What do you do if your customers just don’t “get” your product?
My guest today is Jane Portman, UI design expert, and co-founder of Userlist.io. We talked about why Userlist initial positioning didn’t work, and the ten steps Jane and the Userlist team took to develop a new product positioning. From recruiting customers, to running customer interviews, and discovering the patterns and themes amongst qualitative data.
Listen to this episode:
- Why Userlist changed their product positioning
- The steps Jane took to start improving their product positioning
- How Jane scheduled customer interviews
- The customer research questions that led to the best insights
- Why understanding your product’s “true competitive alternative” is important, and how to find them
- How to figure out positioning internally
- The difference between “attributes” and “features”
- How to cluster attributes and features into “themes”
- Using card sorting exercise as a product positioning
- The biggest mistake Jane made when she tried to launch her previous products
- 5 Proven Methods for Positioning Your New Product
- Obviously Awesome
- UI Breakfast
- How To Use Jobs To Be Done To Read Your Customer’s Mind
- Benedict Deicke
- Des Traynor
- Joe Leech
- Ends by Joe McLeod
- UI Breakfast Podcast
- More Isn’t Always Better – Challenging the Growth at All Costs Mindset
- Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business
- Userlist Blog
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and techies who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing.
Louis: I’m your host, Louis Grenier. In this episode, you learn how Userlist, which is a customer messaging tool for SaaS businesses, developed brand new positioning when the previous one didn’t ready click with customers and what’s interesting in the way they’ve done it is because they’ve used the method that April Dunford explained in this podcast a few episodes ago, and in her book that she published recently, as well. So it’s a very practical way for a company to use this method, and I really wanted to showcase that.
Louis: My guest today is a UI and UX consultant from Russia. She’s the co-founder of Userlist, as I mentioned. She’s the host of the UI Breakfast podcast, so she’s a fellow podcaster, a speaker, an author, and more importantly, a mom of three. Jane Portman, welcome.
Jane: Thank you, Louis. I’m thrilled to join. Pleasure to be your guest.
Louis: So here is how it started, right? It’s the two of us. I’ve been following you for a while. You know how it works, just followed you, I didn’t necessarily talk to you, just seeing what you were up to, what you were doing. One day I saw this article popping up in my feed from a few people that I respected, saying this is how we, Userlist, change our positioning of day to day even now, it works much better, basically. We can offer free for positioning. I believe that this is one of the core foundations of marketing that people forget. When I see something like that, like a case study like this, I was like, okay, I need to talk to Jane. So that’s why I sent you an email and I did it in a sneaky manner because I asked you to trigger, what made you change your positioning and try to understand the reasoning behind it, before understanding, getting into more details.
Louis: You call my bluff, you understood why I was sending this email. You said like this is clearly a joke, jobs to be done type of email anyway, two customer resource freak talking to each other. That turns into an interesting conversation and why you are here today. So let’s go back to the source of the trigger. Tell me, talk me back through the period in time where you have this startup but you felt like this elevator pitch, positioning didn’t really click with customers. What happened then? What happened there?
Jane: Right. So we have been working on Userlist, the three of us since a fall off 2017. So it’s been a while. We’re going out of Beta probably next month hopefully and we’ve already gone through repositioning because we’ve been talking to the customers and a lot, we’ve been talking to fellow founders at conferences and they all got what the product does, but definitely not from our elevator pitch. So when we tried our like headline, which was behavior-based email automation for SaaS, everybody was imagining different things, just not exactly what it did. I’ve been working with different types of products for about five years now and I can feel when it doesn’t click and it clearly didn’t click, which was quite frustrating, because the tool itself is pretty straightforward and definitely useful and the market is not new and that can get really frustrating when it’s an existing market and you still can’t explain what the product does.
Jane: Therefore, we did the exercise. Essentially, Claire came back from a conference, very inspired by April’s talk. She had secret drafts for book and she was like, “Yeah, we got to read that, we’ve got to apply the method, we’ve got to do the drill.” So I took the book and it was so actionable that I grabbed the document and just started writing down the answers to her exercises. That’s how it got started.
Louis: Okay. So great teaser, let’s go back a bit in time. So you mentioned the easily is funded by three people, right? So you have yourself, you have Claire Suellentrop, whom I interviewed on the podcast twice. So people listening to this will know her. And who is the third co-founder?
Jane: It’s been Benedikt Deicke an amazing talented developer from Germany. We worked with Benedikt before on my previous SaaS product called Tiny Reminder, which didn’t particularly go to amazing growth, but it was acquired. Then I pitched Benedikt and Claire that would love to work on something new, I was super lucky that they said yes and that’s how it got started.
Louis: Mm-hmm – and then you mentioned April. So as I mentioned in the intro, we are talking about April Dunford who is a positioning expert, who I’m sure is listening to this episode right now, because now that it’s live, I sent an email of course, telling her that we’re talking about her, she’s going to be thrilled. But she launched this new book and I’m going to forget the name now. This book, the title of the book, but it’s about positioning. What is it again? Do you remember it?
Jane: Obviously Awesome.
