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Switch Workshop Recap with Nick Owsley

Bob Moesta


This week we’ll give you a glimpse into what went on at the Switch Workshop that was held at the 37signals office in Chicago on October 1st.

We’re joined by Nick Owsley, the co-founder of PromoSimple, who shares his thoughts about being an attendee, and the steps that he’s taken to understand the jobs that his product does since he left the event.

Nick joined 23 other attendees (mostly entrepreneurs, start-up founders, and product/marketing individuals in the software and technology space) at 37signals to spend a day learning about one of the fundamental premises of Jobs-to-be-Done:  People don’t just buy or start using your product.  They stop doing one thing, and start doing something else.

Using that premise as a starting point, the attendees at the workshop were exposed to the way that we conduct consumer interviews at Re-Wired, in an attempt to uncover the progress that a consumer is trying to make when they hire a product or service.  After watching a number of off-the-cuff live interviews (people that we picked out of the audience), the attendees spent time learning more about the details of the Jobs-to-be-Done Framework, and then broke into groups to conduct interviews of their own.

In this episode, Nick talks us through the experience of conducting his first JTBD interview with a customer and gives his candid review of the Switch Workshop.

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Episode Transcript

Chris: We’re here for this week’s episode of Jobs-To-Be-Done Radio. As
always, I’m here with my partner, Bob Moesta. We also have Nick Owsley as
one of our guests here today. Nick was an attendee at the first Switch
conference that we did in Chicago last week, so we’re going to have him
talk through his experience.

The Switch conference was put on by Bob and I at the Re-Wired Group, as
well as Jason Fried and Ryan Singer of 37signals. We essentially had 24
entrepreneurs, software developers, people in the product space, fly in
from all around the country and all around North America to spend the day
talking with us about why people switch from one product to another, or
stop using one product and start using another product.

So we want to talk through what it was like to be there, both from Bob’s
perspective and my perspective, and also from Nick’s perspective, being one
of the participants that had a chance to spend the day with us. Welcome,

Nick: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Bob: Tell us a little bit about your company, Nick.

Nick: Sure. I am a co-founder of a web-based application called
PromoSimple. It’s a self-service platform for running giveaways,
sweepstakes and contests.

Bob: Why did you even think about coming to this conference?

Nick: We’ve been in development for almost a year. We’ve been developing
the product, developing lots of features, and we’ve just started to do
market outreach to try to bring on customers. It was actually perfect
timing because I follow Jason Fried on Twitter and he tweeted out about
this workshop. I just read about it quickly and it seemed perfect because
what we’re trying to do is try to grow our customer base, so I thought it’d
be really interesting to understand a little bit more about why people
switch to use a particular product or service, or switch away.

Bob: You just came, right? It wasn’t anybody else from your company that
came, it was just you?

Nick: Yep, I just came by myself. Yep.

Bob: What’s your role in the company?

Nick: My focus is sort of divided up by roles, and I focus on product

Bob: So you’re the one who’s coming up with the features, coming up with
the development plan as it relates to how to put everything together?

Nick: Right. I’m not the only one coming up with the features. My
business partners are thinking about new feature ideas and we’re also, from
the early customers we have, we’re hearing about new feature ideas. I think
the biggest challenge I face is knowing which features we want to push
forward with and which ones we don’t, and it’s kind of gotten to the point
where we’re trying to figure out, “Okay, where do we go from here?” Really
looking for more direction in terms of what new features should we develop,
what should we be focusing on more with the product itself.

Bob: You get the feature creep, because what you thought was going to
happen and then as you get closer and closer to launch, it’s like, “Hey, we
should add this.” You think of new things as you come along as it’s like,
when do you stop?

Nick: Right. Exactly. Yep.

Chris: Tell us about the high point. What was the best part of the day
for you?

Nick: I think it was the interviews themselves that we were doing, both
the interviews we did as a group and then we broke up into smaller groups,
because for me, the concept overall I get, and I think a lot of people get
the idea of wanting to understand why people switch, but I think it’s hard
to get at that information. So for me, the fact that we actually got to,
first-hand, go in and do the interviews themselves was really, I think for
me, the highlight was also eye-opening about how hard it can be to do them
and how it takes a lot of practice.

Chris: Yeah, so talk a little about that. I think for a lot of people, to
do a customer service survey or to talk to somebody about what they like or
dislike about their own problem, it’s like, “That’s not that hard. I can go
talk to people.” What did you find challenging about that whole experience?

Nick: Right. That’s the thing, we’ve already been talking to customers
and do surveys and stuff like that, but I think the hardest part, not
necessarily hard, is you want to try to think about things a little bit
differently, or this is what I took away from this, the big takeaway for
me, is learning a different way of talking to customers.

