How do you decide what to build when you are just getting started? Having been a human my whole life (and now as a parent of relatively new humans), I am reasonably sure the human open source community has more information than the startup equivalent.
With humans, the feature set is fairly similar across the board: eat, move, sleep, causing stress for parents, repeat.
With a startup, the feature set is much less clear. The features you choose to build in your thing are likely different than those that I’ll choose to build in mine. We start with a problem that we think needs a solution or at the very least some improvement. That’s it. Now what?
I have a leaky faucet in my house? Great. I’ll go to the hardware store and get the tools I need and come home and fix the problem (or I’ll pay someone to do it for me). There are, of course, multiple ways to solve the problem. It turns out that the tools I choose are probably less important than fixing the faucet but alas, I must make some choices and I’ll typically choose a tool that I know how to use…unless of course I see a really cool looking new tool that I want to try. Either way, I must tell myself the following: “The leaky faucet is the priority.”
Then I need some validation. Did I solve the problem? With the leaky faucet, I think I can determine if the leak is gone pretty easily. With the startup? It isn’t so easy. We’re talking about having a problem, choosing tools we think will best enable us to solve the problem, and now choosing tools to help us determine how we’re doing; how to measure.
At Dunwello, we do a lot of measuring. We use some of the usual suspects of course: We got your Google Analytics and your Mixpanels of the world. We use NewRelic and we even have our own homegrown analytics we are developing. We also spend a lot of time talking to customers and getting direct human feedback. We even use that old-fashioned Twitter thing:
So back to the original question: How do we decide what to build? I think the answer is to trust your gut, your feedback, any information you have, and whatever guiding principles you’ve set in place as a company, and go with it. Step up to the plate and take some swings. You certainly aren’t hitting any home runs by sitting on the bench.
Now, whether you are a professional baseball player who hits homeruns or a home owner who fixes leaky faucets or a startup person who likes to build companies, it all takes practice and some trial and error. Even the best at their respective fields fail now and then. A hall of fame caliber baseball player might get a hit 30% of the time. So, you prepare as best as you can before you step up to the plate.
At Dunwello, we try to think of everything we do in terms of a DUI: Delight/Utility Index. Think of it this way:
Every decision we make for the company sits somewhere on that dart board. Of course, ideally, everything ends up on the top right where something is not only extremely useful but also a ton of fun. That’s not realistic.
The key is to not be judgmental about where things are but rather to just be aware. For instance, its important to have functionality that allows someone to reset their password. That feature isn’t likely to be delightful and it probably doesn’t need to be, other than it makes users happy if its easy. It is more likely the type of feature that will frustrate users if it isn’t useful. Password stuff is often high utility and lower delight. That’s ok.
Conversely, the Easter egg that was recently added to Dunwello is probably high delight and reasonably low utility.
Of course, when we started to discuss what our new homepage (now live at http://www.dunwello.com) should do and how it should look, it was the kind of thing that we believed would be way up at the top right: very useful and very delightful. Every feature you build and every decision you make can have a Delight/Utility Index associated with it. I won’t speak for anyone else but when you start to put dots on that graph, each representing a decision you are going to make or already made, you can start to illustrate your company’s story.
If you have a better understanding of the professional story you’re telling, you can do a better job of telling it. If you can do that, then you will likely be able to better measure how others are reacting to it and what changes you need to make or where you try and go next.