Navigating Startup Research and AI with Caitlin Sullivan

Navigating Startup Research and AI with Caitlin Sullivan

Hello everyone! It's Julian here, bringing you another episode of "From Founders to Builders." This time we had the pleasure of talking with Caitlin Sullivan, a seasoned expert in the realm of user research and startups. Caitlin's insights were not only invaluable but also incredibly timely, given the rapid advancements in AI and its implications for user research. In this blog post, I'll break down the key topics we discussed and highlight some of the most compelling points from our conversation.

Caitlin Sullivan has an impressive background in working with startups and scale-ups in Europe. She has been deeply involved in product market fit and the nuances of starting a business.

The Unique Experience of Working with Startups

Caitlin shared her journey from Silicon Valley to Europe and her transition from being an employee to a consultant. Her love for startups is evident, and she's passionate about helping them find product market fit. She discussed how working with startups is diverse and requires her to constantly reinvent herself based on each company's stage and needs.

Bridging the Gap in User Research

One of the key discussion points was how Caitlin positions herself as an interim lead or head of user research for early-stage companies that aren't ready for a full-time researcher. She emphasized the importance of timing in hiring a user researcher, suggesting that Series B is generally a good time to bring in someone full-time due to the increased risks involved in product and customer changes.

Research and startup founders

We delved into how founders become aware of their limitations in user research. Caitlin noted that startups often come to her when they realize their current approach isn't yielding the desired results. She doesn't spend time convincing them but rather works with those ready to make a change.

Caitlin highlighted that successful founders are those who can balance their commitment to a vision with the openness to new information. This mindset, rather than their specific career background, is what often leads to success in startups.

The Evolution and Risks of User Research

We also explored the transition from early-stage to more mature stages in a startup's lifecycle and how the focus of user research shifts from moving quickly to mitigating risks. Caitlin articulated how user researchers must adapt their methods and speed to align with the company's stage.

Democratization of User Research

One of the more debated topics was the democratization of user research. Caitlin argued that democratizing research can lead to greater respect for user researchers, as it helps others in the organization understand the complexities and skills involved in conducting effective research.

AI and the Future of User Research

A significant portion of our conversation was dedicated to the impact of AI on user research. Caitlin shared her initial anxiety about AI potentially replacing human researchers but has since invested countless hours testing various AI tools. She believes that while AI can augment human research, it won't completely replace the unique insights and connections that human researchers bring to the table.

Check out the full episode on Spotify: