Journey Mapping for Startups

(Originally published on The Next 36 Blog)


As a spirited young entrepreneur, you are ready to take on the big challenges of the world. As you embark on this new adventure, you find yourself asking,  "how exactly do I uncover user needs?" In my role as a design strategist and startup founder, journey mapping has been an indispensable tool to get into the heads of users and uncover new opportunities.

What is journey mapping?

Whether you’re an entrepreneur at a startup or an intrapreneur in a large company, journey mapping can help you define your users' problem areas.

This method involves visualizing your user’s current experience from beginning to end, across all channels (online and offline). By following the entire narrative, you will come to understand the context in which your user makes their decisions - their goals, anxieties, pain points, and influences. These valuable insights are difficult to capture through one point of interaction. Uncovering them can help reveal unique opportunities for new products, services, or processes.

How do I create a journey map?

The above journey map is a simplified example of a college student’s roadtrip. It consists of several basic elements:

  • Stages of the user’s journey – Where does her narrative begin and end?

  • User feelings – Is she confused, frustrated, happy, or excited?

  • User actions – What is she doing – physically and mentally?

  • User thoughts – What is her goal? What questions are going through her mind?

  • User touch points (channels and influencers) – W ho or what is she interacting with?

Some ways to populate your journey map:

  • Personas

  • User interviews

  • Surveys

  • First-hand customer experience

In this example, we can see several pain points, including the frustration of coordinating a trip amongst a large group of friends. From this insight, an opportunity we could consider is “how might we create a better way to coordinate logistics amongst a large travel group?”. Knowing the shortcomings our user's existing tools, we can ideate a product/service that achieves this in a more simple, convenient, and inexpensive way.

Depending on the time you invest in research, the level of detail of your journey map will vary. The more information you gather about your user, the more opportunities you may uncover.

Visualization of a customer’s car rental experience

Visualization of a customer’s car rental experience

This method can also be used to envision future experiences, and be modified based on different scenarios

This method can also be used to envision future experiences, and be modified based on different scenarios

I’ve used journey mapping in combination with many other design methods to tackle challenges in industries ranging from sustainable agriculture, education, to finance. I hope you will find it a valuable method to add to your toolbox as you continue on your startup path.