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Too Many Features Will Kill You

When referring to sports, MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. In the startup world, MVP has come to stand for Minimum Viable Product. The words may be different, but the essence remains the same: for an idea, a business or a product to be viable, it must be valuable.Too many times, however, startups start with a functioning MVP (well done), experience demand (great news), gather feedback (good sign), and set forth to accommodate suggestions (ok) with a hundred new updates and features (uh-oh).

Sure it’s important to listen to your customers, but as Steve Jobs says “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.  There is nothing worse than wasting time and investors money building a bloated product. In other words, a product that involves an incredibly long onboarding process or worse, getting assigned an account manager to help you navigate through the product. *cough* Salesforce *cough*

Too many features will kill you, there is no doubt. Below we explain why simplicity is the key to success, especially with your contact management software, and what to avoid so as not to overextend your offering.

Ship. Ship Often

Do you know what happens when you wait for perfection? Nothing. No, really, because perfection never arrives, and even if it did show up, you wouldn’t recognize it even if it was staring you in the face.

This great post by Team Treehouse describes how they spent 1.5 years developing their app, which was way too long and had a negative impact on morale. The cause? Wanting to build the perfect product in a vacuum. Lesson learned: They now suggest that it is better to get something out quickly and iterate based on your users’ feedback. Amen! Remember, too many features up front can surely delay this process and the more you ship and test, the more data you can collect to refine your offering to serve the majority of your consumers best.

With these iterations, however, avoid building what’s “cool” but rather what’s truly useful and produces the desired results on both sides of the counter.

Build a Minimum ‘Delightful’ Product (MDP)

For some industries, the market may only require function. They want something that simply works. But for many startups, function is only part of the big picture. With services, software, products and apps popping up like weeds in the springtime, you can’t just come to the table with function. What are you bringing to the table to delight your market and standout in a crowded space?

Think of it this way, if a script is the MVP for a great play or film, the acting, the directing, the set design and music that bring it all to life and captivates audiences. A casting mistake (read: Katie Holmes in Batman Begins), just like a convoluted feature or a cluttered design, can turn off potential users even if they enjoy the function of your product.

We built Contactzilla with this mentality. We attacked functionality with the familiar “what would I need to manage and sync all my business contacts?” and we approached delight with a simple-is-better mindset. Managing contacts can already be a headache, so we did not want to add to the nuisances.

Have a Clear Vision

Minimum Viable Product is good but how about Master Vision Plan? We think you need both to pave the way to success.

Carlos Saba, the Technical Co-founder of Spook Studio, wrote on We Love Lean, “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.”

This is what we mean by “master vision plan”  which is basically a product roadmap. With a roadmap, there is usually a destination and this map can help you stay on course and avoid distracting, feature overload. You might not know exactly how the product will turn out in the end, even after multiple tests and tweaks, but don’t let your core vision be sidetracked by trying to be everything to everybody.

Avoid Competitive Analysis

Stevie Blank, author of The Four Steps To Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, wrote an interesting post on his blog called Death By Competitive Analysis. Here he posits the danger of looking at your competitors and trying to mimic their successes and then piling on features that fill in observed gaps.

“Instead of optimizing for a minimum feature set (that had been defined by customers) a competitive analysis drives a maximum feature set.”

Analyzing your competitors is a good way to find out what is working and what might not be, but don’t make the mistake of being everything your competitors are not and then some. This can turn your great idea into an unruly beast that will be difficult to reign in.

KISS Your Way to Increased DAU’s

Of course, we don’t mean “kiss” in the traditional sense (but we won’t judge if you decide to take that approach, kudos!)

We’re talking about keeping it simple. As we mentioned earlier, simplicity was the North Star for Contactzilla. Take stock of the current products and services you use and tell us what they probably have in common. We’re going to venture a guess that you’re not using things you would describe as “super complicated” and “kind of a mess”.

Instagram (pre-acquisition, we’d argue) is another great example of this. A social network for photo sharing that turns amateur shutterbugs into capture-the-moment masters with simple filters. Boom. Millions of users and apparently a billion dollar idea. People use Instagram daily because it is clutter-free and is as simple as point and shoot. It’s a great time killer too when you’re sitting around with nothing to do but scroll.

When adding or stripping features, you need to be aware of why people are actively using your product. A sound hypothesis is for it’s simplicity and ease.

Triumph. Don’t Become Another Victim.

You don’t have to take our word for it, if you want to build a product that tries too hard and yields no positives, please knock yourself out. We mean that both figuratively and literally.

Mark our words, though. That is precisely what will happen when you go into a feature building frenzie. You will knock yourself out of time and money and most importantly opportunity to hear what your customers actually want and don’t want.

So strip down, make yourself vulnerable and grow from there.

Is your product simple? Tell us how you managed to ignore feature bloat in the comments below.

photo credit: theloushe via photopin cc

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