Guest Post on 3Beards: What I Learned Couch Surfing With My Users

Guest Post on 3Beards: What I Learned Couch Surfing With My Users

This post is a slightly extended version of the post published by 3Beards this June. Please do read the 3Beards post and more about the Chewhiker trip.

“Speak to you users!” – Every investor, mentor or startup blogger you’ve ever met.

As inhabitants of the startup world we hear this time and time again. Investors ask us as they prod and poke at our assumptions. Mentors tell us each time we sit down for a coffee. We scroll past blog posts about user research and user centric design. Consigning each to the “Read It Later” list to never be looked at let alone read.

We all know how important customer research is right? When was the last time you sat down with a user of your product and watched them figure it out?

It’s hard though. Because who are your users. Where are they. Why would they want to spend their time speaking to you.

I came out of the Ignite accelerator program with my company Chew with the user first mantra deeply ingrained. But even with regular catchups speaking to users began to fall by the wayside as the pace of meeting partnerships and planning features built and built.

Something needed to change.

Looking at Google Analytics North America was on the top of the list of users. I bought a one way ticket.

Just as I boarded the plane I directly emailed the top 100 users of the site in the country. By the time I touched down I had an inbox full of over 50 responses and over 6 weeks I traveled and stayed with a different user every night.

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My Email to Chew’s top 100 Users

But why should you care about my little jolly to America?

It was a tough and exciting journey. But what it forced me to confront was that some of my key assumptions about our users were just that – assumptions.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Your users are willing to give feedback

I users to be worried that meeting a user for a coffee would be a real inconvenience. Or at least I used that as an excuse to put off talking to users. Most people will give you an hour over a coffee. Chew’s users gave me a day, a night and somewhere to sleep.

  • Some users love your product

Looking at the numbers is a day-to-day part of running our businesses. What gets lost in numbers though is passion. You may not realise that people are really emotionally invested in the bit of software or hardware that you’ve put your energy into building.

  • Face to face time wins people over

This one isn’t too scalable unfortunately. But a number of times on the trip I managed to switch users from a competitor but spending a few hours with them. At the same time I learned exactly the issues they were having which went straight into the roadmap for the product.

  • Your users probably aren’t who you thought they were

Google Analytics demographics are dodgy at best. By reaching out to people you might be surprised who is actually using your product.

  • Your users probably aren’t using the product the way you though you were

The core of user testing. If you’ve ever watched a friend or a stranger user your product you get that excruciating edge of the seat feeling watching them click on the image not the button for the third time.

So instead of putting this article into Pocket to never look at again. Email, message or call one of your users right now and go out and meet them. It might just change the way you think about your business.




Hi, my name is Ben and I’m a startup founder and adventurer. Highlights of my career include building three startups from zero to exit (, StreamOn and working on Aux) and cycling – halfway – around the world in 2018. Subscribe for updates, blog posts and videos on my startup life and adventure travels.
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