Interview with Dave Garr, Co-founder of UserTesting.com
My friend Dave Garr is probably one of the most non-famous Famous usability and UX thought-leaders around. If you’ve never heard his name, you very well may have heard of his creation: UserTesting.com. As a co-founder of UserTesting.com way back in the dark days of 2007, Dave and his team have made a major impact for all usability practitioners; a fast, low-cost and useful usability testing service that provides results in a day versus what used to take weeks. When he’s not re-inventing usability testing, Dave loves writing and performing song parodies. While at Apple, he recorded these videos: “I Think We’re a Clone Now” and “Killing My Software with Windows”
If not busy enough completely re-creating remote unmoderated usability testing for the entire world, Dave won a Webby for his marriage proposal.
What’s your background?
My first brush with technology came during a summer job in college with a software company who developed EasyWriter, the first word processor for IBM’s PC. Fortunately, when I went through the interview process, no one asked me if I’d ever used a computer before.
I graduated from Cal Berkeley in Marketing, and I’ve overseen websites for several companies, such as Intuit, HP, and Apple.
I live in Palo Alto, California with my wife Elizabeth who encouraged me to pursue my startup dream, and my two young daughters who don’t seem to be even remotely interested in usability testing.
How did you get into the usability field?
I was managing Apple.com and I found myself drawn to watching Apple’s user experience labs. I was fascinated with how hard they worked to improve the out-of-box experience, or to decide on the use of color in the Mac OS, for example.
Then I read Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think.” It’s fantastic, particularly his chapter “Usability testing on 10 cents a day.” He makes it so simple: “Watch some people while they try to use [your site] and note where they run into trouble. Then fix it, and test it again.” That resonated with me. Since then, Steve has been kind enough to be a mentor to me.
What is it about your job that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?
That’s easy. It’s when we release a new capability on UserTesting.com and a customer tweets or blogs about how it’s improved their life. Like one guy tweeted: “I nominate usertesting.com for a Nobel Peace Prize for preventing warfare between designers and developers. Don’t fight, test it and see.”
What is UserTesting.com and why should someone use it?
Companies commonly test:
- Their own website and landing pages
- Competitors’ sites
- Semi-functional prototypes and staging sites
- Facebook games
- Mobile apps
What was your motivation for creating UserTesting.com?
I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time in usability labs, and I was frustrated with how expensive and time-consuming it was. So I started doing a lot of quick and dirty usability testing with my family, coworkers, friends, neighbors, and — in those rare times that I could get up the guts–captive audiences at train stations.
So UserTesting.com solved a pain point that I had. And fortunately it’s a pain point that others have.
What have you learned while running UserTesting.com?
We launched our minimum viable product (MVP) four years ago. After every order, we emailed customers asking them “What can we improve?” We’ve received a lot of feedback because — believe me –our MVP had a lot of room for improvement. The request that we heard most often was this: “I want the participants to be my exact target market and not people on your panel.” So that’s the area we dedicated the most resources to build. Now participants don’t just have to come from our panel — they can also come from any of these places:
- Live visitors on your website who’ve been intercepted
- Your own customer list
- Participants from third-party panels
Another thing we’ve learned: website owners care a lot about their competitors’ websites. As Steve Krug says, “Someone has gone to the trouble of building a full-scale working prototype of a design approach to the same problems you’re trying to solve, and then they’ve left it lying around for you to use.” In particular, our clients want to know what their competitors are doing right, so they can “borrow” it.
What advice do you have for other start-ups that wish to create an online service, whether usability related or otherwise?
If you only take away one thing from this interview, then by far and away, my biggest recommendation is: come work for us! We’re growing and want to hire more people who are passionate about rescuing the world from hard to use products.
But if you insist on doing your own thing, then here are some thoughts…
Do what you love. Since I’ve had to immerse myself in the topic of usability testing for four years, it was good that I was very interested in that topic. It would be hard for me to spend so much time every day thinking about a topic that I wasn’t passionate about.
Work with people you love. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to work with someone that you really enjoy. My co-founder, Darrell Benatar, had previously been a friend and co-worker, so I knew how well we got along.
Love your customers, even if a few take advantage of you. I’ve learned that providing great customer support is crucial. We’re trying to mimic Zappos on this one. We’ll give customers a refund, no matter what. Even if they ran tests years ago, combined the best clips into a highlight reel, and shared that highlight reel with hundreds of people; if they ask for a refund, we give it. Our customers don’t abuse our return policy–less than 1% of our customers request a refund. Best of all, by having great phone, chat, and email support, we get tons of feedback from customers about how we can improve our product.
What’s in the future for UserTesting.com? What changes or improvements are you working on?
Okay, I’ll tell you…as long as you promise to keep it a secret (laughs).
Probably my hardest job is deciding which feature to add next. We’ve learned from ConversionRateExperts.com to rate each feature (on a scale of 1-10) according to “How easy is it to implement?” and “How important is it to customers?” We multiply these two figures together to give an estimated return on investment. Next we build the feature that has the highest estimated ROI and then A/B test it.
Our DNA is about listening to customers. When a lot of customers ask for the same thing, we usually do it. The biggest things they’re asking for now are:
- Improve our user testing of mobile devices. We’ve developed a mobile version of our platform, and making it better is a key focus of our product development for the foreseeable future.
- Expand globally beyond the US, Canada, and UK.
- UserTesting.com has made it easy for you to get feedback on your live website. However, as you know, the earlier in the development cycle you test, the easier it is to make changes. But we haven’t made it easy to test concepts. Shame on me for not doing a better job on that. So we’re going to try to make it easier to use UserTesting.com to get feedback in the ideation phase of the dev process.
- Consulting services for our enterprise customers. We create the test plan, make clips of the places where testers got stuck, and recommend how to fix the biggest problems found.
What do you think the next few years will bring for usability?
Computing is moving from one screen — a computer accessing the web — to four screens: a computer, a tablet, a phone, and a smart TV.
Let me quote a usability expert named Craig Tomlin! You’ve talked about the next big UX trend is understanding that “user experience” does not mean just “web site experience” or “mobile experience” or “phone experience” or “store experience. ”
Companies will stop designing each experience in a vacuum. They’ll start putting together the holistic understanding of the entire “user experience.”
You used the example of how someone buys a car. She may go to several websites to evaluate car brands. She may use her mobile phone to schedule test drives. She may ask friends on Facebook or other social sites about their opinions. She may build and configure her ideal car on her iPad. Eventually she goes to the car lot and negotiates with the dealer. Given that she has interactions that transcend any single experience, why would car companies design the user experience she has with the website without considering the other critical interactions she’ll have during the car buying process?
What’s next for you and your career in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?
Sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis is software that mines text for meaning and insight. It’s often used to extract opinions and emotions from social media to help companies determine how people feel about their products.
Sentiment analysis is an extremely difficult problem, but it’s a problem that will eventually be solved. When the problem is solved, it’ll cull through a massive amount of text and automatically call attention to the biggest, most frequently mentioned issues. This will increase the value of qualitative tools like open-ended survey questions and transcripts of user testing.
Thank you Dave!