Get inspired to interview customers (with Michele Hansen)
- Get Michele's new book! Deploy Empathy
- Listen to Michele's podcast: Software Social
- "Empathy is a skill you can learn."
- Get Michele's newsletter
- "There's so much shame in the tech community."
- What are the boundaries for deploying empathy? When, and how, do we deliver critiques?
- Podcast: a respectful interview with a flat-earther
- "This book isn't just about deploying empathy to customers, it's also about learning to be more empathetic to your family, friends, coworkers."
- 31:30 – we start discussing customer interviews
- "It was easier for me to learn how to have empathy for customers than it was to have empathy for myself."
- 42:27 – "how does empathy help businesses attract new customers, build better products?"
- 46:53 - "Why don't you bring Jon in on those interviews?"
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What is Build Your SaaS – bootstrap in 2021?
Can you bootstrap a profitable startup in 2021? Thousands of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, and product people have tried to launch their own web apps. But with so many venture-backed startups now, is it still possible? Follow Jon and Justin as they build their podcasting SaaS, Transistor.fm.
Justin: hello and welcome to Build your SaaS.
This is the behind the scenes story of building a web app in 2021.
today I'm speaking with Michele Hansen.
She is the co-founder of Geocodio , which I think is they're
doing over a million dollars in annual recurring revenue, but
she's also the author of an incredible book called Deploy Empathy.
I was one of the people who pre-ordered this book and it is really good.
I highly recommend it for reasons we'll get into in this chat.
So let's get right into it.
Here is my conversation with Michele Hansen.
I've been trying to listen to, um, some fairly popular personal
psychology podcasts, my critique, and maybe this is just me,
but my critique is the, the presentation is so dialed in.
We all know that sleep is important for good mental functioning,
but have you ever wondered, you know, that kind of tone.
And for me personally, the reason I like podcasts
is I like the kind of raw human connection.
I like the raw feeling.
I like to, I like the, the veneer of polite society to be removed.
You know, I want to hear, like, what is the, what is it really like to be human?
What, what are people really struggling with?
What's the real, uh, you know, what's the real essence of this.
That's one reason I like you and Colleen talking so much is because it's just,
it's two people talking who are fully themselves, you know, I've had people
Michele: say to me how it feels like they're having a conversation
where they're with their friends, where they're just not talking back.
Um, like I, you know, when I, when I was writing the book, there is this one phase where
I interviewed, um, over 30 people who had been reading the rough drafts in the newsletter.
And one person said to me, they're like, this is so strange talk to you
because I feel like I have been talking to you every week when I walk my dog.
And there's this sort of this like, like I know the term.
Parasocial is used.
And I think it kind of has a negative connotation because people
use it in the context of like celebrities and, and whatnot.
But like, I think there is a positive connotation to that, especially with, I
think COVID and how lonely all of us are that like hearing two people talk to
each other who enjoy talking to each other is just, it's just like so nice.
Like I was listening to a podcast the other day between like doctors and nurse
practitioners talking about what it's been like to treat patients through the pandemic.
And it was really, really heavy, but like the whole time they're
also like cracking jokes and there's like Adam Sandler references and
it was like it, and it was like, these are clearly people who like.
Like there are people and they enjoy talking to each other and they could have taken
it very seriously of like, you know, this is what it's been like to treat 62,000 COVID
patients over the last year and like tell their families they're dying, but they're
also like, yeah, man, like it's like, it sucks fighting with the insurance companies.
And I hate having to tell these patients this, and like, I hate not
being, it'll save all of them and like, but like they're, they're people.
And, and I think when you're, you know, you're on a long drive or, you know,
like w w w or you're on a run or whatever it is, like, you don't feel so alone.
Like, even if it's a heavy topic, like, it feels like you have like,
kind of like these like friends in your ear who are there with you.
Justin: Yeah, yeah, totally.
Uh, by the way, I think we've, we have, we do have a latency issue.
And there was a little bit, I think, so, or at least maybe it's fixed itself.
Um, yeah, this.
Uh, a big reason I wanted to get into podcasting.
I feel like podcasting changed my life in the sense that I was driving to
work miserable and getting to hear these real insights, uh, from people
who were, you know, maybe building a business or, uh, just exploring what
it is to be human and articulating things that I'd felt, but I'd never had
resonated back to me from another person, um, that that's been really powerful.
And, uh, yeah, it's, it's one of my favorite parts of the medium and
it's actually one of the reasons I've been enjoying your book so much.
Uh, I really like your, your definition of empathy.
Could you give like a definition for empathy again?
Like what is empathy?
What's the difference between empathy and being nice?
What's empathy difference between empathy and sympathy?
Michele: I have, I have definitions in my book.
Um, none of them remind.
Um, so Bernay brown, who is just one of my favorite
writers in general, um, and especially on empathy.
Um, and, and then also indie young, who is a design, uh, sort of a design leader.
Who's written a lot of books on this.
Um, Andy young says empathy is about understanding how another
person thinks and acknowledging their reasoning and emotions
as valid, even if they differ from your own understanding.
But then I also have Chris Voss, his definition.
Um, and if you've read, never split the difference.
Um, or perhaps I should say if you haven't, he's a former FBI hostage negotiator.
So you know where you might say, you know, some other people who write about
empathy are very sort of, um, you know, sort of touchy, feely and whatnot.
Like the former FBI hostage negotiator, which like his book is like,
I feel like it's like if Michael bay wrote a business book, like
it's full of like hostage situations in these like bank robberies.
And like, it's like, it's a wild ride.
Anyway, he, you know, he is not really, uh, you know,
Justin: not touchy feely, right?
Michele: is not touchy feely.
And he's a, the beauty of empathy is that it doesn't demand.
You agree with the other person's ideas in a sense it's
basically you're acknowledging that somebody else's.
Experiences and perspectives make sense from their perspective.