Louis: Obviously Awesome and how to nail your positioning so people notice you, love you, buy from you. I think that’s kind of the buy line behind it. And yeah, I’ve read the book as well. I am seeking for positioning so I’ve definitely followed the methods because I work for Hotjar as well and that’s one of the project I’m in charge of. I can also vouch for her methodology. But let’s go back a bit in term of, you have experience, right? So you said, I could see, I could feel that people didn’t necessarily understand it. You didn’t click, one of the way that you felt it didn’t click is because as you said when you said this elevator pitch about behavioral base email for SaaS, people thought of different things, right? There wasn’t a cohesive or I get what you do. What other signs are there from your experience from like of a poor positioning or poor kind of elevator pitch?
Jane: I don’t particularly have signs of poor positioning besides the very low sales and obvious lack of understanding. But there are definitely signs of good positioning which result in sales, which result in people like clearly going very fast from you explaining stuff and them buying stuff. That just doesn’t work like that when they don’t understand what your product do. So it’s like fundamental step number one in their purchasing process in my mind.
Louis: So yeah, you know, when it happens, when it’s good, you know it happens. Like you just, people get it, they say, Oh yeah, of course they sign up without asking any more questions. They just know what to expect and it’s part of their context already. It’s part of their world view and what they’re expecting. So it’s much easier. So I think we’ve set the stage. You were in this position, Claire went to this conference, talk to April, realize that hey, we need to do something about our positioning before we released this product by the way, Userlist at the time when this episode is live Userlist, would be out of Beta. So people will be able to Google and sign up. Just want to say that as well.
Jane: You can still sign up, it’s just called beta. So we will be 100% positive it’s not Beta anymore.
Louis: So let’s go through the step you took, right. The book has I think around 10 steps and you went through each of them and why not doing that together then? So what is the first step you took to improve your positioning?
Jane: So just use the words from the book, I guess, because I use them in the blog post. So step number one is understand the customers who love your product. I thought that’s like 60% of success, but obviously it’s very essential, but it’s not exactly 60% of success obviously as our experienced shows. So our audience was super clear. We went to target SaaS companies about small to medium scale because our competition are mostly enterprise tools and do with yourself, well, we can talk about this later. So we wanted to take this particular niche and focus on them. We also all of us belong to this amazing founder, Bootstrap founder ecosystem and there’s such spirit of fellow people doing something great and I do believe they deserve great tools.
Jane: So that was all very important to all three of us when we got started. So question number one was essentially no brainer. We also have been doing a lot of customer research and that very helpful because we’ve already had their common problems in line. We’ve got the language mostly and we knew that the product is definitely useful. So we went forward to figure out the right words to describe it.
Louis: Right. I mean, it’s funny, every time I talk to smart people like you in the podcast and we go through step by step methods, every single time without fail, the first step is always understanding your customer, understanding your most profitable customer, your best customer, interviewing them. So there’s a thread there and there’s a reason why every single one or view like guests start this way. So you said you already did research and not surprised because Claire is a sucker for customer research as well. But I want to come back on one comment you made on one aspect. So you knew exactly that it was like small to midsize SaaS and maybe even better for bootstraps SaaS companies. So companies who don’t necessarily have a lot of capital but really love their customer. So I would suspect that not only in term of demographic, but also psychographic. You also had a clear idea of who they were, probably because a company’s really gave a shit about their users.
Louis: It sounds like that was implied, but the reason why I’m making the point is because I see most of the time personas or either customer ideation or whatever, I see the session forgetting a lot about the psychographic of those people. So yes, they are in this segment, yes, they have this job title, but what do they believe? You know, what are their thoughts? Like what is the thing that they all agree on in this group, right? And that’s really important. So I think you’ve implied that, but I want you to highlight it a bit more.
Jane: Yes, definitely love for the customer is a shared thing and also most of these people from just our experience of talking to them, they don’t have resources to hire a specific marketing person at their stage. Or maybe it’s not sustainable, therefore they believe in good marketing but don’t always have enough resources to do this, like the enterprise way. We wanted to provide a quality way to do that, but in a simple manner so that they can do that themselves.
Louis: So how did you do the research? Because I suspect you did the research before doing this work. But take me through the way, like the one way that really leads the highest, the biggest, aha moments are the most important insights.
Jane: I can highlight two stages that we did. So one was the pre-product very early stage research when we just got in touch with about, I forgot exact number, maybe like 20 fellow founders and Claire had one on one interviews with all of them or transcribed and we validated the need for such a tool that they do send behavior-based email and the needs such a tool. The most useful part was after we had the MVP sort of stage product that we got in touch with the same people and other prospects and people who found us online.
Jane: We had a huge number of demo calls with them talking to them about their problems and with a specific product in mind and with a specific product to show, and while discussing their business and then by showing our product, we had the most relations and every interview was so unique. It was also great for team building, because we did our best that at least two out of three would show up on every call. Just a few of them were done like solo and that was great for just like raising the spirit and sharing common customer sentiments.
Louis: So how did you go about doing those interviews, especially when you had this MVP? Like talk me through the typical process you took.
Jane: Instead of the signup button on our website, we had a requests early access thing and that button signed people up for our mailing list. We had an onboarding email with a few questions. They would answer those screening questions and if they were a good fit, that’s usually pretty clear. So if there’s a website with a nice solid product, like that’s a fit, that’s how our customer. So if there was a fit, we would invite them for a demo and a use Calendly to schedule that and then we’ll just get on a zoom conversation using video and we would mostly talk about their business. So more than half of the call would be discussing their problems as opposed to just showing things around.
