I first conducted primary research in the second semester of my senior year. My team and I were tasked with performing customer discovery for a new spatial audio app developed by a grad student and documentarian at Duke. Because he didn’t already have a firm marketing or monetization strategy, my team and I sought not only to find potential customers for the app but also to identify ways to promote product-market fit and assess market trends that would affect the app’s launch. After a few weeks of instruction, we armed ourselves with a few falsifiable hypotheses and set out to conduct interviews with knowledgeable audio producers.
One of the first mistakes we made as a group was trying to plan out the fine details of our interviewing schedule and script before reaching out. The prospect of cold calling/emailing audio producers intimidated us, and we preferred thinking about the market from inside our own bubbles. Like a startup with a new product, however, what we needed was stakeholder feedback, not planning. At the behest of our professor, we reached out despite uncertainty and asked questions rather than trying to answer them ourselves. It was only then that the project really began.
Our next major lesson was that we should have expected surprises. In our first interview, a podcaster offered my team insights about a segment we hadn’t even identified in our initial planning process: virtual theater. She told us about how internet shows were booming as a result of the pandemic and even referred us to three of her friends for further inquiry. This rich source of information expanded our view of where spatial audio could create value and informed a re-writing of our exploration priorities. Similar interactions peppered our interview process, opening us up to a rich diversity in the audio space we never could have foreseen.
In retrospect, the necessary steps of asking questions and adapting to change would have proceeded naturally from the admission that we didn’t know what we would find in our research process. As obvious as this seems, the truth is we initially thought all our data would support the hypotheses we set out with. When this is the operating assumption, there is little motivation to actually gather data or allow it to speak in unexpected ways. Fortunately for our client, however, my group and I quickly developed the humility required to actually listen to our interviewees, and I’m happy to report that many of them were eager to share with us the information we’d need to inform a successful launch.
My team and I prepared two presentations for our client, one around the middle of the term and another at the end, to keep him updated with our latest findings. I solicited the and conducted the majority of our group’s interviews and presented on the team’s objectives in the customer discovery process as well as podcasters’ feedback about how the new spatial audio app would play into their production process. You can find a copy of our midterm presentation here. A copy of our final presentation will be posted shortly.