And you basically suspend your own perception of what that situation
is to try to fully understand how things look from their perspective.
I sometimes think of it as just like totally like
being John Malcovich and yourself into somebody else.
And like, you know, sort of opening the closet that is their psyche
or their just their, you know, in this case, their experience of
a particular thing, which might be as boring as sending invoices.
And you just kind of get to like poke around and all the nooks
and crannies and be like, oh, so like what's going on here?
Now what do you think of this going on over there?
Oh, and what about this other thing?
And like, it doesn't really matter what you think about it.
It's just like how complete of a picture can you
build of this person's experience of something/
Justin: What's interesting about that, even just as a social idea, especially now, but
maybe always like, people are primarily interested in their own thoughts and opinions.
You know, if I was going to be vulnerable, I would
say there's a lot of me that wants to discount anyone.
Who's not who doesn't seem like they're on the
right track or that they've got the right ideas.
Or why would you feel that?
Because that's, um, you know, foolish or whatever over decades, I've
probably learned a little bit that empathy is important, but what,
why, why should we care about what other people think and feel?
Um, why is it important?
Michele: I think it's, it's so important actually that you
said that just there, because empathy is a learned skill.
You know, I think we all know people who are.
Really compassionate and, and helpful and, and are naturally empathetic people.
And so you might think that this is just kind of a trait that you
have this ability to understand someone's perspective and, and
validate them and try to only understand their experience right.
In dive, dive into it.
You might think that that is a trait that you're born with or not.
But according to Bernay brown empathy is a learned skill.
And some people learned it in childhood because their parents were empathetic.
Some people may have learned it as a coping mechanism to
trauma, but many people didn't learn it and it can be learned.
We can learn to suspend that, uh, instinct to
think about our own perspective on a situation.
And I think there's a lot of social conditioning that
is around, you know, what do you think about this?
And can you prove that you think something smarter or better,
or like that sort of forces us to compete with people?
Um, all of these, all of these things that I talk about in the
book, like, it's, it's a learnable, like empathy is learnable and
the more, you know, you, you practice them the easier it comes.
And I just to add to that, I think, um, like I think my capacity for empathy increased
after I had this trauma, depression, uh, life falling apart because of those things.
And w w before I think it was easy to be kind of proud and go.
Well, you know, people who have their life fall apart, or people who have those
kinds of problems or people who think this way and feel this way, they're just
wrong or they're somehow, uh, inferior or, you know, whatever it might be.
And, um, and I I'm, I'm verbalizing these things
because I see this in like hacker news every day.
I see this on Reddit every day.
I see this on Twitter every day.
This is not, uh, you know, I'm not a perfect human
being, but this is not just something that I feel.
This is clearly a, a, uh, a common held belief.
And it was, uh, going through that depression where
I was so laid out that I felt like I couldn't get up.
If I, if I tried and realizing in my head.
That a lot of the people I judged in the past, um, like I'm, I am, uh, and all of
us are just a few life turns away from, uh, honestly like being homeless or losing
your job or, you know, all of these things that I think, uh, it's easy for people
to look down on how we learn empathy is interesting, or even our motivation to
learn it because having gone through that now, I just feel like, like we, can't
just, um, always assume that everybody's like us, you know, we see elements of
this in, uh, you know, our, in our community, the difference between bootstrapping
as a single something, single somebody in your twenties and bootstrapping, uh, a
product when you're in your thirties or forties with kids, it's just very different.
Uh, we don't always understand each other because we just
assume that the way we see the world is the right way
Michele: To underline that, you know, use the word judging people.
Brene Brown would define that as shame.
And there is so much shame wrapped up in all of what you just said about
whether it's somebody launches something and you don't see the point
of it saying something about that, shames them, but why do we do that?
Is it because when we did something as children, that an adult in our lives
disapproved of, or didn't like, or wasn't engaged with, they shamed us for that.
So we have learned this shaming behavior, or, you know, when
we saw people lose their jobs, when we were growing up in our
community, was it blamed on them where they shamed for that.
And in so many ways, Empathy is the antidote to shame and, and also seeing, you
know, and instill having empathy too, for those people who are the ones who are
roasting somebody's project very often, there's a traumatized person underneath
that who has been shamed themselves and they have not, they have not been able
to heal and know the person who is receiving that doesn't deserve to receive.
Uh, you know, doesn't, doesn't deserve to have their show
age and, you know, just totally mauled by someone, right.
They don't deserve that.
And that is valid.
But then also the other person, because cause you can't
counteract fire with, you know, with more fire, right?
I mean, well, I guess this, I mean, you know all about
this, I guess you can do control burns and whatnot.
So maybe that's a bad analogy.
Justin: it's more fuel
Michele: adding fuel to the fire, right?
No, it's, it's understanding that that person is hurting too, but
they have learned to hurt other people rather than being constructive
and helpful and encouraging and empathetic for the other person.
While we're on this, I'm I'm curious because like I'm here for empathy.
I've seen how it it's improved my relationships.
I've seen how it's improved my parenting.
I've seen how it's improved.
Um, the way I relate to customers and the way, uh, I under seek to understand them.
But what, what is the role of.
Um, genuine critique and the ability to critique ideas, the ability
to push back on people's claims, um, even like the scientific process
itself, this vigorous vetting by scientists, you know, somebody
proposes something, it goes through kind of a friendly round.
And then often it gets ex afterwards.
It gets exposed to this really, uh, critical pushback.
And I, that, I, I don't know if I've quite figured out the balance between,
um, being empathetic and seeking to understand someone, but at the same time,
being able to, um, create an environment where ideas and claims and facts can
be, uh, You know, like, uh, for example, there's a crate, ah, what's the, I
don't know what the podcast is, but, uh, he, he, this is on, um, Farnam street.
He interviews a flat earth and he talks about like his process for doing this.
