Every day in business we talk about growth. Every startup and established business is conditioned by growth, every founder and CEO focuses on growth.

Every day people are getting killed in other places of the world. Some cases are more obvious than others, some get more media coverage and endorsements while others go unnoticed. The bottom line is that people on both sides of the borders are getting killed in multiple countries. Killing people does not contribute to growth.  Those people might have grown into amazing engineers, smart product managers, great communicators, talented writers.

I am disturbed by our desire for growth and our blindness to what is going around us. Focusing on business growth from 9 to 5 and then diving into the shabby music of the nights or relaxing wine bars does not contribute to growth.

No, the best growth is being alive and responsive to the world we live in. We are responsible for what is happening around us. This is the only growth worth focusing on, inside and outside of our businesses.

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Back in May we run a focus group for our startup. We have just finished our mockup and decided to get user’s opinion on how they felt about it and if it was easy to use. I emailed Omar with my first write-up of how I was planning to run the group. Omar got back to me right away politely letting me know that my draft was awful and inefficient  (ok, he did not use these exact words). He wrote me some tips on how to plan, organize, and run a better focus group in our case.

Here they are:

1. The title should be a value proposition, not a descriptive line of what you will do, as it makes it more interesting to people. I know it is by invitation only, but as a general rule, try to propose a benefit or make it more enticing and less descriptive (you can later elaborate on what people will do). I would go for something in the lines of “Help us test a new app for language learning”.

2. The timing is essential. So I would run it at either the local lunch time (2-4pm) or the standard 7-9pm evening shift (better 7.30 to allow time for transportation).

3. The recruitment strategy is very biased, so only people who know you will come and therefore they will be very nice on their feedback… that is not helpful at all! You should aim to get people who don’t know you so they are more candid.

4. I would organize two groups in two different days and segment targets according to their usage history: those who have already used some language learning apps before and those who have not (but might be interested). Don’t use their current job status as a screener.

5. Remove all things that can condition attendees, such as the app name or images.

6. Don’t focus on testing only (leave that for the second half of the group), try to use the first half of the group to explore (customer development) and the second to test (product development). On the first half ask them about what they do and why they do it, and on the second present the product itself (maybe in two parts: the website and then the app) and try to see how good their understanding of the product is (you are not advocating/selling, thus focus on understanding).

7. On the description write about the problem you are addressing (efficiently improving vocabulary learning in a foreign language) and the benefits (growing professionally), so readers can see if that resonates with them (you don’t want people who are not interested in that as much as you don’t want friends or acquaintances.

8. And finally, open it to everyone… you will be susprised of how useful strangers can be, especially those who have not been exposed to the project before. Seriously, don’t bring people who already know something about the product (for those, conduct face-to-face interviews at their convenience!).

9. Don’t use the first-come, first-serve basis for signing up. Leave it open and then do your own pre-selection, by contacting each candidate individually and asking a few questions (by email or phone). In other words, if you get 20 candidates, contact them via private messages and, based on their feedback to a few additional questions, invite 8 to the group (and reconfirm them on the same day or previous day). To the rest, tell them the group has been completed and you will keep their records for the next round of testing (or offer individual face-to-face interviews, which are also useful).

10. Offer if you can some “incentives” for attendees to thank them for their time, in addition to the food… Maybe coupons / vouchers for something such as Amazon or FNAC… If you run it in the evening, you can offer only a drink and spend the rest of the money you had planned on these small vouchers.

In March 2014 we run our first focus group to validate an idea we had for a startup. Some weeks before that in my meetup group I met a guy who seemed to know quite a lot about focus groups and who offered to give us an advice if we needed it. His name was Omar and his guidelines saved us a lot of time and money in our first focus group experience. I sent Omar some ideas on how I was planning to run the focus group, and even though he probably laughed (lightheartedly) at my five bullet points, he was cool enough to send me his suggestions. I want to publish his advice here as many startup founders may find it very useful and straight to the point (or without water as Russian people say).

Omar’s insights on the focus group for an education related startup (pre-prototype stage)

“A discussion guideline should have an index of topics and a timing associated to each part. This is a rough outline of what I would do (you definitely need to refine it yourself). I assign the first hour for general exploration and the second hour for testing/validating specific issues:

1. Intro (30 min)

Thanks everyone for coming.
Food & drinks. No phones, etc.
Expectations about this session.

Quick round of introduction (1 min per person, max!): What is your name? What do you do? What apps do you use on a regular basis? How do you go about learning things now that you are not a student anymore? What sort of things do you learn? How often do you do it?

Split in 2 groups by attitudes: pro-active (avid learners), re-active (passive learners)

 2. More about learning attitudes and behavior (15 min)

How often do you learn things? Why do you learn them? How do you learn them? What do you learn?

 3. Apps for learning (15 min)

What apps do you know about for learning? Which ones have you actually used? Why did you use them? What did you like about them? What bothered you about them? Were they effective? Did they have any scientific background? Did you pay for them? Would you consider paying for them?

4. Concept testing (20 min)

Introduce the value proposal of your product, first verbally and then visually and see if they get it.

