E23: Dharmesh Ba – The Art of the User Interview

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1. Make me Understand

E23: Dharmesh Ba – The Art of the User Interview

I’m pleased to present a new podcast episode with leading user-behaviour researcher, Dharmes Ba.

“And he gave a very thought experiment. He said, go to your Facebook. This was back in 2012. So go to your Facebook, uh, remove all your school friends, remove all your relatives, remove all your college friends, work friends. And, uh, uh, if you’re able to get 10 people after removing all of this, then probably you’re lucky. Okay. I think that had a very profound impact to say that, you know… It was true, right? You know, because all the people that I knew, we’re all from the same college, same school, same town, blah, blah, blah, right? You know, you would never have like a Swiggy delivery executive as a part of your Facebook friend list, right? You would never have someone who is a farmer as a part of your WhatsApp contact list, right? Which means that, you know, our worldviews are generally also limited, right? So research allows you to break away from that and meet other people and gives you an opportunity to learn about their stories.”

Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story, and unearth the secrets of their craft.

Today we speak with Dharmesh Ba, a behavioural researcher who writes the popular India Notes newsletter and is the founder of 1990 Research Labs.

I came across Dharmesh through leading India-based VC Sajith Pai – who dubbed him as ‘Indus Valley’s chief anthropologist’ (though Dharmesh prefers the term ‘ethnographer’).

In simpler terms, Dharmesh is an expert on the art and craft of understanding user behavior and motivations – so that we can design better products and services.

Why is this important? I remember an interview (from Oct-2019) of Kalyan Krishnamurthy, the CEO of Flipkart, where he stated the importance of this task. His key point: The e-commerce puzzle had been solved for the top-tier users in the country – the top 8 cities. But for the vast middle and bottom tiers, product managers would need to completely reimagine every aspect of the product from the ground up. They can only do that by a comprehensive understanding of user behaviour in their context and environment.

Dharmesh and his team are among the ones at the forefront of this initiative – to understand user behaviour.

I started reading Dharmesh’s popular ‘India Notes’ newsletter – in which he shares some of his findings.

Apart from the newsletter, Dharmesh’s team also publishes reports. For example in the ‘Life of a Gig Worker’ report, they offer rich portraits of the vast but unseen category of people who we interact with multiple times everyday – gig workers for apps like Zomato, Swiggy, Uber, Ola etc.

And that is one unique feature of Dharmesh’s work – his team is focused on stories of Bharat and not India. Think a Zomato delivery agent, a small business owner, or the proprietor of a tiny family-owned store.

And what does he do with this research? So his clients include leading corporates and non-profits which are building products and services for these hundreds of millions of aspiring Indians… and Dharmesh and team are doing the critical and under-appreciated task of deeply understanding their world.

They do this through in-depth, well-researched, and structured conversations with the users. There’s a lot of science and craft that Dharmesh uses to ensure that the interviewee trusts him and is willing to share the true reasons for their choices. We will learn about them in this podcast conversation.

And while we will learn about interviewing techniques, analysis approaches, and presentation tips, the overarching message I could glean after speaking with Dharmesh was – be curious, empathetic, and respectful.

It’s a must-listen conversation for anyone keen on conducting detailed user interviews, analysing the responses, and coming up with clear recommendations – for product design, research, employee well-being – multiple use cases.

Let’s dive in.

You can enjoy my conversation with Dharmesh at your favourite podcast location:


Podcast apps: ​Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Podcast Addict | Pocket Casts

Happy listening!

Further reading links:​
– Dharmesh on LinkedIn and Twitter
– Link Tree with most popular links and work by Dharmesh
– India Notes Newsletter

If you find the content valuable, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to it (links above). It’ll help others like you discover these insights!

This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript creation and editing by me and all-around support by Sanket Aalegaonkar.

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