And I guess actually it's interesting, cause there's an interesting case study in empathy
because like scientifically we know flat, there is no flat earth, like the earth is round.
And, and so I could say that to somebody like,
no, no, you're wrong that the earth is not flat.
It is round and they could be hurt by that as well.
So what are the boundaries of, of all this?
And especially if we use, um, hurt as our primary rubric for it.
Maneuvering through this people get hurt by things all the time.
Um, I've had consultant clients that were hurt by advice.
I gave them, uh, but it was actually the right advice.
It was just uncomfortable.
You know what I mean?
So how do you, how do you see the navigating, all of these, the, what are
the walls and are, what are the different vectors, uh, for how we deploy
empathy and you know, how it relates to other things like scientific
critique or, you know, pushing back against truly bad or heinous ideas.
Michele: So there's a couple of things in there.
And I think I want to start with the last one.
I'm reminded of a story from Adam Grant's new book.
Think again, and he talks about the concept of motivational interviewing,
which was, I believe was developed in a medical setting too.
Understand patients, uh, hesitancy around vaccines and treatment courses
of treatment to understand their hesitations and, you know, ultimately
to try to get them to follow medical advice, but it comes from a place of
empathy of understanding that because if you went to that person who thinks
the earth is flat, if you just tell them the earth is round, that is so
against their belief system, that they're going to reject it immediately.
So your path out of them thinking that way, if your goal is indeed to change their
opinion, which, well, it may not be like sometimes people develop these extremely radical
ideas because they're isolated and without connection, and they find community in these.
Um, and, and so, and they find a source of identity in that.
Um, but you have to allow them a path out that
is consistent with what they currently believe.
And so the example that Adam Grant walks through in his book, you know,
he, you know, was saying, talking about, you know, uh, talking to a mother
who, who hasn't gotten her kids vaccinated and, and starting it from the
perspective of, you know, I can tell how much you care about your children.
You're really drying to do research, to understand what is the best
thing for them and starting it from that perspective that how she
is behaving and maybe not the decisions that those are leading to.
But the, what she is trying to do is valid.
I mean, it's, it's really complicated.
And, and I think this sort of reminds me that.
First of all, it doesn't mean you're a pushover.
It doesn't mean you, you know, everything your customers ask you for that.
You do it literally.
And before they ask for it, right.
It doesn't mean that, um, it like it very much does not mean
that you discard all of your own judgements and opinions, right?
Cause if you go out and build something, that's not financially
sustainable for a company that don't nobody gains in that scenario.
Um, but in the context of the interview, you have to
suspend that in order to pull out their experiences.
Now, I don't know what, uh, Shane Parrish, right, who runs
for an M street, what his motivations of that interview were.
It was probably clicks and listens and publicity.
So that is sort of separate from.
Although, although his was actually, and I'm not
sure if it's even him that did the interview, right.
Cause he he's publishing it, but it is actually a great case study
of what you just described of our intuition here is to come out guns
blazing at this person, pushed back aggressively on their ideas.
And what was modeled instead was just lots of understanding.
Like tell me about how this all started for you.
Like, you know, you obviously didn't wake up as the president of the flat earth society.
How, how did you get here?
And that alone set the stage.
And it's actually in some ways, almost a frustrating interview to listen
to, because it's not very entertaining because it's just, it's just him in
a, just a slow, methodical way, working his way through these questions.
And at the end, it's as entertainment, it's not satisfying because he
says, basically, this is just if I truly wanted to pursue this, this
is just one of many conversations this individual would have to have to
eventually, um, make up their own mind, you know, in a different way.
Michele: That kind of goes to something you were saying earlier, which is
you're asking, you know, what is the role of critique and debate in all of this?
And you mentioned the scientific community.
And I would emphasize community in that because I think you can have empathetic
debate and critique even when it is harsh and negates what someone has said when
it comes from a place of trust and a place of community and a place of reciprocity.
Um, and I'm sort of reminded of Robert, uh, CLD Annie's work, uh, you know,
who wrote influence, and in his, the new edition of his book, he talks about
the power of, um, community and relationships and identity and all of that.
And, you know, it's actually something that I've been thinking
about a lot this past year, because, you know, we moved from.
Um, the Washington DC area to a rural community in Denmark, uh, last summer.
And it's been so fascinating for me to observe the like small town relationships and
community and this, and then sort of also be reading about it, you know, at a like
marketing psychology level, um, around, you know, people trading favors for one another
and the role of that and, and, and how, and how that all makes the community work.
And I think it's important that you said it's community because, you know, if, if I say
I have an idea for something and, and well, I wrote this book on interviewing people.
So I would not go and say, Hey Justin, do you think this is a good idea?
Because I know that that is a bad question to ask, but
hypothetically, let's say that I decided to do that, right?
Let's say I write like some blog post, and
you're like, you are talking out of your, behind.
This is terrible.
Like, what are you, what are you saying here?
I would receive that differently from you.
Because like, I know you there's been times probably, maybe when I've critiqued something,
there's times when you've elevated what I've said, you've cheered me on and vice versa.
Like, there's a relationship there's trust there.
Like I know that it's coming from a good place, but if somebody
who, you know, and this happens on the internet, right?
You said hacker news and Twitter and Reddit and everywhere else,
these are people you don't know and they're tearing something
down and then it's just a drive by, and then they're gone.
There's probably not a whole lot.
Of of trust behind that.
There's no, there's no ongoing relationship there to fall back on.
And they also don't know you as a person.
And they don't say, look, I can see that you care about this problem.
I don't necessarily think the way you're solving it is, is the way to go about it.
Like, and I want to work with you and help you on that.
Like those drive by mean comments on hacker news are not saying
Yeah, I'm so glad you brought this up because it, it proves that even though our tendency
is to fight things out in the commons, um, fight things out in public, on Twitter,
or start a, you know, a comment war in Facebook and I'm guilty of all these things.
That's like my full-time job now.
