Jobs to be done — Getting started


If you don’t know me, Hi. I’m Nate. I took over as CEO of Highrise as we spun it off from Basecamp in 2014. It’s been an exciting project, but holy crap is it hard.

Highrise is a simple CRM you can get your whole team on in a few minutes and it’s been around since 2007. When it came out, it was a “blue ocean” for us (the water wasn’t red from a bloody war with competition). You had the behemoth of Salesforce, which is a fine system for people ready to spend their careers learning how to wield it. Or you had desktop tools and spreadsheets that were tough to share with your team. Highrise was one of the first to bring CRM online and make it dead simple.

But… 10 years have passed. The marketplace is quite different.

Now, when people search to use a CRM for their project or organization they often come across lists of dozens and dozens and dozens of competitors to Highrise. We rank favorably on many of them, but still. We’ll be amongst 50 competitors on a list. It makes business much harder.

So one thing we seek is how to make Highrise stand out again like it did in 2007.


In 2004, a guy named Manoj was inspired by an energy drink he discovered at a trade show. Something struck him though about the 16 oz beverage he sampled. He wasn’t thirsty. He just wanted a pick-me-up. So why was this a 16 oz. drink?

Clayton Christensen made the phrase “jobs to be done” famous in business circles with his book Innovator’s Solution. In a nutshell, if you want to innovate, you really need to get to the actual job your customers have for your product, which is something few companies bother to find out.

In the book, he talks about “milkshakes” and how a fast food company had surprisingly found milkshakes were being hired for the job of: breakfast. When you understand that deep rooted need, you can make some truly innovative decisions about your milkshakes.

Manoj realized that energy drinks were often hired to bring people energy, not to quench thirst. Getting clear on the true job to be done of his potential customers, allowed him to see a way through a crowded market.

He turned a 16 oz. energy drink into a 2 oz energy shot.

Instead of sitting in the refrigerator section with countless Coke and Pepsi brands and dozens of Red Bull variations. He could sell his energy shot right on the counter when people check out. In 2005, Manoj launched 5 Hour Energy shots, which today now makes over $700 million in revenue each year.


I’d like to get out of the refrigerator section.

So we recently finished a series of “jobs to be done” interviews with our customers looking for our own aha moment. Are we serving Highrise customers 16 oz. beverages when they need 2 oz. shots? Is there a counter where we should be selling Highrise that today’s competition is ignoring?

We had the good fortune of having Ryan Singer at Basecamp run the interview process for us. He’s been learning Jobs to Be Done theory directly from Clayton, Bob Moesta, and Chris Spieck. Bob was one of the original architects of Jobs to Be Done theory with Clayton. Bob and Chris run The Rewired Group, which helps companies complete the interviews and find their ‘jobs’.

Ryan has also run a series of successful interviews for Basecamp, and was available to help us.

Though I’m no expert, there are quite a few tips I can share about our process that might help you.

Tip #1: Wait

“Ok, so I should email a bunch of people now?” was my very first question I asked Ryan when we met to plan our interview project.

No, I shouldn’t just jump into scheduling a bunch of customers. We needed to get clear on what our goal was and how would we screen great interview candidates.

For example, if our goal was to find out why so many people were quitting Highrise, then we would probably want to interview a bunch of recent quitters and figure out the timeline of events that led them to Highrise to begin with, and then the events that led them away.

Fortunately for us, quitting Highrise isn’t our problem. Once people are in, they’re super happy (something that was made surprisingly clear in our interviews and something I’ll cover in more detail soon).

Our problem is getting people to discover us in the first place now that there are so many other choices to pick from.

So we got clear on who we wanted to interview, as well as where we wanted to spend the most time of the interview: the discovery process. The pain and the search that led to us to begin with.

Tip #2: Don’t interview everyone

One of the most important parts of successful jobs to be done interviews is to screen out the wrong people.

You need to make sure you are only interviewing recent customers who just bought your product. They’ve actually given you a credit card and paid you. It’s not still in some “trial”. The purchase is done.

But you don’t want to go too far back or the people you’re interviewing won’t remember enough detail about the problem they were solving in the first place.

Avoid interviewing people who are your repeat customers. These memories of how they discovered you and what the original pain was needs to be fresh.

We used a combination of our analytics tools and a screening survey we sent to a bunch of potential interview candidates. We worked hard to keep the survey as slim as possible, because our goal was still to have a good response rate.

One question I wish we had but didn’t was some kind of date picker of: “When did you first use Highrise?” We had one interview where the user had been using Highrise for 6 years and had just created a new account. Great customer! Wonderful person to speak with and had great feedback. But didn’t help us with the type of insight we were looking for since they couldn’t remember the original problem that brought them to Highrise so many years ago.

You also need to screen for the actual purchaser and decision maker. If someone ended up making the purchase because a boss told them to go out and do it, that’s not going to be helpful enough either or you risk your interviewee saying this throughout your interview: “I’m not sure, I’d have to ask Kathy because she’d told me we needed it.”

Tip #3: You won’t be good at doing this

For the first 3 interviews I did myself, I’d grade them a D+. At least I made an effort 🙂

The interviews themselves, were much harder to conduct than I had anticipated. And that’s just the data gathering phase. The analysis phase is another mountain to climb.

My interviews were way too short, and skipped too quickly through the parts of the customer journey that actually makes a difference to us.

The real lesson is that you need practice. After now being “second” chair to Ryan leading these interviews I’m confident I’ve gotten better.

But I still remain no expert. Reading my words isn’t going to get you to the point of truly understanding how to conduct this research. I’ve been studying jobs to be done for years now, listening to sample interviews, taking courses. And I still struggle doing these interviews.

I recommend you devour the material that Bob and Chris produce on the subject: http://jobstobedone.org. They even have an online class I’ve taken, and do workshops. I’ll even try and attend their next workshop myself. And follow Ryan’s insight on this topic.


I’ll be sharing dozens of more tips I saw as we conducted these interviews in follow up articles. But if you want the spoilers you can see the Jobs to Be Done videos on my YouTube Channel: here.

And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should give Highrise a look.



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