Expert expo: Elise West on UX for start-ups – when is the right time?

Let’s welcome to our next Expert Expo Elise West, UX Director at Studio West – she seriously knows her stuff when it comes to UX – whether it’s for apps, platforms or websites – and delivers this expertise with bucket loads of enthusiasm. Over to Elise…
Between 70 and 90% of startups fail in the first five years, with the top reason being no market need. This seems crazy right? Are companies really investing all of this time, money, people and passion into products that they have no idea customers really need or want?
As bizarre as this sounds, this is exactly what is happening, Companies are investing their time and money into how to increase profit, whereas if they change that focus to how can they make their customer happy, the customer will give them their money for the product or service. Simple!

So, if startups understand that customer happiness is their number 1 metric, when is the right time to invest in UX?
Answer: From the get go, the first moment, as soon as the ideas and concepts of the product or service are beginning to bud.
This may seem like a no brainer considering UX design is all about ensuring there is a need for your product and then ensuring your customer has the best possible experience with your product. In the real world though, startups are under a lot of budget pressure and time restraints. The majority of startups feel they have to choose between developers to get something real into the hands of consumers, or a UX designer within their economical constraints. Most of the time the desire to see the product built means first hires are the developers, and UX is considered as something that can be dealt with later to refine and polish the product.
This inevitably goes rather wrong as it is much more challenging and costly, if possible at all, to adapt an existing concept to be a useful and needed product for your users, than to broach this from the get go.
I am all for the realism of start up life. So here are some ways to ensure you can feasibly have the UX expertise you need in your startup team from the outset.
A User Researcher with experience may be able to do this more effectively and with greater speed than you can yourself, but it is a stage that you can do without UX expertise if you need to save some budget. When doing this research it is important to find out real info from real potential consumers. Don’t ask leading questions and try and do all you can to find out the habits and customs of your consumers and their behaviours with your competitors or related products.

The 5 Ws of UX can really help you at this stage, and there is some great information out there on conducting effective user experience research.
If you can get really disciplined about what features are truly needed for minimum viable product (MVP) release you may be able to have your cake and eat it. Only develop truly needed and wanted features means cheaper and quicker development, and something in the marketplace as a proof of concept. Who can help you prioritise the right set of features for your MVP? You guessed it – your UX designer.
At the start an in-house full time UX expert may seem like a big commitment, and hiring a junior without experience to do your UX will be a false economy. A good step can be to hire a reputable and experienced UX expert on a contract. They can get you started on the right path, educate you about the steps to ensure a desirable product and even help you hire the right in-house UX-er when you are ready. Relating to step 2 above, this person can help ensure you concentrate only on the most essential first features. They can also help you set up to be able to act on step 4.

Getting an MVP out quickly will help you know your market and aid your ability to raise investment, if you are looking. It isn’t over there though. Keep releasing little and often and keep testing what is working. Maintaining the discipline on what you prioritise to develop for release will keep development costs down and enable you to invest budget into your UX. It’s a constant happy loop. Good UX means calculated and strict prioritization, which means quicker and cheaper releases, more effective testing on what works and on it goes.‍
Your UX could be the difference between sink or swim, the reason you are one of the startups that survives and succeeds. Focus on your consumer, answer their needs, and the profits will follow.
Find out more about Elise at StudioWest
All about Expert Expo – we seek out and ask great entrepreneurial marketing experts to share their tips on everything from PR to digital, product development and UX. If you’re an a specialist in marketing, product or innovation and would like to do a guest blog, then do get in touch.