Um, but the, the truth is, is that the actual, the
DMS, uh, the other day, I, I commented on somebody.
Post on Instagram afterwards.
I'm like this guy doesn't know me.
I'm just a drive by internet jerk to him.
Uh, and I DMD him and we started a dialogue and the dialogue is so much more empathetic.
It's just like, it's me apologizing saying, Hey, you don't know me.
And I just kind of burst into your Instagram comments
and I'm sorry, I, I shouldn't have done that.
Um, if, if you're open to it, I I'd love to be
able to communicate my ideas in a more human way.
And then he responds and then now we have a dialogue.
Now we're seeking to understand each other.
And, um, it it's so much more, uh, fruitful than.
What I was trying to do before.
There's probably still a place for, and I know this people are listening.
They're like get to the software stuff, but, uh, I, to me, this is all
important because this is part of the culture we're contributing to.
And I think there's still a place for, uh, publishing
ideas publicly and getting even critiqued in public.
Um, certainly every time you publish anything as an author, a blog, post writer,
a podcaster you're, you're gonna, you are going to invite some public critique.
And sometimes some of that public critique is good.
Um, but the, the flip side of that current, and probably more true more
often is that we need more empathy and, and more people, uh, taking
the time to seek, to understand the other person's point of view.
Or at least where they're coming from, what is the fabric of life that
this one thread that I'm pulling on is connected to in this person's life?
So if I'm challenging my aunt on her political views, she lives in Ohio.
Uh, when I pulling on that thread, it's not just connected to, uh, that one topic
it's connected to every facet of her life, her church, her knitting group, her
marriage, her relationships with her kids, her relationships in the community.
And so what to me seems like an ideological exercise of let's
explore this topic is actually much higher stakes for her.
The, this, the, this topic is not just this topic.
It is connected to every pillar in her life.
And to, to remove that all at once is just too much, you know, It takes, um,
some understanding of where people are truly coming from to truly understand
the stakes in their lives, uh, before we can really propose anything.
That's kind of the, that's kind of the thesis of your book.
I mean, I don't give advice on arguing, arguing with your aunt on Facebook.
Um, could that be, you know, if there is a book on that?
Justin: how to argue with your aunt on Facebook,
that is, uh, that could be a best seller, you know, I
Michele: mean, I make, uh, I make ample use of, uh, muting settings on social media.
So I, uh, yeah, I, I decided not to engage with
all of that about five years ago, you know?
So there's the thing about empathy is that.
It needs to be given and it needs to be received, right?
Like if we are just giving empathy all the time, if you're having this conversation
with your aunt and, and you're saying, look, you know, I understand that everybody
in your church community would disown you and your identity is tied up in this.
And like it's really personally and socially risk.
You risky for you to change your belief in this.
So I understand why you are so entrenched in it.
Uh, she may, first of all, sort of be offended that you kind of looked back from that
perspective, um, as people sometimes are, but it can't just be going one direction.
And this, you know, this goes for talking about controversial topics.
It goes for, you know, asking your spouse about their day at work or at home, right.
Like empathy needs to be given and it needs to be received.
Um, I mean, this is where, I mean, therapy can be so amazing, right.
Because a therapist's job is to be empathetic with the patients and to
give that empathy, like, and I think, you know, as if we're talking about
problems in society, which, you know, in some ways it is so much, so
much far beyond the, the topic of how to interview customers in my book.
And, but at the same time, like it's not, you know,
we, we all need to be receiving more empathy too.
I, this is, I mean, one of the reasons I loved your book is because to me,
it wasn't just applicable to software business, but like I said, it was
applicable to my relationship with my spouse, with my kids, with friends.
With other family members and with people in general.
And, uh, yeah, I do.
It feels like we need more of this kind of conversation.
Michele: I've said that I have a secret agenda with this book, um, that,
you know, nobody writes be more empathetic on their daily to-do list.
But they do right.
Get more customers write that landing page, sell more stuff, figure out why people cancel.
Like all of that stuff is on your to-do list and you can use empathy to figure out why
those problems are happening and talk to your customers and understand them better.
But in the course of that become more empathetic yourself.
And it's not just me saying that Steve Portigal who is one of
the most respected authors and consultants on interviewing.
Uh, customers says, so in self, in his own books, that when
you bring other people in the team, into the interviewing
process, they tend to become more empathetic themselves as well.
And so in the course of doing these things, like making a
landing page or stopping churn that you already need to do
anyway, you can become a more empathetic person in the process.
And that has sort of been my, uh, my, my sort of secret personal mission of the book.
Because, you know, Hey, uh, let's just be honest, like a, a male software developer
may not pick up a book that's on, you know, discover your empathetic self.
Pick up a book called deploy empathy when it comes to building a software business.
So, so, and it's great because it is going, it has this and effect in people's lives.
When, when they start to experience this one thing that I thought of as you
were talking is when you said we have to be able to receive empathy too.
So the example is John and I are building the software company and we start from nothing.
And we were talking about it on the podcast every week, and we're
being vulnerable about things, you know, as they're happening.
And it created a space for listeners, but then
eventually customers to deploy empathy to us.
So in those first months when something broke or something, wasn't quite right.
Um, these folks who were.
Tuned in to our journey, understood where we were coming from.
Maybe that's the key part.
Uh, they didn't have the interview us.
We were speaking it out loud, but they were listening on the podcast mostly.
And because they understood where we were coming from, they gave us so much more
empathy, like so much more, uh, kindness and thoughtful and even suggesting ideas.
And it was amazing.
And when I get on, on those calls with those people, those customers, what I love
about it is how even if feels, it's like, I know this person cares about me actually.
Like I know that this customer cares about me cause they've
been with us from the beginning and they know our story.
They know where we came from.
They even know some personal things about, you know, our, our story.
So then for me to be able to go to them and go, okay, so
let's talk about what, what are you trying to accomplish here?
