hacking customer insights

The 4 Hour Customer Insight Hack

Design a better best selling product with only 5% of the effort.

In Business Innovation School, we get taught that in order to get great customer insights, we need to talk with tons of people, sometime spending thousands of hours and cash. While this is a great way to increase your probabilities of success, it is heavy on time and resources.

Last year while re-visiting one of Tim Ferris talks on Creative Live, I realized that you can use the same process he uses to design his wildly popular bestsellers, like “The 4-Hour Chef” and apply it to any other product.

Please note, that while this is indeed and amazing hack, it works amazingly well when you want to design a new product, but it’s harder to make it work when you want to disrupt an Industry. Why? Because we are going to be exploiting existing and underused insights that people already give for products they already consume.

Exploiting existing customer insights.

Tim uses one of his most useful principles: If you study any process well enough, you can get 95% of the result with only 5% of the effort.

He wanted to write a book about learning anything and he used cooking just as a metaphor. Since cooking was at the center of the book’s theme, he needed to create one of the best cooking book out there. While the process was used to create a series of bestselling books, you can hack it to virtually any product.

Hacking Customer Insights

Instead of spending thousands of dollars and hours talking to customers, he did something wickedly smart. He hired a few virtual assistants and asked them to do the following:

  1. Visit every best selling cooking book on Amazon and go to the reviews section
  2. Filter the reviews and take note of the top 10 most useful reviews (both good and bad). But remember, they need to be amongst the most useful.
  3. Ignore the bad reviews that haven’t been mark as useful, Tim’s team found out that those people simply hate everything and leave nothing but bad reviews.
  4. Take note of what are the most common requests and suggestions. Such as what content did the customers felt was missing, what annoyed them and most importantly they loved.
  5. Once you start figuring out a pattern of things that work, and things that are missing, your are set to design a superior product.

Is it really that easy?

There are a lot of questions and critics that may arise from this pr0cess. Specially about the information’s depth and resolution, or how about all the insights and stories that we are missing. I agree, this is not the most solid customer insight gathering method. Specially if you want to design a service or a non commercial project. In which case I would advise not to use it.

Yet, when it comes to design a better commercial product, this process is the leanest and most effective insight discovery process. Why? Precisely because you are not exploring an entire universe of insights, you are getting a laser-focus on what matters while creating a commercial product: only the best-sellers.

¿ Why would you need insights on how to improve the worst selling products, when you can focus on improving what generates the most revenue, and with only 5% of the effort?

I was a bit skeptical, at first. So I had to make sure it really works as good as Tim claims. After reviewing Tim’s selling numbers, and start using the process myself, I’m now an evangelist.

A final note:

In this case, we used Amazon because it has an Amazing product review system. But if your market/product is elsewhere there is no reason why you can’t use it there. Simply go where your market share reviews about the products and follow the same process:

  1. Find the most useful reviews
  2. Look for patterns
  3. Design a better solution

You can hear a bit of the process by Tim Ferris himself in this conversation extracted from Creative Live.

3 Book Summaries for Social Entrepreneurs

I’ve shared 3 book summaries on ImpactoSocial.co/libros. In contrast of the usual summaries shared at thebooksummaires.com, focused on business innovation, this are meant to be for aspiring Social Entrepreneurs, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic:

– Social Entrepreneurship: What everyone needs to know:
Social entrepreneurs do what they love and love what they do – changing the world for the better.

– Creating a World Without Poverty (summary)
Social Business and the Future of Capitalism Social business has no profit motive at all. Its goal is simply this: to change the world.

– Banker to the Poor (Summary)
Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty How Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus pioneered microcredit to make a revolutionary difference in the lives of the poor.


Museo del Amparo - Terraza

@Puebla, What I’ve been up to (Sep 5)

I’m on my way to México City and then Puebla. I want to visit a couple of designer friends. Carmina from TocToc, Esteban and Sylwia from Cazuela. Besides being designers, they all teach at local universities, so that should be fun.

Hopefully, I’ll manage to get into Puebla DataUp (because I didn’t secure my ticket on time).

On my way back, I’ll try to Rendeveouz with Miguel Melgarejo, also from TocToc and Fuera de Contexto. More importantly, he is Cirklo’s most recent acquisition. If I liked Cirklo’s work, I’m sure it will be more interesting from now on.


I went to holla Luis Alvarez, from El Narval. They work on civic innovation at street level. And I really mean street level. They help neighbours organize and empower themselves to make a city a better place, one block a time.

El Narval has matured their process, but more importantly, their civic innovation and particpation tools. Hopefully, by next year they will have a complete toolkit to help anyone learn how to organize and improve their community.

If you are interested in Neighbour Lead Civic Innovation, add yourself to the Civic Hacking FB Group and sign up to the newsletter, and check out the civic innovation (spanish) at impacto social.


This is what I’ve wrote this week, so far:


I started using Ulysses for my writing. And you won’t believe the increase in my productivity.
It uses markdown syntax, which simplifies the entire structuring process, and then you can export to html, pdf, txt or even epub. You can decide how simple you want your experience.

Get a copy at www.ulyssesapp.com

Ulyssess App Ulysses App


Last month, I’ve retaking the habit of listening to podcasts. This three have caught my attention.

Disruptivo: Covering disruptive businesses in México and Latinamerica

Alberto Gomez Tello: Conversations with the creative class. This week’s conversation was with Andres Oliveros from Astrolab

Fuera de Contexto Design conversations with Miguel Melgarejo and Jose de la O.