By doing that in a different way I was able to learn a little bit more
about why people switch, but also it’s having to take all the information
in and look for the themes and the stuff you have to read between the lines
to see. I think that’s really hard. Once you do an interview — and I’ve
actually done one interview on my own since — the question part is
difficult but then there’s also, after you’re done, trying to make sense of
it all.

Bob: The hard part is . . . Just to back up for a second, but the way we
ended up running the day was we just started the day with three interviews.
We’ll get people out of the audience and brought them down and had a
conversation about why did they buy what they bought and what did they hire
and what did they fire. Instead of going into any kind of theory or
framework or the details of it, it was more like let’s just have a
conversation with the customer in a very different way and see what
implications that has on, for Nick, in your case, what does it mean for
development? It’s like, holy crap, I’m developing a lot of features; I
don’t know if people even want it.

Nick: Right.

Bob: So it’s that notion of being able to understand what the forces are
at play pushing people and pulling people and pulling people back from
switching? There are explicit choices people make and if we slow them down
enough we can capture what those choices are and understand what they say
and what they do might be different things. To me, the interview is really
about slowing people down. We talked about your [inaudible 06:26] a half
hour ago, and the notion is how much do people really remember things?

Nick: I think in this first case, the person I was talking to had a
pretty good memory of specific events, but at the same time, just trying to
pull that information out, it was hard. I’m not sure — this being the
first time I’ve ever done it — I’m not sure I got as much information as I
wanted to. I hung up the phone and realized, okay, there’s a bunch of
things I wish I had asked differently.

I think that’s what’s really hard. You come in with your own preconceived
notion about why you think someone is using a particular product or
service, or why they’re doing things the way they’re doing, and I’m trying
to get there and yet I really just need to be more open and just let the
person talk and try to ask questions without any bias and opening and
freeing their mind, and I think that’s a really hard thing to do and I
think that’s where a lot of practice would help.

Bob: That’s one of the points we brought up. You want to empty your mind
before going into every interview, and it’s easy to say but hard to do. You
don’t realize how much the language that you have and the questions you ask
are framed around the product. At some point, you need to look beyond the
product to see why did they do what they did and probe deeper. So part of
it is if you keep asking from a product term, like, “How . . .”

Chris: “How often do you use this feature?”

Bob: “How often do you use this?” or “Do you like this feature?” It’s
stepping back and ask them about their life and what was going on in their
life that this was a great thing to have at this point in time and not the
other thing. It’s slowing people down, and again, I think practice gets you
there but at the same time, it’s just a conversation. As you can see, it
starts to give you second thoughts about all these features you want to
have. Adding ten more features isn’t going to cause more people to switch.

Nick: Right. I also think one of things that was great about being in the
workshop itself was, for one, watching you guys do the interviews, but then
when we got a chance to break out and do them with you guys present, it
helps because there were points where I would be asking questions and I’d
get stuck, or I wasn’t really getting at questions in the right way, so I
think it’s really important — at least the takeaway I got from it was it’s
not just about talking to customers but it’s really about asking the right
kinds of questions. I feel like you guys would jump in and you knew
questions to get back on track or really get at the heart of what we’re
trying to get at, and sometimes I can wander off into the woods a little

Chris: I was personally impressed by everyone’s willingness to just dive
in. We talked about it when we were planning out the agenda for the day.
We’re going to do some interviews in front of people and then we’re going
to switch and have people dive in head-first and interview each other, and
it was pretty impressive to see everyone’s willingness to give it a shot
and see if they could get people to open up.

The other interesting this was, I think one of the ah-ha’s, what you just
touched on around the features, one of the ah-ha’s from a couple of the
participants in the audience was the idea that in the first couple of
interviews, we never talked about the product. We had no idea what color
the item was that they bought, the size. It wasn’t around the features, it
was all around the situations that they were in and the emotions that were
driving them through the purchase process, so hopefully everyone came away
with that.

Nick: And also along those lines, we didn’t really get into — I mean,
obviously we were interviewing people; we knew who they were — but we
didn’t get into demographic information either, because you guys talked
about . . . this is another takeaway, just go on a tangent for a second,
but just the whole idea of context and that what matters is the context
that the person is in as opposed to who they are, because the same person
can be in a different context and make different decisions based on where
they are.

Bob: Exactly.

Chris: One of the other things that I heard was anxiety around talking to
the customers and having the consumer be able to remember the details. You
just did an interview so I’d be interested in your input with regards to
getting them to remember and having them talk about the details. Did you
have a challenging time with that?