Like what, what's the background of what brought you here?
And it feels more even, it's been a really kind of wonderful experience to have
that to not always be the, um, you know, uh, the I'm the customer researcher
and I'm deploying empathy, but it's, it's very, one-sided, you know what I mean?
Like, it's very, like, I, you know, I'm the, I'm still the
one initiating the call and I'm asking you the questions.
Um, yeah, it's been, it's been nice to have that feeling of no,
this, this person is also empathetic towards me as a business owner.
And, uh, that dynamic really has been helpful.
Michele: I have a question for you.
I want to talk about that more, but I have a question.
Did you listen to those podcast episodes as you publish them?
Justin: Uh, yeah.
Michele: So I wonder if in the process of that, it also helped you be more
empathetic with yourself and understanding when things weren't going well,
or why you made certain decisions, because we need to show empathy to others.
We need to receive it ourselves.
And I mean, for so many reasons, you know, this journey was very
much fueled by my own need to learn how to show empathy to myself.
And I wonder if listening to yourself, talk about those struggles
and be vulnerable in the same way that it created so much.
Uh, sort of buy-in and, and, and, and shared experience
and, and concern with your customers and audience.
I wonder if you kind of joined that audience a little bit too.
Justin: Yeah, no, that's a great, that's a great point.
My therapist does this with me all the time.
Michele: if I'm crawling in your head too much.
Justin: no, this is great.
This is like, I get fired up about this stuff.
The, this is, that's such a great point because I've, I've, I've noticed that
in therapy, Justin, what would you say to that younger version of yourself?
It's such a great exercise, you know, they're right there in front of you.
It's whoever twelve-year-old Justin, 19 year old, Justin, 25 year old, Justin.
And what would you as 41 year old Justin, go back and say to that person.
How would you listen to them?
What would they be saying in return?
Like it's such an interesting exercise because it does give you this kind of disposition
towards yourself to be, to be more gentle, like, oh man, I can see that, that little
19 year old Justin, and what's going through his head and what he believes and oh, wow.
I just feel so much empathy towards them.
And I've never, I've never actually thought about it in terms of the
journaling, you know, with my blog and my podcast and my newsletter.
But there is some of that element of being able to go back and, and be empathetic to
yourself, to not beat yourself up so much to go, oh, I know where that person was at.
You know, even if it was just six months ago or last week,
Michele: a 40 year old Justin deserves gentleness to
Justin: yes, exactly.
That's a really, really great point.
And maybe, uh, the, the, the advice for folks
listening is to start journaling in some way.
For me journaling out in public has always worked best.
I can't write myself a private journal.
I have like private journaling things, but it's not very consistent, but writing
and sharing and being appropriately vulnerable, uh, has been very helpful for me.
How, how are, how have you learned to be more empathetic towards yourself?
Michele: need therapy is a huge part of that right.
Therapy and not also doing the therapy, homework, doing the work, right.
It's a process.
Everything is a process.
And, but I think that was really a turning point in my own life where I realized
that not only did I need to be more gentle with myself, but that I deserved it.
And it's interesting because these kinds of these things sort
of ran in parallel that I was learning about interviewing.
I was learning about empathy in a professional context and in some ways it was actually.
It was easier for me to learn how to have empathy
for customers than it was to have empathy for myself.
That was a bigger struggle for me.
Why is that?
I think, you know, in a business setting, it's easier
to, uh, sort of separate yourself from what you're doing.
Um, and, and it's not, you that's interviewing something,
someone it's, you know, the business version of you.
And so it doesn't really require any vulnerability on your part, but, you know, I mean,
doing that kind of work that, that we do in therapy of understanding ourselves, of having
compassion for that 19 or nine or whatever it is, version of ourselves, um, is harder.
It's just harder than hearing about.
So, so talk to me, you know, you know, what, what led you to create this invoice today?
Like it's just like, you know, it's, it's just hard.
And, and so in some ways I think interviewing customers, if you want it to be, can kind
of be an, an introduction and a very gentle way to understanding how to be more gentle.
And some people may already be gentle with themselves and not need to learn this.
And any of those, there's some, several people have written
to me saying how, you know, I learned in your book that I'm in
natural empath and my problem is not learning how to use empathy.
It's actually learning how to not have people walk all
over me and learning how to say no and all of that.
And so like, there's this, there's sort of, there's so
many different perspectives that people can come in.
I only, I come from one perspective, um, on it.
I think maybe it's why I referenced so many other books in the book.
Like in some ways I want to be sort of a signpost to other places because
it's sort of like, I only want to focus on the one specific topic that is
not taught in other books that is largely confined to the user research
community and written for that community and make it available to a wider
audience and not speak to all these other things that I am not an expert
I love this.
I love everything.
We've been kind of cultivating in this, in this chat so
far for that Indy software developer or that small startup.
Why should they care about, I think we've started
to identify like why empathy is important.
Why do we need to be empathetic towards ourself and, and others why we need to
put the receive it, but in a business context, like how does it actually help?
How, how does it help businesses attract new customers, build better products?
What, what is it about empathy that eventually delivers that
Take this as an opportunity to ask you a question that I wanted to ask you a
few minutes ago, you mentioned that use hoc to your customers at transistor.
And I know that you're a job speed on guy.
I believe you're mentioned in Alan Clement's book, when coffee
and kale compete, what has interviewing customers and having
empathy for your customers done for you and done for transistor?
Justin: Like to me, the, and I think I originally got this from Joanna Wiebe.
That idea of what brought you here today is so interesting.
Because the, it kind of tells the story of what, what is going on.
And so in transistor, you know, some of those stories were, I just
got laid off from my job and, uh, I'm, I'm really desperate for money.
And I think a podcast will help me make money.
