You can’t make really good products in a highly competitive market without having a close connection with your users. It’s the only way
Henry Ford didn’t invent the car - he created the first model that people could afford buying (Model T). He is also notoriously known for saying: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said: ‘faster horses’”.
While some people take this as a lack of appreciation for users’ opinion - or potential buyers’ - it suggests quite the opposite. He simply got to the gist of what’s important to them: speed. Indeed, they had not imagined the technology used, but it was very clear what they really wanted.
He also understood what’s not important to them. “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it’s black”, he said after realizing that as much as they won’t be willing to compromise speed, they would compromise color.
How did he get to these conclusions? He obsessively spoke with people.
This is also what’s unique about Wix: we have an uncompromising desire to speak with our users, even though there are hundreds of millions of them.
Wix is a proud product company with more than 20 product lines, serving over 190 million users across dozens of verticals. We like to say that we’re a “user-obsessed company” - but what does that even mean?
Speaking With Users, Every Day
As the company’s VP Product, I’ve set a rule for myself: I speak to at least three users every day. Every day, for years. Hardly ever missed a day.
The same applies for all product managers at Wix, which there are currently over 120 of. A product manager is someone who speaks to users, and according to the understanding of their intent and business needs, builds the right product.
You can’t make really good products in a highly competitive market without having a close connection with your users. It’s the only way.
A few years ago, I was responsible for the first Wix blog. We were still a flash-based product, and I wanted to make it an HTML-based product with advanced editing options. When we launched it, users were tearing us to shreds. We quickly found out that they couldn't care less about these editing features. It was just my agenda. What they actually wanted were blogging features, like the ability to pre-schedule a post - and we completely missed that. Luckily, we’ve added those capabilities since, and learned.
Over the years, I personally spoke with thousands of Wix users. With one of them I established a closer relationship. Back then he was 17 years old, and used to create websites for friends. He knew every single feature we had in each one of our products. He and I spoke via Facebook, and the feedback he would give was always the harshest - but also invaluable.
Personally, I’m a true believer in speaking with users on social platforms. They can see my profile, my family - everything is exposed and personal. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for me it does. I think that when a user sees the actual person behind the text, we’re able to connect on a whole different level.
We Report to Our Users
Product managers at Wix don’t report to me, or to our management. Well, technically they do - but in the broader sense of who they should answer to, it’s our users. Our product managers work with one purpose in mind: building the best products for our existing and future users.
It’s more than just a nice saying. I’ll give you an example.
A user buys a premium plan at Wix, and for any given reason doesn’t want to extend it. From a product perspective, you can take one of two approaches: either you make it super easy for the user to cancel the plan, or you don’t.
Now, many companies simply don’t make it very easy, by design. It’s not in their interest to. Yet here at Wix, we made it extremely easy to churn. If we report to our users, why should we make it difficult for them?
After the fact, we may reach out to these users, ask them why they chose to leave, what didn’t work well for them, and how we can improve - but the product experience must be simple. Values are measured by the price you’re willing to pay to stand behind them.
User-Obsession in Every Stage of Our Product Development
Speaking with users is the preliminary stage before we start planning products, but we keep on doing that every step of the way.
When we create the first wireframes of a product, which show in rough lines how it will look like, we send them to a group of users who are part of our advisory board and ask for their feedback. Then, we share it again while we're in the UX stage, and once again ask for feedback after the product is live. It’s a never ending process.
Does this shield us against negative user feedback? Not at all :)
No matter how many conversations we have with our users before and during the development cycle, when we release a product there’s always a chance we’ll hear feedback we didn't expect, or new requests that didn’t seem so critical before.
It’s part of the charm in product management.
Understanding the Sentiment (or: When Quality Beats Quantity)
A conversation with a user provides, by default, qualitative feedback. When we look at quantitative data (and we do), we’ll see how a large group of users behave, but it won’t give us the reasons, intent and emotions behind those actions.
Let’s give an example: One thing we use at Wix is user requested features. Basically, any user can go to our system, and ask for features they’re missing. We then see what those top user requests are, and keep them in mind while determining our product roadmap. If a user was kind enough to give us feedback after discovering a feature they needs is missing, it’ll be stupid of us not to listen.
However, this is not always enough in order to make the right decision.
Each time I would travel to SF, I’d sit with our Customer Care Experts who speak with users all day. At that time, I was leading Wix Stores, and I had 2 features that got an equal number of user requests. When I spoke with them about these 2 features, I could hear that they have zero interest in one of them (let’s call it A), but are super enthusiastic about the other (B). I went to our support system and started listening to calls. The calls went something like this: “Yeah, it’ll be great if you had feature A but WHY ON EARTH DON’T YOU HAVE FEATURE B? IT’S CRUCIAL FOR MY BUSINESS!!!”. This sentiment was by no means something I could learn only from looking at the numbers.
Avoiding the Faster Horses Syndrome
Yet, there are times we don’t listen to our users - or at least not to their specific requests. The only reason for that is that from a product and technological standpoint, the specific feature they are asking for is not the right way to build it in a scalable way.
Will we ignore it? Hell no. We’ll try to listen to what they really asked for, and uncover their intent. We will then think of the best solution to help achieve that. In other words, we’ll build a car instead of scouting for faster horses.
User-Obsession at Scale
I imagine that in many startups, founders or people who lead Product speak with users. Most likely, they even take support calls with users themselves. It’s easier to do it when you’re small - it’s much more challenging to do that at scale.
What I love about Wix is the fact we managed to preserve this culture even while growing to a company of 4,500+ employees, and nearly 200 million users. It’s not only our founders, or each product manager with their own users. It’s all of us, having the same user craze.
As we grow and have newer product managers joining us, our organization structure helps infuse this culture. Wix is built around what we call Companies - which are essentially small teams focused on a specific product or segment. When someone joins a small team, they meet people who are already user-obsessed and very much engaged with them, so it makes it very natural.
That said, it’s our job as a company to keep prioritizing it, and we put a lot of emphasis on this in our onboarding and training courses.
User-obsession by itself is not a skill set, it’s a value. But it does require a few characteristics that we seek to find in candidates: empathy, courage, openness, ability to create personal connections, ability to listen and receive feedback, and most importantly - being able to learn, change your ideas, and admit when you’re wrong.
A good product manager will be able look at data and collect user feedback. A great product manager will be able to turn all this to an amazing product. I think it’s magic.
Dedi Schwartz, VP Product at Wix