Product Market Fit
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Product Market Fit
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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definitely product market fit i think too many startups say i have a great idea let's just do it and i always say well no we have to figure that out they go but i read the lean startup book and i know if i ask people if they like this idea then it's good and i say well unfortunately the lean startup book didn't tell you how to ask the right questions they told you to go ask questions but they didn't tell you about how to ask the right questions unbiased questions non-leading questions that's what we do and so i tell people that instead of studying do people like your idea research what are they doing now how do they do it what's working for them and what's not working for them and fine tune your salute if this is your target audience maybe you learn it's not if it is your target audience fine tune that solution for their unmet needs and their tasks [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host evan miller a serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ipla where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and train marks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com we're always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast debbie levitt and give you a bit of an introduction to debbie so she double majored in pre-med and music um and then always just been into computers and helping people so started out doing some music in new york uh built her own website in the late 90s started a consultancy in 95 and then did a startup in the early 2000s i went to an incubator um and then didn't get a patent hitting the business so she'll get to talk a little bit about that and then a little while ago was also working on or had a problem that wanted to solve with um some software and so uh that led her to where the business that she's at today so but that much is a quick introduction welcome on the podcast debbie thank you so much devin good to be here so i gave kind of a much quicker run through to a much longer journey so let's uh go back in time a bit and tell us a little bit about uh mate or double majoring in pre-med and music and how your journey got started there yeah um basically i went to a university that didn't have minors and so if you're into something you were majoring in it and at the time i thought i wanted to be a genetic researcher so i started out double majoring in pre-med and music i eventually changed that to chemistry and music i took physics with calculus i took all kinds of things and then it would just kind of hit me i'm just a musician at heart and i dumped all the science i finished with a bachelor's in music from tufts university and after that went to uh for lack of a better job i went and worked in the music business in new york city i had a day job in a booking and management indus uh uh small booking and management place and uh on weekends i worked in steely dan's recording studio so what are you now stealing and recording steven so did you play the music did you help do the recording did you do backup figure eddie or all the bumps i wish yeah unfortunately you know coming right out of college um i was at first officially a poorly paid intern um but after they had some problems in the studio and they realized i didn't smoke drink or do drugs they made me the weekend manager so i didn't get to do too much uh recording or singing though i wish i had but it was a great experience with talented people pretty much everyone who came to the studio with somebody to learn from and somebody interesting so it didn't necessarily shape my career so much but it was a wonderful experience at the time awesome well sounds like a fun place to be and being in new york and being in the music industry sounds like at least an exciting first opportunity so you did that for a period of time and that you know we're in the music industry now after you did that you started it then correct me from wrong then you jumped over to building your own website in the late 90s and kind of building uh building that or kind of where did the journey go from there yeah so in um spring i guess it must have been spring 1995 a college friend called me and said you have to see this thing called the world wide web and people can make pages for it and i must have stayed awake for a week learning html and and some other things and started making web pages started a little business designing websites but i'm not an artist so i started as kind of a business strategist and and website creator in that sense and hired somebody who was great at coding and uh visual design so between the two of us we had pretty much all the bases covered and uh and so i had a web design business as of 1995 and and that was um that's pretty much been my thing um in around 2000 we had to pivot a little bit because everyone who had a copy of front page thought they were a website genius and they didn't need our company so uh we started focusing on one page for all the for all the audience that doesn't know what it is for all you young ones yeah if you don't remember front page it was a microsoft product that would let you design web pages without knowing any coding and so uh people who didn't know any coding and technically anything about making websites were now making websites and so that was like accidentally a competitor and so i started focusing on custom e-commerce and actually on ebay sellers and um became one of the the top ebay experts in the world who didn't work for ebay and then eventually kind of realized that there was some there was a name for what i was doing i just didn't know and that name was really ux and cx user experience and so user experience is people who use psychology and strategy to make things user-friendly and so it's like oh wait a minute there's a there's a name for what i've been doing holy cats i should probably get into this and so i i shifted again around 2008 into again what is more commonly called ux or cx and that's been my world ever since i changed my web design agency into a ux and cx agency and rebranded it a few times and um and that kind of takes me up to today i'll give you a kind of error kudos because you got the ux and cx and you know my past time and you know not that our website is perfect i'm sure it's something to go through it would they would say oh these are all the things you fix but even that i always love my i love to just go and pull apart from websites because the user experience is usually horrible it's usually no calls to action there's usually nothing to do there and it just looks pretty