Spending a small amount of time each day to learn something seemingly unrelated to my business.
John Turner is the CEO and Founder of UsersThink as well as the maker of QuietKit. UsersThink helps people get real user feedback on their landing pages and websites, by simplifying the whole process to the point where it takes less than a minute to get setup for feedback on your latest project. QuietKit helps people get started with meditation by providing guided meditation for beginners for free. Both projects are the core of his effort to try to help people and get them to improve whatever they’re working on. He got his initial start in tech when he was hired at a local e-commerce company, and found he took a strong interest in website usability. After a period of time studying and learning more on the subject, he then branched out into consulting on the topic, until his work and refinement of his process led to the founding of UsersThink, which has been his focus ever since. John is passionate about usability, landing pages, meditation, dancing, and high fives.
Where did the idea for UsersThink come from?
The initial idea for UsersThink came from my own experience doing consulting on websites. I worked to improve websites, mainly focusing on the usability issues that often crop up, and to aid me in my work I had a slew of tools I used. But I didn’t have a good one for collecting user feedback, from real people, on a home page or a specific page. Sure, there were plenty of tools out there to try to help with that, but they were all too expensive and took too long to set up. And once you set up and ran a round of feedback, you’d often discover you were asking the wrong questions or had worded them not as well as you could have.
I got so frustrated that there wasn’t a cost-effective, standardized way to get feedback without much hassle or effort that I decided to build the tool for myself, initially just for my own use as a consultant.
After a series of iterations on it, it quickly became the most important tool in my toolbox, and it was so valuable that I started to realize it could work as it’s own standalone tool.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start each day with a 10-minute meditation session, using QuietKit, a tool I made to help people getting started with meditation.
Beyond that, most of it is customer service, marketing/outreach/growth efforts, and work on the product. I do my best to stand and break up the day with short breaks, or work from a coffee shop, but most of my day is me sitting at my computer, and I couldn’t be happier working on UsersThink . 🙂
How do you bring ideas to life?
I always do my best with new ideas to learn as much as I can around the idea and the problem that spawned it, and then to start with as small of a version as I can.
By spending a little extra time on learning, I find myself able to iterate much faster on the idea, as I know ahead of time where some of the bigger obstacles and opportunities are.
And by building as small of a version of my idea as possible, I’m able to get additional feedback earlier and quicker than trying to build something bigger to start with
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The general trend away from buying and full renting to a “pay as you go” model in almost everything connected to the building and scaling a business.
It used to be that to have a website that could stand up to even a moderate amount of traffic, you’d have to buy heavy duty servers yourself, and also set them up and maintain them yourself.
But now you can spin up strong hosting on a number of virtual server services, and then integrate them into strong CDNs or DDoS protection services, either with low standard monthly costs, or a pay as you go model.
And the important thing is that these services scale up. A side project or hobby can easily start on AWS, but it can stay on and scale to millions or billions of users with the same service.
The exciting thing is how this is expanding beyond just the hosting realm, to services like Stripe or Twilio or others, where small elements that could be a pain to add to your service are now easy to plug into, without any upfront cost beyond what you need it for.
And in a sense, that’s what UsersThink is trying to do: provide feedback as a service, regardless of the size or stage you’re at with your project/business.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Spending a small amount of time each day to learn something seemingly unrelated to my business.
This might sound like a distraction, but is serves two primary purposes.
First, it’s a great way to recharge from a long day, and even a little bit of recharging will help you on your path towards building a business that’s sustainable.
Second, this will help you with problem-solving as well as uncovering new ideas and approaches that you might not know about. Some of the serendipity of evolving new ideas is that it often involves combining seemingly unrelated things in novel ways, and if you have something new you learn each and every day, you increase the likelihood of making these hard to predict but very valuable connections.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
No joke, it’s this job. 🙂
The weird thing about doing your own entrepreneurial thing is that it’s always the worst and best job at the exact same time.
The main thing I’ve learned from this is that, even if you have high conviction something will work, it takes a lot of work to get others to see what you see.
But I’ve also learned that, under the right circumstances, these same challenges help you grow as a person faster than you’d imagine, and that makes it the best job as well!
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Fewer things with higher intensity.
There’s always an important step early on in any new endeavor of testing out a bunch of tactics and strategies, but it’s also easy to not really end that period.
And since there’s so much advice of “you’d be stupid not to do X” out there, it’s easy to think you have to do it all.
But there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to pick just a handful of things and put all your effort behind them.
