What are user personas and why they're essential for your startup

Microsoft for Startups

Now that you've taken the initial steps to validate your idea, it's time to move on to better understanding your target customer through user personas.

Founders that take a customer-centric approach from day one are more empowered to make informed decisions about which MVP features users would be willing to pay for and which ones should be scrapped. And while it may not seem immediately beneficial, solid user personas often become the backbone for your future marketing campaigns and can increase the chances of converting prospects into sales.

To develop your user persona, we recommend a two-step process: research, then create.

1. Research

The first step in developing a user persona is expanding on the anecdotal research you started when initially validating your idea and adding in widely available primary market data including reports and surveys to identify broader trends and behaviors.

So how do you take your customer conversations one step further? Fidel Ion, founder of news platform SWEN, dedicated his time to Gemba walks – an exercise developed by Toyota that helps you find the points in any process where real value can be added.

"For two weeks straight, I sat behind journalists, editors, videographers, and newsroom receptionists and asked them to walk me through their daily job click by click," said Ion. "I would then write down what the SWEN solution would be for every item that needed improvement and would then validate that solution with the next person I talked to in the same role."

After going on these "walks" with every member of a newsroom, Ion was able to ensure the features he would eventually build in his MVP were the most impactful to journalists.

2. Create (and iterate)

While customer research should be ongoing at every stage of product development, you'll know you're ready when you can visualize a three-dimensional person using your product. Your goal should be to develop a customer persona that offers key insights to guide your MVP development and include the following:

  1. Demographics : including age, gender, income, location, education, and work experience
  2. Psychographics : including motivations, values, goals, frustrations, fears, and lifestyle
  3. Product usage behavior : how they choose products, how often they purchase, how much they're willing to spend, specific features they're looking for, where and how they purchase products

Additionally, your customer persona should help you answer the following:

  • Are there enough potential users for your product?
  • Is it easy to reach these customers and market to them?
  • Are their needs and pain points strong enough for them to spend money on a solution?

Keep in mind that sometimes your user persona is defined by the nature of your product. For instance, if you're building a B2B product for a niche sector that consists of only a few companies, you will need to dive deeply into those customer needs.

This was the case for startup founder Ryan Lee, whose machine learning company Kurvv provides plug-and-play predictive maintenance for manufacturing and industrial equipment. He knew he had a niche product with very specific applications and solutions, so Lee tested his customer personas with tailored product demos. "We identified customers within our niche who showed the highest long-term value, and we showed them a demo that we thought specifically talked to their problems and needs," he said.

It turns out Lee was right, and by following this customized strategy, Kurvv quickly landed their first paying customers, confirming that his customers' needs were strong enough for them to pay for his product.

Building customer personas is a crucial first step before determining if your idea will have product market fit. Explore how to find early indicators for product market fit.