5 questions to ask potential users before making your app

Phase Validate
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

When you're making an app, one of the most crucial things you can do before building anything is talk to potential users. This is a mistake I've personally made myself, where I didn't start by ensuring I was building something people actually wanted.

When I made my first web app, a social media search engine for hashtags, I was going on a whim. That whim being that people wanted one place to search all social media platforms via one hashtag.

Eventually, I started talking to users about what I had built and realized the direction users needed me to go in wasn't the direction I was passionate about. There was a mismatch between what I was building and what the users wanted.

So how can you validate if users want your app to exist? One simple way is by doing user interviews before you start working on anything.

What is a user interview?

A user interview is a user research technique used to get qualitative information from existing or potential users. It's an important conversation to have in the early days, with potential users, in order to get a deeper understanding of how they experience the problem you set out to solve, how they solve it today, and how your solution might help.

The goal is to help you validate that the problem exists, that your app might be the solution, and get clear on the direction it should take.

Conducting user interviews is a tactic that should be used not only in the beginning of your journey but throughout it as well. Two other points when you should check in with your users might be once you've created a prototype and when you've launched the first version of your app (aka your MVP). In these scenarios, the goal is to get direct feedback on whether or not your solution, your app, is successfully solving their problem.

What questions should you ask in a user interview?

The questions you ask in a user interview should be based on two things, your idea and the biggest assumption you’re making about the problem you set out to solve..

Using Uber as an example, their biggest assumption might be that people have a problem with the way they get cabs. As such, in their user interview, they'd want to ask questions to validate this assumption.

But no matter what your idea is or the question you need to answer for yourself, here are 5 questions you can add to your list of questions to help understand how potential users currently solve their problem today. These 5 questions were inspired by Y Combinator Partner Eric Migicovsky.

It’s important to note that all user interviews should begin with getting general background information about the user. This helps provide context on their situation. Once that’s out of the way, you can get to the main part of the interview, where the following 5 questions can be included.

1) Tell me about the last time you [did the thing you're trying to solve].

Using Uber as an example, the question might be "Tell me about the last time you got a cab?". The goal of this question is to get the user to reflect on and tell the story of the last time they encountered the problem you're trying to solve.

It allows you to get a full scope of the context around when the user encounters this problem and how your solution might fit into their life. It's also helpful for shaping the language you can use in the future to attract your first users.

2) What was the hardest part about [doing the thing you're trying to solve]?

Using Uber again as an example, the question might be "What was the hardest part about getting the cab?". This question gets to the root of the problem they might have with securing a cab in the first place which in Uber's case, is the problem they set out to solve.

If there was nothing hard about it, you'll know, because they won't have much to say. If it's a struggle they've had, this is great validation that your idea might be exactly what they need in order to make that process easier the next time.

3) Why was this hard?

The goal of this question is to understand their specific reasons for why securing a cab is hard for them. Every user's situation and reason for the task being hard might be different but it's important to pay attention to the small things that help you answer the question of "why?" for your solution. Why will your solution be their savior?

In the case of Uber, their solution is simply an on-demand car service, but their "why" might be "never having to wait an hour for a cab every again", which may have been something that came up in user interviews.

4) What, if anything, have you been doing to solve this problem?

The goal of this question is to determine how big of a problem this is to them and how they have been trying to solve it today. If this was important to them, they'd already be trying to find their own fix, but if they aren't trying to solve the problem themselves today, they might not be interested in ever paying for a solution that does.

It's also important to note that some might not have found a solution, but they may instead have been actively thinking about or wishing for a better way. It’s up to you to determine if them thinking or wishing is enough to validate that this is a real problem.

5) What don’t you love about the solution you’ve already tried?

This final question does two things. It gets to the heart of what features they may be most interested in seeing in your solution and it gives you insight into your potential competitors.

It's important to note that at no point should you directly ask your users what they want. Instead, you need to understand what they need in order for them to achieve their goals, and through that you can determine how your solution would fit. As Henry Ford says “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

These 5 questions are just a starting point.

For a user interview, you want to prepare questions that allow you to be confident in why your solution should exist, including being able to point to anecdotes from real, potential users.

Before you build anything, it's an important step to take in validating your app idea for yourself and to building something your users will actually want