Please excuse the sucky title and its allusion to a million or so hack comedy routines on the same subject. I trust this post will be somewhat less hackneyed and thank you in advance for jumping to the next line.
On Saturday, I oversaw a day-long focus group session for a sharp new start-up endeavour I am investing in.
Over the years, at Just For Laughs and Airborne Mobile, I've never been a major fan of focus groups for multiple reasons; most notably because the people gather to tell you exactly what they figure you want to hear, or are so disconnected from your project that their opinions are basically worthless. I've been to focus groups where the main focus was the food served, once even by a gluttonous hired test leader.
Nonetheless, the project's other investors are of different mindset, so I went along with them somewhat begrudgingly, huddled inside a downtown office building on a gorgeous fall day.
All this to say that I didn't expect to enjoy myself at all...nevermind to enjoy myself as much as I did.
The focus group test was broken down into seven one-hour, one-on-one sessions. Ages ranged from 24-36, and the gender split was 4:3 male/female.
Because of the unique, yet very accessible nature, of the aforementioned project, as well is its current embryonic state (more details on it in this space as it concretizes and is further financed), participants' perception of it could not be intrinsically or prematurely skewed.
All seven subjects were asked to click through a PowerPoint replica of the project and speak out loud as they did so.
And speak they did. Often, and in great detail.
When it was all over, I learned a lot about the project. The team discovered a handful of very crucial tweaks and adjustments, and happily, all participants seemed to understand the product easily, and like it a lot.
But on another level, I learned something truly staggering watching all seven testers go through the paces:
The men said things to try to appear smart.
The women said smart things.
Granted, this isn't the world's biggest test group, and it is obviously not statistically significant. But rules be damned; witnessing the difference was eye-opening, fun and fascinating.
On one hand, the four guys were precise and clinical (one even questioned why one slide showed the time passage interval of five minutes instead of six, seven or 10).
They stared at each slide and replied as if they were playing a "crack the code" spy game, trying to say the secret word or string together the right sentences to "open the door" to the next level. They played the role of "the smartest guy in the room" as if it were a competition, even though they were each flying solo.
On the other hand, the three girls were at ease, open and emotive.
They "oohed," said things like "This is cool!" and "I love this!" and were at ease asking questions and requesting clarification. While they were from diverse backgrounds--an Education grad, an IT consultant and a marketing manager--they were uniform in their honesty and their insights. One of them actually saw so deep, she exposed two core principles of the project that the founders had declared in early meetings, but had since hidden on the back burner until phase two due to their complexity. I was in awe.
In the end, all participants were extremely useful and helped provide a solid proof of concept.
But it was the women, in their ease, their authenticity and their unpretentiousness, who made the day, made everyone smile, and made the founding team confident to take the next crucial step.
So no offense to the four hardworking, obviously bright guys, but hopefully, the next moves will be as smart and natural as the three women who helped the team take them.