Louis: As opposed to being a hardcore sales man sales woman just, these all the features. This is all you can do, this is how much it is, do you want to buy it, you had a more qualitative approach, more research based approach to it, right?
Jane: Yup. And it was definitely not a quantitative by any means and it was more about like getting insights. Insights is good word for it. Insights and the spirit of the person who is our potential customer.
Louis: So I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like what you say when you say spirits and the reason why you mentioned video is, I mean me personally, when I do this stuff, I want to see the other person. When I do research like that, because I want to visualize who they are. When I read, when I write my next marketing email or whatever, I want to imagine this person, I want to read their face and understand the spirit because this is who I’m talking to. So that’s a very leading question but is it why you mentioned the word spirit?
Jane: Probably I guess you’re a big fan of video since we are recording this with the video as well. You’re probably the first podcasts right now who does that. Also my fellow consultants would like not take up a new client without a video call. So I’m not that like rigid about a mandatory video. If people are like in their pajamas, we can switch video off I guess, but it’s more about getting their emotions and getting a lot of words from them and they would never get such amount of words in a survey, written conversation or anything. Let alone service. Those are nearly, not nearly as informative as that.
Louis: So what are the questions that you thought led to the best insights? Like, if you had to pick the top three, what would they be?
Jane: Oh, Are you currently sending any email to your users? So essentially what their current set up is, what problems are you experiencing with those tools? Some of our people were consultants, so that’s not precisely our target audience. However, they have experienced with a number of email tools and they have endless illustration. So we were like scribbling down notes on every single of that. It was very important, even though I should say that consultants do have very different needs. They have advanced feature requests. They want AB testing and other things that typical founder that we’re building for this is not specifically need, especially on the early stage.
Louis: So you ask like how they are currently doing the thing that you are doing, you ask what are the problems, challenges that are facing doing this thing and do you think those are the top two questions. Like hands down the ones that led to the best insights?
Jane: Then they would raise different points, different problems. So it was a little bit more custom after that. So these were like the lead in questions that would very effectively reveal the problems that we’re addressing.
Louis: So you mean that you don’t have a script that you just have a genuine conversation with people, right?
Jane: Yes. We love that. It’s so inspiring to be building for real people.
Louis: That’s kind of the biggest pet peeves when I see people doing interviews for like a some person or research in general is they start with a lot of questions, right? They have this one pager with like maybe 25 questions and they feel the need to go through all of them. Instead of having a normal conversation like you would have, like you and me right now, you would have to need to rush into the next one and you don’t really listen that much and you don’t ask why that much. You don’t deep dive that much, and I feel like you’re missing out on the biggest inside because you just go on the surface. Journalists do that, they are taught to avoid that by always never taking the first answer for like face value. They will always ask the same question again to make sure that people would we tell them the what they want to know.
Louis: So that’s step one, understanding customer and again that starts with any other like method in the marketing start with target audience. Then we have step two and three. I don’t want to go into too far to a lot of detail on this because I think they are fairly straightforward. I really want to talk about true competitive alternative because this is critical in positioning. Step two would be like forming your positioning teams. So for you it was simple, your were three of you, for bigger team you need to agree on who stakeholders and whatnot. Then you just need to align on what you mean by certain words. Letting go of what you already thought about your positioning. So that is out of the way. That’s step two and three. But I think step four, listing your true competitive alternative if you had to peak beyond step one. The most important one is I feel this is definitely this one. So let’s talk through that. What do we mean? What does April mean? What do you mean by like true competitive alternatives?
Jane: So April’s question is what would our best customers do if we didn’t exist? So the biggest mistake I see other people doing, they’re starting to think of alternative tools like competitive tools. But that’s exactly not the point because what we need to look at is also the whole range of different solutions from the most hands on to the most advanced. Let’s say in our case, we came up with four alternatives. So one would be follow up with new customers manually, build something in-house and we know a lot of developers do that, but that’s so clunky and they have to go back to code every time to change a message. Then use something like Drip or ConvertKit, which definitely does the job. It’s just that’s not fine tuned for the customer for the SaaS needs. Then use something like Intercom or Customer io which are definitely our competitors, but they are way more enterprisey, way more complex and our biggest advantages being simple and focused.
Louis: So, three out of the four alternatives that you mentioned are not direct competitors, right? That’s really important to say. So in the question you ask, what would customer do, if they couldn’t use your products, they wouldn’t go back. It’s unlikely that they would go back to another tool that you do exactly like the stuff you do. Unless you’re in a very saturated market where everyone is using it and like no other companies are not using your tool. It’s always another competitors, but it’s very rarely the case. I like your example because the first one is doing things manually or using an Excel spreadsheet and putting the email of your customers and having a column that says, okay, I’ve contacted them, they’ve replied or whatever. It’s for most SaaS companies, it seems like Excel using Excel for specific use case. It seems like you can use Excel for almost everything, right? So by doing those interviews and understanding what people were doing before or are actually doing, you understand that competitive alternatives are not direct competitors, right? It’s not the same thing.
Jane: Absolutely. There’s one sentiment in April’s book that she is specific about is that if people were well educated about the market, you’re typically way more educated and aware of the alternatives. They’re not, if they knew about them that will be already using something else. If they’re not, then maybe they just haven’t found the right solution and they will probably most likely will not in the nearest future.
