cool opportunity is a really unique idea at the time. And so at first I just go and show up, one of our founders would say, or sorry, one of our investors would say, Hey, I invested in this cool company.

I think maybe you could help them out. [00:06:00] So I would go with some of my teammates and we would just hang around and talk to the team and say, Hey, what's what are you guys working on? And we would do a lot of design work. I remember one of the first projects was Was for Retail Me Not, I don't know if you know that site, it's like a coupon website, DV invested in it and they were doing this big redesign and we just took over the redesign. We just took it over and ran with it. It does something similar for foundation medicine, which is this company that makes sense.

Cancer diagnostics. So cancer tests, so totally different kind of company, but they were designing the test report was a kind of a new kind of test. So it was challenging to communicate the results of the task, but we're like, Hey, we know how to design stuff. Let us just do this. W that was our initial approach and it worked really well, but it wasn't scalable at all.

And GV now is huge, even at the time was pretty big and it was growing rapidly. And we were investing in companies way more quickly than we could support them as designers. So even within the first six months, 12 months I joined GV, we were like, this is not going to [00:07:00] scale. Like we're going to need to do something different, but we didn't just want to shift into sort of like advice mode.

We didn't just want. I have office hours and provide feedback and that sort of thing. We want it to still really do design. We've been looking around. And we were friends with Jake Knapp who was also, had been a designer at Google and he had started to run these things called design sprints.

And he had basically been inspired by hackathons and by some of the design thinking innovations that were coming out of the D school, some other stuff. And he had basically carved out this job for himself at Google, where he would go to new team when they were starting something new. Like he worked with Google Chrome when Chrome was new, he worked.

On Google meets, like the first version of Google meet was designed in a design sprint. He worked with X, he worked with a bunch of these teams who were like inside of Google that at very early stages and would run these design sprints. And we were like, that seems like a really interesting approach that we could use with our portfolio companies.

So we recruited Jake to join GV. He joined in 2012. And then we basically made the design sprint [00:08:00] are our engagement model, our method. And we tuned it over the years, working with almost every week, working with a company in a design sprint, not only focused on helping that company, but trying to be.

The process itself better make the method itself better. And I think the thing that we eventually really honed in on is that when you're building something new or you're making kind of high stakes changes to an existing product you want to make sure that you're spending your time on things that are going to work and on the parts of the work that are going to matter.

And especially when you're at a venture back startup, You only have finite time to do that. You have certain amount of runway, you got to figure things out before you run out of money. And so we began to see that with the design sprint, that was a way for us to really accelerate that process of answering those key questions of getting closer to product market fit, do that with a team and, matter of days or weeks instead of weeks or months, and just really accelerated.

The process or the progress that those teams were making by bringing everything that we knew about design and packaging it into [00:09:00] this like repeatable template and checklist that we could run over and over with. 

[00:09:05] Andrew Michael: That's very cool and interesting to you. The different stories we tell me, not and like coming into company, cause you wouldn't expect like they would receive investment and then have a full on designed force behind them afterwards doing a redesign of their product.

And also. That was going to be one of my questions, as well as coming in as a designer, working at GV. Was it more of a part-time thing while you are still a Google or was it fully vested, but it sounds like you were pretty much fully vested at GV and working on all those different companies as 

you went out,

[00:09:32] John Zeratsky: yeah. That was one of the things that was so unique about it is that GV, the people who started GV, they wanted this to be a real differentiator. And so as part of that, they, people like me that they. Onto the team from Google, they made us full-time. They made us partners. They gave us carry and the funds.

[00:09:48] Andrew Michael: It was a pretty unique model at the time that really allowed us to be super aligned with the companies that we're working with. And we really had this incentive. We had this vested interest in helping our companies be as successful as [00:10:00] possible, as opposed to, if we had still been full-time at Google.

Yeah, this is fun. This is interesting, but fundamentally it doesn't affect my bottom line if this startup succeeds or fails. But when it truly did, when you know, my future compensation depends on the success of a company, I think motivated me to just be much scrappier and more intentional about the ways that I was working with.

Nice. When did a JV launch its first fund because 1009, 2009, I was going to say, I have vague memories of being at a tech crunch events in Berlin and listening to one of the partners at the time, talking about the model and launching so many interesting. Yeah. 

