There’s a problem in product management I see happening quite often (at least I believe it’s a problem — I would love to hear your thoughts). Startup founders, who are a lot of times also engineers, have the “more features=better product” syndrome. I know I had it.
This approach results in cluttered products with problematic user experiences.
An important note is that in this post I’m referring mainly to startups that are in product/market fit.
Think about the most successful products you use. How many times have you seen these products change drastically? Sure, they add new features from time to time, but never in a way that might interrupt the core that got them to product/market fit. They’re also refreshing their UI from time to time. But again, keeping the core features in mind. These will always be easily accessible and in front of the user at all times. Other features will be harder to find.
2 examples of products that I really appreciate and use for a few years:
I use Stripe almost since their inception and it seems that for years they haven’t changed their dashboard. ‘Products’ and ‘Orders’ are new features, but other than that, I think that once they reached product/market fit, they focused on globalization and growth. Again, of course the product has improved tremendously over the years. And they added other products to open new markets as well. But the core — great payments API for developers — haven’t changed and it has just become easier to use as they grew.
Asana lately revamped their UI, but the core stayed the same. The focus on the ease of creating a new task, leaving email behind and increasing teams’ productivity remained as it was in the old UI.
How can it be solved?
I believe that once a startup hit product/market fit, its team should step on the sales and marketing pedals and focus the product efforts on improving the user experience and reducing friction. Obviously, you should invest in growth features from your first line of code, but when you hit product/market fit, growth should top anything else.
And how do you know when you reached product/market fit? There’s this methodology which is great.
I use this trick. Ask yourself this hypothetical question, if you’d fire all of your R&D team, and just kept your marketing and sales team, would the product still sell at approximately the same rate? If the answer is yes, you’ve probably hit product/market fit and you should focus a lot of your R&D resources on creating the best experience possible for your users, rather than building more and more features.
Just to make it clear, I’m not suggesting to stop innovating. Just a way for prioritizing your development tasks once your product can sell itself.
So what should be your product focus when you hit product/market fit?
Following are some ideas. Each of these deserves a separate post. I’ll try to explain each one of them briefly:
From improving your signup process to moving users as fast as possible, with less friction as possible to the “Aha” moment.
Polishing key screens/flows/features
If you got this far in your product’s life, you probably know the things that frustrate your users the most. Fix it.
If you don’t, you can go over all your support tickets and chat conversations, and tag them to find repeating issues. Talk to your support people, they’ll know. Talk to your sales guys, they’ll know what’s keeping away potential prospects from closing the deal. Go over your Twitter mentions, blog comments, search queries in your website (if you have a search option). Or even better, just talk to your customers :).
Your users (that hopefully love your product) are probably your best ambassadors. There are many things you can do inside your product that will entice them to invite their friends, share your product, talk about it, etc.
If you’re not familiar with the Hook Model, I really recommend you read Hooked by Nir Eyal. Hooks are places and actions that the user performs in your product that makes it more addictive and makes the user want to come back and use it.
For example, limited time free trial is a way of getting the user hooked to your product, and specifically, your paid features.
Another way of getting users hooked is to open up paid features to all (or some) users for a limited time. Making it super easy for them to use, and then, after some time has passed, close the access to these features. Don’t do that without letting your users know or you’ll just upset them and create the opposite effect. If you played this right, some users will want to upgrade.
Retention — Improve your sticky features
Sticky features are the features that users who use them stick around with your product for the longest time. Make these features more accessible and easy to use.
Improve your quantitative and qualitative data collection
In order for all of the above to happen, you have to know how your users are using your product, what value they’re getting out of it, what makes them buy and what makes them leave.
If you don’t know that, you should invest some time in integrating with analytics tools and start sending important events that will give you visibility into how users are using your product and where are the points that they might be stuck at.
Once you have this visibility you’ll also notice that a lot of users are probably missing something that you think is a killer feature. You might want to test placing this feature in a more visible place in your product and see how it affects its usage.
Also, make it easier for customers to contact you and give you their feedback. From what I’ve seen, usually, users that open support tickets are more likely to become paying users.
And don’t be afraid of proactively asking them for their feedback.
Paul Buchheit, in his awesome post from 2010, described it perfectly — “If your product is great, it doesn’t need to be good”. This great (short) post encapsulates everything I’m writing above and suggests a really simple methodology for finding and sticking to your core features.
Products evolve, a lot, but at their core, they are trying to solve a problem for their users. And what brought a certain product to a market fit, will probably stay the core and will just get improved.
What do you think? I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts.