Recap: Market Research Workshop

“You should know more about your customers than they know about themselves. It should almost be creepy.” – Maher Ayari, President of McGill Dobson Student Executive Team (SET)

Last week’s workshop hosted by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship on February 23 was focused on market research. It’s simple: get to know your customers.

Two speakers showered the room with their wisdom: the first was Michael Groenendyk, the Liaison Librarian for Entrepreneurship at McGill. The second was Anthony Heinrich, co-founder of Venndor, a mobile marketplace that believes buying and selling things should be fun.

Here are some of the takeaways:

“All universities have useful resources, McGill just has a little more” – Michael Groenendyk, Liaison Librarian for Entrepreneurship at McGill

Michael took the time to walk us through some of the data that McGill students and faculty have access to, all of which are accessible through the library’s management & business section of the website.

McGill students and faculty have access to market research data through McGill Library’s management & business section.

As you will notice, there are 3 different tracks – use them accordingly.

1. Company research guide
2. Industry research guide
3. Consumer research guide

*Tip: For researching international markets, use the PassportGMID database!

Note that you will need a McGill email address to access the databases included within the research guides. If you’re a little lost on how to use the databases to their full potential, shoot Michael an email at: [email protected] – he’s more than happy to help!

There are two other resources available at the McGill library that are chronically underused:
A fully equipped Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality setup
3D printing

After Michael’s talk, Anthony took us through his journey at Venndor and shared some of the tactics they use when doing research on its users.

Step 1 is collecting information. How?


Interviewing your top users can be the single most impactful thing you can do when it comes to finding the cracks in your product. The purpose of these interviews is to challenge your assumptions so you don’t build something that nobody wants. You can find out more about the future of your business in one hour by asking real users a series of targeted questions, than you would in a year of sitting in a boardroom theorizing. Get out of your own head, and into others’.

Here are four reasons you may want to do this:

1. The way you think they’ll use your product is not necessary how people actually use it

You may have a series of steps in mind when you picture your customers using your app, for example. However, users just go with their intuition, and don’t really care that they’re “using it wrong” – it’s your job to find the intersection between “the best way,” and the way most people are using it.

*Tip – Here’s an example of a question you may want to ask: “Suppose you want to use X feature in Y product, walk me through the steps you would take in order to do that.”

2. Help with your positioning and branding

Maybe you have a robotic lawn-mower that you want to sell to suburban dads who want to keep their lawn cleaner than their neighbours – with all of your marketing targeting them. Maybe after a few interviews you realize that the majority of your top users are actually farmers who want to get rid of weeds without herbicides. This is a natural opportunity to change your positioning and branding to reflect which customers are actually using your product, so that you can get more of them.

3. Empathize with your customers

After spending time holed up in a cave crafting something, we often forget about who we’re building it for. Interviewing is an excellent way to get into your customers’ heads.

What kind of words are they using to describe their problem? You can track the key phrases that come up over and over, and use them when writing the sales copy for your product or when designing new features.

4. To save time

Frontload the work: put in the work now, so you can save time later. This is the magic that happens when you take the time to get into your customers’ minds early. You can quickly spot patterns that will tell you what to do next. Sometimes the message will be: “Don’t build this, nobody cares.” And that’s a good thing, because finding out early is way better than spending a year or more creating something, and then hearing crickets when it’s showtime.


A simple guideline to follow when it comes to implementing interviews would be to have a goal in mind, and keep it specific and measurable.

Here’s a bad example of a goal:

“I think we can make our website better”

Now a good one:

“Let’s test how to reduce drop-offs to speed up the checkout process for returning customers on our website”

Now you might be worried: “How am I going to have time to interview all of my 1000 true fans?


“You don’t need to talk to the entire planet – I didn’t come up with this, but you need to understand that 80 percent of your problems are uncovered after speaking to just five people” – Anthony Heinrich, co-founder of Venndor

So what are the best practices when it comes to interviewing?

a) Approach them in a friendly way

If you’re going to be emailing your users to reach out for a real life interview, tell them you’re stoked that they like your product so much and that you want to learn from them to make your company better and to make their lives even better – that’s the truth!

Put yourself in their shoes: a random company emails you specifically, asking to “interview” you. You’d be a little skeptical, and confused. So make it clear what you seek to gain out of the interaction.

Here’s what that might look like if you were Chloe Anderson, the founder of a company that makes healthy avocado desserts and a McGill Dobson Cup 2016 Finalist. You find that 5 people are buying your desserts over and over and over. They can’t get enough – they outnumber the purchases made by everyone else combined, so you decide to figure out why, and how it can help your business:

“Hey Mo,

I noticed you really like our desserts! It’s incredibly fulfilling for me and my team to be able to provide such joy to you.

Here at Avocado Desserts, we’re always looking to learn and improve in every way we can, so that we can make your lives even richer!

I’m curious, would you be open to meeting for a brief chat or Skype interview about our desserts, and how we can serve you better?


b) Build a script/series of questions

Don’t improvise: you want to keep the script consistent so you can spot patterns between customers. If you ask everyone different questions, you’re starting from square one each time. Pre-planning what you’ll be asking makes your job simpler.

What kind of questions might you ask?

Good ones.

Here are some guidelines:

i) Ask some specific questions, and some open-ended ones.

An example of a specific question might be: “Do you use feature X? How often?”

A more open-ended question might look like: “Why is problem Z a big deal to you? How might it make your life easier if we fixed it?”

ii) Be conscious of your wording

Don’t ask leading questions like, “Don’t you hate your cable companies? Don’t you wish there was a better alternative?”

The goal here isn’t to force them to validate your product whether it’s true or not. It may even be a good idea to withhold talking about the solution you have planned, and instead, probe them more about the problem and remain open-minded to see how you might be able to help.

iii) Record the interview, and test it with a friend first

Having a recording means that you’ll always have that data to refer to in the future. Trying out some of the questions with a friend might help you see some of the weak points in your interview structure – your interviews are only as good as the questions you ask, so put in the time to sharpen them before you talk to your users.

iv) Look for patterns between the answers you collect

This is invaluable information that can tell you what to work on next. If you notice that everybody wants a certain feature, think about implementing it.

For example, McGill Dobson Cup 2015 participant Michael Di Genova found that a lot of the students using his quiz creator were asking for an option to see the correct answer right away when taking a quiz. Michael listened: he implemented it, and saw an immediate increase in engagement from users.

If you’re not sure what to ask, here are some questions Anthony likes:

  • What’s working for you, what’s not working for you?
  • Story-based questions: “Suppose you want to accomplish X task. Walk me through how you would do that.”
  • Is there anything you expected to see here but didn’t?
  • How do you like the way the information here is presented to you?

If you’re hungry for more information on optimizing the way you collect information from your users, here are some recommended resources to learn more:

  • “Sprint” by Jake Knapp (details the 5-step process Anthony uses at Venndor)
  • – use search terms like “UX Research” or “interviewing”
  • Michael Groenendyk – Liaison Librarian for Entrepreneurship at McGill (he can help you navigate the vast market databases you have access to at McGill)
Mo Akif

Mo Akif

The Editor-in-Chief of the McGill Dobson Chronicles. Never having started a lemonade stand as a child and tired of reading blog posts about entrepreneurship without actually doing anything, he was on the verge of giving up and joining a pyramid scheme. Luckily the McGill Dobson Centre decided to adopt him, allowing him to get a closer look at what it takes to build something valuable.