Updated: Aug 10, 2020
It is built into the DNA of a startup to want to solve problems rather than figure out whether it is the right problem to solve. Startup founders are typically engineers ( though this is slowly changing to include designers ), and engineers love solving problems.
If you expect someone other than you to pay for your product or service however, it matters that you figure if that person can be sold to, in parallel to building what you think they will love. Beware of the Juicero effect.
To build a reliable business, you need to base it on something reliable: predictable behaviors of your users. Determining these behaviors is the process of creating user archetypes for your user base.
To understand archetypes, think back to the time you attended college. All students are not identical but there are distinct types of students that you can point to quite reliably. In the U.S. you will find the straight-A student, the sports scholarship student, the early explorer student, the late explorer student, and a few others.
Each archetype has a distinctive set of behaviors you can reliably predict, which the title clues you into. The straight-A student is laser-focused on maximizing her chances to land a good job after college and will not be distracted from it. The sports scholarship sees a path to success through sports and will devote most of her time to showing greatness there, the early explorer is entrepreneurial and will hustle to get what she wants, sitting in on senior classes in freshman year, the late explorer will trust the system but run into a crisis in junior or senior year as she finally discovers what s.he is there to do and change majors.
If you are a startup creating an Ed-Tech offering for students, only two of these archetypes are your core market: the straight-A student and the late explorer. They are likely the only ones committed enough to pay for a service from their pockets if they find value in it. Knowing this early focuses and shapes your product and prevents you from making expensive assumptions.
The key to uncovering archetypes is asking: what distinct behaviors exist in my user base in reference to my offering?
The key to uncovering archetypes is asking: what distinct behaviors exist in my user base in reference to my offering? For instance, when TED decided to redesign their website, they uncovered 12 distinct behaviors amongst their users with titles like the Break-Timer, the Commuter, and the Multi-Tasker. Make the five-minute investment to read Thaniya's excellent post on it on Medium on how they found and used archetypal behaviors to find high-value features and prioritize their designs. The simple answer to finding archetypes: talk to your users and read all your customer messages. A pattern will emerge.
Once you know your archetypal users, you can use it to reshape your product or service in many ways. One way is to map which archetypes contribute to most of the usage on your platform. That's a pie chart. A second way is to map which archetypes spend the most time and engage the deepest. That's a 2x2 matrix.
In my opinion, however, the most useful way of using this information is not to re-shape your offering but to develop an intuition for what you should offer in the first place. You do this by understanding what current user behaviors exist and how far you might be able to push these.
Yep, like that. Slowly. It's not that your users do not change behaviors. We all learned how to tap on glass instead of keyboards, but you have to figure out where and how much change to push.
Let's take the Juicero example. Juicero was branded as the "Tesla of juicing machines" and the "Keurig cup of juicing". If you spent a week speaking to customers at a local juicery and interviewed a dozen or so juicing fanatics at home you might realize that the market is composed of Juicing Dieters, Lazy Sunday Juicers, and Breakfast with a Friend Juicers with the majority of the people not juicing at home despite having a food processor.
That should tip you off that the natural market for this product is not the home but a restaurant or a stand-alone kiosk on places like malls or pizza parlors where you can get fresh juice, sustainability sourced instead of carbonated beverage or OJ. The job this product was hired to do was to get people off the fizzy drinks habit and onto the juicing habit.
I had tried the product when it came into the market ( ginger juice, loved it ! ) and I have to say the quality of the product was exceptional. I would've gladly paid a few dollars over the price of bottled water to drink something that is healthy. Getting a drink of this at a movie theater or mall when I'm thirsty would be a no-brainer, personally.
Sadly, instead, the target market for the product was the super-wealthy who may have the money to spend $700 on a home juicer, but are not large enough in numbers to make it a true market.
It's just a headline with the distinctive behavior and a few paragraphs describing the behavior in context
What does an archetypal user look like in practice? It's just a headline with the distinctive behavior and a few paragraphs describing the behavior in the context of your offering. One time, I was facilitating a workshop for college professors and asked them to uncover archetypes of students they saw in class and which ones they would design a new program for. Here are the archetypes that emerged :
The interesting part was that all professors, without exception saw the need for all archetypes. The Leaders formed the core, but were small in number, the Honest Search for Purpose'rs were committed to exploring so they would try things out and switch out if the fit wasn't there, the Resume Padders were looking for social status so would put in a lot of time and energy is that was available and the Frustrated Talents were potential Leaders.
A new program would have to have enough purpose to interest the Leaders and Frustrated Talent and enough social status to interest the Resume Padders. So remember, even if the titles of your archetypes seem judgemental sometimes, each segment has its own value in your ecosystem of users and it is your goal to create offerings that create value for each one. Just don't mix them all together, that only works for juices.