Sending Customer Development Surveys

A friend of mine just asked me for some advice on sending surveys. This is the list I came up with.


Sending surveys is an important part of early customer development; it helps you test a hypothesis and delivers you "perception" data. You can track how a user interacts with your service, it’s harder to track how they perceive it without surveys.


Early on in development of a consumer facing product, I’d recommend sending out simple surveys at short intervals (1-4 weeks) to a subset of your userbase. Below is the advice I gave my friend, if I’m missing anything, please leave it in the comments (Hattip to Hiten Shah, Leonard Speiser, and Sean Ellis who heavily influenced my thinking on this through tweets, posts, and conversations on this topic).




First thing is too check out this: (not shocking that Venture Hacks has the go to resource, is it?)


Then check out the tool that video is about:


But here’s my advice:


- Order your survey intentionally. Use early questions as eventual filters. If your second question is "how bad would you feel if you couldn’t use this product" that helps you sort later questions (i.e. my power users think this is the key feature, everyone else thinks it’s something else).


- When evaluating the data, you don’t want to optimize for the largest segment, you want to optimize for the segment that’s most engaged.


- Don’t ask any questions without understanding how you’d apply the data you’re collecting.


- Ask some open ended questions. The open-ended everything survey recommended in the post is a great way to start. But I like to have less than half my questions require typing — and it’s usually just an "anything else you think we should know?". You get much higher response rates. But, there’s definitely a time and a place: open-ended questions are really useful for messaging questions and for early "discovery" surveys. Those questions also allow you to learn a lot more about the user (and how committed they are — you can tell a lot from the length and quality of their response).


- Ask for the ability to followup by phone, and do phone followups with every person who says yes. You’ll learn a lot in that conversation — and you’ll develop deep relationships with potential customers.


- On the subejct of developing relationships, provide an option for opting-in to the "elites" club — let them self select into beta testing groups. These elites can often become marketing assets. Yelp did a great job of this. David Barrett at Expensify is also doing this well right now. Survey’s aren’t just data, build a marketing asset.


- Ask for their reactions to the product, optional and freeform (limit text length if you would like to use in materials or on twitter). Ask “can we use this for marketing purposes?”  Another idea: followup and get a small photo, name, link, etc. — use these assets to personalize the testimonials when you put them online.


- Don’t put explanatory text in front of questions. It’s tempting to try and put people in the right “frame” — it hurts you in the long run. Don’t alter the answers they want to give you.


- Short surveys win.  <10 questions. <5 mins to complete.  half that is much better. Don’t write an SAT test.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.