Why User Experience Matters for Startups

Teams often view user experience (UX) as a finishing touch. That’s a mistake.

June 10, 2024
Shawnda Williams headshot
Shawnda Williams
Head of Design, Southern Fried Concepts
User experience layouts

Startups are under pressure to move fast. They have an idea and believe they need to get it into the market as fast as possible. They think: I need a developer, I need an engineer, I need to ship. There’s no time for user experience—we’ll handle it later.

In reality, skipping user experience (UX) is a high-risk gamble, and the odds aren’t exactly in your favor. If you don’t build the right product at the outset, you have to spend time reworking it. When you take a beat to check that your idea actually addresses the problem you’re trying to solve, you pick up speed later.

In this post, I’ll explain why it’s important for startups to prioritize user experience from the beginning of the product development process and offer some concrete ways to do that.

Key takeaways
  • While UX is often an afterthought, focusing on UX at the start of product development enables you to save time and money.
  • Prioritizing UX helps you mitigate risk by ensuring your product meets market needs. It also protects your brand reputation and gives you a competitive advantage.
  • A user-focused approach at the beginning of development is especially important for startups, which have a finite budget and only one chance to succeed.
  • UX research doesn’t have to be cumbersome. There are quick and simple ways teams can gather qualitative insights from potential customers.
  • If you’ve built your product without considering UX, digital analytics can help you quickly course correct.
  • Startup teams can bring UX into their organization by learning about it and hiring for a customer experience-focused role, such as a UX designer.

Why it’s important for startups to prioritize UX at the start of product development

All businesses want to be efficient. But startups don’t always have the resources for a second chance; avoiding waste is necessary for survival.

Products that fail to meet customer expectations come with a high price tag

Let’s imagine two scenarios:

  1. You pay engineers to build an MVP-version of your product for release. It flops. Now, you must correct this, but where do you start? Creating a new version isn't feasible, given time and cost constraints.
  2. You did your homework. You connected with a UX consultant who helped you reframe the problem you needed to solve and validate it with potential customers. They created quick, low-fidelity product mockups and gathered more feedback. Now, you have a better understanding of the features that would generate the most customer interest and can have a more focused conversation with engineers about the MVP and subsequent releases.

UX saves you time and money because it means you don’t have to wait to get to market to spot your mistakes. It also gives you a competitive edge against other products in your industry. If your competitors push products to market without considering UX, you can beat them by offering a superior product with a better customer experience.

Take Nest, a smart thermostat released in 2011 and acquired by Google in 2014. The Nest team created a product with a wonderful UX. The thermostat:

  • Is beautifully designed
  • Glows different colors depending on whether it’s cooling or heating
  • Automatically adjusts the temperature when it detects no one is home
  • Learns from manual temperature adjustments to automatically set energy-saving heating schedules

Nest wouldn’t have been successful with their home thermostat if it was clunky and difficult to use.

On the flip side, if you release something that’s not quite right, you give your competitors an opportunity. They can spot what didn’t work in your product and build something that fixes your mistakes.

A thoughtful customer experience also helps attract investors for your product. A clear plan backed by UX shows you’re building something intelligently researched that matches your audience’s expectations.

Bad product experiences are extremely damaging

Building a product with a poor customer experience isn’t just expensive. A tarnished brand reputation is a real consequence of not considering users. And that tarnished reputation means you lose business: Many consumers decrease or stop spending altogether with a company after a negative experience.

While users might tolerate a painful solution from a big, established brand, startups don’t have the same baked-in loyalty and authority. Brand loyalty is especially important for subscription-based products—you want to retain customers and encourage them to upgrade their plan. If it’s difficult for customers to achieve what they’re trying to do with your product, you’ll drive them away.

UX research is less cumbersome than most people expect

One reason I find people skip UX is that they see it as an impediment. They expect it to be costly, complicated, and slow. The truth is that UX research can be a very simple process.

Even quick and easy steps such as throwing up a prototype on a site like UserTesting or interviewing a handful of people about your idea and how much they’d be willing to pay for it will give you valuable qualitative data. That data can stop you from building something that no one will pay for.

How to center product development around customers

You’re committed to building an excellent product that gives customers the experience they’re seeking. Let’s explore how to prioritize customers when you start creating a product.

Leave your ego aside

When you’ve come up with what you think is the idea, it can be difficult to challenge it. And being confident in your idea is important. Check at the start that the idea is truly what the market needs. Is there competition in the space—if so, how can you differentiate yourself? This will enable you to be confident and make quick decisions later.

Even if you’re convinced your idea is wonderful, conduct UX research. Collect quantitative and qualitative data using a unified Digital Analytics Platform to ensure that your understanding of the problem is the same as what people are actually experiencing.

Foster a cultural shift in your organization

Ideally, you want to bring a customer focus to all parts of your company. To do that, it’s important to foster a cultural shift away from speed at any cost to seeing UX as an efficient use of time. Education will promote that shift.

The better your understanding of UX, the easier it will be to change conversations in your company to prioritize customers. Use the variety of resources that are available—such as the Nielsen Norman Group—to learn about UX approaches. Encourage others in your organization to do the same.

Give UX a seat at the table

Alongside a company-wide UX mindset, having a person dedicated to user experience will help drive a customer focus. If budget allows, hire a UX designer. If not, working with a UX freelancer you pay hourly is better than nothing and will help inject that user point of view into development.

Collect data and insights

Data helps you make the right product decisions at the start of development and adjust your product when things aren’t working. There are several ways to collect qualitative and quantitative data to help you inform UX decisions when building a product. For instance:

  • Interviews, surveys, and focus groups
  • Social media and online community listening
  • Behavioral customer data, such as product usage

While the best course of action is to focus on UX from the start, if you’re a late-stage startup who’s maybe skipped UX until now, adding customer insights can help you course correct. Digital analytics can help you investigate and improve customer experiences, such as by boosting user engagement and conversion.

Amplitude’s Session Replay, for example, enables you to visualize the journeys customers take in your product. This helps you to identify blockers in the experience or areas where customers aren’t behaving as expected.

In the past, teams struggled to get insights into user behaviors for a new product with just quantitive data. With Session Replay, you can quickly unlock qualitative insights from your qualitative data to get a full picture of what’s happening in your product.

Start your UX journey

To help startups on their path to product-market fit, Amplitude offers one year of our Growth plan at no cost, with premium features to better understand your UX. Find out more and apply for the Amplitude Program for Startups.

To keep the UX conversation going, connect with me on LinkedIn or explore my website.

About the Author
Shawnda Williams headshot
Shawnda Williams
Head of Design, Southern Fried Concepts
Shawnda is a multifaceted professional with a dynamic blend of skills as a designer, technologist, advocate, and passionate car builder. With over 20 years of experience in UX and digital product design, she has developed award-winning products and enhanced user experiences for global brands such as Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, REI, Zappos, and General Dynamics. Shawnda now leads Southern Fried Concepts, a company that embodies her expertise as a designer, problem solver, advocate, and change-maker.