Finding sBTC product market fit amongst Bitcoiners and web3 DeFi users

Coaching the Stacks product teams to effectively conduct their own product discovery and make better protocol design decisions.


The team at OpenUX coached a working group of product and marketing teams from Hiro and Stacks to support them with a deep understanding of the potential target users for sBTC.

sBTC is a new Bitcoin synthetic derivative that has a decentralized, two-way peg mechanism with Bitcoin. It uses Stacks smart contracts to facilitate the movement of BTC in and out of Bitcoin layers in a trustless manner. DeFi applications are in development right now, which means BTC holders will soon be able to put their tokens to work, just as they can on Ethereum today, thereby unlocking utility for the large amounts of BTC currently idle in wallets and on exchanges.

Building for the unknown

The team hopes that sBTC will benefit two potential retail audiences; Bitcoiners  and Web3 DeFi users. The teams building sBTC are deeply immersed in the Bitcoin-sphere but, until engaging OpenUX, had conducted relatively little research around the more DeFi-savvy user profile.

Understanding these two audiences – what user needs, pains and goals are the same (and which are different) – was essential for reducing development risk and building the right products that are genuinely usable, useful and widely adopted.

From assumptions to deep learnings

Having conducted some research themselves in the past, the working group sought OpenUX as an expert to guide them through the process of gathering reliable and highly actionable findings that they could rely on.

The Coaching Program

  • OpenUX worked with the team over an 8-week period. We created and led a workstream that progressed the team from assumptions and research questions all the way to deep insights widely shared within their ecosystem.

  • The coaching was hands-on and collaborative. We had working sessions for writing recruitment copy and screeners, designing questions to ask in user interviews, and what framework to use for analysis.

  • Each week included some best practice teachings, which were always grounded in the actual work to be done during that phase of the research.

  • OpenUX led by example, sharing our own templates and ways of working, and conducted some of the user interviews to give the team a grounding in how best to run qualitative research sessions.

Research Outcomes

  • The mixed-discipline team successfully completed their own research. Read the published findings by the sBTC team.

  • The team landed on research-driven behavioral personas for their target users that aid decision-making.

  • The sBTC team had a useful framework to help developers in their ecosystem (who were not involved in the research activity) make sense of the learnings and apply them to their own product use cases.

  • By the end of the engagement, the team not only had reliable findings, but also had the templates, tools and frameworks they needed to be able to replicate the process without any hand-holding.

“Working with OpenUX was essential to the success of this research project. Georgia kept the team focused and on-track week over week, helping us break down a large, complex initiative into weekly, actionable steps.”

Elena Giralt, Sr Product Marketing Manager, Hiro

A few key learnings

The folks at Hiro and Stacks are committed to open sourcing their research findings, which is aligned with what we do at OpenUX. When research is widely shared, it provides more starting points for product teams who don’t have the skills or time to do this important work themselves, and lifts the entire web3 and crypto ecosystem.

You can read the full report here, and below we’ve pulled out 3 key learnings to share.

1. Bitcoin holders have an emotional attachment to their BTC, regardless of whether they identify as Bitcoiners or Web3 degens.

Regardless of what they do in crypto now, many experienced web3 users started off in the space by buying Bitcoin. As such, it holds a special place in their hearts; it marks their entry into the space, and due to lack of utility, a lot of users have not done much with it other than accumulating it or just hodling it.

“Bitcoin is the first crypto I’ve bought and never sold. I’ve not sold it out of respect. Bitcoin is a very philosophical idea, it’s more than money for me. It’s a message. Ethereum is where you can play around, it’s more like a playground.”

This means that whether Bitcoin maxis or Web3 DeFi users, products that ask users to move their BTC out of cold storage must speak to this emotional attachment, and make users feel good about putting it to work. The launch of Bitcoin Ordinals has reignited interest in "using" Bitcoin for many, so there’s precedent here, but it won't hurt product teams to consider how their positioning and marketing resonates with the “respect” users feel about their Bitcoin in order to encourage users to make use of new BTC protocols.

2. Trust/Security and Financial Opportunity are more important than a Bitcoin-first UX design

The team used the “Trade-off Triad” method to test potential product trade-offs with users. We presented them with a visual, and asked users to place an icon where they felt they best sat between 3 opposing product features, whilst explaining their thoughts.

We analysed the clusters where users placed their markers on the triangle, and listened to the rationale as they explained their choice between the trade-offs. When considering a Bitcoin first UX, Financial Opportunity, and Trust/ Security Design, most people said that financial opportunity and security design were the most important factors in deciding to use a new BTC DeFi product. Only a few mentioned the Bitcoin-First experience, if at all.

This means that any product utilizing BTC must be laser focussed on trust and security design in order to encourage users to adopt, and the financial opportunity has to be worth it for them to use their treasured BTC. These 2 factors trump UI designs that feel Bitcoin-native.

3. Decentralized lending and borrowing options are the unmet need for BTC holders

For many holders, the risk-to-ratio of lending their BTC on a centralized exchange doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially given what we know about their emotional attachment to BTC, the (comparatively) low returns on lending BTC with exchanges, and the recent exchange closures and risks.

When we interviewed users, the biggest unmet need was a way to earn interest on, or borrow from, their BTC – without counterparty risk.

This is good news for the Stacks team and Bitcoin DeFi builders as it confirms their hypothesis that a programmable Bitcoin could be widely adopted - if built and communicated the right way for users.

What next for sBTC?

  • The Hiro and Stacks team are continuing with user research discovery, using the tools they learned through coaching to conduct interviews with developers in their community.

  • They’re using frameworks to help product teams building in the Stacks ecosystem to come to actions from the findings.

Talk to OpenUX about coaching

To learn more about getting your team from assumptions to reliable insights, drop us a line, we’re happy to share advice and explore how coaching might work for you:

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