Many founders find early traction and positive feedback from different types of users at the beginning of their startup journey. This can quickly become a double-edged sword.

Trying to build something for everyone can lead to many false starts. It’s hard to prioritise what features you need to build to meet your customers’ needs when it’s not clear who your core customers are.

When you start thinking about your product, it is paramount to start with the customer and work your way back. Who is your target customer? What is your customer trying to do? What is he or she trying to achieve in her personal or work life? It starts with creating a clear user persona, understanding deeply the ‘job-to-be-done’ by your target consumer, the gains a user is seeking, and the pains they are trying to remove from their lives.


As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Indeed, customers buy products to get jobs done, and although there might be different solutions over time, the underlying ‘job-to-be-done’ does not go away.

Jobs describe an important issue your customers are trying to solve in their work or in their lives. It could be the tasks they are trying to perform and complete, the problems they are trying to solve, or the needs they are trying to satisfy. Consider the businessman who commutes to work by subway every day. Commuting is the job to be done. The problem arises when he can’t get a seat. A product that solves that problem makes it easier for him to get that particular job done. When customers are executing a job, they have a set of metrics in mind that define the successful execution of that job. These metrics (or desired outcomes) can be captured as actionable customer need statements that are the perfect input in the product development and value creation process.

To capture a user’s journey in its entirety, make sure to include the context – including the current situation, the customer’s motivation and their desired outcomes.


User Personas

Consumer insight is rooted in a deep understanding of your target consumers and their unique challenges and motivations. The best way to crystallize this is to create user personas that represent the goals, pain points, motivations and behaviours of your target user and describe how that character might use a site, brand or product. Personas put a face to your users, which helps bring focus to your startup’s communication, product design and decision-making strategies.

First, user personas can be seen as a tool for both describing and communicating with customers with depth and nuance. Second, personas can function as a framework for design, as they help us understand our target user and help us imagine ways to delight them. Finally, user personas provide more clarity and shared understanding within teams – and offer a user-centered framework on data.

Creating valuable user personas starts with listening. Get out there and speak with as many current users of your product as possible to understand:

  • What is the user’s ‘job-to-be-done’?
  • What did the user do or use before your product existed?
  • What pain point or need are you uniquely addressing?
  • How does your product make them feel?
  • How would they feel if they couldn’t use your product going forward?

The goal here is to determine what would make different users love your product. As part of this, you’ll hear many different stories and answers, and you’ll see a great variety in users. This prepares you for the second step: describe the users you spoke to. What do these users do for a living, what is their background, and what are they trying to accomplish with your product? Do you see any patterns emerge in needs, pain points and expectations? Once you can see these patterns, the third step is to capture them with clear and distinct personas.

There are many different templates and formats for creating user personas. While there is no definitive approach, a good user persona should include the following components:

  • Background (like age, occupation, location, etc.)
  • Needs
  • Motivation and goals
  • Pain points or concerns
  • Core functional job
  • Personal/Emotional job
  • Social job
  • How the product can serve the user

Often, they also include quotes from the different personas which capture some of their thoughts and feelings in the most raw and pure form.

The main purpose of a user persona is to create empathy for your customers and users. This is critical for both product development and product management.

Remember, your user personas are only as good as the research and insight behind them. Make use of both qualitative and quantitative user research. And it’s not static. A great product roadmap should be informed by understanding the needs of various target user segments on a continuous basis and how your product can solve these. Think of your user persona as a living image that needs to be revisited, and possibly recalibrated, over time.


  • Start your product journey by spending time with your target customer, understanding their ‘jobs-to-be-done’, the gains they are seeking, and the pain they are trying to remove from their lives.
  • Create user personas to put a face to your target customers. This helps your team make better decisions when designing for them.
  • Understanding and relating to what matters to your customers is a core part of building products.

This post is part of the Surge Founder Starter Pack: Company Building Essentials for Early Stage Startups. To download the rest of the pack, click here.