What does this say to you? What is this for? Who is it addressed to? What is its benefit? Is it relevant to you? Is it useful? Would you use it? Why would you? Why wouldn’t you? How often? Where? When? Would you recommend it? Why would(n’t) you? Would you pay for it? Why? How much would you be willing to pay?

5. UX testing (20 min)

Show them some screen shots and architecture so they get an idea of the flow they will go through while using it.

Overall, how do you feel about it? Is it nice? Is it light or dense? Is it intuitive ? Is it confusing or clear? Would you feel comfortable using it? Would you get bored? Would you keep track of progress? Would you

6. Content validation (15 min)

What topics do you see yourself learning with this app? How customized would you expect it to be?

7. Wrap-up (5 min)

Thank for their time and ask if they have anything they would like to share with the group. If not, give them a brief, 1-page q’aire to fill out in which you assess:
a. Their takeaways from this product (ask the 4 questions: What is this about? Who is it for? How does it work? Where is its magic?)
b. Their suggestions for improvement: in terms of design, contents, marketing, communication, pricing, sociability, tech, etc.
c. Personal info if they don’t mind being contacted in the future for additional research on this product”

I want to say that the focus group we run following these guidelines proved to be a very good one and we got a lot of actionable points out of it. Thankful to Omar and I hope it will help others to run better focus groups.

When you see your customers as people who pay you money for a product or service you are missing on something essential. Your customers are people for whom you want to do something and not the other way round. And you not only want to do it, but you want to do it with care, with grace, and thoughtfully. Your customers are a group of people for whom you want to provide value, that in short-term or long-term will improve their lives. When you focus on giving you build your product or service in a certain way. The people who focus on receiving will never be able to replicate it, because the product is ultimately not about the features. The core of your product or service is your intrinsic motivator and why you do what you do.

As a matter of fact the same applies to friendship. Your friends are not the people who will do anything for you. Your friends are people for whom you will go an extra mile, or two, or three, or any distance needed.

Your mindset defines your product. When you focus on understanding and giving your product becomes fascinating.

Majority of people settle for the minimum that needs to be done for something to work, to function, to move ahead. What is the minimum you need to organize a group? What is the minimum for your ecommerce to function? What is the minimum to serve a client? What is the minimum to build a team? What is the minimum to be a parent?

Many businesses are based on the minimums. This applies to business, to personal growth, to family.

As we grow we realize that minimum is not enough. There are people who will be better managers, better designers, better architects. There are better parents too. We can either adhere to the minimum pattern and feel upset about the world that does not respect us, or we can decide to become better. We can decide to put an effort into listening, understanding, learning, and ultimately improving. It takes willpower, willingness, and changing our habits.

The benefits of doing more than minimum are huge.

Talking to many startup founders I have been asked quite a bit how to select a good name for a startup. Be practical, look at the essence of your business. Do you expect your customers to find you through the internet search? Do you expect your customers to be referred to you by their friends? Are you going to provide business services to only a handful of large customers that you will approach yourself? Answers to these questions will tell you how to select a good name for your venture.

If you plan to rely on the SEO to bring you new customers then go forward and select a name related to the search words they will use. Look at it from a distance. Do not include in your company name words just because you personally like them.  Do a research on what words will people type looking for a service like yours. Go with the company name and available domain that will bring you the most customers.

If you expect the influx of the new customers through friends’ referrals then select a remarkable and fun name. People like to share what is easily memorable, positive, and fun. In this case do not get obsessed with the key search words. Select a name you would be proud sharing with your friends.

If you decide to service only a handful of large customers that you will be approaching yourself then just go with the name that you like and that makes sense for your business. Chose a name that reflects the spirit and integrity of your venture and that you are passionate about. In this case your business name does not need to appeal to the search engines and it does not necessarily have to be fun or easily memorable.

In any case do not get obsessed with your company name. It is just the beginning.

Many companies have a tendency to hire junior people or even interns to tap into the areas of their business they have not previously touched. A startup stuffed with engineers may hire a marketing intern to start working on their social media relationships. An e-commerce built by marketers may hire an intern to work on their financial projections. A fashion company, focused mostly on their production, may hire a junior UI / UX designer to give a new flow to shopping experience and product display.

Why hiring  junior people in these cases might be deadly for the business? Simply because interns and junior people will focus on particular small tasks that they know how to carry out. They will put special emphasis and lots of energy on contacting bloggers or on moving images around the page. In most cases those actions will not be a result of a brilliant branding strategy. Thus their effect will be null in the long-term (and most probably in the short-term too).

Getting inside the company senior people who will be able to understand your vision and design a high-level impacting strategy is essential. These professionals will create fresh and focused content and discard the old pieces that are basically trashing your name now. Integrity of the brand must be reinforced through each small task carried by interns and juniors. This does not happen by itself. It must be envisioned, created, thought through, and then implemented. Hire senior professionals and let them hire their interns or juniors to carry out small tasks. Do not start by hiring an intern and expecting to bring a more experienced person on board later on. It really does not happen this way in our well-branded world. To achieve excellence you must hire the experienced, smart, and outstanding people.