Nick: With the interviews we did in the workshop, it seemed like that was
a challenge to try to get specific times and dates and that kind of thing
from people. The person I just spoke to, that actually was surprising about
how well she remembered particular dates and times, and what time of day it
was and what was going through her mind. That threw me in a different way
because I thought that was going to be really hard, and I’m sure for
someone else I interview that might be a challenge to try to nail down
times, but going in I had a lot of anxiety around that and she right away
seemed to have a great memory of those. I know we talked about techniques
to get at that but I think that would also have taken me a while to get at
specific dates if she wasn’t remembering things so easily.

Bob: It’s not about getting the specific dates, it’s about tapping into
that part of her memory when she was there so you can get the context. If
she says it’s February, it’s one thing but if she says it’s February 14th,
it’s just making sure that she can recall the stress and the pressure and
the drive of what was going on and the emotion in that moment. It’s pretty
interesting that, again, sometimes you have to get really specific but
other times you just have to get people to think about the weather. “Oh
yeah, it was snowing that day!” and all of a sudden it all comes back.

Nick: Right.

Bob: It’s those little techniques, as we talk through them. The only way
you get better at this is having more and more interviews, because what’ll
happen is sometimes someone will remember in a lot of detail but they won’t
reveal emotion, and then other people will have a lot of emotion but they
won’t have the detail around it, so we’ve got to be able to practice and
have different techniques to get there.

Chris: I think the other thing is, you mentioned getting to the end of
the interview and doing your debrief session and writing some notes around,
“I wish I would’ve drilled in here and I wish I would’ve drilled in there.”
I don’t think there’s ever been a time where Bob and I haven’t done an
interview and ended up with a couple of those things, and that’s why we
always say do five or six or ten of these things with different customers
because every time you get to the end of one, it’s like, “Okay, let’s be
sure to . . .” It won’t be around a specific feature benefit or anything
like that but it’ll be an area where you look at each other and say, “We
need to ask the next person about this. Let’s see if there’s more detail

Bob: Right. I think it’s very cool that you talked to somebody who uses a
competitive product and found out how they switched to that product and the
situation wrapped around it. There’s probably no hope that she’s willing to
switch at this point in time because the push or pull for her to switch,
but you now know the fact is that I can feature-load the crap out of this
thing and it’s not going to make her move, and it’s more about trying to be
at the right place at the right time of when she switched, and as you get
patterns you can say, hey, maybe I need to be advertising more in a
different place, or I need to try and get people to switch from people who
are already on board is a very different value proposition for those people
who are setting up, let’s say, for promotions.

Nick: Right, and I have the two handouts which I guess people listening
won’t be able to see, but the kind of what you’re just describing. The push
and the pull and the anxiety and the habit, and how you guys talked about
either trying to increase the push and the pull or trying to decrease the
anxiety and habit, or some combination to try to get people to switch. Just
to have that in front of me, thinking about for my next interview, what can
I touch on that might help me better understand where we might be able
increase one or decrease the other?

Bob: One of the other things is — I’m not sure we said this explicitly
over there — but it always helps to have two of you, to have somebody else
interviewing. So Chris and I always interview together and whether he takes
the lead or I take the lead, because what happens is you get two sets of
ears on it, and at the same time, you’ll notice I’ll pause and then all of
a sudden Chris will pick up and keep the conversation going and go in a
place, and then I’ll pick it up and go back, it gives you time to think.
Having a second person there to help keep the conversation going and take a
step back and look at the bigger picture from both sides of it.

We can debrief an interview afterwards much faster by having that
conversation between us, “Here’s what I heard. Here’s what he heard.” We go
back and forth and, “All right, here’s what we think is the essence of it,”
and summarize it. So having a second person helps when you do that,
especially when you’re starting out.

Nick: Yeah, that’s a great a point. When I was doing this first
interview, that was one of the hard things. I want to jot something, or I
want to take a second to think about a different question I want to ask,
and I felt, though, the kind of pressure to keep the conversation rolling
and not losing the momentum with the person. Having someone else to take
that pressure off would’ve helped. I know that’s how we did that interview
in person in the workshop. We were able to trade off.

Bob: Yes, and it’s okay to say, “Hold on a second, I’ve got to take some
notes.” The dead air really doesn’t matter as long as you make sure they’re
aware of what you’re trying to do.

Nick: Yep.

Bob: Even a second to think, “Hey, I’m going to take some notes for a
second,” and think it through. People are much more accommodating than you
think they are, especially when you’re trying to hear the story of how they
did things. I think Chris said at the conference, “People aren’t used to
people listening to their stories.”

