The smallest bit backwards

by • December 29, 2011 • Lean startup metaComments (4)429

Don’t pick your tools before you know the job

I began doing something properly stupid the other day[1].

I decided I needed to do a survey. You know, to get to know you guys better. So I came up with all sorts of interesting questions. What a dummy!

That’s like saying:

Today I really want to use a belt sander. Now let’s go find something to sand.

I ended up writing some zingers like “What country are you from?” and “Do you prefer the text or video posts?”

The problem here isn’t that they’re worthless questions.

It’s that a survey is the wrong tool for the job and was chosen by default. Better code & analytics were solution for these two while interviews were best for some of the others.

I chose my tool before I knew my questions. My [broken] process was essentially:

  • Choose a tool (surveys)
  • Figure out what I want to know
  • Turn that stuff into survey question by default
  • Get sub-optimal results by including questions better suited to other tools

A better process is:

  • Figure out what you want to know
  • Pick the right tool for answering that particular question
  • Where possible, batch experiments which use the same tools (e.g. don’t ask 1-question surveys)

As it happens, a survey actually is the right tool for a few of the questions I really want answered. Not the critical ones, though. So I’ll release a survey eventually, asking only what a survey is best-suited to discovering.

This is true everywhere. You don’t “need” a product. You don’t “need” a webpage, or an email campaign, or activity on social media. Those are all tools. Rather, you need a way to test your ideas on pricing. You need to figure out if people care about your value proposition. You need to increase retention and referral. Those are your goals.

Don’t pick your tools before you know the job.

Shopping lists, insurance & shortcuts

Should everyone with a website strive to re-discover the use-cases for Google Analytics from first principles?

Probably not. It’s free (both financially and in terms of UX) and practically instant to set up. It gives you insurance against unknown future questions.

Additionally, some business models come with a shopping list of tools to solve a predictable set of known unknowns. Subscription websites have AARRR funnels. Information businesses have email lists.

Those are valuable shortcuts. Don’t turn them down.

Every startup has new questions

This article is about the questions on the fringes. The ones in the new territory that haven’t been productised yet.

How does a blog get to know its readers? Well, Eric Ries did it with a survey, so I thought: maybe I’ll try that?

Although if you happen to recall his survey, it’s actually (as he states) a solution to the question:

How can I get my readers to verbally & mentally commit to buying a $700 conference ticket before they know I’m selling anything?

So I followed his example a little too quickly and almost did something stupid by picking my tool before the job[2].


[1] I guess it was no more stupid than my everyday. At least this gave me more to write about than walking into a doorframe or forgetting to grind the beans before trying to make coffee with them.

[2] Well, I did do something stupid: I wasted almost a day formatting a pointless survey. But I nearly did something even more stupid!

Related Posts

4 Responses to Don’t pick your tools before you know the job

  1. Joe Hill says:

    I didn’t think it was dumb….just outta the blue. :) You the man Rob. I’m learning from you every time I read…keep it up.

  2. [...] tools and equipment are such an important aspect of your business, some of these tools are probably expensive, [...]

  3. cathy says:

    http://WWW.MOTOPARTSMAX.COM is your motocross, motorcycle, off-road and street bike superstore for: Motocross, go kart, Dirt Bike, ATV, UTV parts

  4. Laura says:

    Surveys are a good tool if the right kind is picked. SoGoSurvey is one of the best surveys tool that also has many sample surveys for starters.