and it doesn't have any real user experience and you know so that's always a drawback but not so i give it kudos because it's always interesting the best websites are oftentimes simpler they're easier to understand they have a good flow to them and you don't realize what a good website is until you go to one that's clunky or doesn't have a good design and it doesn't have a good flow and yet i think everybody that they're thinks of their website builder or they can have a good user experience because there are those tools that make it quote unquote easy in order to to generate one because you know you can create something in a day now whether it worked whether it looks good and everything else is a completely different story so it's interesting how you kind of found it and then had been evolving since so now and one of the things you mentioned is you did a startup i think if i remember right you did a startup in the early 2000s went through an incubator and tell us a little bit about that yeah i'm sorry i glossed over that one so that was a side adventure so in um in the late in the late 2000s i had been doing a lot of online dating and let's just say some of those were not going well and i didn't always feel safe and i had kind of this system where um i had a friend of mine who would text me at certain points of the night and i had to give him a code word and he knew that if i didn't give him the code word that i wasn't safe or that someone else had the possession of my phone and was just responding yeah i'm fine so there was a word he was expecting and um and then there was also a word that meant i'm in trouble and but but i would use it in a sentence like let's say the word was sushi and i could say we didn't go for sushi tonight we're having pizza whatever and he would go oh no she's in trouble and the idea was that this would be kind of a disguised call for distress um because again there are so many people out there who whether they're real estate agents or dating or whatever it is who are are either not safe or don't feel safe and um and i said gee maybe this should be a real product because i think i've hit on something that i haven't seen from other systems so in about 2011 we changed it from debs friends texture to a system that actually could be automated where it was set to text me at certain times it was set to look for certain words and if the distress word came in or i didn't respond within a certain number of time some predetermined contacts would be contacted that um deb might be in trouble here's her gps location and here's what we know last know about her and you know try to call her find some help and so the system wouldn't call the police but the system would try to contact people who cared about me and find me help and so we started doing the whole silicon valley startup thing with that we ended up in an incubator aimed at social good because they saw uses for this in other countries where people don't feel safe walking down the street at all ever and where it kind it went wrong for two reasons one was we got a small angel investor who really forced us to try to spend the money fast and on stupid things and i would have been much smarter and slower in how i spent the money but there was a real feeling in the incubator that we were in where if you get money spend it spend it spend it show how you spent it and ask for more keep going out and pitching and asking for more and that didn't make sense to me to me a successful company doesn't have to keep asking for more money a successful company is doing enough of the right things that it can hopefully sustain itself so sometimes when i see somebody got a series d i'm like are we sure we have a viable business model here so that's my personal opinion so the first problem was the the small seed investor and then the other problem was i unfortunately didn't have as good a patent lawyer as i should have had and the patent lawyer wrote a patent that to me looked good i know if only we had the time machine now there was a pre-existing patent but it was a woman who was utilizing something a cousin of this to make sure that your dog walker came and walked your dog and it really wasn't that close but it was written so broadly it was genius i mean it was written so that the claims were just yeah look a well-written patent you know the end that's it speaks for itself so it was so well written and and my patent lawyer felt that we could cite it but still show how our system was different and long story short i did not get the patent the office said that i did not show enough distinction or or novelty or uniqueness or or whatever it might be and i was quite disappointed in that but i figured let's just keep doing this business because i can help people i can help old people living alone who don't get checked on enough they can be checked on by this automated system and we had all these different variations of it we turned it into an app and so i'd spent a lot of money and time on it even though it was a side thing and finally it all fell it was falling apart when i realized it was it was hard to get people to adopt it because people had a false sense of security i went to a real estate conference and i asked a bunch of overdressed over made up high-heeled puffy-haired women what they were going to do if they were showing a house to someone and they were suddenly unsafe and they were like i've got bug spray i'll spray the bug spray in their face and i was like what if you can't get to your bug spray in time and they like could not imagine an outcome in which they could not get to their bug spray and another woman was like well i've got a gun and i was like and what if there's four guys and you can't get to your gun and like you could just see their faces going like that can't happen i have a gun and so i found that there was this world where there were very limited groups of people who were uh cognizant of how unsafe they they could be i found teens working in malls late at night who knew how unsafe they were their parents didn't i had a lot of fathers going what do you mean my daughter's unsafe and i was like um of course being in san francisco i the lgbtq population understood that sometimes they were unsafe and women going on online dates recognized that they were unsafe and everybody else thought they were just fine and so i said you know i don't think i'm going to be able to convince everybody that that this will help them and i think i'm a little ahead of my time here and just as i was thinking of winding it down some guy wrote to me and he's like hey i'm this real estate guy and we've got a system just like yours and we got the patent and if you don't start paying us and i was like