How Should Startups conduct Usability Testing?

Product Management

How Should Startups conduct Usability Testing?

Now that you have launched your product, you do expect some traction. So you go pally with media/bloggers/PR guys – and within a few months, you have a decent traffic to your site.

And you launch more features to keep your users engaged..and more. But, after a while you realize that users aren’t consuming what you want them to.

Suddenly, your bounce rate has gone up – so what do you do?

Usability Test

Well, this is one of a typical issue faced with any new product launch and if you are a startup, you have a bigger constraint – i.e. how much of ca$h can you spend on usability tests?

How do you conduct a usability test?

  • Hire a usability consultant?
  • A:B/Split testing?

Yes to all of the above, if you are very very well funded and have enough ca$h to spend!

Challenges with the above approach

Typically, usability consultants recruit people (based on certain demographic profile that matches your product) and conduct a closed focus group study in the lab – the only challenge is that they tend to train users (not knowingly, but it just happens) to use the product.

Nothing wrong with the approach, just that you will end up talking to users who will NOT at all complain about your product, but at the same time, will not even use it in the future.

In short, they are undergoing the usability test not because of your product, but because they have been recruited by the consultant.

And mind you, you are paying a hefty amount for all this!

A typical usability lab study

Go for it, if you have enough ca$h and can afford a sample size big enough to build a pattern.

Same applies to A/B testing – if you have enough time (and can spare some effort in building different landing pages), go for it.

If not, read on!

Usability options for a Cash-Strapped Startup

Do it yourself.

Yes. What I mean by DIY is that you should be conducting your own usability tests.

Where do I get the users?

Start off with your friends – take a random sample of 5 power users (assuming you have friends in IT sector who are poking and Orkutting each other every day).

Then, go beyond the power users.

Where to?


Indian Cyber Cafe - Up in the Clouds
Indian Cyber Cafe - Up in the Clouds

Randomly, pick up a casual user, tell him that you are going to pay for their 30 minutes of Internet access (costs Rs. 10-20), show them your product and ask them following:

Before you start:

  • Tell them about the product – what it does etc etc.
  • Keep certain goals in mind – for e.g. user should write a review, should click on ‘share’ button etc etc.

Start the test

Warm Up

Let them play with the product, get familiar with the site for the first 5 minutes.

Ask them:

  • What is the product all about?
  • What’s their understanding of the product?
  • What is it that they believe, they can do with the product?

Let them play with the product for another 10 minutes (get them signed-in if needed)

Get Intensive

  • Build a story – for e.g., if you are a local search player, tell them that ‘you have to find the best pub in MG Road, Bangalore – as you are supposed to meet your blind date there
  • Based on the story, ask them to perform right actions.
  • Watch their steps – where are they clicking? If you want to test out a logged-in feature, were they able to understand that they need to signin before using the feature?
  • At any given time, do not go beyond the 2 stories – user is likely to get bored and scream at you.


  • Once the user is done, ask them what’s their overall feel of the product/feedbacks etc.
  • Will they come back to the site?
  • Something they just couldn’t understand? Something that they simply hated (for e.g. sign-in process?)?

Go back and keep a tab on these users – how many of them use the product again? Based on your success ratio, optimize on the questions and scenarios that you want to use.

These are I’d say, a startup’s way to keep their feet on the ground and get a first-hand experience of user behavior.

What’s your opinion?

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