Louis: Yeah, that’s a very good point, right? You’re so into your business, you’re so nerdy about SaaS and customer research that we think everyone thinks the same way. You know, this big emphasis syndrome of we think everyone knows what, we know plus 10X. It’s not the case. So again, it gave you another example for people listening right now to truly understand the power of this. At Hotjar the biggest alternative, competitive alternative is using and relying on traditional web analytics tool to understand the users. Google analytics is not a direct competitor, at Hotjar in fact, you need to use both. So by positioning it this way, when you start to understand that this is your biggest competition alternative, it’s much easier to position your business and the benefits and all of that towards that. Instead of saying, Oh, Hotjar is better than this dye competitor when only 5% of market isn’t using it, right? That’s when you really understood, you’re able to, once you listed your alternative, to truly understand the attributes to things that make you unique compared to them.
Louis: So how did you find out those competition alternatives? Because they’re quite simple now, you’ve listed in like four easily. Was it still from those interviews that you discovered that those other things that people tend to do?
Jane: Mostly so, we’ve had a large number of them and we stopped doing interviews when we saw that, that we are not learning much new anymore. Therefore, we’ve seen these patterns repeat all over in, over in and founder’s stories.
Louis: So you listed them out and I guess from this step four, it might have been your first aha moment, right? Might have been your first shit. Actually we are not positioning it the right way because look at all of those alternatives people are doing, that actually they’re not using Intercom or they are not using these other tools, right?
Jane: Definitely. So yes.
Louis: So okay, step four. Okay, first aha moment, seconds after understanding customer competitive alternatives. Then one part of the process is to isolating the attributes or the features that you offer and you need to start mapping them out. So that’s usually quite easy. People tend to really focus on features a lot, right? Instead of the benefits or the value it provides. So this step is relatively easy, but how did you go about it? You just go into a room together and just, okay, what do we offer? What the fact do we offer in the first place?
Jane: So how it went, it was me on a bus without, not a bus like a minivan driving to my hometown after a conference. Very inspired, no internet, reading the book and typing away in a spreadsheet. So that’s the setting. And actually this step was pretty challenging, maybe one of the most challenging ones. So I started with actually unique attributes that we thought we assumed were our competitive advantage. When I started doing other steps with that, I ended up typing away on nearly everything that the product does and especially the product does not, which is also in a very interesting twist.
Jane: So we have some decisions that some of them are strategic and some of them are of that way because we’re still early and we’re not planning to build AB testing like soon for example. So we’ll elaborate on that later. But that can be a benefit for a one group of people and a drawback for another. So we just started with a few key attributes of being like very nicely designed and a simple to use. That later, first of all is group and then you’ve got to rephrase it a little bit as we started to map benefits and value and audiences to these features.
Louis: So what is the difference between an attribute and a feature?
Jane: It’s interesting, maybe attribute is like a selling point that you use to differentiate from the others and the feature is just downright what the product does or does not.
Louis: Yeah, so feature for you will be I mean the capacity to send two scheduled emails in the future. I don’t know, just coming right.
Jane: I could probably give some examples here. So the key features would be user management. The attribute is low complexity. The attribute is being affordable. We agreed to not mention that in public but it is more affordable than enterprise tools. Then features are our enormous training materials and that API integration is good for developers best marketers, for example, integration with Segment integration, with other development platforms, segmentation broadcasts and boosting features here than something we are working on right now is in-app notifications, but just informational without responses. Lack of a visual builder, like it would not work for marketers. Lack of AB testing, lack of advanced styling, lack of chat within an in-app notifications, which is like our very firm’s strategy here to be reducing the support volume to not trigger unnecessary conversations there. So these are both attributes, features and non features. The same big list.
Louis: That’s super important, because you clearly the way you’re listening things, you’re clearly taking a stand against certain things, right? By mentioning non features, you allow that to shine. So one example that you just mentioned is not having a chat, right? You make a clear decision that part of your value, part of what you want is to do is to be so simple, that you don’t drown in customer communication coming from any angle and you just pick the email as dimensional. Again, it’s quite simple when you said that this way it makes all the sense in the world when you describe it. But how would you say people listening to this right now, how do you think they should go about finding those non features? Like where is that coming from? Is that coming from the vision that you have originally for the product you want to build?
Jane: Some of them have the vision and strategic decisions that we have in mind and some of them come from feature requests, especially from the early customers as definitely some material from the interviews discussing different features. Because when we have an interview, people would say like, we would love to have this, we would love to have that. Then we would have like a post interview conversation with Benedikt for example, because we mostly work in product two of us. And we will say like, yeah, that sounds great later. That’s we really must built and that one we’re never building because that’s not us and stuff like that. For example, there is that feature of re-sending to people who didn’t open it. Like we have a pretty strategic stance on that. Well, it didn’t go into this feature table, but we are super honest, super value driven and we don’t want features like that even though that’s probably common marketing practice.
Louis: So that’s the feature that ConvertKit has, for example, that always remind you to kind of resend the same email to people who are haven’t to open it, right?
Jane: Yeah. Both myself and Benedikt, we do share the sentiment that this is not respectful to the ultimate and receiver using.
