When launching a new startup there isn’t just the danger of building the wrong product but also killing the right product with too many additional features. As a founder it is very tempting to keep tinkering with a good product in the vain hope of making it perfect, with all the acclaim that brings (the new Steve Jobs?).
And it’s so easy to do.
It starts off with a little interface amend here, a workflow modification there, and next thing you know your app is unrecognisable and unusable.
There are several reason why this happens and at the end of this post I recommend 10 simple do’s and don’ts to make sure your app doesn’t suffer the same fate.
The core to everything is having a strategy
If you don’t know why you built the app in the first place and your vision for its future, you’re destined for trouble. Whether it was scratching your own itch or spotting a gap in the market, you need to have a clear vision for your product and your business. Write it down, draw a picture, make it into a story that people understand. By doing this you will have a strong foundation for making the many difficult decisions that lie ahead (in particular regarding new features).
By having a clear vision you’ll have a better idea of who your core customers are. You can’t please everyone all of the time, but you need to make sure you please most of your users most of the time. By knowing who this majority is you’ll be able to figure out how useful any new feature will be to them and whether it’s worth introducing.
Whenever possible base any decisions you make on data rather than guesses. Even if this comes from a discussion with a customer over a coffee it’s still better than just assuming your view is correct. Ideally you should be talking to your target customer, which means you need to really know who they are (see above).
Use a tool such as Personapp to start visualising your audience and their needs
So here’s a big contradiction: You can never do enough research but you can always do too much.
None of us have the luxury of being able to talk to all our users and perform rigorous research. Generally we will always be making decisions based on limited information. Therefore it is vitally important we monitor the effect of introducing a new feature. Decide what to measure; what is your benchmark for success and monitor rigorously. You can then gauge whether your assumption was correct. Ideally every feature of your app is well used so don’t be afraid to prune unused functionality.
A lack of vision and understanding of your users means you will always be second guessing yourself and continually changing your mind. While it’s good to be able to react and pivot when necessary, arbitrarily adding and removing features will not only confuse your users it will alienate your team. Stopping them in mid flow because you’ve got another cool idea or you want to address yet another user feedback request will make you very unpopular very quickly.
If you want to keep your regular visitors happy, then it’s your job as product owner to try and work in a logical and transparent fashion, basing your decisions on some clear reasoning.
Focus on your core customers and what they need. Spending time building features for minority user cases is not an efficient use of your resources, especially if you already have backlog of other things waiting to get done. Work on the 80/20 rule – design for the 80% not the 20%.
If you can’t explain a feature in less than a minute then don’t build it until you can. Admittedly it may be a complex interaction or work flow but if you can’t clearly describe what it’s supposed to do and what problem it addresses then you have little chance of building it right. If your team can’t understand it then your users definitely won’t.
In the same way that drug dealers can eventually kill their clients, feature pushers eventually kill their products.
So here are some simple do’s and don’ts, to prevent you from committing app suicide.
- Have a clear vision and strategy
- Have a deep understanding of your core users and their needs
- Avoid living in your own reality distortion field and talk to users
- Test all your assumptions
- Monitor and measure user behaviour
- Annoy your team by constantly changing your mind (but a little is fine)
- Believe that everyone thinks the way you do
- Follow the latest feature fad because everyone else is
- Cater for the edge cases over your core users
- Over complicate your solution
image via Cesar Poyatos
STARTUPS ARE HARD
If you need help turning your startup idea into a successful web product, visit www.spookstudio.com or contact me via Twitter @welovelean. I offer a free 20 minute sanity check for startup founders to share and discuss their ideas in confidence via Skype.