Understanding Personas That Power the Age of the Side Hustle
How income-building app Steady developed foundational user personas through longitudinal research with dscout Diary.
In the era of the gig economy, workers are increasingly embracing flexibility and eschewing the 9-5 grind. dscout is no stranger to providing ways for real people to earn supplemental income, and plenty of tech startups and titans offer siloed ways to earn more for your time, resources and efforts.
Jasmine Hentschel is a full-time product designer and researcher at Steady, an income-building startup meant to help people get the most out of their myriad side hustles. To best serve their target users, it’s crucial to understand the actual lives, goals and challenges of workers and potential workers in today’s economy.
Using dscout Diary, Jasmine ran a rich longitudinal study meant to develop personas from scratch—and delivered even more. We spoke with her about the importance of the voice of the user in a quant-forward B2C environment, how to recruit for a diverse participant pool to fuel foundational persona work, and how Steady uses her research to better understand its target customers.
About finding the voice of the user #
Steady is very focused on qualitative research, which is ironic because a majority of the leadership comes from either finance or marketing, so they are all “numbers people.” Mostly, they are focused on metrics and KPIs. But our CEO has always made a huge push for incorporating the voice of the user. We can never lose sight of what our user’s needs are and how we can help solve their problems.
— Jasmine Hentschel
“We can never lose sight of what our user’s needs are and how we can help solve their problems.”
About choosing, recruiting for and designing personas work #
One of the first things I did when I got here (as the first researcher at Steady) was an audit of any research that had been conducted so far. It was kind of a weird smattering of things done by marketing people or contractors. I also did a lot of stakeholder interviews with different teams and the question that came up consistently was, “Who are we even designing for? Who are our target users right now?” So, we kicked off a study to help us generate user personas.
When I first came to Steady, we were working with a recruiting agency in California that was struggling to deliver people for us to interview. We also needed better demographic and geographic diversity. The recruiting process for our personas work was difficult because screening when you don’t know who you’re looking for yet is tricky. We wanted to see some people in person, but we also needed insights from other parts of the country. dscout Recruit was a great solution for that.
We wound up with 50 people, so it was absolutely massive for a longitudinal diary study. We were primarily interested in four different aspects or stages of people’s relationship with extra money or income:
- What are people’s high-level financial goals, short term and long term?
- How do people research ways to make money?
- How do people manage their money?
- What are their day to day feelings about money?
— Jasmine Hentschel
“With dscout Diary, you’re really getting the moment in context. You see real stuff going on. People are submitting videos from the bathroom, just out of the shower, or lying in bed at night. It’s very real and very intimate.”
About selecting a platform for the study #
I love in-person research. I love diving in and having people tell me everything they’re feeling and seeing it firsthand. But, you’re only there for a couple of hours at most, and some things that you’re interested in learning about may or may not happen in that time. There’s a lot of recall, prediction, and hypothesizing involved. Plus, you’re a researcher there with your camera or recorder, so there’s a barrier. With dscout Diary, you’re really getting the moment in context. You see real stuff going on. People are submitting videos from the bathroom, just out of the shower, or lying in bed at night. It’s very real and very intimate.
One of the differences between in-person research and remote research is the longitudinal aspect. With dscout and diary studies, we can engage with a particular group over a period of time. That’s so valuable for us in talking about things like money and work, because it’s not something that people feel the same way about every single day. It’s not something around which their behaviors are the same every day—so being able to interact over a long period of time is important.
About demonstrating the value of qual research #
The platform has helped me be able to sit in meetings with leadership where we’re talking about features and feature prioritization and say, “You want to do this, but here’s what the users actually need. Here’s Shawn in New Hampshire describing his work as a mechanic. Does that change your thinking?”
Once people started to see qualitative research firsthand, to see things like videos or direct quotes, it was easier for them to understand and see the value of the research.
Leadership has taken the videos to conferences and used them at the start of the presentation to tell the story of who we’re designing for. They’ve used the videos at board meetings to get the board excited about what we’re trying to do. Our marketing team used the research to understand how to frame and tell our story. We’ve also been able to use the research when new people come to the organization. I can sit with them during onboarding, show videos and say, “Here are a few stories of the people we’re trying to serve.”
— Jasmine Hentschel
“Once people started to see qualitative research firsthand, to see things like videos or direct quotes, it was easier for them to understand and see the value of the research.”
About new use cases for the research #
I’ve done a lot of good analysis, but I’m still sifting through the data. Right now, I’m sharing insights on the fly. People come to me and ask, “Do you have anything about this from the dscout stuff?” and I pull videos for them that add user perspective to what they’re working on.
The beauty of qualitative research in general, and particularly this kind of research with dscout, is that it has such a long shelf life. I’m still in the process of developing the personas, but we have an actual bookshelf where people can just go pull our reports when they’re focused on a specific feature or thinking about how to market a certain thing. We’ve also realized that we can use this to develop a journey map or do ecosystem maps from this research, making the value much more than just personas.