[00:10:38] John Zeratsky: 2009. And then I think the first like European fund was like 20 12, 20 13, something like that.

But yeah, I started in 2009 and then brought in the first. Essentially like operating partners, people like me, we had design partners, engineering partners, marketing partners, brought in the first set of those people in 2011. And then, grew from. Cool. 

[00:10:59] Andrew Michael: [00:11:00] So let's talk a little bit about the process itself then.

So it gave us a little bit of the background, how you came about it, understand like the need you're needing to serve more and more companies you wanted to be able to get to those answers faster, to find sort of product market fit, or find the challenges. How did you go about productizing it then and getting it into format was easily repeatable with others.

Give us a little bit of an over. The steps. 

[00:11:23] John Zeratsky: Yeah, I think everybody on the team brought something different or brought a different set of experiences. And so one of the key ideas that we got from our partner, Braden Kohut's who was with us at GV and has since gone on to start a company called rain.

Jan now works at Stripe. Was the idea of story centric, design being very oriented around a customer journey or customer experience. So that's directly influenced what we do on the first day of a design sprint, which is we make a map, literally like a process flow diagram. Who's the [00:12:00] customer who are the different customers or different people who interact with the product or the company what are the basic steps that they go through and and then what are they working toward?

What is the outcome or the result that they're working toward? And that becomes the the skeleton that we build a lot of the rest of the sprint on. So by grounding in that map, which a lot of companies don't have, it's crazy. Like they might have a a, more of a flow chart, diagram or they might have certainly they're going to have like wireframes and mockups and things, but a lot of companies, like I've never actually taken the time to think about okay, big picture.

Like how do customers find us? What is their first experience with us? What are the basic steps that they go through as they interact with the product and what are they trying to achieve? And so once you have that, then you can do things like you can look for problems. You can say, Hey, this is a place where either qualitatively or quantitatively, we know we're losing people or people are getting tripped up.

And then, and when we use that map as a way to basically identify the target or the focus for the rest of the sprint. I can give you an example [00:13:00] from From working with slack, we D we did several design sprints with slack, and it was when they were basically we're at a moment where they had been really successful signing up other tech companies.

So they're early adopters, but they had not yet really tapped kind of the broader enterprise market. And so the purpose of the design sprint was to figure out, like, how do we expand product market fit to not. Other tech companies who already intrinsically get what it's like to use it, this chat-based product, but law firms and newspaper, editorial offices and accounting firms and big companies that maybe have never used a tool like this before.

We mapped out, how does somebody learn about slack? How do they get started? How do they, what's the onboarding and basically identified in that flow that it was just really critical moment just before somebody signed up for slack and tried it for the first time where they, it was easy to sell them on the benefits, 40% less email, be more connected with your team.

All these things like really were very compelling benefits. But [00:14:00] for somebody again, who had never used a product like this, there was this critical moment of what does it actually like? What does it actually feel like, or look like or mean for me to use this product with my team. And it was especially tricky because there's no way to kick the tires as like in single-player mode, right?

Like you need to have your teammate with you. And so the purpose once we had mapped that out, and once we had identified that key moment, Then the rest of the sprint we could focus on that moment. So that's where it starts. And I promise the rest of the explanation will be much faster, but we're making a map of that problem space.

Identifying the most critical area we can focus on. On Tuesday. The second day of a sprint is focused on idea generation and the big insight here is that if you give people enough support and enough of a structure or sketching on paper is actually a really good way to gather input and gather ideas from everybody on the team.

And this was something, that I think Jake mostly brought to the table that he had experimented with a lot of Google that was really successful. So everybody contributes their [00:15:00] own suggestions, basically say, For that key moment, we identified a Monday, what do we think we should do? What should we build?

What should we task to? What should we try that we think is going to help us be successful? Captured those ideas as sketches on Tuesday, Wednesday is is all about deciding which of those sketches to move forward with. Which of these do we think are the most promising, which do we think are the most likely to work based on everything we know so far?

And we had all experienced. The pain of trying to make decisions in groups, big group meetings where you're trying to make a decision. And I had been geeking out on some of the behavioral science around decision-making and, Predictably irrational books like that, the understanding like bias and why people make bad decisions or don't make ideal decisions, especially in group settings.