And that turns out to be not a great customer for transistor, but it was still helpful
for me to understand that person's perspective and, um, fully kind of bake in it and
then identify those folks early and just say, be honest with them, be able to be honest,
right from the get-go and say, you know, if, if you're really hoping to make money
right away, I ended up writing blog after a bunch of these interviews and phone calls.
I ended up writing a blog post saying, um, you know, something
like why, why you shouldn't start a podcast to make money?
Uh, on the other hand, sometimes I.
Do those interviews and someone would say, um, I just got
fired from my job and I wanted to do something for myself.
I've been thinking about this forever.
I've always wanted to do this.
I've always wanted to buy myself a microphone and chat with my friend or
talk about Dungeons and dragons or whatever, and fully baking in that.
First of all, it just gets me fired up to serve those customers.
And for me, so much of.
My strength and business is getting fired up by the people I'm talking to.
So someone, someone tells me they're starting a Dungeons and dragons podcast
cause they just got fired and they just want to explore it with their friends.
I'm like, I will do anything for them.
I'll help them.
I'll help them style their website.
I'll promote it on Twitter.
Like I'm just so fired up for them because I understand the context.
Uh, I think one thing for me personally is it's just, it's given me energy.
It gives me inspiration to want to work on stuff.
It gives me the motivation to go, oh man, I want to make this better for Jill.
I want to make this better for Alan because, uh, I've spoken to them.
I've got their story in my head and I think it would be
different like for my co-founder he's, he's different than me.
Um, and, and certainly maybe not motivated by the same kind of a.
Emotions or, or facts.
But for me, that's been a big part of it is just once I hear somebody's
story, it just makes me want to help them, uh, on their project and what the
project is seeking, what they're seeking for that project to do in their life.
You know, it's like this right now is saving me from being depressed at home.
Cause I just got laid off.
I'm like, I'm here for it.
Like, let me help you however we can.
And we actually have a lot of those, not, not people that have been
laid off, but we have a lot of our, most of our customers are prosumers.
So they're there, they are not professional broadcasters.
Um, and then, uh, the next biggest chunk is probably branded podcasts.
So podcasts that people are doing for business or for their business.
So that prosumer category, there's all sorts of things that motivate them, um,
to want to start a podcast and to keep doing it and understanding it has been.
Motivating for me to want to build the product better, to want to serve them better.
All those kinds of things.
Michele: Do you ever bring John in on the interviews
Um, sometimes I record them and have him watch them
with, uh, with me after I should bring him in on more.
And actually now we have, and now we have Helen and Jason as well.
So it feels like, um, you know, Helen and I are
having lots of conversations with folks in isolation.
The nice thing is that John is, and we're all on customer support, live chat,
and, uh, it's not as good as being on a phone call, but the immediacy of the
responses, like ask a question, get it back, ask a question, get it back.
And sometimes you can get into this habit of like
you're trying to solve their technical problem.
For us live chat has enabled us to just step back a bit and go, oh, wait a second.
What, what are you trying to do here?
Like what what's motivating this, like where's this coming from?
I do think he could probably be on more calls
Michele: for sure.
When I was a product manager in a larger company, um, when we first started interviewing
customers initially, it was just, you know, the product managers and our UX people.
And after I would kind of get in this thing where I'd be like,
oh, well, you know, we heard this interview really into those.
And then our developers were kind of.
Like you heard this, like, okay, sure.
Like it's important.
And then we started bringing them in on the
interviews, just as silent participants in the room.
Like, you know, it was still just two people asking questions
cause you really shouldn't have more, otherwise someone can feel,
uh, you know, sort of banged up on and it's just a little weird.
Um, but so, you know, still having the two person interviewing team, but
having them just sitting in the corner, no laptops, no notes, just listening.
We noticed what happened was, and even, even if they were just coming in for like
one of these a week, everyone was so fired up and motivated for what we're doing.
And then we would be putting those stories on the board and
whatnot, and we didn't have to go through the whole, okay.
Here's why we need to do this.
This is this thing.
Here's this data like, you know, all this going on, we could be like, here's the story?
Here's the data.
You know, and then people are like, oh yeah, like we heard that from Jill last week.
And we're like, yep, exactly.
Okay, good go.
Like next thing, like the team velocity and motivation and engagement,
like just took off like gangbusters because everybody was on
the same page and it wasn't like, here's these, you know, okay.
Here are the people at the information giving us the information.
And there were supposed to just believe that like,
people want this and this is important for the business.
And that this is like, we should take these people seriously.
It went from like, oh no.
Like, we've, you know, we've got this data, we've got this
research, but also like, yeah, like I can grok it because yeah.
Like, okay, Jill had that problem.
And then like, what are we working on next?
Like, oh yeah.
Like, but what about things that thing we heard from the other guy?
Like, we heard that from five other people, like, aren't we going to work on that soon?
Like it just, everybody was so much more engaged and.
It's part of why interviewing was like, it was such a revelation for me
as, as a product manager, because, you know, I didn't have to just sort
of look at data and just guess what I needed to do to make numbers move.
Even if my guesses were taking the form of AB tests, like
I was still guessing what should go into those, right.
Like I could be like, wait, no, I understand what
was causing people to bounce off of that page.
Like they didn't, they didn't know what was going to happen next.
They didn't feel like they had this information.
They needed, like, I've heard it from them.
I've heard them say they bounce because they were going back to this page six pages ago.
Like, and now that I have that, and then now the team has that too.
Then we're all like working together more and we're collaborating.
And whether it's just.
Whether you're just one person who is staring at analytics, trying to get more
people to buy, or your team of two people like us, or you're more than that.
Like, it's just so good for like alignment and that context that you just can't
get from just looking at the numbers or just looking at a story on a board.
I'm so glad you mentioned that I was actually listening
to your book today while I walked to the office.
Uh, cause you just dropped new chapters today, right?
In the audio book.
Michele: I'm doing like, so I did the newsletter as the rough draft for the book.
So I decided I would do the same thing for the audio books.
