The questions you ask determine the answers you get

I recently participated in a brainstorming group to help a friend generate ideas for her startup.

First of all, it was a lot of fun. My friend had the session led by a creative brainstorming trainer, organized it very well and I think got a lot out of it. I’m looking forward to seeing what she applies to her business.

But one part of the session sticks in my mind. We brainstormed solutions to several questions and I realized that the way the questions were framed influenced how people responded. This is an obvious point, but since I’ve been on the asking side for a while I forgot what it was like to be the one answering the questions.

One question related to her business was “how do I get people to buy tickets?” (which is her business model).

I found that I had trouble answering the question because I had already assumed that the individuals would not be the sole purchasers of tickets and that the revenue would come from other participants or sponsors.

Now, if the question had been “how do I generate revenue?” or “who would pay for this?” the results would be very different. When I think back to my own experience demoing my startup for people in cafes, I made the mistake of not understanding how people would or wouldn’t become repeat users.

When I first went out, I focused on whether people enjoyed using the service, how long they used it, whether they had any problems with the design. I saw that users played with our service for quite a long time, which was surprising to me. But since these were all one-off demos with people, it took me a while before I realized that while people played with the service for a long time, they also didn’t return for weeks or months afterward.

That was a very important behavior to learn, but it took much longer than needed.

Once we learned it, we then approached selling to users in a very different way and got our first business clients.