Louis: All right. So you come from a place where you have your values, you know what you’re standing against, standing for. You have your word, do you know why you have this product in the first place and you basically are able to then map out non features or the features you are not going to be in this list, which is step five, right? So for people who haven’t seen how it looks like this exercise, it’s simple table that you can put on Excel or Google doc, right? You don’t need a software to do positioning it just Google doc, keep it simple, quick and that is like tables, command, you collaborate. It should be easy enough, right?
Jane: Yeah, absolutely. I use the Google doc because there is some of the early questions are just like plain lists or plain text answers. So I’ll just pile it on those and then had table inside of just a four column table. Pretty simple. So just brainstorm a way on things that you have inside your app. Maybe you can remove something later and maybe you don’t.
Louis: Yep. Agreed. So how can people then visualize it? So the first column is in this table that we have is kind of the all of the attributes and features right listed one by one, right?
Jane: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: So now we are going into step six, which is mapping those attributes to value, which is when you translate the stuff you do to the stuff people give a shit about. If I can…
Jane: There was one more step in this process is clustering those attributes and features into themes. So that’s probably the secret source of April’s method I guess. Because when you tried to cluster and combine like what’s common between these features, that’s when you kind of pre-consider there and go back and edit that list to see like what maps do what.
Louis: So how did you go about it? So here we’re talking about turning a list of 60, 100, 120 things into core themes like things. How did you go about it? Just started to see commonalities, patterns and just grouped them together.
Jane: So the way you’re supposed to approach that is from the value perspective. So I was trying to understand, what’s common between these things, what’s the value that the person is receiving? Maybe that’s helpful to go from the other side. Like what value in general the user is expecting to receive, definitely. Let’s say communicate successfully to their customers, is definitely something they’re expecting when they sign up for our tool. So after all these brainstorming, it was clear the three topics emerged there three clusters. One is communicates successfully with the users to increase product engagement, adoption, retention, whatever you call it, the KPIs of the business.
Jane: One other value theme was staying on top of their user situations. So seeing who the users are because that’s another feature that a lot of like when you launch your SaaS, unless you have a specific back end, there is no way you can very well see like user names, their addresses, is like what they do, where they’re at.
Louis: Like a CRM.
Jane: Yeah, it’s not a CRM when you get to talk to them, but the CRM as a table, as a user list. So you can see that in Intercom for example. But if you go to Drip or ConvertKit, that feature is definitely missing. There is just a faceless list of emails in it because it’s not built for the purpose of SaaS. But the most interesting valley cluster was, we phrased it as getting started with less effort and resources and this valley cluster combined all our efforts such as training materials, low complexity being affordable means that people can get started without putting in resources, which is either money or knowledge of being able to buy that knowledge. So that means like marketing training, being able to purchase them to price tool and all of that suddenly like condensed into one value theme of getting started easily and with less resources.
Louis: So to summarize then you had, so getting started with less effort, resources, staying on top of that user situation, communicate successfully to increase adoption, retention. So again, it all makes sense, very well summarized from the perspective of the user. So you start from them and then you’re going to map out actually the features and the benefits that they get for those values. Again, did you find that out by interviewing customers? Was it also those three themes? Where did they come from talking to customers, understanding their pain points, their problems and therefore what they wanted to achieve as well?
Jane: I will say these themes emerge from brainstorming the list of features and trying to see what those features have in common. Trying to like group them however, keeping customer interest in mind. So that’s like coming from two directions. It’s sort of a sorting exercise.
Louis: Okay. How do you advise people to do that? Because that sounds a bit tricky or if not tricky a bit… I visualize this working on a this line, like it’s you can’t fall, you need to stay between the feature that you refer, what people care about. It’s always this juggling act between the two. So how did you go about it in practical terms? So you have your list of features and you just say, okay, why should people give a shit about us having low complexity? Why should people care about the fact that we have user management?Is that how you did it?
Jane: So I just started taping away the table and the call number one is the feature, then there is the benefit. So we translate that to what people receive and then those value clusters are like the essence of that benefit. So in my case it was easy to type. Maybe in other case it could be better to have index cards in like in a corporate setting. Like you have a table and your co-founders and you try to sort those cards and figure out. One of the, just from the UX kind of background, one thing you could do is to give those feature cards to every person that separate set of cards and try to do the card sorting exercise. There are some tools for doing that online, but I’m quite sure that being in the same room goal really help there. So it really depends on the way you try to brainstorm.
Louis: So let’s talk about that a bit because you are a UX, UI expert, you know a lot of UX method like card sorting. So maybe let’s describe that a bit. So you have in card sorting, let’s imagine that those cards are actually on each card you have one feature, and we would then give that to colleagues or whoever wants to be involved, in like part of your positioning team and you would ask them, let’s try to group those features in like five groups or less.
Jane: The most effective part of that exercise is that every person has given let’s say 20 minutes or 30 minutes and a separate set of cards. So there let’s say three smart people in the room and each of them is trying their best to do just that. So they’re going to have something as a result and the most magical moment happens when you discuss your results together and you’re like, Oh, that was my train of thought, but Claire maybe had an entirely different train of thought and Benedikt has a different train of thought. My case was not precisely how we did it, but this is how card sorting works. The magic is when you see how other people brains work in that direction and you’re like, Oh we can use my method but use that twist and that twist and then the compounding result is something that makes the most sense for the situation.
