The Pareto Principle states that 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the results. Turned on its head: 80% of the features you are developing for your product are unnecessary and a waste of time and money.
Read on for how to choose successful product features and avoid costly bloat.
1. Start with ‘No’.
As Steve Jobs said: “We don’t want a thousand features”. Building your startup is about building the features that differentiate you from others and make your customer’s lives better. Everything else is bloat and a waste of resources. Let each feature fight for its right to get in the product, and to stay in the product.
Also read: Getting Real, 37 Signals
Actually, just read the entire Getting Real free book, it may well change how you address product development!
2. Only solve customer painpoints
The only reason to include a feature in your product is if it solves a demonstrated, proven customer pain point. There, I’ve said it. Can you point to a particular piece from your customer research material that demonstrates the pain point? Not a customer need that you pulled out of the air in a meeting – a pain point that you’ve actually discovered during customer research.
Yes, this does mean that you need to carry out customer research on a continuous basis! You are building the product for your customers, you will sell it to your customers, you will help your customers use it. For this to work, you need to research and understand and ‘live’ your customers.
And no, it’s not enough for someone to email in and ask you for a feature. Or even for a single customer to ‘demand’ a feature from you before they sign up. Do your own research. The problems that customers are facing will surface again and again and will make themselves known to you.
Also read: Amy Hoy’s Sales Safari customer research technique
Or for the ‘lean startup’ way: Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez
3. Build what makes you different
What you need to get to the market as quickly as possible is what makes you better, different from your competitors. Build these pieces first. You have a vision for your product. If you were right and you’ve found the missing link that the market was waiting for, then you’ll get traction. If you’re wrong and your entire business model is flawed, then you won’t get traction but at least you’ll know about it quickly! Don’t spend this valuabe time building run-of-the-mill, boring features that all the other products have. You’ll have more than enough time to do those later on – they only take money and time, neither of which you have right now. The magic happens in what makes you different, so go out there, launch your vision, follow your passion and build what makes you different!
I want to drive this point home a bit more without stepping on toes. I’ve worked with a health startup that wanted to gamify fitness – a great idea at the time! What did they want to build? Recipe collections, multi-social network sign-on, a calorie tracker. Do you see any gamification elements in there? No! Or the startup who wanted to democratise drinks-ordering in bars. First on their list? A payment and stock-monitoring system. Visionary? No! Boring and time-consuming? Yes!
It’s so frustrating to see talented, passionate people get bogged down in the minutia of technical system rather than build their vision. Please promise me that you will work harder, more creatively and smarter to bring your vision, your product to life. It may not be easy but it will set you apart from the crowd.
4. Stop inventing features
There are some sentences that should set of your alarm bells. If you ever find yourself in a meeting saying or hearing sentences like these, stop straight away. You’ve started inventing features and functionality for your product! This is not an effective use of your time! Get out there and do more customer research or work on your vision instead.
“All the other websites have it.”
“It would be a really good idea if…”
“Obviously we must have this.”
“It’s an easy win.”
“Let’s do these low-hanging fruit.”
“John made a really good point yesterday…”
Remember: Only solve proven, researched customer pain points.
In your next meeting, sound the alarm with this lovely horn.
Take this article with you the next time you head into a product planning meeting. Write the 4 headings on your whiteboard. These are your guiding principles. Live by them and grow your startup into a successful vehicle to serve and help your customers.