How to Study Public Life: How do we accommodate a growing urban population in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and inviting Luis Alvarez, recommended this book, I’ve already in my iPad but to be honest haven’t started reading it

Profiling Machines Summary

Find out what private data marketers collect about you, and how, and why, and what you can do about it (not much).

Get a Copy from Amazon

Consumers are increasingly asked their opinion on every imaginable question. Consumer feedback technologies are everywhere. Yet few analyze the impact of consumer feedback on the culture. Sweepstakes, entry forms, online enrollment forms, discount cards with bar codes, consumer surveys, rebate forms, contest entries, online memberships , all these and more demonstrate the creative, continual push toward finding out exactly what consumers think. Still, scant literature exists on the impact of consumer feedback technologies.

The term “surveillance” hardly seems adequate to describe the interactive technologies that systematically ask consumers to reveal their opinions and their personal information. Profiles Collecting consumer profiles requires getting people to divulge personal information. These profiles depict consumer likes, dislikes and tendencies. In many cases, gathering this information is automated within the general consumer activities of purchasing goods, commissioning services or consuming media. Profiling provokes several serious social concerns.

Consumer information can be stolen and used in identify theft. People may be offered products tailored to their tastes based on their profiles, making it more difficult to decline disadvantageous offers. The rewards offered to spur sales (free magazine subscriptions, free T-shirts for signing up and such), may give way to punishments later. These might include automatic bank account withdrawals or credit card charges below the consumer’s radar screen, like automatic subscription renewals. This affects consumers via junk e-mail, phone solicitations and even compromised credit ratings. Profiling focuses on collecting, processing, storing, analyzing, networking and eventually distributing demographic, psychological and behavioral information.

This systematic cataloguing of information covers the desires and habits of individuals and groups. For example, American political pollsters who wanted to target suburban swing voters invented the term “soccer mom.” Such profiling leaks from politics into minivan commercials, and then influences television news coverage and sooner or later affects the culture at large. Aware consumers wonder how niche markets are identified and targeted.
Why do producers fail to capture some audiences or markets? How far can profiles be pushed to predict consumer behavior or forecast general social trends that shape buyer decisions? And what privacy rights do you have as society’s quest for surveillance data grows more pervasive? Panoptic Surveillance Panoptic means “all-seeing”.
Today, consumer actions are tracked with meticulous precision, thanks to barcodes, credit and debit cards, and computer databases. Someone somewhere knows what you buy and when, what you pay for it and even when you return it. Your transactions are noted, stored, analyzed and processed, and the data is sold and distributed.

Panoptic surveillance, a sort of continuous, all- pervasive observation, dates back to seventeenth century architectural plans for an all- seeing prison, devised by Jeremy Bentham. Dubbing the jail a “panopticon,” he envisioned prisoners living around a central watchtower that continually observed them.

In 1977, Michel Foucault wrote an influential analysis of the panoptic prison in a review that made a tremendous theoretical impact. Today’s interpretations of the panoptic model focus on three aspects. Architectural and theoretical elements of surveillance , This theory tends to transfer ideas originally applied to prison surveillance to general consumer observation and data gathering. The general goal with prisoners was to gain control over a group’s behavior through careful observation.

Read the entire Profiling Machines Summary at TheBookSummaries.com


What I’ve been up to (Aug 31)

.After Paris, I moved to Spain for a few months (bilbao and barcelona). For the last three months I’ve in-between cities in México. Mostly Mexico City, and Monterrey with a brief detour to Leon and guanajuato. Puebla, coming up next.

I’ve lost my third iPhone this year so screw it. I printed one and that will be my phone for the rest of the year. I never use simcards anyway.


For the most part of the year we have been working on Connovo Social Business Builder / Developer. We have planned the launch of one company by Q4 2014. Naya Jeevan, Microinsurance for urban poor.

We have also launched ImpactoSocial.co a site with news and resources for social entrepreneurs in Latinamerica. New resources will be added weekly. If you are interested, remember to like the fb page to get updates.

We started using Slack for team communication. A great recommendation of Mike Ramirez, CEO of Talentia/


Speaking of which, here is a nice list of top books for social entrepreneurs.

I was speaking with Lea Vasa from La Ruche, she is working with the the 10em Arrondissement in Paris. She wanted to learn how was our experience so far with replicating social businesses. So I wrote this post for her and La Ruche Folk: Four Lessons on Replicating Social Business.


I spoke with Alberto Saenz from funkalab about the differences between social business, social innovation and non profit models. Also my personal proces to learn anything. You listen to the podcast here. (spanish)


Responsive Web Design:

For a few weeks now, I’ve been learning Responsive Web design, from all the books and courses I’ve taken the most useful have been designcode.io a book and community by my new buddy Meng To. It’s oriented towards design and development of mobile apps but it has a lot to teach for Digital UI/UX. Treehouse courses have been quite useful too.


I’ve started reading a) Rayuela, in it’s normal order and b) Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by Proust.



I finished it, they made a great work integrating interaction patterns from several games. Don’t expect much of the story. thou.


After postponing it, I’ve started GTA V. You can immediately notice the amount of love and dedication invested in this game. The level of detail in the design of every inch of the world is amazing.  A good story as well. What I can’t handle is all the extrapolation of “trash culture” which is pervasive in all the game.

I can’t play it for more than 30-45 min at a time before I get tired of all the swag/gansta’ ambiance. You can also notice a really smart move, by dividing what used to the evolution of a single character into three different personas.