Social Support – What We’ve Learned

by bsrubin on January 25, 2013

Process is Key

One of the things Derek and I are most excited about while kicking off Revv is running a fast-cycle, customer rich process for product development.  Start with founder vision and then constantly check hypothesis against reality.  In the early days when ideas are just forming we are doing this through customer interviews.

In a departure from standard lean startup protocol we’ve decided to be really open about our experiments and what we’ve learned.

  • Publicly articulating what we learned helps us think things through.
  • By being transparent we are also likely to learn a ton from potential customers and experts in the space.
  • We hope this information will be valuable to individuals and other leaders looking to solve similar problems.

Social Support for Personal Development

It’s clear that social support is absolutely key for making life changes.  Derek and I have been heavily influenced by concepts in books read (lifeline relationships, MasterMind groups), and by successful programs for behavior change (Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers.)

Turns out people don't think of social support this way. Is this how people think of social support?

What kicked off this investigation was a nostalgia for a group Derek and I are a part of.  CCCC (Conversation, Cigars, Cognac, and Chocolate) is an informal group of guys.  We used to meet up for a long, slow evening about once a month.  It began as just friends catching up – but developed into deeply understanding and helping each other move forward in our lives.  Despite the value we’ve found it very hard to keep up with given geography, babies, and work challenges.

The Interviews

So we kicked off a series of interviews (interview guides in Running Lean are good.)  Here were the hypothesis we set out to test:

  • Customers in our target segments understand how important social support is in the self improvement process.
  • ‘I want to make improvements in my life by I don’t have people in my life who I feel can help me.’
  • ‘My current family, friends, coworkers won’t understand and support the improvements I’d like to make in my life.’
  • ‘I’m embarrassed to bring my self improvement path (and by default my problems) to my family, friends, coworkers.’
  • ‘I don’t want to burden my family, friends, coworkers with the self improvement help I need.’

What we learned was fascinating.  And humbling.

Except for a small group of personal-development minded individuals – we found:

  • People don’t actively do ‘personal development.’  They solve specific problems in their life.
  • People don’t join groups to work on their problems.  They work on it themselves or with a few close friends one-on-one.

A couple quoted responses to this question:  What sort of groups do you involve in your self improvement projects?  This could be a loose group of parents, a church group, etc. – really anything.

“No.  I had a shortlived workout group.  In general I never associates with big groups of people.  Improvement is a sustained individual effort.”

“I would like to turn to something like this – but haven’t.  It would be useful but I haven’t done it. “

“I am bad at asking for help.  Not good at admitting I need it.  ‘I need help’ – something would have to be falling apart to do this” 

“Lowest priority for me.  I consider this generic information - doesn’t address my problems.”

People just don’t think about personal development and social support in the ways we hypothesized.  Would it be beneficial for them if they did?  Probably.  Will they?  Nope.

Personas in Personal Development

Through the course of these interviews and a later set of habit formation interviews we have come to better understand where our customers are coming from.

Some quick personas emerged.

Process Driven Self Improver: Frequently reflects on life, decides to implement new habits.  Has a process for doing so and is reasonably effective at making changes.

Frenetic Self Improver: Always working on lots, has tons of ideas for how to improve their life – but no structure within which to make fast progress.  Often over-commits.  Doesn’t establish behavior change triggers, lets life get too ‘crazy.’  Big swings of up and down – do really well for a while, then lose willpower and backslide.

Focus Area Improver: Generally has a small list of items that they are ‘working on.’  The list changes occasionally upon self reflection or facing new challenges in life.  This persona really varies in how effective they are in making habit changes.

Changes only with Pain: Personal development and habit change happens after a looong accumulation of pain.  Sometimes a change is brought on by a life transition like a move, new job, break-up.  Not structured and typically fails to build new habits.

Do you see yourself in any of these personas?  Which are we missing?  It was fascinating to us to see how truly different people are.

Outcome of Experiment

We killed the experiment into personal support groups after about six interviews.  Specific group support is likely to be relegated to major addiction problems or very process-driven self improvers.

The good news is that through the course of interviews we ran into a much more interesting problem in professional development.  On my eighth interview of the week I was chatting with a fellow startup CEO.  By the time we chatted we’d ‘killed’ the group support interviews and had moved on to habit formation.  But he was so excited about group support that he had to talk about it.  He felt that there were certain issues that are shared by entrepreneurs like him.  How to grow a team, how to raise financing, how to balance a family and the startup   He was very interested in getting together with a group of like-minded folks and having the session moderated by someone more experienced.  He had explored communities like Venwise - but he couldn’t get in (didn’t meet a revenue target), didn’t want to pay that much, and wasn’t jazzed about schlepping across town for in-person meetings.

New Product notion: There seem to be two options for professional support groups.  Either pull it together yourself (hard, messy) or join an exclusive, in-person, expensive moderated group.  There may be a place for a lighter, virtual offering for entrepreneurs, product managers, etc.  Join up and state where you are coming from and what you’d like to accomplish.  Get matched into a group of 5-7 like-minded folks and take part in moderated, structured, monthly half-day virtual meetings to make progress.  Take the excellent group support model and make it not just available to executives in scaled companies – but to everyone else.  Product management support group, new company founder support group, political campaign manager support group, etc.

So Idea 1: Make it easy for groups of people to come together for deep personal development morphed into Idea 2: Make it east for groups of professionals with similar problems to come together in deep support groups.

Glad we talked to customers before building a product no one would use :)

Would love to get feedback on professional support groups!  Next step will be a series of solution interviews to see if we would solve real problems with the product we are envisioning.


Previous post:

Next post: