How to recruit your own users as research participants

September 21, 2022

Tom Johnson
Product Designer

Doing user research is difficult in and of itself, but no matter how good your are at asking the right questions, gathering data, taking insights from research, and putting that data to use, one of the most important parts of user research is finding the right users to talk to in the first place.

Large companies have research teams with recruiters, staff, dedicated processes and defined mechanisms to source users to test. Products like userzoom and are great at sourcing participants based off of industry, demographics, or location for consumer-facing projects, but finding and recruiting users who have already signed up and are using your product can be way more valuable.

Who do you want to talk to?

Who you want to talk to can change depending on what features you’re working on. It can be demographic, pricing tier, or device, but in product design it’s more frequently important to know product specific details and behaviors, such as:

  • How long a user has been signed up
  • What features they use or don’t use
  • How active they have been overall or within a certain time interval
  • Who their teammates are and what they are using or not using
  • Errors they may have encountered or, shall we say, less-than-ideal user paths they might have taken while using your product.

But how do you get access to that data? How do you filter to find the right users? And finally, how do you get their contact information in a secure way so that you can reach out to them?

Use your product database

You don’t need a CRM or another user database to find an manage—you need the real one your product is already using for authentication and user access.

Most designers and researchers may have their own databases or customer lists, kept in tools like Notion, Airtable, Coda, or in an Excel spreadsheet, but usually those are manually imported and disconnected from the core product database— initially great, but quickly out of date as schemas change and products grow.

And with good reason. Data access = security and technical liability.

Developers or Database admins are the gatekeepers of that data access, and tools that directly connect to a database are usually developer centric, complex, and hazardous for anyone but those with a great deal of familiarity to use. If something breaks, they have to fix it, so it’s no wonder that the walls of DB access are high.

Getting database access isn’t easy

No established product org worth their salt is going to give DB credentials to a designer for something as “minor” as recruiting users.

Even if research does get priority, the common path is to use internal APIs and build custom internal tools to access the data, which can take months or quarters to build.

But let’s be real.

Startups don’t have the spare headcount, time, or budget to build and maintain internal tools for user research. They barely have it for operational or CRUD tasks.

But thankfully, startups don’t need to have extra resources if they use Basedash.

Basedash gives designers secure access to data

Basedash allows developers and data admins to connect DBs and give restricted access to anyone on their team, including designers.

Connecting a DB to Basedash allows developers to:

  • Disable editing for all data, to ensure nothing breaks
  • Automatically format and prettify all table and column names to be more readable
  • Create filtered views of data to allow only specific subsets of data to be accessed
  • Obscure sensitive or PII data or disconnect each table and attribute entirely for no access
  • Track any changes to data if edits are allows
  • Track all activity including actions run on each record
  • Create API actions in minutes, such as sending prebuilt emails to customers for recruiting, follow up, and compensation.
  • Write and share SQL queries with anyone on their team.
  • Create admin tools for operations, customer support, product, access for external data entry or record creation, or dashboards for leadership or external stakeholders.

More specific than an analytics tool

There’s a mountain of great tools like Metabase, Mixpanel, Tableau, Fullstory, and that are great at tracking aggregate analytics, funnels and overall product metrics. Basedash is different because it allows you to filter, define, edit, and access specific records in your database that require action or modification, while also giving you controls to make high level summaries or share SQL queries with your team.

To put it succinctly, analytics tools are perfect for understanding big data.

Admin tools, like Basedash, are perfect for acting on and finding specific data.

How to make your user research app

Step 1: Connect your database

As defined above, Basedash connects to your database but only admins can access and manage everything and define access. This step can only be completed by a developer with DB credentials.

If you’re a designer, odds are you won’t be able to complete this step alone, and it’s also safe to say that when you ask for this access your security minded teammates will have some questions. This is great, and totally normal. Send them to or have them send us a message.

TLDR, you can connect and disable edits to you DB and make sure no one can break anything.

If you’re a developer, here’s some details about Basedash:

  • SOC II Type 2 certified
  • Encrypt all data in-transit with TLS
  • DB credentials are encrypted with AES-256
  • You can self-host Basedash

(We’re currently working on connecting to APIs directly. If you don’t have a SQL db or would prefer that method, you can track our progress here)

Step 2: Create a Design app

Apps in Basedash are containers with restricted access. Admins decide who has access to what data. At Basedash, I have my own Design app for tracking KPIs I care about.\

Step 3: Make the views you need for your data

Views are filtered subsets of data in your database. In my Design app, I track a lot of what’s happening with our product and our data. Being at a startup, I’m deeper in the weeds than I’ve ever been in past roles.

Here’s some Views that I create:

  • Most active users
  • Users who I have contacted
  • New signups this week
  • Users from specific orgs that I’ve been talking to recently or care about understanding better.
  • Core entities (DB tables that we build features around) that I care about tracking. For Basedash, our core entities are Actions, Views, Apps, workspaces, and tables.

With these views created, you can start tracking who you should talk to and who can give you the best feature. The final step, though, helps you make reaching out to new people just a matter of a few clicks.

Step 4: Create Email Actions

Manually pasting emails into Outlook, Gmail, or Superhuman isn’t all that great. Sure, you can compose snippets or templates, but the fastest way I’ve found to reach out is to build an action within Basedash that connects our database data to Sendgrid .

Here’s what that action looks like inside of Basedash:

It just takes 15 seconds to reach out to a user. All I have to do is:

  • Select a user from my list
  • Select the action I want to take (e.g. “Send email”)
  • Change a few pieces of text that are auto-populated from the Database
  • Click send

Here’s my most successful email template:


Quick question (With some Swag as a thank you)


Hey {{firstName}} 👋 — I'm Tom, lead designer at Basedash.

Have 15 minutes to chat?

I'd love to pick your brain about how you're using Basedash and see if there's anything we can do to make your life easier.

Do you have any time this week or next to connect over zoom?


p.s. This email was sent with Basedash Actions. 🤯

Step 5: Compensate your participants

Basedash is relatively early stage, so the best token of appreciation to user participants is to send them some Swag. We use Swagup to help with that, and you guessed it, we send users their compensation with a Basedash action.

This action contains a special URL that links to a Swagup redeem page we’ve set up. They just enter their info, and in a few weeks they get our latest and greatest gear (currently, a t-shirt, baseball cap, and stickers).

Summary and results

Target user research is difficult and complex, but having a user admin panel like Basedash helps designers reach out and have meaningful conversations more easily than ever.

Since we launched apps and actions in July of 2022, my own recruitment process has been cut down to only about about 15 minutes from the hours of copying and pasting before. I was using Basedash to find the users, but was tracking them in Notion, copying their contact info, address, and swag information manually, and losing track of who I’d talked to and if they’d gotten compensation for their time. For the first time in my career, I’m able to find and source users directly, and am able to accomplish my research goals in less time than I’ve ever had to spend before.

Interested in trying it yourself?

Basedash is free forever →

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