Interview Steven Cohn CEO Validately


Interview with Steven Cohn CEO Validately, the remote moderated usability testing and research tool


This interview with Steven Cohn, CEO of Validately is one in a continuing series of interviews with the thought leaders of the usability and UX world. If you have not heard of Steven Cohn and Validately, you are in for a treat!

Steven reminds us why remote moderated usability testing and research is so powerful, and why it can literally save, or curse, a new start-up or existing established brand.

Q1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

Steven-Cohn-CEO-Validately-from-UsefulUsability-200x200I am a multiple-time entrepreneur. Validately is my third startup. My first start-up had a successful exit to LivingSocial. My second startup was a failure. We sold it for very little to TripAdvisor. I went to George Washington University for undergrad, where I met my wife. I graduated from Harvard Business School as well.

I am deeply passionate about starting companies and building great products. The challenge consumes me mentally. I love the journey of building a new product from a concept to a business.

Q2. How did you get into usability and the UX testing field?

I was very frustrated after the failure of my second startup. I was angry at myself and the time that I wasted chasing false positives. So I spent about a year interviewing Product and UX teams at great companies. I asked them how they build great products and the answer was clear and consistent…a lot of User Research and Testing! So I threw myself into that topic. I read everything that I could and met a lot of thought leaders on the topic.

Q3. What is it about UX and usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

Watching the usage chart go up and to the right. I deeply believe in the value of testing a prototype to learn. But I am always skeptical that the test learning is valid until we see customer’s reaction in real life. The chart has to move up and the to right or we go back to testing new potential solutions.

Q4. You recently created the remote usability user research & testing tool and service called Validately, what was the inspiration for developing it?

Validately team: Natalie Hollier, Mark Bathie, Steven Cohn, Jessica Ogilvie

I believe deeply that extensive user research and testing is critical building products that customers love. Specifically, I believe that moderated test sessions are invaluable.

Yet, moderated testing is still so manual and time consuming:

  • Recruiting real people who match your persona (not accessing a panel) is still too costly and time consuming.
  • Handling the manual tasks of scheduling and paying testers is still to manual.
  • Tools to run and record the tests are not tied to the proper reporting to stakeholders, so often it takes longer to create a post test report than conduct the actual research.

As a power user of user research, I wanted this to be fixed. I wanted a seamless product that took the pain out of user research. That’s why we started Validately.

Q5. As a business owner and start-up founder, what do you find are common issues or misunderstandings clients have about testing in general and UX testing specifically?

Click here to view latest job postings

The one that I hear the most, which kills me, is, “I don’t have time to test.” Candidly, I believe that any organization that says “we don’t have time to test” are building product the wrong way. If you go into any fast growing company, you will see a significant investment in user research. Product and development teams are not meant to be feature factories.

More features ! = better product!

Companies that invest the time and resources into User Research have cleaner, more usable products, and customers reward these companies with increased usage and word of mouth marketing.

I haven’t quantified it yet, but anecdotally, I believe that there is a high correlation between investment in User Research and growth. Much more than any “growth hack” that any company can employ.

Q6. From your experiences with managing start-ups, what key aspects seem to be the most critical for success, and why do you think that is?

I frequently give workshops for companies and speeches at conferences around Demand Validation. Specifically, how to avoid false positives in early product development by requiring early customers to prove what they say. Specifically, I tell PMs, UX’ers or User Researchers, that if you are validating demand, do not be satisfied with the answer to:

“Would you use this product/feature?”

The problem with asking this questions is that it does not cost the tester anything to saying “yes, I would use it.” It is literally a no-brainer question. Would I use that? “Sure, I can see that happening.” But that is not validation. The better questions to ask are:

  1. Time Commitment: Would you spend several hours testing designs and early coded versions of this product/feature for us?
  2. Social Proof: Would you introduce us to 3 other people who would use this product/feature?
  3. Budget validation: Would you agree to buy this product at this price when we release this? If yes, will you sign this LOI and provide your credit card?

I go in more detail on this topic on this post, How to Validate Demand with Prototypes. But I am happy to discuss with anyone interested too. Just contact me on the Contact Us page on Validately.

Q7. You’ve created other start-ups, why get into remote testing and research with Validately, why do you feel it’s important and what makes you different versus your competitors?

The value of remote testing is that it tests the user in her native environment. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in testing labs. But let’s be honest, no one acts normally in a testing lab. So philosophically, I believe in the value of remote testing. Specifically in remote moderated testing.

Validately is different than anything that I have seen in a few ways:

    1. Seamless, lightweight moderated testing in both desktop and mobile. Our technology does not require any download or plugin. Just click on the testing link and you are live with the moderator.
    2. Recruiting to match your persona, not from a trained panel. We emphasize testing on real people, not trained panelists for moderated testing. Thus, we recruit testers for our customers from LinkedIn, Facebook, Google AdWords and other sources that match a specific persona. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in having a testing panel for unmoderated usability tests, which is why we offer a panel for un-moderated. But when you are doing moderated research, you need to talk to real people who match your specific persona.
    3. Reduce the post-session work for the researcher. We are releasing an entire suite of features aimed specifically at the pain point of tying videos to analysis. Our goal is that by the end of your moderated session(s), you will automatically have a complete report compiled that you can send to stakeholders with your notes and clips already queued up.
    4. Flexible, reasonable pricing model. We are Lean to our core and so we wanted to build a product that doesn’t let cost get in the way of learning. We believe that our pricing model is the most reasonable and flexible in the industry, so that you can test more!

Q8. What do you think the next year to two years will bring for UX and for remote research?  Do you see them growing or changing, if so why?

Trend 1: The UX & UX Research fields are exploding. Check out the graph of UX designer job trends from Indeed. That is exponential growth! I think this trend is going to continue. User Research is going to be table stakes, not a unique advantage.


Trend 2: Technology and automation is going to continue to improve.

  1. Anything that you do manually right now and hate, is going to be automated soon.
  2. Anything that slows you down from doing more research is going to be automated soon.
  3. Prototyping technology is going to continue to improve decreasing the difference between live code testing and prototype testing
  4. Longer term: Technology is going to help identify pro-actively usability issues that you have in the product.

Trend 3: I think the prices are going to come down. You won’t be able to charge $49 for a basic un-moderated usability test.

Q9. What’s next for your career and for Validately in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

What’s next for my career? 🙂 I plan on being CEO of Validately for the next decade or so. My focus throughout that time will be the same as it is now… building a product that customers love.

Thank you Steven!

For More Information on Remote Moderated Usability Testing:

See the article: Remote Moderated Usability Testing Tools which contains description, benefits and tools including Validately.

Validately: The remote usability user research and testing tool and service founded by Steven Cohn and Co-Founder Mark Bathie.

Note: Companies mentioned in this article may or may not be sponsors of this site. However, in no way does their sponsorship or lack thereof impact the results of this or any other editorial content on the site. The editorial content of this and all other articles written by the Editorial team is determined without regard to whether a company is a sponsor of the site or not.