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What to do if your users think you’re something that you’re not October 8, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in product management.
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I was talking to the founders of Zintin recently about their iPhone app. Although they had initially expected their dominant usecase to be “keep in touch with your friends”, it rapidly became “meet nearby people”. The Zintin team did a great job of rolling with their users and evolving their product development towards the dominant use case, rather than treating it as a “user error” problem.

It reminded me of this great quote from one of the founders of IMVU, Eric Reis:

In our first year at IMVU, we thought we were building a 3D avatar chat product. It was only when we asked random people we brought in for usability tests “who do you think of as our competitors?” that we learned different. As product people, we thought of competition in terms of features. So the natural comparison, we thought, would be to other 3D avatar based products, like The Sims and World of Warcraft. But the early customers all compared it to MySpace. This was 2004, and we had never even heard of MySpace, let alone had any understanding of social networking. It required hearing customers say it over and over again for us to take a serious look, and eventually to realize that social networking was core to our business.

The moral of this story, if you disagree with your users about what your product is for, then you are wrong and your users are right. There is no such thing as “user error”.

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1. What to do if your users think you’re something that you’re not - October 8, 2008

[…] Random Feed wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI was talking to the founders of Zintin recently about their iPhone app. Although they had initially expected their dominant usecase to be “keep in touch with your friends”, it rapidly became “meet nearby people”. The Zintin team did a great job of rolling with their users and evolving their product development towards the dominant use case, rather than treating it as a “user error” problem. It reminded me of this great quote from one of the founders of IMVU, Eric Reis: In our first year at […]

2. nick punt - October 9, 2008

This sounds an awful lot like “the customer is never wrong”. Which is true, but begs the question: ‘do I want the customer that this product has attracted?’.

If you’ve come into a space trying to do one thing, and you accidentally did another, you might not like where those users take you and whether that’s worth your time. So, fix your product, or accept your users. BUT, accept your users only if they take you in a good direction to lots of $$.

Zintin doesn’t seem to have that problem, as those use case differences don’t seem to attract users of different value, and of course they’ve had some great user traction (and they’re awesome guys – go Zintin!).

A distinction to note in this comparison is that IMVU made money from nearly the beginning. Thus, even though IMVU attracted users they didn’t want (teens instead of businesses), those users made their value apparent immediately and brought in growing revenues. Not all users across all platforms can do that, and $0.25 CPMs aren’t always worth the effort in competitive spaces with low switching costs.

3. jeremyliew - October 9, 2008

@ Nick,

It isn’t that the customer is always right, but more that it is very hard to change customers behavior and perception. So yes, either accept the customers you have and keep them happy, or find new customers (maybe with a new product). But don’t try to switch your customers into something that they don’t want, because that is not likely to be successful


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