Louis: Yeah. I’m glad you’re mentioning this because this is obviously something very easy for you or like you’ve practiced for years, but I’m pretty sure a few listeners have never heard of this method before of card sorting. So to summarize, in this situation, you give the cards that contain each feature you would give a different pack to each. So not everyone will have the same features to sort through, right?
Jane: I would probably try to give everyone all 20 features so they just do the exercise on their own.
Okay. So they do it on their own and you give them 20 minutes and basically you say your task is to group them into themes as simple as that?
Right. Given that they ideally read the book or at least read some instructions from the books so that they know like what exactly we are saying.
Of course, that’s implied of course then so you have the card, you have 20 minutes, they try to put them together and group them together. But then as you said, the magic happens really when at the end of the 20 minutes, those people talk to each other and say, actually user management and affordability and API, I think they should be in this theme because X, Y and Z. So someone would say, actually I didn’t put it there and you start to compound those ideas. This is when after debate and this heated discussion, sometimes I suspect you land into like the simple answer of the three themes you mentioned, right?
Yeah, I guess so. In my case, really it was mostly me doing the thing. So we didn’t have that fantastic benefit. But I should say that we had so much research done together and so many calls that I’d know if we could have arrived at different results, but we definitely, it would have been around the same like words and problems because we’ve seen the problems like dozens of times.
Yeah and that’s the benefit again of like step zero, which is customer research and interviewing people. It’s like you’re getting a shared in the setting. You know, you don’t have to talk about it. You know, you share the same experience. You share this person who said this thing, and you all remember this moment and the face of this person when talking about this problem, you just clicks, right? You just know that people would be in the same page. So to summarize on this step, what you have in front of us is a table that has four columns. Number one, the feature. What does your product do? That’s easiest really thing to list. Number two is the benefit. What is the feature enabling people to do in the first place? What enables user management like to do, but with user management he can basically manage users. I know it sounds simple, but then you have the third column and this is when becomes interesting.
The how does this feature actually maps to some something that someone is trying to do your customers trying to do. Because they don’t use their product to make you feel happy or to pay you just because they want to, they use your product to do a job, right? They hire your product to do a particular job. They have something in their head, they want it, they want to achieve it and that’s why they are looking for their products. That’s column number three.
I think it would be very timely to maybe give a couple examples here so that people have an idea of those three. So let’s say we put a lot of exert on great training materials. We have templates, worksheets and things like that. That’s the feature. The benefit would be being confident, how to get started and apply our tool. The value, well this is pretty unique because it has a lot of like value maps to all three groups. It allows you to communicate successfully. It allows you to get started with less resources like quickly and it allows you to stay within budget within hiring a particular market let’s say. And let’s say a non feature would be lack of chat within in-app notifications. That’s the feature. The benefit is to receive less low quality support requests from the chat and the ultimate value would be to have better communication quality reduce support volume.
Yeah. I’m glad you’re mentioning this and again, this is where the non feature or the lack of or the absence of really start to shine to me. This is probably one of the things I learned through your article and the way you’ve done it, that really adds a lot of value to the book that April wrote unto the method is. It really enables you to link your value, your vision, what you want the product to be with actually what people would get from not having this feature. Which is great. So your example of not having a chat enables you to be more, not being overwhelmed by all the stuff that you mentioned you stay on top of your user.
The lack of AB testing enables you to have a less complex project and product and again, enables you to maybe get the job done faster without having to worry about this cluster in front of you. This clutter of all the things you could be doing and this fear of missing out because there are so many features you’re not using and therefore, you don’t want to pay that much for this product, because you’re not using all of those features. I mean all this cluster fuck. So thanks for giving examples.
So at this stage we have the feature, the benefit, the value, right? So then this is when also part of the magic happens and this is where your persona, the work you’ve done before start to entering the picture. Now it’s about understanding who cares about this value, who cares about the future? By mapping the feature, the benefit of value, the way you’ve done it, the way April says, it’s really clear that as you said, marketers couldn’t care less whether API done at technical people, they don’t give a shit, however developers too. So that’s when you start really understanding actually we shouldn’t necessarily push this feature to this particular persona and all that. How did you go about mapping this fourth column in the table, which is basically who cares a lot? Who gives a shit? I would put it.
Jane: So we had the audience of SaaS companies, which is very firm, but we had these different personas that real people kind of prototypes that we met during the interviews and they could easily group into self owners or smaller Bootstrap companies who have limited resources and typically a founder or another person rarely a professional marketer is doing the marketing job, the customer communication. The other persona would be a so small to medium, a SaaS company that probably even might have funding and has a little bit of history and has resources. But their marketer is fascinated by our approach of being simple and focused and just bought bloated as other enterprise tools. So had the range of those people as well. We tried to map the features that way that some of them were clearly more beneficial for Bootstrap companies or and some of them would be clearly beneficial for those marketers at larger companies and we tried to see who that is beneficial and why. So that information went into the last column of the table.
Louis: And again, you were able to do this by having this clear understanding of the customer in the first place. So now you can visualize this for sure and you can visualize this the table has again, four columns. So you’d have the feature, the benefit, the value, and then who cares about this, right?
Louis: Then really when you’ve accomplished this, when you finish this table, how did you feel about it? Like when you first saw that in the finished state or like somewhat finished, how did you feel?
