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3 Steps to Conduct an Excellent Customer Interview for Startups

Wouldn’t it be great to know that your customers will pay you to solve their problem before you spend a dime to build your product? Well by conducting a thorough customer interview you can accomplish just that.

Excellent Customer Interview for Startups

We know it can be a scary thing to put your ideas out in front strangers. However, you would much rather put it in front of them now than to have spent a ton of time and money on a product, only to find out it was all for nothing.

Here are three tips to help improve your customer interview strategy:

1. Identifying Who Your Going Interview 

In a previous post, we talked about your initial target market. Your initial target market is the first group of people that you will create a solution for. This is the group that you want to talk to first.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to identify your initial target market.

What group of people are experiencing the problem that I’m trying to solve? (Doctors, Construction Workers, Teachers, Etc)

If you personally are experiencing the problem then think of the broader group that you belong to. For example, if I find it difficult to give to my alma mater, I would assume that other Alumni of my institution are having the same problem. This will make alumni of Clark Atlanta University my initial target audience.

What group do you have the most access to? 

We all have to start somewhere and why not reach for the low-hanging fruit. If we use the example above, It would be easier to reach out to alumni who graduated around the same time as me than those who graduated 20 years ago. So now my initial market has been narrowed down to Alumni of Clark Atlanta who graduated in the last 5 years. 

I know what you may be thinking, “My product is for everybody!”. Start out by building solution for a smaller group is easier than it is to build a solution for “Everybody”. Once you solve the problem for a smaller segment then you should set your sights on expanding.

Breaking down your market into smaller chunks is called market segmentation and we will cover this in more detail in a later post. Click here to subscribe and we will let you know when it’s ready! 

Once identified, your initial target market is where you are going to look to conduct your first interview.  Then, once you understand their problems, you can start interviewing others in broader markets to see if they have the same problem.

2. List out Problem Statements 

We’ve identified who we want to interview, now let’s talk about the problems we think they are experiencing. We can do this by creating problem statements.

A problem statement is one sentence that describes the problem your market has. We want to create problem statements because this is where our interview questions will derive from.

If you haven’t already created your problem statements, click here to download our worksheet. We will take you step-by-step through the process. 

A problem statement is made up of the problem and the reason why it exists. Here is an example of a problem statement:

Alumni find it difficult to give back to their school because the current user experience on the school’s website makes it hard to give back.

Remember, if you don’t have any data  (Survey Responses, Paying Customers, etc.) to support your problem statement then it’s nothing more than an assumption. Our goal is to prove these statements to be true or false through our customer interviews.

3. Create the Questions

With your list of problem statements, you can work backward to identify your questions. Here are some questions, we may ask if we are trying to determine if the above statement is true.

Did you graduate from a college or university? 

Do you currently give back to the institution?

What methods do you use to give back?

If you have given online, what was that experience like? 

Notice how each question leads to the next. If this person doesn’t give online then I’m not going to ask them what method they used to give back. I would pivot to better understand why they don’t give.

The questions you ask can be the difference between an interview that yields actionable data or an interview that will lead you down the wrong path.

Here are some tips: 

Don’t Ask Leading Questions

Leading questions essentially push a person to respond in a certain way. Remember pull don’t push! Doing this can skew your data. 

One example of a leading question would be:

Do you think the user experience on the school’s website is bad? 

Instead, ask something like:

What do you think of the school’s website?  

Ask open-ended questions

A question like “Do you think the user experience on the school’s website is bad?” is a simple yes or no question which won’t provide much insight.

Your most insightful feedback will come from open-ended questions because it allows customers to openly express themselves.

Remove Uncessicary Questions

Look at each and every question in your survey and ask yourself  “What is this proving”? Every question should map back to proving your problem statements true or false. If not, then get rid of it.

Go Deeper 

Some customers will respond generically. This will leave you wanted to know more. If someone tells you that they don’t like doing something don’t leave without finding out why!

We conducted a survey and asked, “why alumni didn’t donate to the university”. The overwhelming answer was that they didn’t have the funds to contribute. Once we dug deeper, we actually found that it wasn’t due to a lack of funds, but that Alumni assumed the school was asking for a lot of money!

If the school is asking for $500 I may not have it, but $5 I can do.

Now instead of assuming that everybody is broke, we just need to make it clear that we will accept as little as a $5 donation!

How Desperate Are They? 

To really drive home the point you could ask your customers to pay you to solve the problem even before the solution has been developed. Sounds crazy, but if they desperately need someone to solve their problem then they might be willing to do it.

Here’s an example of how you could ask:

“We are in the process of developing a solution for this problem. If you sign up today for $100, we will give you a lifetime discount for our solution. The $100 is fully refundable up until we deliver the solution to you”

The key isn’t to follow this word for word, but to provide an incentive to support the project and to let them know their contribution is fully refundable. Save this for the very end and use your common sense to gauge desperateness.



The main takeaway should be to identify your problem statements and then ask questions to your initial target market that will help you prove your statements. After you’ve proven your statements to be true, it’s time to start iterating on the best way to solve it.

What do you think about this approach to customer interviews? Let us know in the comments below! 


Brandon Mitchell

5-time startup founder helping others bring their ideas to life.

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