How to Run a User Interview with Emmett Shear (How to Start a Startup 2014: Lecture 16) | Summary and Q&A

April 21, 2017
Y Combinator
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How to Run a User Interview with Emmett Shear (How to Start a Startup 2014: Lecture 16)


User interviews are crucial for startups as they help identify user needs, address pain points, and inform product development.

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Key Insights

  • šŸŽÆ User Feedback: User interviews are crucial in understanding user needs and preferences. Focusing on different types of users such as existing users, non-users, and competitor users can help identify pain points and areas for improvement.
  • šŸ“† Understanding User Needs: It is important to talk to users to understand their needs and preferences before building a product. Not talking to users or relying solely on data can result in building features that users may not find useful.
  • šŸ¤ Targeting the Right Users: Identifying the target user and finding ways to reach them can be challenging. It is important to talk to a diverse set of users to gather insights and feedback from different perspectives.
  • šŸ’” Identifying Problems: User interviews can help identify problems and gaps in the market that can be addressed with a new product or feature. Validating ideas and getting feedback from users can help determine if there is a real need for the product.
  • šŸ† Achieving Success: Building a product that solves specific problems and addresses user needs is crucial for success. Focusing on the right features and addressing the pain points identified during user interviews can lead to better outcomes.
  • šŸŒ International Markets: Conducting user interviews in international markets may present language and cultural barriers. Finding ways to overcome these challenges such as translations and working with local representatives can help gather insights from different regions.
  • šŸ’¬ Recording User Interviews: Recording user interviews can be beneficial for the entire team as it allows for easy playback and understanding of user needs. This can help align the team and ensure that everyone understands the insights gathered from the interviews. ā° Evolving User Feedback: User feedback should be an ongoing process as the target users and their needs may change over time. Continuously talking to users and understanding their evolving preferences can help inform product development and decision-making.


today's guest speaker is Emmett Scheer Emmett is the CEO of twitch which was acquired by Amazon where he now works and Emmett is going to do a new format of class today and talk about how to do great user interviews so this is the talking to users part of starting to startup should be really useful thank you very much for coming contact server know... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What role do user interviews play in the success of a startup?

User interviews play a critical role in the success of a startup as they provide valuable insights into user needs, pain points, and desired features. By understanding the target user base and their preferences, startups can build products that are tailored to their specific needs, increasing the chances of success in the market.

Q: How can user interviews help startups identify areas for improvement?

By conducting user interviews, startups can identify the shortcomings of existing solutions and gain insights into the pain points and frustrations faced by users. This feedback helps guide product development, allowing startups to address the areas where current solutions fall short and offer a more effective and satisfying user experience.

Q: Why is it important to talk to non-users during user interviews?

Speaking to non-users is crucial as it provides insights into barriers to entry and uncovers opportunities to expand the market. By understanding why potential users are not engaging with existing products, startups can identify the obstacles and tailor their solutions to overcome these barriers, increasing their chances of attracting new users.

Q: How can user interviews help startups gain a competitive edge?

User interviews with competitors' users can highlight the features they have and the aspects they value most in a product. This valuable feedback allows startups to identify areas where they can differentiate themselves and build unique features that cater to user needs that are not being met by existing solutions, giving them a competitive edge in the market.

Q: What should startups focus on during user interviews?

Startups should focus on understanding user needs, pain points, and desired features during user interviews. Rather than asking about specific features, startups should aim to learn about the problems users are facing and how their product can address those problems. This holistic approach helps startups build products that truly meet user needs, ensuring a higher chance of success in the market.


In this video, Emmett Scheer, the CEO of Twitch, talks about the importance of user interviews in building a successful startup. He shares his experiences and insights from his time at Twitch, emphasizing the need to talk to different groups of users, including existing users, non-users, and competition users. He explains how user interviews helped Twitch identify key problems and prioritize features that addressed those problems. Emmett also highlights the importance of avoiding the trap of asking users about specific features and instead focusing on understanding their goals and pain points. He concludes by discussing the impact of user interviews in influencing product development and gaining buy-in from the rest of the company.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why is it important to talk to users when building a startup?

Talking to users is crucial in building a successful startup because it helps identify key problems and understand user goals and pain points. By gaining insights directly from users, startups can develop features and solutions that address their needs, leading to higher user satisfaction and adoption.

Q: What are some mistakes to avoid when conducting user interviews?

One common mistake is showing users the product and asking for feedback on specific features. This can lead to biased responses and prevents users from sharing their true thoughts and needs. Another mistake is talking to users who are readily available, rather than focusing on the specific user groups that are most relevant to the product or target market.

Q: How did Emmett get buy-in from the rest of the company for user research?

Emmett recommends recording the user interviews and playing them back for the rest of the company. This allows everyone to hear firsthand what the users have shared, making it easier to understand their needs and align the company's efforts. Recording interviews also helps capture important details and allows for more interactive and engaging discussions.

Q: Can user interviews be conducted over email?

While email interviews are possible, they are not as effective as conducting interviews over Skype or in person. The interactive nature of Skype or in-person interviews allows for better engagement and deeper insights. Additionally, recording interviews is easier and more practical with Skype or in-person interviews.

Q: How does language barrier affect user interviews?

Conducting user interviews with people who do not speak the same language can be challenging. Language barriers can limit the effectiveness of interviews and may require finding interpreters or translators to facilitate communication. However, it is important to note that language barriers can impact the success of a product in certain international markets, as Twitch experienced in non-English speaking countries.

Q: How did user interviews influence Twitch's product development?

User interviews played a crucial role in influencing Twitch's product development. By talking to existing users, competition users, and non-users, Twitch was able to identify key problems and prioritize features that addressed them. User feedback helped shape the direction of features and functionalities, improving stability, accessibility, and monetization options for its users.


User interviews are a valuable tool for startups when developing products. By talking to different user groups and understanding their needs, startups can tailor their solutions to address specific problems, leading to higher adoption and satisfaction. Key mistakes to avoid include showing users specific features and relying on easily accessible users rather than focusing on target users. To gain buy-in from the rest of the company, it is important to record user interviews and share them to ensure everyone understands the user's perspective. Language barriers can be challenging but can be overcome with interpreters or translators. User interviews played a vital role in shaping Twitch's product development, leading to improved stability, accessibility, and monetization options for its users.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • User interviews are essential for startups as they provide insights into user needs, pain points, and desired features.

  • Talking to users who already use similar products helps identify the shortcomings of existing solutions and potential areas for improvement.

  • Conversations with non-users reveal barriers to entry and opportunities to expand the market.

  • Feedback from competitors can highlight features they have and guide product development to gain a competitive edge.

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