Jane: Oh, it was great. Well, you mentioned like multiple times and I said that multiple times that we were pretty clear and we knew so well and we knew all these the information about all these features and benefits and things like, because it’s not my day one in products, I’m also doing designing products for other people. I know it should be customer driven, value driven, etc. But it’s fantastic how all of that got mapped out and clearly organized like from the ground up into people who would benefit from that and who would shows really focus on selling it. That was the magical of April’s method.
Louis: That’s why like humans crave patterns. They crave processes step by step because like the mind always try, the brain always tries to find some the fastest way, cheapest way in terms of resources to get stuff done. So we crave on those methods. We crave on those tables, those frameworks because it makes it easier even though as you say, we all know, everyone listening know that we need to focus on the customer. You need to focus on the value, whatever how the fuck do you do that. Where do you start? How do you map it out? That’s when you start losing it and don’t know where to start and you don’t do it at all.
Jane: Definitely, so.
Louis: So now we are towards the last step. So I don’t want to spend a crazy amount of time on the step maybe nine but I want to talk briefly about the market frame of reference and that’s super important. So I gave an example about how Hotjar before, about the traditional web analytics, right? So if you try to sell Hotjar in term of like this brand new tool that no one has ever used before, that you need to discover that doesn’t fit any frame of reference. You’re basically trying to sell something brand new to people. It’s incredibly difficult to sell it because have to basically change the habit all together, you need to sell them and spend millions on advertising budget, to make them change their mind. Or you could actually frame the product in something that they already know and so forth.
Louis: For Hotjar it’s like the web and analytics tools, you frame it in term of the traditional and then something else. So for you, April has three positioning strategy, is really like the head to head. So you positioned to win in an existing market, the big fish small pond where you positioned to win in a subsegment, which is probably the most popular and the easiest way for any startup to get into. Then creating a new game, which is everyone is getting into this at the minute positioning to win a new market. You create a new category conversation or marketing and fucking product led marketing and all of this that creates a lot of noise and the form of that last one is really, fucking tough, right? Because you need to change everything. You need to change people habit, you need to invest so much money into. So which one did you go after?
Jane: So that was really a no brainer because when we started the product, we kind of knew the angle that we’re taking with our marketing and the product. So big fish, small pond was definitely our choice, especially that my previous product, Tiny Reminder like in a super vague productivity tool didn’t go anywhere because I tried to invent to market. So I kind of wasn’t that keen before and that was not again that I was going after for sure this time. Like Alex Jibbitz said like if you want to do something, just create another help desk tool. You know, something that does what people know and that has the market name, etc.
Louis: So that comes from experience. So you try to create a business or startup that was creating a brand new category, trying to change people’s habits, convincing them the need to use your tool that doesn’t really fit into a frame of reference that they already have. As a marketer, you wish you could do that. You wish you could be God and change people’s mind this way. But you quickly learn that it’s almost impossible. It just take years. It just takes so much effort to truly do that. It’s much easier to use what people are already doing and just add something to it and just slowly bring them to something new instead of just trying to do the work of doing everything else. So I’m glad you mentioned that and I’m glad that is coming from your past experience.
Louis: So step nine of April’s book is to today on a trend, we’re not necessarily going talk about that because I want to ask you a few personal questions. But then step 10, is basically to put that all in a canvas so you can visualize this canvas. Again, it’s a table simple. At the top you’d have like, what is your product? What do you do? One line. Then you have your market category like for you in discussing my messaging tool for SaaS, Intercom kind of led that change in the market, right? But yours subcategory, which is the small pond big fish or vice versa. I don’t know. This is smaller size companies who need less complex tool. Right? So you have a sub segment of this market. So those are the top two rows and then you have four columns.
Louis: What are the competitive, alternatives? Again they are not necessarily the right competitors and unlikely to be your attributes that are unique to you that a competitive alternative do not have the value that those enabled for the customer. And then who gives a shit? I mean, April says, who care a lot, but I like to say who gives a shit. It’s stronger to remember better. So thanks Jane so much, for going through this with me and sharing your experience firsthand and to how to use this, and how to develop a new positioning. I have a few more questions to ask you. Nothing crazy though. So you mentioned this mistake you’ve made in your previous company, or like the products you tried to launch before. Was it the biggest mistake you’ve made? Trying to launch a product and trying to launch a new market, a new product. Was it why you think it failed or was it for another reason?
Jane: There were multiple reasons. First I didn’t have a super specific market in mind, so I had some ideas about it, but it was like I was coming from an angle that, Oh, it’s so useful. It can be used by anyone. Well, don’t fall for that and like going back, I can’t imagine it was me just saying that like, how blind sighted can we be when we talk about our products? It’s like I have an idea. It’s brilliant. Everybody’s like, yeah, it’s cool and I even made some presales.
Jane: But that’s not validation, definitely not. So lack of a specific market, lack of the specific use case and I tried to promote like some of the use cases, but that didn’t really go anywhere. Just generally speaking it was a form builder with reminders. So you can set a date and people would get notified to fill out the form. Like, I keep using it for my podcast and it works great. So I can set the deadline and remind busy guests that they need to fill out the details and stuff like that. But see it took me like three sentences to try and get that and really that was acquired by NewC and I think they’re looking forward to develop it further and use it to like a satellite promotional tool for their core proposal building software. But that was a great lesson.