how'd you get the patent like the 2008 patent should have run you over in a heartbeat um so all of a sudden i had a patent troll who um wanted to put me out of business though i was i had no paying customers i had no paying customers and i was just trying to help unsafe people and little old ladies living alone and people going on crappy dates and um and this guy wanted money so i said well i'll just close my business and i did and it's so crazy because all the time you see on on morning news and whatever here's a great new safety app and the crazy thing is people will talk about that safety app for a day it'll make the pr rounds and you never hear about it again and they never go anywhere and i found that most of them here's the crazy part most of them have a giant button where if you're unsafe you have to press the button and mine was the dead man switch which is a terrible name for it but if you're unsafe how do you press the button to tell it you're unsafe i've never seen someone other than me solve that and i have a patent troll who won't let me do it so sorry everybody sorry everybody's daughters sorry everybody's moms and i still haven't seen a better version of it i still see if you're if you're a college girl and you're walking home and you're unsafe press this button and i'm thinking i've been attacked you know like uh no i had a homeless guy throw a beer bottle at my face in broad daylight and by the time i took my phone out i couldn't remember how to dial 9-1-1 because i was in shock so how are you going well go ahead how are you going to press that button when you're unsafe if if if you're in shock if you're being attacked if you've been untapped if you're if you're unconscious so sorry to go on you'll probably have to edit this but that is the medium-sized story of of my previous startup no and i think that that's uh definitely interesting in the sense that one is you had a what is a good idea and obviously there's a market for it any kind of you know what i think it shows is that i idea in and of itself and you know there's some things out of your control but isn't going to get you isn't going to make a successful company in the sense of the mixture of you have to convince the right people that they need this and sometimes as you mentioned you may be too early or they may not realize that it's a need that they have and then you have to go about trying to convince them and sometimes you can convince them sometimes you can't that's hard and then it's also having that you know that expertise and sometimes with the patent side sometimes it's with marketing sometimes with elder manufacturing whatever but sometimes you know that differences to whether or not you know you versus the competitor is able to do it can oftentimes have an impact but i think there's a lot of great lessons that you know learned about that experience and so now you so you were tried to do it for a while you got the basically to see this letter saying hey if you don't shut this down we're going to sue you we're saying well i'm not making any money at it anyway why would i want to you know why would i want to have to get entangled into the legal or legal battle for something yeah it didn't even get as far as a c d it was really just like hey we're we got this patent you look like you're doing something similar we're going to charge you x dollars a year to license this and i said i'm just going to shut down um didn't even get to c d or anything i i don't let things get that far and i understand and a lot of times this is a kind of a side note for the audience a lot of times people send it out as a not a cease and desist but as they hey would you like to license this such that you can't go and preemptively file in in court and say hey i'm under the threat of lawsuit i'd like you so a lot of times a word is carefully worded such that they'll ask for a license to give you a bail thread such that you can't go in there if they decide not to pursue it that they can't that you can't go and file a lawsuit before they they do basically so it's an interesting tactic that sometimes people will employ so that was kind of a complete a side note but kind of where you hit on it always an interesting kind of tactic that sometimes they come up so now and it works and a lot of times you know if you don't if you don't know or even if you do know and sometimes you're saying it's not worth it and so that's why those letters often go out and i've been on both sides of them or done with clients on both sides and um part of the strategy and that so now you shut it down you say okay it's not worth pursuing i may go back and i assume you went back to the ux firm and continued the agency that you've been doing yeah i never stopped yeah i never stopped doing the ux i was doing the startup and my my ux work in cx work at the same time i was living in the san francisco area and then i closed down the startup and and uh shut that puppy down and um and so then i've continued doing my work and then kind of fast forward to to my next invention i guess are we up to that part of the story just that was exactly so tell us a little bit about as you're so you shut down the one business you're continuing with the agency and i always figure that side businesses are really just a second full-time job because they take tons of energy time and effort but you said you know so you go back in here continue on and i go back and continue on with the agency and then how did you kind of uh come up with or come across the software program that you're working on now and kind of how does that interplay with things yeah so that's got nothing to do with safety so it started in the summer of 2020 we had a large research uh project ux research project to do for a very famous company i shouldn't name and it was just so difficult to manage some of the steps of recruiting a lot of people don't know that when companies do these research projects with users and customers there's a huge process we go through to figure out who do we want to talk to that seems it sounds like it seems easy but it's incredibly complicated we just did another project and i think my assistant spent 80 hours on it and so it's incredibly time consuming typically we run a survey the survey comes back who filled out the survey do we want to talk to them do they seem like a good match to to who we're looking to talk to can we balance men and women can we balance ages can we balance different things so that we have a good broad group of people and it is so time-consuming and so manual and none of the systems talk to each other you're doing this in a survey tool you're doing this in an excel document you're then you're emailing them then you're telling them