Nick: Bob, I think that’s a good point because I talked to you the other
day about the challenge of doing this and the anxiety around it. When we
did the workshop everyone was really willing because we were all in there
together doing the workshop, but I wasn’t sure how it was going to go and
talking to this first person, she seemed very willing to talk and wanted to
tell her story and just kept going and going. I could ask a question, or
not even a question, just state a comment or say something, and she would
just start talking. So it was a lot easier to have a conversation than I
thought it was going to be.

Chris: I think that’s an important point to make to anybody listening to
the show because one of the attendees that came up to me afterwards started
talking about a sensitive topic. I work in the diet space and it’s such a
personal, emotional thing to talk about. How am I ever going to get people
to open up to me about their dietary habits and when they fail and when
they succeed? For anybody thinking about doing one of these interviews,
just put that out of your mind and dive in because I’ve found that the more
emotional it is the more they want to talk to you. It’s just a matter of
breaking the ice and getting the conversation going, and there’s so much
information to be had there once you get them talking about their own

Bob: Is there anything that you would’ve done differently in that
conference? To do it over, what would you have liked to have seen or what
would you change for the better?

Nick: I’m not sure. I didn’t realize the importance of the things we did
early on until later, but then I still had the memory of it and reflected
back. Those first few interviews I did, I wasn’t really understanding where
we were going with it, but once we got through it and started talking more
about all aspects of this and actually getting a chance to do it ourselves.
Then I could reflect back and go, “Now let me think back to that interview.
How did you guys approach it and what were some of the things you said
about this or that?”

Bob: How do you think this is going to help you?

Nick: I’m really excited because I think it’s going to be a huge help
because we’re trying to figure out where to go next with the product, what
features to focus on, and without this, I’m not really sure how you make a
good decision around that. We only have one interview under our belts and
we’ve got to do a number of interviews more and hopefully, we’ll start to
see some themes and be able to make decisions from it. I can’t really think
now about any other way to go about learning what direction to go in other
than doing this.

Bob: To me, that’s how we started. The other methods of, “Hey, let’s
throw the features out and ask our customers which one they like the most.”
It’s, like, okay. None of this makes any sense to me!

Nick: Right.

Bob: This at least gives you the context to say, “If you want this bulk
loader feature, let me put you in the situation. Tell me if this is more
important than that.” When they’re in context, now they can answer those
questions, but when you ask it in general, “Which one would you rather
have: easy loading or fast interfaces.” It’s like, “Uh . . . ”

Chris: “I want it all.”

Bob: “I want it all.”

Nick: Yeah, I think, yeah, I’ve been in marketing for many, many years
and we’ve done all kinds of stuff with demographic data and kind of slicing
and dicing, and done surveys, and looked at analytics, and stuff like that.
But, I think in the sense of most marketers just kind of realized that,
they really need to understand why they still don’t with all this
information, but it’s kind of like the best you’ve got our best tools, our
best way to try to get that information. And for me, it’s kind of like,
now, I feel like I actually have the right tool to do this job, and it’s
just a matter of going out and doing interviews, and practicing, and
looking for themes, and doing all that.

Bob: It’s not perfect, but the thing is that, at least it’s trying to
understand the motivations behind it, and find the emotion, and find the
reason why they’re [inaudible 20:51]. As much as people want a science
behind the [coming] data, the reality is that, it’s as much an art as it is
a science [inaudible 21:09] trying to accomplish. You can do both, but the
reality is that, just because it’s more scientific, doesn’t mean it’s more

Nick: Right, yeah, and the thing I was just going to add is, I think it’s
not just a core product development. I mean, I know science is the focus,
but it’s both the product development and the messaging. So, I think you
kind of can learn in both areas.

Bob: Yep. So, what would be anxious to do as you go down your path here,
and do some more interviews, and would love to hear how this kind of plays
out, this story plays out in terms of how it’s helped you, and maybe even
hindered you in kind of developing that in feature set and help you in your
product development efforts. So . . .

Chris: Or in the messaging site, or establishing that it’s the right fit
for the job.

Bob: Right, so maybe three, four months down the road, we get a call
back, and have another quick conversation around, “Hey, so, how’s this
manifested to help you in the business side of things?”

Nick: Yeah, sounds great.

Bob: That’d be great. So, thank you so much for your time, and being on
Jobs-To-Be-Done Radio.

Nick: Thanks, guys.

Chris: Thanks for coming. For everybody listening, there’s going to
another Switch conference coming up, once again, in Chicago. We’ll be
releasing that date soon. Watch the JTBD hashtag on Twitter for that
announcement. You can also watch the Signal versus Noise blog, which is at We’ll do that announcement soon. It’s going to be around the
same format, another 24 people. Last time, we sold out in under five days,
so be sure to keep an eye on that hashtag if you want to get in. And, we’ll
talk to you all soon. Thanks again, Nick.

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