So Wednesday, the whole day is this should series of exercises to make sure that we're selecting the most promising ideas that we sketched on Tuesday, Thursday is prototyping day. So that's where we're taking that most promising idea that would came from a [00:16:00] sketch and we're creating essentially a facade of it, a version of it that is really.

Looking enough that a customer is going to believe it's real, but isn't functional. We're taking a whole bunch of shortcuts, it's like the wizard of Oz where it's this very elaborate sort of illusion, but behind the scenes, somebody's, pulling the strings and the levers and making it appear real.

So we do that on Thursday, which then sets us up for probably the most important part of the whole sprint, which is. Customer test on Friday. So we re we recruit five customers who all fit a specific profile that is germane to that target that we selected. So in this, in the case of slack, we look for five different customers who would be a buyer of slack at a non.

Tech company of a certain size, that initial customer profile. And then we show them the prototype and we take them through this experience, this illusion of what do you think of this? What are you, what's your reaction to what you're seeing? What barriers do you imagine if you were to sign up for this, what questions would you have?

And that basically allows us to answer a [00:17:00] lot of the questions that we have, like fundamentally is this approach working. If it is working, we can keep moving forward. We can refine it. We can, eventually get to a point where we have an MVP, something that we can launch and start together, quantitative data.

But if it's not working, we've only wasted five days on it. And we can go back to the beginning and we can run another sprint. We can, use a different approach. We can try different ideas. But so those are the five key steps map, sketch, decide, prototype. 

[00:17:27] Andrew Michael: I want to go back to the first step map.

And you mentioned quite rightly like most companies don't have some of the basics in place and in the context of a sprint, you really need to have those basics, those fundamentals for everything else to work out and make sense as well at the end of the day, because ultimately if you're making assumptions based off of untrue facts or demographics it's going to lead you down the wrong path.

How do you approach that with companies going in, where they don't have clear understanding yet they don't have the user journeys mapped top. They don't have the clear pain points and understanding what are some of the [00:18:00] exercises you would want it to pick to see companies run before diving into sprint?

[00:18:06] John Zeratsky: One of our philosophies with the design sprint is that teams know more than they think they know, we've seen again and again, and at this point we run sprints with over 200 companies and generally speaking, the teams already have most of the knowledge that they need to solve the problems that they're working on.

They just don't have the right structures to do it. So we tend to focus on. Is on creating those structures, creating those processes collaboratively for people to contribute and capture and share what they already know over, like going and doing a bunch of other research or gathering a bunch of other data.

That said sometimes. Truly don't know. And sometimes, like if we're doing a sprint that's focused on, retention maybe nobody has really taken the time to, to dig into the data. Maybe nobody has really taken the time [00:19:00] to go and run a series of interviews. With customers who did churn or on the other hand on the super satisfied, super engaged customers.

We start to suss that out when we're planning the sprint. But I think like in most cases, if you're a team. Living and breathing this every day and if you're customer centric and if you're like, if you're in the work, if you're actually doing it and building things and, if you care about what you're doing, you're probably going to have a lot of that stuff either like in your head already, or like at your fingertips.

And big part of why we run sprints is to really create a structure to bring that stuff out. But I would say that when it's if that's not the case, probably the key things that are usually missing are like, again, just like having a handle on the usage data or having lack of that real qualitative sense of how our customer is thinking and feeling and what are they doing at these various stages of the journey.

Those are the kinds of the key inputs that. 

[00:19:55] Andrew Michael: Yeah. I think you alluded to it. Those are the companies really customer centric, and they really are doing the [00:20:00] work and trying to understand the customers. They pretty much have the base knowledge they need. The other thing I wanted to do, you mentioned a, if we're working on a sprint on retention and maybe we can bring it like really direct to the podcast to the show, do you have any example maybe you could share with us of a step-by-step process where you ran sprint to help reduce retention for a specific company and what are some of the challenges faced there?

[00:20:25] John Zeratsky: Yeah. Index to memory now. Yeah, I'm trying to think. There's a couple examples that come to mind that are. Perfect. I don't know. A lot of the examples that are coming to mind are actually about activation, which I think is it's like the metaphor of a leaky bucket.

