When to Ignore Negative User Feedback
By Sean Ellis
One of the most controversial growth recommendations I’ve made over the years is that you should ignore feedback from early product users who wouldn’t really care if your product disappeared. This is counterintuitive to many founders and product managers who have been told that the best products solve important problems. So we become obsessive about problems. Our instincts tell us to be responsive to negative customer feedback. It is so actionable that we feel really good trying to solve the problems with our products that early users highlight.
So what’s the real danger here? If you can also solve these problems, won’t it broaden the appeal of your solution? Maybe, but it’s much more likely that you’ll end up with a bloated, fragmented solution that isn’t really needed by anyone. In trying to tweak the product for apathetic users, you are likely to make it less valuable for the users who already consider it a must-have.
And for a new product, this is a disaster. Most new products fail because they never reach product-market fit. Without product-market fit, sustainable growth is impossible. Early users who say your product is a “must-have” are a beachhead for establishing a strong foundation of product-market fit. You should work to understand everything you can about their “must-have” experience so you can highlight, cultivate and protect it. Who considers it a must-have? How are they using it? Why do they love it? What were they using before? Where did they come from…?
One important caveat here is that we are talking about feedback from people who have actually tried the product.
Which Negative Feedback is Important?
Some negative feedback in the early days of a product is worth close examination. Specifically, any insights about problems that are preventing someone from reaching the “must-have” experience of your product. If they don’t reach this experience, they naturally won’t care if the product went away.
So what are examples of barriers that could prevent someone from reaching the core experience? One is that the onboarding UX is so challenging that people just give up before experiencing it. Another can be that users don’t really understand the value proposition or don’t find it compelling enough to exert much effort in figuring out the product. Often the root cause of this is that they didn’t have the problem that the product is trying to solve.
Iterating to Product-Market Fit
Sometimes the PMFSurvey yields strong results that indicate product-market fit. For example, the majority of early users on Dropbox and Eventbrite said they would be “very disappointed” if the products were no longer available. This gave us confidence that we could shift our focus from getting to product-market fit to improving activation rates.
But at the next company I joined, I was concerned when I found only 7% of early users said they would be “very disappointed” if the product went away. Fortunately, most of this small group of early “must-have” users were benefiting from the same use case. So we repositioned and streamlined the delivery to meet this specific need. When we repeated the survey on the next cohort of activated signups, 40% of respondents considered it a “must-have.” This significant improvement was achieved in only a couple of weeks and put us in a position where we could focus on growth. Within a few years, the company’s valuation exceeded one billion dollars.
So remember, focusing on the “must-have” users requires initially disregarding feedback from users who didn’t benefit from the product. Early “must-have” users will help guide your iterations to dial in product/market fit. Once you’ve validated product-market fit, then getting as many of the right users to reach the “must-have” experience as possible will be the key to unleashing sustainable growth.
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