Build a product. Not Features.

The unfortunate crutch that many people face when building a product for their business, regardless of which stage said person is in, there are always those ever probing question that ask: how do you standout from the competition? What is the differentiator?

The weight of this problem affects all us entrepreneurs. Numerous people try to battle the “big boys” of the industry by out feature-ing them. If x-competition has y-numbers of features, then they should have z-number of features. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost usually the wrong answer. This is called Feature Bloat.

Regardless of the fact if this tactic wasn’t your initial intention, it is really, really easy to find yourself and your product bloated and out of control. A common theme is in the heat of development and then someone suddenly has an epiphany. “We need to add x idea..” If possible, you must refrain yourself from the sudden urge. Despite how much you think it will help you must remain at your core and weigh the pros and cons.

When deciding on adding new features, take a moment to really think about what it will cost. Every feature has an associated price. One of the many things people hear me say is “What is the negative value?” Meaning, just because it seems to give a temporary gain, is it genuinely worth whatever loss over time? You can count on each added feature always having at-least one negative, time. Adding additional tricks will effect you timeline as an opportunity cost as it will distract you from other tasks that you could/should be giving your attention too. Yet, if your solution is then to throw money at it and just hire more people to handle the problem, well then you are adding financial ‘hard’ costs for implementing and maintaining those new features to handle such additions.

There are many great products out there that don’t focus on the satisfying everyone’s wants all the time [ TripLingo, Freckle, Mail Chimp, Zendesk, Glancely, etc ] however, they instead emphasize on maximizing an amazing user experience and continuing to keep their core business model at the center.

By focusing on a few features and making sure those features are damn good, this is the basic concept behind the 90/10 rule. If you aren’t familiar, it is basically a concept that states on average, your user will spend 90% of their time using only 10% of your product. Only 10%. Think about some of your non-tech friends. How many of them continue to use a product like Microsoft Word, yet barely know how to actually do anything outside of the 10-15% range of what it could actually do? Now peer back at your tech. friends, what about products like Adobe Photoshop, or any plethora of computer software? Many software companies keep coming up with feature after feature for every new release, yet almost no-one actually uses them all (and I would put money on how this is a small minority), and frankly it just makes the programs unnecessarily more complex.

One of the main reasons why I love the idea of online web-based applications and their business model is that it helps free the crutch of having to force innovation by piling features on top of one another, amongst other things. However, this model just doesn’t only apply to web products. Companies like Apple, Zappos and Modify Watches are great examples of businesses that are innovative while maintaining their core focus.

Don’t worry about trying to satisfy everyone, because you can’t. Instead, find those people who believe in your vision and your business core principals. At the end of the day it’s always critical to remember the reason why you are building your product and knowing that a great product is not just the sum of its tricks.

3 thoughts on “Build a product. Not Features.

  • Great post Vince. There is tons of software that I have loved initially because it was simple and performed one task really well and then over the years the developers have added so many fringe features that they stop being good at what they were initially created for. Inevitably something simpler comes along and replaces it. There is definitely an art to adding features to a product (which your existing customers will demand) and not loosing the simplicity factor which new customers always look for.

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