You know what I mean? If the buck has got holes in the bottom, it doesn't matter how much water you pour in. So oftentimes we will start by focusing on. Making sure that activation is working really well, so that we've got the right customers coming in at the beginning. We've got them engaging with the product in a way that really serves [00:21:00] our goals, really sets them up for success.

And that I think then has downstream benefits where it makes them less likely to turn. It makes them more likely to be satisfied and engaged. And one example that comes to mind is Some work we did with Pockit the sort of read it later app. And that was a case where they had a really good understanding of.

The quantitative factors that would indicate activation and long-term retention. There was the founder and CEO Nate Weiner. And then there was a sort of a, I don't even know what his title was, but Jonathan Bruck who helped Build pocket and is now with a long journey ventures.

Both of those guys they just really understood, like if a user does these three things, then they're going to, they're going to be activated and they're going to stick around. And they had gone through the data and they analyzed it and they knew that was like the magic three things, but they didn't know how.

People to do those three things, it was like [00:22:00] sometimes users would just do them. And then that was good. That was a predictor of retention, but they didn't have in their onboarding, they didn't have a really intentional designed experience that, that. Walked those people into doing those three things.

So that became the focus there. It was like, okay, how do we create onboarding that that makes sure that, and I forget exactly what they were, but they were like, saving some number of articles and installing the app in two locations or something like that. It was like, so how do we get users?

How do we make sure that users do that? And so I think that's that's the. That we usually took was like, let's go upstream from where the problem is and make sure that we're we're setting ourselves up for success rather than trying to patch over or put on a band-aid after the.

[00:22:43] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that as well. Cause this is something we talk a lot about on the show. But it's something, I think like people approaching churn and retention for the first time, their immediate response to this thing. Okay. Let me go interview a bunch of people that have left and see what I can do to keep those people from retaining and more often than not, it always just really comes back to [00:23:00] a bad onboarding experience and really not activating your users effective.

And the other side of it is focusing on activation the results compound over time. It just each cohort you're retaining more customers. You're saying more revenue to the investment and the time spent is much, much better off like really focusing on like, how can we get people to successful state rather than how can we avoid people going to the unsuccessful state?

Because the answer is more likely focus on getting them to the success and the stats. Yeah. Nice. And then maybe talk to us a little bit about Character now. What's the idea there, obviously you've taken some learnings from Google ventures from your experience with sprint. What's the plan?

[00:23:38] John Zeratsky: I spent about six years at Google ventures and worked with about 150 startups while I was there. Got to work with, I mentioned slack. Uber Gusto, flat iron health digit 23 and me bunch of companies that have been super successful and really got to a point where [00:24:00] I felt I felt like our approach to, to help encompass.

Answer those key questions around product market fit with design sprints. It was really felt like it was working super well. And we had decided to build a brand around that methodology. And so that was what led us to write the book, which came out in 2016 and to do a bunch of speaking and writing and creating public resources because we thought that.

It was not just a useful way to support startups after investment, but it was a reason for startup founders to want to raise money from us in the first place. So it wasn't just, it wasn't just this benefit after it was really a carrot that would attract people to us.

And so did that at G V learned a ton decided to leave for a couple of reasons. Mostly. Needed a break. And so it took some time off, took a bit of a sabbatical, but also because GV had started to move later in later stage assets, the fund got bigger and bigger, it's just harder to deploy. If you want to write $20 million checks, it's hard to do that, at a seed [00:25:00] or a, or even series B stage in a lot of cases.

So they're moving later in later stage. The types of fundamental product and to market questions that we answer with design sprints are, they're more resolved. Those questions are becoming more and more nuanced. They're not as fundamental, so left, continued to do this kind of work and worked with a bunch of different kinds of companies.

I started to. Explore working with larger companies, doing sort of the corporate consulting route realized they didn't like that. Did you know Angela investing and one-off projects, but realized they didn't love that either because it was always, it was like the alignment wasn't there, it wasn't.

Either I was an angel and I was investing a pretty small amount or, I was a consultant. So there was always this conversation about budget and timeline and contracts and expectations and all that stuff. And, at the same time I still loved the work, so the core of the work of really supporting startup founders and, early teams was still what I love to do.

And so just basically I was looking for a way to put those pieces [00:26:00] together that would allow me to do the work I wanted to do, but also really give something founder, give founders something that they really needed. And I just felt like with all the new kinds of accelerators and new funds and new types of support and resources that exist for for founders, that kind of owl been like around the edges, it was like this donut hole that was like.

