The Problem: Jobs to be Done

Jobs to be Done: a term coined by Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, to put creators of products and services in the mindset of their customer. People don’t buy milkshakes because it’s a milkshake or even because it tastes great; people buy milkshakes because it fills their stomach during a long commute and keeps them full or because it silences their kids from whining (read the full article here). People buy products because they are trying to get something done. If you don’t understand the “job” you can’t devise a better solution. No one cares about your product; people care about the results that it brings, so focus on the promised change.

As legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt once put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

So with volunteering, what is the job to be done?
Or more specifically, how are they filling that job now instead of volunteering (i.e. alternatives)?

I believe if we can solve this issue, or at least gain deeper insight into this issue, we can make some serious inroads in solving the riddle of low volunteerism in Turkey. Perhaps I’m just a dreamer, but at least it’s worth a shot, right?

So we’ve started doing problem interviews while keeping an ear out for what jobs people are trying to get done by volunteering or not volunteering. On a surface level, the assumed answers are probably: “to make a contribution to society” or “to give back for opportunities received” or even “an emotional drive to do something meaningful for others”, but, if that was the case, what are the alternatives to volunteering? Donating the charities? But even that has has a low rate of participation. So these reasons may apply to a few people but is not indicative of the overall population, and people may say these things but there is definitely something deeper.

volunteering: jobs to be done?

  • to socialize:
    One of the key insights that came up from the interviews was the innate desire to participate in volunteering activities with other people. Consider a FB event page – people in Turkey first check out who else is coming before reading about the event and considering whether to attend or not; a classic community-based culture element. Moreover, almost everyone indicated that previous participation in such activities stemmed from a referral, i.e. “Hey I’m going to attend this thing; you should come too!”

  • to achieve departure from work or find a hobby:
    Some interviewees, specifically those with full-time jobs, saw volunteering as a distraction from the daily grind, like going to the museum or having breakfast by the Bosphorus. In this situation, schedule flexibility and entertainment value is important. It can’t feel like work; it should be different type of activity from whatever they do day-to-day. And it should be relatively convenient.

  • to gain a sense of belonging to a community:
    Interviewees stated on several occasions that participation provided a sense of belonging to a group, an identity. Or they indicated a desire to join such activities as a group, strengthening the existing group bond. This is related to the first point, but with a slight twist, not so much, “who else is going?” as “what can we do together?”, in a sense blending the first and second points.

so what?

Basically, based on these traits, the traditional models of matching volunteers with NGOs used in the Western World doesn’t seem to apply to the Turkish context. In those contexts volunteering is often seen as an individual activity and such platforms would support individuals applying to opportunities. Plus, with a higher sense of community responsibility, people actually sought out such opportunities. This is not the case in Turkey. Thus, how can we fit volunteering into their worldview, to position it to satisfy an existing job? The search continues.


The Problem: interview approach

The Customer Development approach is built on a foundation of one-on-one customer interviews. It is trying to get to the bottom of the issue, something that can’t easily be achieved using surveys or website analytics or complaint forums or even focus groups. It is letting your potential customer talk you through the problem and how it affects their life, peeling it back one layer at a time.

The point of these interviews – to learn.

You don’t push anything, sell anything or even try to convince. You are there to learn, to let you eyes be opened to unexpected and unforeseen possibilities. Don’t even talk about your potential solution. Focus solely on discovering the problem. Giff Constable, in his post “12 Tips for Customer Development Interviews”, states that you should “get psyched to hear things you don’t want to hear”, i.e. be there to let your assumptions be dashed and hopefully take one more step to actually building something that people want.

And this is as applicable to social startups as they are to tech startups or any other startup. In fact, as a social startup, we need to evaluate the needs of all stakeholders: money-paying customers, clients we hope to serve, institutions we are hoping to partner with, etc. Can we actually build something that all these stakeholders want?

So How Do I Conduct these Interviews?