So I have a private podcast going and I'm dropping a couple of tracks.
It's so great.
I, for me like being able to consume books via audio is just helpful and actually.
My audible account is, uh, is terrible.
I, it has a huge backlog, but my podcast listening app, I'm already in
motion of, you know, everyday, wake up, see what new episodes are there and
then decide what I'm going to listen to you on the way down to the office.
But I was listening to you today.
You, you were speaking, I'm like, oh my God, I gotta do some more customer interviews.
I haven't done customer interviews forever.
And we're working on this, this new dynamic audio
insertion product dynamic ad insertion product and feature.
And my thought was, I've got to get on a zoom call with some customers, right?
But what I didn't think was I should include Jason and John in those calls.
I was just like, no, I got to do this right away, but you're right.
Like for, for them to get the full everything and then to be able to,
I mean, yeah, when appropriate, also ask questions or maybe just lead
their own interviews, uh, like me, give them a list of folks that
they can talk to you and them being able to go and do it as well.
That could be very helpful that that's like something that we haven't done a lot of
Michele: get everybody involved.
And you know, one of the most fun parts about the book was
interviewing a theater or two who is a product manager at Stripe.
And so weaving stories from Stripe throughout the book and that's something Stripe.
Does they get everybody involved?
That's actually why I ended up interviewing her because.
She and her team have interviewed me multiple times.
I have been interviewed by developers at Stripe, and
I was so blown away when I saw that they did that.
You know, and people have this kind of like, there's this stereotype that
like developers can't talk to people which, and in the, or that they don't
understand people, which like, first of all, like research on user research
from 1993 shows that a team of developers was actually more able to pull
customer needs out of a usability session than a research expert was like.
So they are able to talk to people.
If you're a developer, please believe me.
You can talk to people too.
Justin: You can do this.
And maybe why do you think that is D do you have any theories as to why they were better?
I wonder if it's the curiosity factor they're often curious.
I mean, so, so this specific study was one of the, it is sort of like the
voice of the customer studies literally called voice of the customer from 1993.
And they had done the usability sessions already.
So, so they weren't th they weren't talking to people
themselves, but they were analyzing the interviews afterwards.
And it was, they had all these different types of teams.
They had a single research expert.
They had a group of university students.
They had like all these different ones, and one of them were
teams of engineers and who worked on the product in question.
And those teams of engineers were able to pull out
more insights than the research expert, like me.
I, you know, it was also, I mean, I think it's just like, it's a really
harmful stereotype that like, developers are not social, like people like,
and maybe this cause you know, like both of my parents are software engineers.
I am married to one and like, I don't see it personally in my own life.
Um, but the data also backs it up and also, and if that's not enough, Stripe
also is a living proof that you can be a hugely successful company and
listen to your customers and have the whole team involved in the process.
And actually a lot of where that came from was Patrick and
John Collison from the very beginning, talking to developers
and seeing, Hey, like what are you, what are you guys doing?
Like, like what's going on?
Like why, why isn't this working exactly what you said about doing
the live chat and trying to understand what the frustrations were.
And building empathy for the customer that way.
Justin: Yeah, this is great.
I think everybody should get the book.
In fact, actually, if this is, if this conversation has motivated
you to get the book, I would love to know, and I would love to know,
um, what was it that you heard that said I got to get this book?
Um, the book itself has tons of practical, like email templates and other things.
Is there anything else you want to tell people about
the book itself that we haven't kind of alluded to?
So the idea of the book is to be a practical guide to interviewing customers.
So, uh, and that's for across the entire.
Lifespan of a company, whether that's from when you're trying to figure out what to
build to when you've already built something and you want to know why people buy it.
So you can get more people to do that too.
When you've maybe building something new, like this audio insertion
feature, and you're testing it out and be like, can people actually
use the thing we built, uh, to figuring out why people canceled?
So, um, all of these sorts of different phases of a company's life,
but the idea is that it's sort of grab and go, like you can sort of
read the chapter on how to talk to people, learn these empathy, um,
skills in a conversation, um, and then grab the relevant script for it.
There's also recruitment templates and whatnot.
You know, something a reader pointed out to me earlier today that
they thought differentiated the book from a lot of books was that.
I am a practitioner of this, you know, I co-run a SAS myself.
And so this comes out of my own research and my own background
in product and research, but also very much out of my own
experiences as someone who runs this, I am not a consultant.
I am not selling research consulting.
Most of the books out there are written by people who are
selling research consulting, which I respect the hustle.
Like I love their books.
Um, their incentives are different than mine.
I, I, I wrote this book because other founders were asking me how to talk
to their customers because they've seen the results we've gotten from it.
So I wanted to put as much in it as possible to make
it as easy for people to get going on their own.
Without talking to me because I already have a job.
I, I actively don't want anyone to hire me to do this for them.
So everything on this to get started is in the book.
And the, I really loved, um, it's, it's, it's been one of the, you know, some of
these other books, even like some of the jobs to be done, books that you and I might
like, like Clayton Christianson's book, it's, it's written, um, as you pointed out
in your book, it's written for executives, it's written for these big companies.
And sometimes I'm like this, their examples don't resonate with me at all.
Like this is not, or, and even, uh, you know, one of the frustrating things about.
Um, competing against luck is there's just no real practical.
Like here's how to get started.
Here's some things you should try.
Here's like a, a phone script.
Here's what to do if you don't know anybody yet, like if you
don't have customers and, uh, it feels like your book addresses
all of those things, like, okay, don't have any customers yet.
Well, here's what you can try.
You do have customers.
Okay, well, here's what you can try.
Here's the email script or whatever.
So I really appreciated the way that you wrote it.
And the fact that it's for people like us, you know, for companies of one for small
companies, for small comm companies, for people who want to create their own indie
software company, uh, this is a, this is kind of like one of those must reads.