But the product and how you go to market, like how you talk to your customers like how come more people aren't helping with that. It's great that we're helping with fundraising or with like strategy with hiring or like all these other things. But like the thing that matters the most, the thing at the core of any startup is like, what products are you building?

Who is it for? How are you reaching those people? How are you engaging them? How are you helping them be successful? I just became my north star. And so that's really what we're focused on with Character. It's a seed stage fund. So we're investing usually in kind of the first or second round of funding for a company.

And it's basically the it's the GV model, but [00:27:00] like hyper-focused where we're writing checks, we're investing early, we're partnering very deeply. We're running design sprints. We're also, we've developed a couple other variations of the sprint method. So we have opportunities, sprints, brand sprints names, sprints that we can use to help companies with a range of different, critical high stakes questions that they have.

But yeah, we're just trying to, help founders with that thing that. of Th the most tricky and the most important which also happens to overlap really nicely with the thing that we love to do. And the thing that we have a lot of experience with. So it feels like a really good fit. We raised about 30 million closed that officially at the end of 2021.

We've invested in Seven companies so far with one more, that's going to be signing any day now. And over the next couple of years, we'll probably invest in a total of 15 to 25 companies. And we, we believe because we did this work at GV, we know how it scales and we know how it feels when it scales.

We think that's a number of companies that we can support through this model. Over the next few years and then [00:28:00] hopefully that'll all work well, we'll raise another fund. We'll do it again. We'll decide how we want to scale if we want to scale. But but yeah, that's the. 

[00:28:08] Andrew Michael: Exciting stuff.

And I can definitely see where you're living to resolve when it comes to accelerators and things like that. Like having previously gone through two accelerators, actually, like it almost just feels going through accelerators is a focus on trying to raise funding and get a pitch deck in order and less about the actual business behind it and the product that's going to support it.

Or drive it. So I definitely see that being a huge value add on that end. Cool. I want to ask one question that I ask every guest that joins the show. Let's imagine a hypothetical scenario now that you join a new company, Turner attention is not doing well at this company. And the CEO comes to you and says, Hey, John we really need to turn things around.

We have 90 days to do it. You're in charge. The catch is you're not going to tell me I'm going to go and speak to customers and figure out the biggest pain points and start there. What you're going to do is just [00:29:00] pick something that you've seen be effective in the past at the previous company, and run with that playbook, hoping blindly that it works.

[00:29:11] John Zeratsky: That's a super tough question.

One thing that generally works, but doesn't always scale, but I'm going to, I'm going to throw it out there because I think it may be a little bit different than some other answers that you've gotten to. This question is if I had to blindly do something, I would blindly implement a consultative.

Onboarding for at least a segment of new customers assuming that it's like B2B SAS or something and kind of broadly in that category. And what I mean by that is, an onboarding or sort of a new customer experience where there's a human from the team involved. So it's not just, self sign up.

It's actually. Somebody from the team is involved in talking with the customer. And that's, it's a trick to get around your your requirement that I can't say [00:30:00] we're going to go talk to customers, but I think that it's it's basically. The reason, I think it works so well, is that it allows you to, to not only learn from customers in the flow in real time, but it also, I think allows you to prototype a lot of things, allows you to try a lot of things in this sort of, non-scalable very hands-on but very high fidelity and very high bandwidth type of way.

So you can try different approaches. What, if we talk about it this way versus that way you don't have. Redesign the screens and build them and make sure you fix all the bugs. You can just literally have a conversation, a different way a different day, and you can see what happens. So I think that would probably improve.

Improve retention again, in the ways that we were talking about earlier, which is, focusing on the top of funnel, focusing on activation, I think you'd probably get more satisfied, more activated more engaged customers. But I think you'd also have a really powerful way to learn by by being in the flow and talking with customers, but also being able [00:31:00] to prototype and try a bunch of different approaches as you like.

[00:31:04] Andrew Michael: I should have joy to get onto today. I think what's one thing that, today about general retention that you wish you knew when you got started with your career.

[00:31:10] John Zeratsky: I think that I wish that I understood when I was earlier in my career that most well not most customers don't think about or care about our. As much as we do, which probably sounds obvious, but I think it's really important because, I've constantly been surprised by just how. How much we have to do as product designers and as builders to keep people satisfied, to keep customers engaged and happy.

