Product & marketing expert for digital marketplaces

The Airplane Test: Truly Understanding Your Customer

Many startups and product managers fall into the trap of building products targeted for San Francisco millennials.  

The culture in San Francisco has developed into a relatively monochromatic scene: liberal twenty to thirty-somethings, mostly white, single, transplant, college educated, and career-driven. This homogenous environment seeps into the unconscious, making anyone living in this city truly a ‘product of their environment’.  It only takes a trip to anywhere else in America to show you just how insulating San Francisco can be.

As a founder or product manager, one of the most important aspects of your job is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand the world from their perspective.  Making the assumption that the San Francisco perspective exists in large populations across the country (or globe) is just flat out wrong. The rest of the country and the world are very different.

When I noticed I was falling into this trap, I created a simple test to force myself to get out of this mindset. I call it the airplane test.

Next time you board an airplane and are walking down the aisle to your seat, look at each and every person you pass and ask yourself, “Why would this person choose to use my product?” When you get to your seat, write down the characteristics of each person and how/when they would use your product.

Here are the most beneficial outcomes I’ve learned while doing this:

  • It forces you to define your product/market fit in greater detail
  • You’ll quickly realize who ISN’T your target audience
  • It highlights that the word ‘user’ is far too general a term
  • It brings reality to all the KPIs and metrics you use in your business

Implementing the airplane test will train you to consider the wider audience every step of the way in your product development and marketing initiatives. It provides a lens to gain a deeper understanding of your customer, and more importantly, why they use your product.


Product & marketing expert for digital marketplaces


Dan Mascola

Dan Mascola

Dan has over 10 years experience in product, marketing, and engineering management roles across software, hardware, and energy sectors. He enjoys building products people love, creating successful marketing strategies, and turning ideas into reality. Dan lives in San Francisco with his wife and dachshund Sophia.

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