Ash Maurya, in his book Running Lean, does a great job in laying out the format for doing problem interviews. Without taking too much away from Ash, what we are trying to discover through these 15-20 interviews is as follows:

  • What is the “real” problem? Does it fit the problems we are assuming?
  • How are customers solving this problem currently? (i.e. what job are they trying to get done and how are they doing it?)
  • Why, why, why, why, why? Keep digging to understand the customer’s context.
  • Some basic demographic information if we need to further segment the market based on the feedback
  • Get permission to discuss more later, after you’ve figured out a solution, and ask for introductions to new people you can interview

The Approach to our Context

  • Set the Context: “Volunteerism rates are low in Turkey, 5% compared to 30% in Germany or 35% in the US; and this has adverse effects on the ability of NGOs to offer critical services, community integration in large cities as well as overall economic performance.”
  • Describe our Assumptions (see previous post) followed by: “Do you identify with any of these statements?”
  • Problem Ranking and/or Problem Discovery: ask the interviewee to state which reasons they identified with the most. Oftentimes, just setting the stage will have the interviewee start discussing a reason that is much more relevant; the point is just to let him/her talk and work together to get to the root of that problem.
  • Exploring the Customer’s Worldview of Volunteering: we try to make it as personal as possible, exploring previous experiences of volunteering if relevant, the reasons why they volunteered previously and why they don’t do so anymore, what are the barriers; moreover, we are trying to discover motivational reasons for why people do volunteer – what would propel them to volunteer now?

In the next post I’ll start describing some of the insights we are gaining through these customer development interviews. Then we’ll see where we end up… 🙂

The Problem: digging out the roots

How to raise the rate of volunteerism in Turkey? More specifically, why are people not volunteering now?

We wanted to look specifically at young people, college students and young professionals; maybe married but no kids yet. We realize that housewives are also a big “market” for volunteers, i.e. kids are out of the house and they have a lot of free time on their hands to contribute, but let’s focus on the first segment for now. Perhaps we’ll need to pivot to the 2nd soon enough.

Problem Assumptions

Our target market, they have some discretionary time but it’s limited by work, studies, hanging out with friends. They would generally be considered middle-class, as in they are not scrambling around for a 2nd job to make ends meet, but have a lot of responsibilities. Our assumptions for why they don’t volunteer (in no particular order):

  • Ignorance or Lack of Information: they don’t know where are they are opportunities to volunteer or how to volunteer or even what they can contribute.
  • Not Enough Time / Busy Schedules: they have too much going on as it is, often working overtime or craming for exams that they don’t have time to commit to another activity.
  • Lack of Trust in the 3rd Sector and NGOs: there is a general sense of distrust in the system, fueled by recent scandals regarding the inappropriate use of funds by an NGO as well as political or religious affiliations of NGOs

Understanding the roots of the problem will help us design a product that can effectively draw these people out, either by eliminating these barriers or providing significant incentive to overcome them. But before we move forward with a solution, we need to make sure these assumptions are actually true statements of our target market and not just in our own minds.

So… sure they sound reasonable, but are they true? Heeding the wise words of Steve Blank, it’s time to Get Out of the Building! Stay tuned as I describe our attempts to understand the problem through individual problem interviews, i.e. customer discovery.

The Problem: beginnings

So what’s the problem?

Every entrepreneurship adventure starts with a problem or a need, and this is all the more true for social ventures. In fact, usually the problem smacks you in the face, it’s just that no one has stepped up to the plate to tackle it. Large institutions, government, influential people in politics, business, media – I don’t think so; instead it falls into the hands of people like you and me, wondering why someone hasn’t done something about this before then rising up to meet the challenge.

The problem… we learn about it one day, then it starts gnawing at us, popping into our minds when we least expect it. What are people doing about this? It’s like a nasty crick in your neck, a bug bite you keep scratching at throughout the night. It keeps popping up all around you, waking you up at 4 AM, until you decide you are not going to ignore it anymore. Now that’s a good problem to solve.

What problem are we struggling with?

There’s plenty of problems to go around in Turkey, and we could fill a blog talking about them and complaining about them, but my dreams are in social entrepreneurship and I believe that any discussion of social entrepreneurship must first begin with volunteerism and giving.

Social entrepreneurs are generally dependent on the goodwill of their communities to translate their business models into widespread systematic change, through a large group of people volunteering their spare time, resources, money to bring those dreams to reality. These social enterprise business models require an innovative approach to cost structures, given revenue stream restrictions, of which volunteers and donations serve as the backbone. Without motivated volunteers, without consistent charitable giving (even small amounts) embedded into the culture, the road to sustainability becomes that much more difficult.

According to the 2011 World Giving Index by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF):

  • Turkey ranks 136 out of 153 countries in terms of charitable giving (money, time, helping others)
  • Only 14% of the population provides monetary donations to charities
  • Only 7% of the population volunteer their time

What are the roots of this problem?

Well… that’s what we need to figure out. Stay tuned.