And, that usually means that there needs to be very frequent, very high touch, very very, high impact, valuable engagement between the product and the customer. And I think, when I think back to some of my earlier experiences, for example, working at feed burner, which was set of tools for web publishers.

And we had analytics tools and, advertising [00:32:00] tools. I think I remember thinking like, oh people are going to want to log in and check their stats every day. Because that's interesting or people don't need to log in to, to look at the product because it's set it and forget it.

How great is that? That's convenient. But the reality is if. If there's not a routine or a habit, there's not a loop. If there's not a touch points or engagement points for people to engage with the product, they tend to forget about it. They tend to not value it as much. They tend to disengage and they become at risk for churn.

And so I think, from, and I talk about this pretty much in every single conversation with founders, whether we've invested or not, it's what is the specific hook? Not just the first time, but on an ongoing basis that like, gets your customers engaged. Are you emailing them every day?

Are you like, like generating a report for them? Are you, is there a habit that you're building? What are you doing to keep your. And the loop. And I think that's the thing that, that I just didn't have a really clear understanding of earlier in my career but ha has become clear over the last [00:33:00] five, five to seven years.

[00:33:02] Andrew Michael: Nice. Yep. You heard it from John people don't care about your product as much as you think a nice thing, a pleasure chatting to you today, John is there any final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with anything they need to be aware of? Like how can they keep up to speed with your work? 

[00:33:20] John Zeratsky: Sure.

Yeah. I'm very, find-able on Twitter and LinkedIn. Those are probably the best ways to follow me. I, I think my parting thoughts or parting messages that a lot of the focus on churn and retention is very quantitative. And you mentioned this, Andrew, it's the benchmarks of where should we be and, coming at it really from this downstream.

Let's look at the numbers and figure out how we can juice the numbers and tweak them and get them to be better. But it's, looking at numbers only is know, if you're crossing the street, it's like only looking one way, and you need to look both ways. And the other way really is the qualitative side of it.

And I think it's one of the, one of the habits or routines of really successful teams is that they are [00:34:00] always talking to their customers. And they're doing it in a very structured way. So they're segmenting out different categories not personas or demographic, but.

Behavioral profiles of this is a customer who's in this situation. This is a customer who is in this situation talking to a couple of those people every week and capturing what they learn and what they say in a structured format, so that they can keep a pulse that it doesn't replace the quantitative, but serves as a really helpful compliment.

So it's basically, if the numbers are showing you what people are doing, hopefully your interviews and your qualitative. We are telling you why they're doing it. And I think that's super important because it, it tends to point the way to the solutions. It points the way toward things that you can try experiments, you can run things you can prototype.

Those are my parting thoughts, but yeah, we'd love to connect with people, LinkedIn, Twitter And thanks again for having me 

[00:34:51] Andrew Michael: on. It's a pleasure. And I love that final thoughts is actually a part of the reason why I left Hotjar to find a new company idea was really, [00:35:00] I was heading up business intelligence for HR analytics and data side, all about the numbers and really like a lot of the value as well then is on the qualitative side.

And they were very big on you need to have the Watson, the Y to really get the full picture and something we're trying to do to help our customers with today is bring them both together and bring two sides. So I think it's a shame like most companies today, They really have on one end, they'll have the dead analytics team doing some work in there.

Then they'll have UX and UI or user research on the other side. And very rarely do they actually work together to like really produce insights that matter and give you the what the, why I liked the analogy of just crossing the road and only looking one way. That's very cool. It's a pleasure having you today.

Gianna, I wish you best of luck now with the fund going forward and whatever 22 brings to you. 

[00:35:40] John Zeratsky: All right. Thanks. Same to you. 

[00:35:42] Andrew Michael: And that's a wrap for the show today with me, Andrew, Michael, I really hope you enjoyed it. And you're able to pull out something valuable for your business to keep up to date with and be [00:36:00] notified about new episodes. Blog posts and more subscribe to our mailing list by visiting 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 blend direct feedback by sending it to, 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.


John Zeratsky
John Zeratsky

The show

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 this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros working in product, marketing, customer success, support, and operations roles across different stages of company growth, who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.


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