personas in a Lean Startup

Using personas in a Lean Startup

Wikipedia defines personas a “a representation of the goals and behaviour of a hypothesised group of users.” This means that although personas are based on real people, they represent a group of people rather than a single person.
After we moved into our new office with all our ideas about what Startup Startup – a free online platform connecting early stage startups and people who have great ideas with talented people interested in joining a startup – should be, my co-founders and I focused on our personas for the first two weeks, without doing any real development.
Using personas can be very effective when developing a product or service because it forces the team working on it to focus on the end users’ needs. In previous jobs, we’d seen persona research fail or at least not be used to its full potential and were determined to make it work.

What we wanted to avoid was making one of the following mistakes:

1. Developing personas only to let them live on as a document in a folder nobody ever opens or as posters on the wall nobody ever looks at
2. Developing loads of features before establishing the audience we were developing them for
3. Not bothering with personas at all

First, we created ‘assumptive personas’. This simply means the personas were completely based on hypotheses and no work had been done to validate the assumptions behind them yet. People we knew or had met at startup events served as inspiration. We then hosted a persona validation evening at our office and invited people who we thought were part of our future user base. They provided invaluable feedback on the assumptive personas we’d created. We combined the feedback with the responses we’d received after sending out a survey to a wider audience to validate our assumptions.

That enabled us to turn our assumptive personas and into ‘real’ personas. In the end, we were left with six personas representing six groups of users. At the beginning of each feature development cycle, we would have a session with our whole team to determine what we should and shouldn’t build. We would always use these two questions as the basis of our conversation:

Which of our personas would benefit from using this feature?
What would they want from it?

Working in this way allowed us to identify features that didn’t solve any of our users’ problems before we wasted any time working on them, which fits with the Lean principle of avoiding waste. Our use of personas helped us build the MVP our users wanted.

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This post has been kindly provided by Timo Hilhorst, co-founder of Startup Startup