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April 2, 2019
Now, it's time to reflect on where we've come from, map out how we see UX research growing, and set our sights on what's next.
Last Friday, TechCrunch shared the news of our latest round of funding: a $5M seed round led by Accomplice and Las Olas VC with participation from ERA, FJ Labs, Forefront Ventures, and Blue Ivy Ventures.
With this new capital and a first-class team of investors, we couldn’t be more excited for the future.
For those who don’t know, we originally founded User Interviews as MobileSuites, a mobile app for business travelers and a SaaS platform for hotels.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Basel, Bob, and I each quit our first jobs out of college to build an app that we were sure would change the travel industry forever (spoiler: it didn’t). Like many first-time founders, we started by building our product. First, we built an iPad app… then an iPhone app… then a web portal… then “v2” of the iPhone app… etc.
A year and a half later, we had nothing to show for it besides a few hotels on free trials, so we decided to make a hard pivot.
This time, we started by coming up with hundreds of new product ideas. For every product that we were excited about, we conducted 5-10 research interviews to test our assumptions with potential customers. In two months, we conducted 50+ interviews and discovered fatal flaws in all of our “best” ideas. The bad news: we were out of ideas. The good news: we saved ourselves from spending years building another product that nobody wanted, and we got very good at testing new ideas. In fact, our biggest bottleneck became finding potential customers to talk to.
That struggle led us to our one good idea: If we can make it easier for companies to test their assumptions with potential users, we can help them build better products.
We soon learned that “user research” was the term we should be using, and confirmed that yes—finding & coordinating with research participants was a huge pain point for companies of all sizes.
And sha-zam! 💥 User Interviews was born.
In the past 3 years, we’ve grown from 3 guys in an apartment to a fully-remote team of 21 women and men. We’re now serving hundreds of customers, including Eventbrite, Glassdoor, AT&T, DirecTV, Lola, LogMeIn, Thumbtack, Casper, ClassPass, Fandango, NNG, Pinterest, Pandora, Colgate, Uber, REI, and hopefully your company too, one day if not today.
We’re also more bullish on the future of the user research and, more broadly, the user experience industry than ever before. User experience is at an inflection point, primed for rapid growth over the next several decades. Here are a few of the macro trends pushing this way:
From Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft:
First, we need to obsess about our customers. At the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs … There is no way to do that unless we absorb with deeper insight and empathy what they need… When we talk to customers, we need to listen. It’s not an idle exercise… We learn about our customers and their businesses with a beginner’s mind and then bring them solutions that meet their needs. We need to be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that learning into Microsoft, whilst still innovating to surprise and delight our users.
From Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon:
There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.
Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.
From David Cancel, CEO of Drift:
For you to stand out and for you to compete in this next century, you're going to have to figure out how you stay closest to the customer, so you can continually evolve and build products that meet that customer's needs in this world of infinite supply. Companies that fail to adapt, and that fail to listen to and communicate with their customers, will inevitably lose out.
With the rise of agile development and tools like Sketch, InVision, and many others companies are designing and building new products faster and more cheaply than ever before. The result: nearly every industry is seeing stiffer competition from both new entrants and existing players.
At the same time, our tolerance for poorly designed products is decreasing daily. A decade after the launch of the iPhone, consumers are now demanding that their tools at work are as easy to use as the products they love at home.
By hiring large UX and design teams to improve their end user experiences, companies are showing UX isn’t just a hot talking point. For example, IBM now employs 1,300 designers (up from 400 three years prior); Capital One employs 400 designers (up from 20); and companies like Uber, Atlassian, and Linkedin have systematically increased the number of designers on staff to increase their product teams’ focus on the user experience.
An entirely new function is growing to help research teams handle the increased demand for their services. The ResearchOps Slack group, created about a year ago by Kate Townsey at Atlassian is now 1,600+ strong and growing daily. We’re seeing these Research Ops positions pop up at forward-thinking companies like: Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, and many others. Soon the rest of the world will follow suit.
We’re already seeing these trends accelerate the impact of user experience teams everywhere. In the next decade, you will see more and more companies win or lose based on the user experience they offer and how well they understand their users. User experience will transform from a function and concern of the product team into a focus for every department in every company, as is already starting to happen.
Our mission is to help teams discover and embrace user insights. Today, we offer two products: Recruit and Research Hub. This round will go toward improving both of these products and exploring additional opportunities to expand our offering. We’ve shared our high level roadmap. Please share your feedback on any of these ideas, or submit your own!
We’re couldn’t be more excited to continue serving the UX industry—amplifying the impact of every UX Researcher, UX Designer, Product Manager, and creator working to design delightful user experiences.
As part of the round, TJ Mahony from Accomplice and Mark Volchek from Las Olas will be joining our Board of Directors. TJ was previously the Founder & CEO of FlipKey (acquired by TripAdvisor), and Mark was previously one of the founders of HigherOne (IPO’d in 2010). Both bring decades of experience as operators and unmatched enthusiasm for delivering great user experiences.
I’m also excited to announce that my co-founder, Basel, will be stepping into the role of CEO, and I will be assuming the role of COO. This change gives both of us the opportunity to play to our strengths and focus on what we love to do. For Basel, that’ll be building relationships with potential partners and future investors. For me, it’ll be diving into customer development and internal operations.
Tl;dr We raised $5M. Lots to be excited about. Time to get to work.
Dennis Meng is a co-founder and the COO of User Interviews.