Louis: So don’t try to target everyone. Another one that is implied is nobody cares about what you’re doing or your products. So that’s interesting. Did you use the money that you got from selling it to invest in Userlist or was it too small to just but…
Jane: Definitely not take better because it was just a tiny tool with zero paying customers essentially because of the freemium model. A few other lessons that I learned was that freemium is not great way for smaller companies to get started. A probably a lesson… I had very important lessons in mind totally forgot. Oh, the vitamin versus painkiller thing. So my audience was so like jumping in, jumping out, trying other productivity tools. So vague. So like this time was super solid about building it, an essential business tool, it backfired a little bit because it’s harder to get people on board of course, because it needs to be a big decision, the big step in their life to start doing that. But it’s really way less churn and more like serious business conversations and generally speaking, much easier to sell.
Louis: So vitamin versus painkiller. Vitamin is the product that makes your life a bit better?
Louis: Painkillers are the things that solve real problems, like relieve the pain and those are not really equal, right? From also from my small experience and you see it from the behavior of people in email, subject line or whatever else. We as humans are geared towards problems or solving them. It’s just the way we think. So if you really just talk about you’re going to improve something by 10X, it doesn’t really tick as much as saying you are not going to lose 10X or whatever else. Really tracking on the pain and the problem you’re solving and that’s what you’ve learned, right? So your previous product was more on the vitamin side and now Userlist is definitely a painkiller.
Jane: Yup. Well, it depends because the business of course can survive without onboarding emails, but it’s definitely painkiller that regard that like a startup founder is sitting there in their office and it was like, Oh my God, what am I going to do? People don’t convert and that, that’s a pain.
Louis: Can tell you as well another pain, to be honest and to blow your own trumpet as well a bit is Intercom. I mean, I don’t like to talk about tools that much in podcasts, because I wish people can listen to this interview in five years and still make sense. But for people listening in 2025, Intercom used to be this customer researching tool, very complex, right? It’s true. It is very complex. I can say that one pain if you’re using Intercom and you’re not using all the features and the pricing is definitely going up and up and up, that this is becoming a pain for you and you want a solution. You’re like, I wish I had to just Intercom without all the shits around it, you know?
Jane: That’s precisely how the product idea was conceived. We don’t use the same words, but as UX person, I was amazed at how like best trainer has a fantastic number of resources on building simple products. So I’m wondering like, what if Intercom didn’t have Des Traynor there? Like what would it do then?
Louis: Shot fired there.
Jane: Like what is like now?
Louis: I like it. All right, let’s don’t go further than, but again, I think if you’re listening to this right now, you understand what we mean by painkiller versus vitamin. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next five, 10, 20, 50 years?
Jane: You know, I’m not in marketing myself, but I can see the trend that we’re definitely moving out of all like shady gray zones and marketing with the regulations and everything. So I would say being ethical is a great thing to learn to be because when you are ethical, it’s much easier to be compliant and honest and straightforward. That trend is just, I think it’s only improving and building on and will be in the next few years.
Louis: Amen to that. That’s where the podcast is here. That’s my pain was this like, there’s not enough how to do good marketing without being shady, without squeezing every conversion out of your funnel. Even if people don’t want to convert. What are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners today? So it could be podcast book, conference whatever.
Jane: I prepared and I’m sure it’s really hard to delight your audience because like what do they not know about marketing? But I do run my own podcast and I had a number of people who do marketing, like give an interesting twist or a different thinking to that. So I prepared a book by Joe MacLeod called Ends, and it’s a little bit like philosophical probably, but it as a marketer, you can really have a different angle on what you do and try to have more opportunities about ending user experiences. Talking to people in the end as opposed to all this onboarding fluff and stuff like that. Then there’s a Joe Leech person who I had a fantastic conversation about international UX. So going into international markets, different countries, you know when IKEA went to the United States, they sold water vases because it was a drinking glass in the United States and things like that.
Jane: But in the world of software products, so that’s Joel Leech, mrjoe.uk. Will share the links later. One of my personal like superheroes, not exactly super heroes, but who’s doing unconventionally is Paul Jarvis. He’s pretty famous with his book especially with his latest book, the Company of One. So what he does is he has a very clean website, very clean style of delivering his newsletter and just overall very ethical and minimalistic in terms of marketing. So maybe you could mimic some of them. I’ve been somewhat borrowing the clean part for UI breakfast and that has been working pretty well for me.
Louis: Yeah, I interviewed him on the podcast a few months ago in this session. I really did his belief and it is a great example on how to build an ethical business and be very profitable living the life you want. So I would definitely recommend for people to check it out. So Jane, you’ve been a pleasure. I really appreciated your transparency in particular how you’re transparent as well, like online and sharing those articles. Keep doing it. That will be my advice because I love reading those. So please share your story. I know it’s difficult when you have a startup to run to think about how I need to write this fucking article for readers. But please do, because people I think we’ll learn a lot from you and trust you more in the process. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?
Jane: So the business we’ve been talking about along the way is Userlist.io and we have a very pretty and informational blog there and a lot of resources if you want to dive into successful customer messaging, that’s for SaaS founders. If you want to learn more about product and design, head over to uibreakfast.com that’s my personal brand website design training podcast and other things.
Louis: Well, Jane, once again, thank you so much.
Jane: It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you so much.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.