So many of these tactics and approaches, whether they be for product or growth or something else, only really have value as they compound over time, so you have to have a little bit of faith that the real value is greater than your cumulative effort in that approach.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Working on and forming habits in your personal life. Figuring out ways to improve your physical health, mental well-being, and pretty much anything else that will help keep you motivated when you’re working hard as an entrepreneur.
The thing about habits is that it’s about starting small, and finding ways to do those small things over and over without much effort beyond getting started. So it’ll be different for everyone, but it often comes down to eating well, exercising, and figuring out how to recharge mentally.
Taking a few minutes each week to think of how to improve on those aspects is a small but daily way will help you over the long haul, and that’s often where the greatest benefit will be to you personally, as opposed to a herculean accomplishment in your personal life. Reserve that for your work as an entrepreneur 🙂
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Actively telling people when UsersThink wasn’t a good fit for them.
While I think UsersThink is an amazing tool that can help so many people building interesting projects and companies, there are times when people have a very specific type of feedback they’re looking for or certain constraints that don’t match what we offer.
So if it’s obvious from my end that UsersThink wouldn’t help them in what they’re specifically looking for, I tell them that.
Most people are shocked when this happens. I always calmly explain why we don’t offer that feature or element with UsersThink, and also inform them as to how UsersThink could still help. But, and I’m always firm on this, if they still want whatever they were asking for that we don’t offer, I restate that UsersThink wouldn’t be able to help them that way.
What it often leads to is not only a greater understanding of what UsersThink can do for them but more often than not they’ll recommend me to others.
It all comes down to the fact that no product, no matter how great, will be perfect for 100% of the people out there, and by defining what works and what doesn’t in regards to what you offer, real trust is built, and I think people are always more appreciative of that than being lied to.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The same thing that got me started with UsersThink also held me back after the launch: thinking that making it for myself meant that was all I had to do as far as the product goes.
Because I knew the problem I was having so intimately, it made building a public facing version pretty fast and painless.
But that version wasn’t 100% there, it was closer to 80%.
The extra bit would come from learning how others viewed and used the tool, and while I was able to incorporate that and adapt UsersThink to meet those expectations, I was slow to do so at first, since I thought I did all I needed to do.
It was a hard lesson to learn, but it also taught me that deep knowledge over your own problem is very helpful, but often is incomplete.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s an immense amount of potential for technology to be used as a way to build strong, positive habits in individuals, much for the betterment of both the individuals and society as a whole.
But right now the habits that tech helps people build are more in relation to that specific tech, or in service of it, instead of “hey, build some better routines into your life”.
I think there’s an enormous amount of potential to build either an approach or a platform to help people accomplish more thru better habits, one that actually works.
What I don’t know is if the best initial approach on how to attack this issue is with a broad “help you correct your habits” platform, or by building something to help people get over a specific bad habit (i.e. smoking) and then expand from there, or another approach altogether. I guess that’s up to whoever takes up the challenge of building it 🙂
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on the creation of QuietKit [http://quietkit.com/], which provides guided meditation for beginners for free.
I built it after my own frustration with existing tools to help you learn and practice meditation, but originally it was for my own personal use.
But after using it for a while, I realized how much it could easily help others, so I decided to build out the tool more and release it for free.
Not only has meditation helped me manage stress better, but it’s also helped me increase focus, and having a fun side project that helps others in such a simple but impactful way can really make you feel great!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
There are a bunch, but I’ll highlight 3 that I’m a huge fan of:
WordPress is a great, quick and powerful way to setup your marketing site, and it’s been handy for me not just for UsersThink, but for almost all the projects I work on.
CloudFlare helps speed up your site, helps it scale up by offloading a lot of static content to the CloudFlare network/CDN, and also helps keep your site up and fast during periods of heavy usage (such as traffic spikes or DDoS attacks).
Stripe makes accepting payments fast and easy, and their great API allows you to easily connect any sort of tool or system to it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.
There are lots of books on startups, business, and entrepreneurship, and most of them deal with the theory and mechanics of the endeavor.
But few deal with the emotional aspects of it, how hard it can be, and how to then approach that part of the journey. And no one talks about the importance of courage: the ability to do the thing you think is right, regardless of how you feel.
Ben Horowitz deals with all that and more in his book, both thru stories of his own personal experience, and advice he found to be invaluable.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Two very deep thinkers in tech come to mind:
If you do a search on YouTube for either of them, select videos over 20 minutes, you’ll find a lot of their more interesting presentations and interviews, which will help you learn very quickly about tech and it’s implications for the future.