to go to your calendly or something and book some time with you then you're doing you're telling them to go to docusign or hello sign and sign your legal release form for the the research it's all these disconnected pieces that don't talk to each other so i started looking for is there some system that brings all these things together and there's only one company really doing that right now so i signed up for their free trial and i started using them and i thought it was we'll say that again is it zapier slash safe here however you pronounce it the company no no no so zap no zapier has got nothing to do with this yeah so zach was happy was kind of what what came to mind in a completely different context and different but that's kind of for it's really different no and i get that but that give it context to people that are listening this kind of zapier at least for my very limited understanding of and i've only touched after your couple times but it's kind of an integrator multiple systems to stitch them together because in a different way in a different context people are trying to say i don't want to use 20 different systems yeah it's different so zapier is more of a so a zapier word so quickly side note zapier works on a system of trigger and events i'm a paying customer so i can quickly tell you that so zapier will say for example when you make an appointment with debbie zappier will go in and find that appointment and maybe modify it in some way and when uh so it's kind of like when x happens do y and so there's an there's an individual trigger that makes zapier do a thing um when someone uh signs up to be on devin's podcast add them to this google sheet so so my system is not like zapier because it's not like when one thing happens do this other thing it's more like how do we get a survey system to talk to an excel spreadsheet to talk to a scheduling system to talk to legal document signing to talk to emailing people to talk to texting people to talk to all kinds of of pieces of information that are stored when research is being planned so i found one competitor not zapier and they were bringing these systems together but i didn't like the way their system worked i didn't like their pricing and their customer support was unforgivably bad i mean bizarrely bad like i started wondering who am i talking to right now because this is just surreal and i walked away feeling like i think i can do a better job here and um so my thought was how do i build a better mousetrap and of course i started like many founders do looking at my own needs but i knew that if you only look at your own needs you're not really assessing or validating product market fit and so since we are ux researchers i assembled a team of apprentice ux researchers and to help them level up in their craft and give them some paid work to do i had them do real ux research we interviewed 26 researchers across different types of ux researchers some academics some corporate some things like that and they found out what these people how these people do it now where it works for them where it doesn't what do they need what do they not need and then we could see are we building something that these people need and if not how do we adjust what we're doing so that it fits real people's needs tasks workflows decision points so armed with that we started uh building this thing and as it was i mean we haven't built it yet we're still designing it so the engineers haven't started as of when we're recording this um but we along the way i ended up kind of inventing and innovating some some new ways not just to automate these processes but to really bring in kind of some of the sneaky tricks from ux you know it's some of the sneaky things that we do on clients websites i was like why don't i solve my own problems with some of the things we normally do and these aren't i'm joking they're sneaky tricks but they're things like task analyses knowledge design and optimized task flows which will mean nothing to anybody listening but you know if you're good at that stuff then you you know if you've googled it you know what i mean so through something like knowledge design we can uh create something much uh better for users and bring innovations to this process to not only stitch a bunch of things together and have them exist in one piece of software so that you're just in one walled playground but to give people features that they only dreamt of so so that was our chance to innovate something fresh so some of it is not reinventing a wheel and i don't expect to patent that and some of it is uh inventing some new wheels and i hope to patent that awesome well i think that that sounds like a lot of you know and it's always interesting and i've had some of those businesses as well where like you know i hate this user experience i think that they do a terrible job and i honestly think i could do a much better job and i think i'm more qualified than them and then you go do it and you know sometimes it turns out awesome turns out great and sometimes you get injured and say oh that is a lot harder than i thought it would be and that's that's probably why they don't do a good job so it's always interesting how you kind of come across those and sometimes you solve it and you do it much better it makes a great business another time saying okay now that i put a lot more effort into it i get why they're why they are the way they are at so that's that's a fun fun kind of um to hear how you got into the business you're at today so that kind of takes us up to a bit where you're at today and looking just a little bit into the future and uh definitely be fun we always do kind of where they at now episodes where you come back on in six months and we chat a little bit about there so i'll have to come back i have to have you come back on and uh give an update to one seems to get further on and get to get towards launching um but as we uh as we wrap up for today's episode i always have two questions i asked at the end of each podcast and so we'll kind of jump to those now which the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it oh man um what's the worst business decision i've ever made i i don't know sometimes i think uh though also in hindsight this wouldn't have been great either but someone offered to buy my company many years ago my agency and i sometimes wonder if that would have made me a little more financially comfortable than i've ended up so um sometimes i feel like that was a missed opportunity um i back in my music business days i once had the debbie harry from blondie asked me to come on stage and sing a song instead of her and i didn't take that opportunity and um i wonder what would have happened if i