Startup School Radio: Bannerman CEO Johnny Chin On Getting Into The Minds Of Your Users

In Episode 7 of YC's Startup School Radio, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with Kevin Hale, the YC partner and co-founder of Wufoo (W06), the online form building platform that was acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2011. In the second half, he talked to Johnny Chin, the co-founder and CEO of Bannerman, the company that provides on-demand security staff and bouncers.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here, and read the full transcript on Genius here.

One piece of startup advice we often give at Y Combinator is to build something that people want and that solves a problem -- ideally, one that you personally have. One interesting part of Chin's interview is when he talked about building Bannerman, even though he personally did not have experience with hiring security services. So get into the minds of his potential users, Chin tried to meet in person with as many of them as he could, knocking on the doors of bars and restaurants and talking to the owners about their needs:

Aaron: So on the one hand, it sounds like you followed this core precept, which is so important, of talking to your users and finding out what they need. On the other hand, you weren't really building something for yourself anymore. Was that hard to reconcile or hard to get around? Or did it just make so much sense that, okay, of course that's what we go and do?

Johnny: That's a great question. I tried to, I guess I would consider myself a "method actor." I really wanted to get into the mind of the user. I used to go, it's a funny story actually, friends of mine who knew me before Bannerman called me Jonathan. And then I started going by Johnny. And I took on this sort of pseudo name of Johnny: He's the general manager of the bar, he's too busy to sit down at his computer, he's always on the go, he doesn't have time to book security. And so I tried to really get into this mindset, of Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. What does Johnny need, where does Johnny want that call to action button? And so that, I guess that kinda...

Aaron: Did you start dressing differently, talking differently, you know, all that?

Johnny: Oh no, I very much dress like a techie. I'm in a hoodie every single day of the week.

Aaron: So you kind of inhabit this mindset of someone who will need to hire a security professional, and you start talking to them all the time. What were these features that you started adding, that you realized that people really needed?

Johnny: Surprisingly, it's actually taking away features. That is really the most important thing. To take away features, and when a user doesn't complain, then you're on to something. Earlier on, with my four failed companies, it was always about adding more, adding more, adding more. 'Let's add this social hook' or 'Let's add this button here.' But it turns out with Bannerman, we did the exact opposite. And that proved to be quite interesting.