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What is a user panel and why your startup needs one?


Katie-rose Cawthorne

Articles by Nova’s Startup Consultant, Katie-Rose Cawthorne.

Updated 20 April 22



If you’re familiar with our work at Nova, you’ll know we are obsessed with solving problems. This is because 42% of startup failures are attributed to building products that don’t address a market need. Starting with a problem, rather than a solution, is the best way to maximise your chance of success. 


So what is a user panel?


A user panel is a group of people representative of your target market who will help you to confirm that the problem is worth solving. At the early stages, you will work with them to understand what their biggest pain point is and which direction the product should take.  


Through interviews you will get a better understanding of the problem, they will test early prototypes and answer ad hoc questions which over time will shape your product into a necessary solution to their problem. 


They are going to become your first wave of users called early adopters, helping you to recruit more just like them!

Why is a panel important?


1. Validate that you have identified a problem worth solving. 

Time is valuable, and if people are willing to give theirs up in order to help you in your user panel, this is excellent evidence that you have identified a big enough problem that warrants a new product to solve it.


2. Building the right product for the right market. 

Working with your market and gaining feedback directly from them will ensure you build a valuable product for them. They will provide you with the valuable insights you’ll need in order to develop a successful MVP and inform future business models.

People are telling me there is a problem that needs solving but they won’t join my panel, what do I do?


This could mean one of two things:

1. The problem isn't big enough for your users to warrant investing any time in solving it.

The perceived problem might not be your market’s actual pain point, think of it this way, a broken sink may appear to be the initial problem, but a blockage down the drain is what’s actually causing the issue! You need to identify the source of the problem. Being flexible and open-minded as a founder is important because you may need to pivot from your original idea.

2. You haven't identified the right customer segment to target

We would recommend taking stock and re-assessing who your early adopters are likely to be. For example, if you want to create a product that reduces doctors’ workloads. You’ve been approaching a range of doctors but none of whom care about the problem enough to want to join your panel. You’ll need to think a bit more deeply about which sub-set of doctors experience issues with managing their workload. Perhaps your early adopters are doctors straight out of medical school, or maybe you need to focus on senior doctors that work in busy hospitals. When you’ve identified the right segment, you’ll know because they will be desperate to join your panel.

By having a user panel you build a product that people actually need and is of real value, rather than building the wrong product based on your own assumptions. A panel keeps your startup on the right track, influencing the development of a product that will make their life easier. 

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