did i don't i'm not saying these are bad decisions but i'll just say that these are decisions that would have sent me on different unknown trajectories but i try to be a very risk calculating person so i usually don't regret too many decisions later but there are certainly things that went wrong along the way i would say one of the one of the worst was probably taking that seed money as a startup because those people were so over controlling and bizarre and definitely didn't have the the startup's best interest in heart no and i think that there's it's always interesting it would be fun and not possible to have that time machine and see if you mean if you've taken the other routes or done the other decisions where it would have lived you and yet you can't go back and sometimes you're you know you probably look back and say oh i should have done this and if you'd really been able to go back and do that it wouldn't have turned out any better or maybe turned out and worked and it would be or sometimes maybe it would have been a crazy scissors no idea but it's always fun it's always fun to work or wonder just a little bit and ponder so that's a great thing to learn from so now that a second question i always ask is if you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business would be the one piece of advice you give them definitely product market fit i think too many startups say i have a great idea let's just do it and i always say well no we have to figure that out they go but i read the lean startup book and i know if i ask people if they like this idea then it's good and i say well unfortunately the lean startup book didn't tell you how to ask the right questions they told you to go ask questions but they didn't tell you about how to ask the right questions unbiased questions non-leading questions that's what we do and so i tell people that instead of studying do people like your idea research what are they doing now how do they do it what's working for them and what's not working for them and fine-tune your salute if this is your target audience maybe you learn it's not if it is your target audience fine-tune that solution for their unmet needs and their tasks and don't ask them things like do you like it will you buy it will you pay 17 a month for it nobody can predict their future i think we all learned that about a year and a half ago when the pandemic started so make sure for product market fit you're not making the typical mistake of well i asked a bunch of people and they told me my idea was great so we're going to build it no and i think that you know i'd add on to that you know one of the other things that you say well if i don't if i need it or i like it or i'd use it everybody's got to use it and that's even worse and then you don't even get any feedback and you're saying well i definitely know and so but any but i also like you know you kind of point out is you can ask a lot of people a lot of questions and one you may not be asking the right people the right questions you may not even be able to ask the right people you may have an audience that's a you know demographic it's a younger demographic and if you go ask you know older demographic it's not going to get the right feedback and you're not and there may tell you that's a stupid idea they hate it they never pay for it but it's because you're getting the wrong demographic or you're getting the wrong you know whatever it is and so finding those right people and asking the right questions i definitely think there's an art to it you know my here's the kind of a side note i had a business that we did that with you know it was interesting it was the first time we've done it you know what it was earlier on in the career and we had you know the focus group come in and kind of get that feedback and although all the work that went into there we got great feedback but it was a lot of work to get that or get it to the right level the right people and get that feedback such that it was worthwhile rather than just go and ask you know five of your of your friends or five people on the street so i think that's a great piece of advice and quick note i want to add is in ux we mostly don't believe in surveys or focus groups so again we believe mostly in observational research watch people doing whatever you think you are solving or improving and you'll figure out where they're having problems and and if there is a need there if you send out a survey it's usually garbage and unfortunately many focus groups either suffer from group think or they suffer from people not being honest as they'd like to because they fear other people in the room might be judging them so while that tends to be a marketing tactic ux ux tends to do other things and so um but again you can always hire a ux genius to help you with your product market fit all right well that gives a perfect segue because that was going to be my next question so people want to reach out to you they want to connect up do they want to be a client a customer they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out contact you find out more well thanks everybody uh yeah you can certainly find me at deltacx.com that's my company full service cx and ux agency i am findable on linkedin as debbie levitt i'll spell this if you're hearing audio only d e b b i e l e v like victor itt those are the main places where i hang out i also have a youtube channel called delta cx and i talk about cx and ux all day long and as for my super research interview project i'm sure that whenever it's gone live it will be on the delta cx website being promoted so it will not be a secret if it exists it'll be on there um but again we're still at the phase of doing the the ux design and work on it and the programmers haven't started so i'm definitely some months away from a release i hope it'll be out late 2021. awesome well definitely great way to connect up plenty to look forward to and uh a lot a few teasers for the future as well so awesome on all fronts so well thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own money to tell and you want to be a guest on the podcast feel free to go to inventiveget.com apply to be on the show two more things as a listener one make sure to click subscribe to your podcast players so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and people leave us to review so everybody else can find out about all of our awesome episodes last but not least if you have any help with patents trademarks anything else just go to strategymeeting.com we're always here to help thank you again debbie it's been fun it's been a pleasure and wish the next lay of your journey even better than the last thanks so much bye everybody good luck