How often have you said (or heard someone say), “If we just add that one new feature, we’re going to hit a home run with this thing!”
I’ve heard it a lot. I’ve even said it a lot (more times than I’d care to admit.)
It’s easy to get lured into the feature creep trap – where we believe that by adding that one extra thing, that one last piece of the puzzle that everyone’s supposedly clamoring for – we’re going to increase sales, grow a successful business and exit for $100MM.
Except two things happen:
- The individual feature never has the impact we expect; and,
- Because of that, we jump to the “next must-have feature that’s going to win this one for us!”. (Feature creep can become an addiction…)
Fred Jabre has a great post about the reason his startup failed. Kudos for writing it, and I’m certain Fred will take another kick at the startup can in the future. Here’s the key quote:
So the number one reason my startup failed was: I was distracted by a cool and shiny feature that didn’t solve anyone’s problem. The shinier and more tempting features of any software program should be regarded with a high level of suspicion. There may be a reason some things are so shiny and alluring. Traps often have this quality. My advice to anyone creating a solution is to march straight towards your initial goal, as long as the goal really does address a true need then that’s what you should focus on.
The whole time I was reading the post (which I recommend you go do!) I kept thinking to myself, “When was Fred going to speak with customers to find out what they wanted, how they wanted it delivered, and how much they’d pay?” And inasmuch as Fred’s experience is a great case study for why obsessing over uber-cool features is bad in startups, I think he has to also be careful about the advice he’s providing. “Marching straight towards your initial goal” can be equally as blinding, unless you’re absolutely sure that the goal makes sense. Fred does point out that the goal has to truly address a need; but even that’s not going far enough. This is a perfect situation for using Customer Development (read: Four Steps to the Epiphany and Lessons Learned). Before you start marching anywhere, figure out who your customers are, speak to them, get them on board, test your assumptions, rinse and repeat. The hard work isn’t in building the actual application, it’s in knowing what to build and why.
Of course it’s easy to be a “backseat startup driver”, but Fred’s experience is extremely common for startups. I’ve been through it myself (and it sucks!)
At the end of the day, the shiny new feature might matter, but never as much as you really think (and possibly not at all!) And certainly not at the expense of building an actual business.