Twenty percent of all startup companies fail within the first year. And making it past the year one mark is not a signpost for inevitable success either. For some startup companies, including those in the edtech industry, the road to an eventual closing is simply longer and more meandering.

So, why do so many startup companies fail?

Startup companies often fail because of the mistaken belief that business success is simply a matter of building a product consumers will be naturally drawn to. For startup companies to be successful, they must both build a product that meets the needs of real users, and identify, inform, and compel potential users to take action through an effective marketing strategy.

To increase chances of success, EdTech founders should create user personas as a strategy to avoid the costly mistake of making irrelevant products and product features. Personas are research-based representations of potential users that illuminate unique social, emotional, or behavioral characteristics that impact product adoption and use. Personas often assume demographic identities (e.g., names, age, race/ethnicity, gender) which can also draw attention to groups of potential users traditionally left out of product development.

Figure 1. Example user persona

At WGU Labs, our learning experience designers are experts at creating personas to support product development and inform an effective marketing strategy. Here are five reasons why we believe creating and using personas can improve your chance for success.

1 – Personas build understanding and empathy of potential users

Creating user personas requires you to talk to potential users about their values, challenges, and impactful life experiences. Talking to others about things that matter deepens your understanding of what inspires, frustrates, excites, and challenges these potential users. If done intentionally, speaking to diverse individuals and groups may also build your understanding of individuals traditionally underrepresented in product development.

Engaging with potential users and creating user personas can also build your empathy, the deep recognition of the challenges and opportunities faced by others coupled with a desire to improve their life experience.

2 – Personas prioritize a user-centered perspective

Products are based on assumptions of users that may or may not be accurate. Creating user personas reveals faulty assumptions by juxtaposing existing assumptions with understandings of actual users. Accurate assumptions that reflect the realities of potential users are validated and prioritized, while inaccurate assumptions are revised or simply discarded. This practice of surfacing and analyzing assumptions ensures that the potential user is kept as the focus of product development.

3 – Personas inform the development of product and product features

With a deep understanding of potential users, user personas can be used to identify and refine products and product features. User personas can guide product brainstorming and ideation sessions to ensure that ideas are aimed at overcoming specific persona pain points and meeting known opportunities. User personas can inform a prioritized product roadmap, focusing valuable resources on the development of a minimum viable product (MVP) and progressing outward to more complex product features.

4 – Personas improve product team communication and build team consensus

Having a clearly identified set of user personas can get the development and marketing teams on the “same page” by creating a universal focus on a persona or personas. Personas focus not only the development of the product, but can also focus marketing, branding, and website organization. Personas give individuals and teams an identified set of users to work for.

5 – Personas inform marketing efforts

User personas can also support marketing efforts by identifying potential “watering holes” or marketing channels to use and inform marketing messages that will resonate with potential users. Where do the personas go to get their information or to solve the problems they’re experiencing? What messages typically resonate with these personas? Using personas developed through research with potential users can inform important marketing decisions.

Startup companies face a long and challenging road to eventual success. Developing a product that aligns to the needs of real users must be coupled with a marketing strategy that effectively reaches potential users and compels them to take action. Creating user personas positions startup companies for success by leveraging knowledge of potential users in product development and marketing – and get your product where it needs to be.

The Accelerator at WGU Labs leverages the talent of 30-plus education and business professionals to boost your company’s impact and business scale. Interested in learning more? Let’s chat