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… 🙂