I think in that category of whatever indie software developer, indie
software entrepreneur, it really is wonderful, especially compared
to some of these really, uh, theoretical books that we might.
At, uh, Barnes and noble or whatever.
Michele: I mean, I think there's a space for those other books.
Like, I don't know if you listen to it in the, in the chapter
you said, but like, you know, Clayton Christensen's books.
I, I love his work and yeah, I agree so good for the high level.
And like, if you're, you know, if you're in a bigger company and you, you
want to get your leadership on board with interviewing customers, have
them read a Clayton Christianson book, make them think it's their idea.
And then you can run with some of the other books.
Um, you know, even ones like the job speed on playbook, which
I love, which actually has some, has some scripts in it.
And has some of these things.
There's a lot of built-in assumptions around resources
and, and, and also on background knowledge too, that are.
I just didn't feel like I, like, I found myself just
writing up like long emails of like resources for people.
And it's like, there's like chapters from this
book and like the middle, third of this book.
And then here's this blog post.
And like, here's this podcast.
And it was like, so jumbled.
Cause I'd be like, cause like this book is written for executive.
So like read this part.
But then this book is written for product managers, but I
think this particular chapter is at the right level here.
And it was like, there was nothing that was like, like there's
the mom test, which is amazing for when you want to figure out
if an idea is good, but then there's other phases beyond that.
And so in so many ways, I think of my book as like sort of the 2 0 1 level of
the mom test where it's like it's people who are already bought in the concept.
Like if you think talking to customers is a waste of time, my book is not for you.
It's it's it's for people who already get that, like, you can have these amazing light
bulb moments from talking to customers, but you just need, you, you need more to be
able to like jump into those sessions when you're already doing a million other things.
Like you don't have the time to workshop your own scripts and whatnot
with your team, because you don't have a team, uh, or if you're even in
your big company and you're going rogue and doing it yourself, which like.
You know, you're my people like,
Justin: um, I was, I was thinking that exact thing,
that it would be a great companion to the mom test.
If you've already read the mom test, uh, it's kind of like, yeah, you're right.
Like the next level up from the mom test.
Um, yeah, I it's wonderful book.
I think everyone should get it.
I think if you're listening right now, you should go and buy it.
What's the best place for people to get it.
Do you want people to be buying it on Amazon or do
you prefer for them to buy it from you directly?
Where should they go?
Michele: So they can go to deploy empathy.com.
So currently you can only buy the paper book from Amazon.
I do want to make it available for, uh, You know, booksellers and, and whatnot.
Um, still working on that.
Um, but so for right now, if you want the paper app, you can buy it from Amazon.
You can also get a Kindle version from Amazon.
Um, you can also buy a PDF and script template bundle.
Um, so basically that's, you know, all of the scripts and phrases
and templates and everything in an easy to copy, um, notion.
Um, toolkit and also in Google drive.
So you can just make copies of those because they're all intended
to be built on, like, I don't present any of this as the sort of
like, these are the only questions you would ever never need to ask.
Like, it's all like, this is, you should build on this and customize it.
And this is just to get you started so you can buy there's a PDF and a.
Templates bundle as well.
And then there is also the audio book presale,
where you can get access to the private podcast.
Um, and so that's, that's only on it's, you know, second week at this point.
And so I'll just be dropping groups of chapters.
And initially I was like, I'm going to do one
chapter at a time, but some of them are really short.
And so then the episode would have been like a minute
and a half, and also there's like 50 something chapters.
And so it would have taken a whole year to get through them.
And I was like, that's a little bit long.
So I'm instead, I'm going to try to make them like podcast length now.
So they're like 15 to 25.
Michele: That was perfect.
Minutes that like, that sort of like walk your
dog, drive to the grocery store, like kind of
I love that you did that because for my book, when I've done, when
I did that, I just did chapters, but some of them were two minutes.
And I saw today that you had multiple chapters
in one episode and I was like, this is perfect.
I have the ebook version and the audio book version.
They're both wonderful.
My guess is you make more money if people buy the ebook version.
So I'm going to recommend people do that and get the private podcast, because
I do think it's such a great way for indie authors to, um, release their audio
book is by doing these private podcasts instead of having to go through audible.
So I would yeah.
Go to deploy empathy.com.
Michelle, I think this is actually the second time we've done an
interview together, but I'll have to have you come back because
we, we, we cruised through an hour and didn't even feel like it.
So I would, I'd love to have you come back and, um, we'll start
where we left off and talk more about these practical ways people
can incorporate customer interviews into, you know, they're coming.
Does that sound good to you?
Michele: mean, I feel like there's so much more to that story that, I
mean, so many questions that I have now about how you have integrated
customer feedback into transistor, because from the outside it looks
like customers have been a part of this journey from the very beginning.
And, and I think that's the way to do it.
If you can, because retrofitting customer research into an organization
that's been around for a long time as possible, but it can be quite difficult.
But if you're a company like transistor, like Stripe, where
the customers are part of it from the beginning, then.
You never have to retrofit it.
And it's, it's just always part of the company.
That's like, oh, we don't know what to do.
Should we do this?
Should we do that?
Like, you know what, let's go talk to some customers let's understand how they're
like, why they're doing this in the first place and what they're trying to do.
And like, like that, that just becomes the instinct of the company.
Justin: Yeah, love it.
I would love to do that.
Let's let's plan on it again.
I I'm, I'm a bit of a hard person to connect with some time to get a calendar event.
Thanks again, Michelle.
And again, folks, if you are listening, please go to deploy empathy.com by the book.
And then let me know.
You can tweet me on Twitter.
M I Justin, that's the letter N letter I Justin, or build your SaaS as the tweet handle.
Michelle, are you Michelle Hansen on Twitter?
Michele: MDW Hanson and that's Hansen with an E N
Justin: with an Ian.
So yeah, I'll have those all in the show notes, go
by the book and we will see you next time we do that.