Conducting a user survey: trials and tribulations

Does time move faster in New York City?

It certainly feels that way. February vanished in a blur of classes, guest speakers and site visits, and in just two weeks we’ll be halfway through the Tow-Knight program at CUNY.

I only wish the weather would catch up…

New York Public Library Lion

“All this lion around is getting tiresome.”

For me, February was about seeking out my potential users and finding out more about their behaviours: what media they consume, where they go to look for it, why they like some things and not others. In short, developing empathy that would help me identify opportunities in the market and problems I could solve.

Jeff Jarvis is a great proponent of treating anyone and everyone as a user ripe for surveying. In this city of more than 8 million people, I wasn’t short of potential interview candidates. The problem, of course, is that New Yorkers are perpetually in a hurry. When they do find rare moments of peace, they certainly don’t feel like talking to a stranger with a funny accent who wants to ask probing questions about their reading habits.

I abandoned that strategy after dismal failures on the A train and then at Penn Station. Ok, so perhaps places of transit weren’t the wisest choice. But Mother Nature made sure there was nary a soul in any public place of leisure.

Success came with the friendly Kiwis I met at an event, and when I distributed an online survey through my personal networks. I have a clearer idea of how I can create something meaningful, and am now in the process of creating what is referred to in the startup world as a ‘minimum viable product’.

More on that in another post, but for now I’d like to present you a tantalizing look at what’s to come: the Kitchen Chapters launch page!

The project is still a long, long way from becoming a business but the prospect of combining two of my greatest passions – food and writing – into something new is very exciting indeed. (Incidentally, there are two things I am more passionate about: my husband and my dog. But I don’t need to do a user survey to tell me that only our mums would be interested in a content-rich business about them.)

Next steps for Kitchen Chapters:

  • Publish an initial couple of stories to test the concept;
  • Seek feedback from users surveyed and from others in the food media industry;
  • Continue to develop monetization model.

Also this month…

We’ve also been fortunate to have learned from some of the best in the business. We visited giants like The Huffington Post and Twitter, who are devoting huge resources to the increasingly complex process of reaching their users wherever they happen to be hanging out in the digital space at any given moment.

Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz and Global Voices executive director Ivan Sigal talked about the challenges – and rewards – of running a nonprofit news organization, and Atlas Obscura’s CEO (and former Slate editor-in-chief) David Plotz gave the content-focused entrepreneurs among us some hope by proving such concepts do not make all investors run a kilometre*.

Here are two of my favourite pieces of advice from other guest speakers:

We also took a look at the Guardian’s current positioning and strategy, using the editor-in-chief candidate essays published for the National Union of Journalists’ indicative ballot as a springboard for writing our own. They drew attention from some unexpected places:

Big Apple bites:

Discovered: Jewish food, specifically babka and rugelach. I attended a fascinating panel discussion at the City Museum of New York this week on the changing face of Jewish food in the city – keep an eye on Kitchen Chapters for more. 

Watched: House of Cards. I came late to the brilliance, but am steadily working my way through season two. There is nothing I enjoy more at the end of the day than unwinding with the marauding Underwoods.

Baked: Yes! For the first time since leaving New Zealand. New York may produce the world’s greatest cookies, but nothing can compare to a batch of freshly baked Anzacs. More on the challenges of baking these in the US in a future post.

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*Inelegant metaphor chosen in defiance of this country’s dogged use of imperial measurements.