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Bootstrapping user research with Gabrielle Bufrem: no budget, no team, no buy-in, no problem

April 9, 2019

Written by Lucy Fuggle

“User research comes loaded with a tonne of assumptions,” shared Gabrielle Bufrem at Turing Fest 2018. “It takes so much time. It’s so expensive. We just don’t have a team for it.” But you can’t let that stop you…

Gabrielle Bufrem is a product manager at Pivotal Software, which has quietly helped 30% of Fortune 100 companies reduce operating costs, deploy faster software at large scale, and explore new markets.

Until 2018, Gabrielle worked at Pivotal Labs, the strategic services offering of Pivotal Software, which offers world-class software consulting focused on unifying development, design, and product management.

During her career building products across North America, Europe, and Asia, Gabrielle has heard the most common protests to user research time and again – “the tools are expensive, the people are expensive, you’re wasting time” – but knows how ineffective these arguments are, as well as how to convince people otherwise.

In her Turing Fest 2018 session, Gabrielle demystified common myths and gives product managers a toolkit to carry out more research and craft better user experiences. No budget? No team? No buy-in? No problem, says Gabrielle…

Born in Brazil, Gabrielle has lived in 13 cities around the world across 10 different countries. Despite this, she emphasises one eternal truth: people hate change. “I can probably count on my fingers how many people actually like change,” shares Gabrielle.

Your users dislike change too, even if they say otherwise. “They like routine and things they’re familiar with.” However, when changes to user experience are approached intentionally with research and the user’s needs and goals top of mind, your users will thank you in the long term.

In today’s businesses, we’re asking users “what do you need?” and “how can we improve that?,” explains Gabrielle. “We can’t do that without research, but it’s hard to convince people to do something time-consuming and expensive when you can’t say exactly what’s going to come out of it.”

Ahead of her return to Edinburgh for Turing Fest 2019, here’s Gabrielle’s toolkit for user research that any product manager can put to good use right now…

Gabrielle’s toolkit for bootstrapped user research

Problem #1: How to get buy-in

  • Show the benefits of user research through real use cases. You want your company to be like Slack, not Juicero.

  • Involve people you’re working with in the research process. Invite stakeholders to be part of the process. Record sessions. Add snippets of user research in management presentations.

  • Concretely share your findings in a way your audience understands.


“People can understand if something works or doesn’t work. They don’t need to understand the behind-the-scenes that you and your team are going through in order to decide if the feature is going to work or not for the users.” 

  • Develop a culture of psychological safety. Start rewarding for learning and experimentation instead of rewarding for being right. “Failing at Netflix is not learning anything,” Gabrielle learned from Jan Dente, Netflix’s Chief Innovation Product Manager, at Women in Product.

Problem #2: How to build a team

  • In the beginning, be your own team. Say, “I am going to be the person that gets out of the building, out of my comfort zone, and meet real people who use this product,” encourages Gabrielle.


  • Recruit your customers to be your researchers. Speak their language. Build a community of people (even if just a Facebook group) to help you. Make it easy for them to talk to you and each other. Give them the resources to be successful.

Book recommendation: Just Enough Research by Erika Hall (who also has awesome talks on YouTube, adds Gabrielle.)


Problem #3: How to deal with no budget

  • There are other types of currencies. Can you access them? Think swag, beta access, and ambassador benefits. “Think of ways you can reward people for engaging with you and helping you out,” says Gabrielle.

  • Show current results as well as potential upside you could have achieved with a budget. “People love graphs. Managers love graphs. I’m sure you can find something that speaks to your audience,” says Gabrielle.


Bonus advice: Best practices for user research

“Research is very fuzzy and complex,” says Gabrielle. “It’s very helpful to be able to point to a piece and say, ‘Now we’re doing problem discovery and in three days we’re going to run these things and this is the result we’re going to get out of it’.”


  • Test the hypothesis you’re making behind the product you’re building, not the user interactions themselves.

  • Clearly communicate the results and the “why” with easy-to-understand labels that you can refer back to when explaining decisions:

    • Colour code: use red (failure), yellow (inconclusive), green (success)

    • Use keep, kick, change: keep (concept works), kick (concept does not work), change (concept works, needs small changes)


Even if you’re lacking budget, resources and buy-in, it’s possible to inject user research into everything you do, says Gabrielle.

With user research, you’re in the best position to develop solutions for the problems that your users actually care about – your most important role as a product manager. 

The Takeaways


Watch Gabrielle’s Turing Fest talk on video now.

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