Startup problems. My company is hoping to build a community of research participants who are willing to lend their time without compensation. I've communicated with them that this approach might not be the most efficient. For one, they want to do research continuously. I've been able to recruit friends & family (yes I know, it's a bit bias and not the best, but you've got to make due sometimes) but that generosity will only go so far if they want to do this on a bi-weekly basis. Secondly, people just don't like giving their time away for free, irrespective who's on the other end.

But alas, I'm still in this boat until they finally fold and decide to start compensating. I'm curious if anyone has experience with this and some recommendations on how to recruit people this way. Any suggestions are appreciated.

  • Does your company provide a platform that has paying customers yet? If so, does anyone (founders) have relationships with any of the customers?
    – Izquierdo
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 13:46
  • I’m voting to close this question because It belongs to Project Management or The Workplace
    – Danielillo
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 13:48
  • @Izquierdo It is not a pay for use platform. A user just has to sign up in order to use certain features of the website. We currently have just around 200 signed up users who have subscribed to marketing emails (we've been live for about a month and a bit). I've contemplated sending out an email to these subscribers with the offer of entering a contest if they decide to participate (therefore less money being spent in the end). As for your second question, no.
    – KnightbiA
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 13:57
  • 1
    @Danielillo As a UX researcher it is my role to handle the recruitment of participants, not a PMs. I'm looking to see if anyone has recommendations for best methods of approach to this style of recruitment. Not sure why you'd vote to close it for user experience forum
    – KnightbiA
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 13:59
  • 1
    @Izquierdo my target audience is fairly broad. Both home buyers and sellers, which will be the majority of users with our platform (although some percentage will be potential first time home buyers). So far I've reached out to my personal network, the network that follows our company on social media, Reddit, and Craigslist (the last two produced next to nothing). Also, if it's relevant, my country is Canada
    – KnightbiA
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 15:52

2 Answers 2


OK The first things I want to address:

  • This is borderline (if not outright) unethical. I'm not judging here, just pointing out a fact for you to consider.
  • As you said, it'll give biased results.
  • And as you also said: it'll be hard to keep this pool of research participants without any compensation. Moreover, it'll be hard to keep them even if you compensate them, and the results will be even more biased (because they already know the previous results).

In short, my suggestion is NOT, don't do this under any circumstances.

Now, I know this is a start-up, and we all know that budgets are tight in start-ups. But you need to discuss this with stakeholders and come up with a feasible plan.

If you don't have the budget, you need to get creative, scale back your expectations and see what you can accomplish with a smaller group of participants. But you can't ask for oysters and champagne if you can't afford hot dogs. It just won't work, or it'll work very poorly (disgruntled users giving random answers because they don't care and they don't take the survey seriously because "it's a favor").

So what to do?

As Izquierdo mentioned, you can try to contact people "in the wild" and do guerrilla research. Another option would be to use a remote testing service with free participants (I'm not going to spam, but do a Google search), or you could contact students at a local college or some other type of association that better fits your target audience. If your product or service is aimed at older people, for example, you might find places where they gather. And believe me, many of them will be really happy to help you. Or just pay a few dollars for remote testing (again, I won't spam, but you'll easily find services on Google).

But no matter which option you choose, testing the same users weekly or bi-weekly is unrealistic. And worse, quite probably it will be useless


Find a Timmy's near a Home Depot, Ace Hardware, or other home improvement store on a Saturday morning. Hang out and ask people if you can buy their coffee in exchange for giving you some quick feedback on your home-related application - no personal info required. Try to see if you can talk to people who have recently bought a home, or who are going to sell one soon. Conduct the user test in the shop (make sure employees know you're going to be buying coffee).

This isn't as perfect as screening ideal participants, but it's inexpensive and can get you started.

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