I am a user, get me outta here!

Jun 5, 2017 · 10 min read
Kathy Sierra’s Featuritis Curve

Someone utters the word solution

You are mid-way through a sprint planning and someone utters the word — ‘solution’ and all hell breaks lose.

Adding more features is something that I hate, but you need to balance out discussions to make sure voices are heard.

Every product (hopefully) starts with solving one problem — thats what its supposed to do. Solve a nagging problem that someday can be sold as a service or a product.

People have different levels of problems they face in their day to day lives and they most often find intuitive ways to overcome these barriers.

Like this Uber driver who found a way -

Picture taken during an Uber ride

Some examples that I can share from my personal experiences —

  1. Annoying doors that keep closing (when we want them to remain open) and we keep a chair or a stool in its way.
  2. Smudged spectacles? Use your shirt to wipe it clean.
  3. Dinner plate too hot while watching Netflix on a sofa? No problem, use a pillow to take the heat.
  4. A cluttered desk with too many things out in the open? Just make enough space so that the mouse can be used.

The list is endless — mostly we find a way out to solve these annoying situations. Its when these problems become big and are a constant irritant that we look out for better solutions than the folded paper under that wobbly desk leg.

You get the idea

What about your product?

It should solve one key problem that users have and solve it completely before looking to add any new features. We have all used products that we hate and continue to use them.

Why? Don’t we have alternatives, or we think the problem is not big to be bothered about. Or is it the cost of change that keeps us from switching over.

The reasons are many — But we come across some products and we start using them without thinking twice. What do these products do better that others don’t? Something to think about.

Nice, but I wish it did more

Every successful product / app knows it’s hotdog.

I read a post by Dave Bailey about how to simplify your product and this idea has stuck with me. We all have about 10 most used apps (most of us) on our phone home screen and it will require a very strong contender to push an app to the next screen, so it can take its place on the home screen.

We are quite protective about that space — Everytime we unlock our phone, we know exactly which icons to click — Twitter, Gmail, Slack, Camera, WhatsApp etc.

What is it that these apps do that other don’t. Why do we always want them on our home screens.


Elevating a single feature above all else
- Uber: Tap a button, get a ride

(Full story here by Dave Bailey)

This is how users come back for more and if they understand the first few steps within your product, they might become power users. Loyalty / Habit forming is built upon this behaviour, as its then easier to let the user dive in deep into your product.

Hooked by Nir Eyal is a must read on this topic.

Users start expecting good stuff from your product and talking early to your new users and power users can help you define the journey the new users take (Think — Onboarding).

The next time you introduce a new feature, the power users will most likely be ready for it.

So glad they added this

There come’s a time when your product has found traction and is nearing product market fit. You would be lucky if you achieve this as most products don’t.

This phase is when most users are coming back for more, word of mouth has started bringing in new users and you can see a daily decent rise in the product usage by new users and the amount of time spent by power users within your product.

This is when you have some clear understanding of the user segment and why these people use your product or more importantly — What part of your product is used most often and for what purpose.

Read this amazing post on Jobs To Be Done by Harvard Professor Clayton Christenson

The jobs has been around for centuries, the ways to do them or getting them done has evolved.

Coming back to the story, When you find out the reasons behind the product usage and areas within your product that gets used most often, its time to look at nudging your new users to do what the power users are already doing within your product.

Talking to your power users will clearly reveal what are they requiring more and whats lacking in your product at this stage. New features arise from here. Look out for those nagging points these users always ask about in conversations, are your users missing something that will make that journey much easier?

Its easy to talk to a few users and push a list of brand new features towards the next sprint. Thats not the point. Look out for hints about features without which the journey keeps breaking.

Ask why 5 times — You may want to watch the video below!

What’s that one piece of the journey, which when added will delight the power users. You get the point. Tread the feature building territory with caution.

That’s Cool

Now that the most valuable features are finding a way into your product, spend more time with new users. They are the ones need convincing and these will join the list of power users if handle with care.

What do these users do when they first enter your product? Do they know what the first steps are?

A really good writeup by Scott Belsky, Founder of Behance on the First Mile of a Product

Scott talks about 3 things new users need to do to complete that first mile.

15 seconds is what make or breaks a users’ attention and the reason to stay on. I made it 30 secs, looking at enterprise products or internal applications where the user has not a big say on whether to use the app or not.

These users most often have to put up with shitty experiences to get a job done. All too often we have come across an application at work, that downright sucks.

But we just stay calm and use it.

They assumed what the user would do and made these crucial decisions for them. Not good at all!

Look out for these things early on when you are working on a product / idea. Get that first mile right and then get to the new features.

I read a post on Amplitude — The Retention Lifecycle Framework: by Archana Madhavan and sort of found a connection between early retention and the First mile.

While reading the post, I started sketching the journey to see if it made sense to me. The sketch -

Users will stay on if they can relate to the first mile and see the value your product brings to them.

Give them 10X value and they will be the most eager candidates to become power users. The cool quotient, or when the users reach the zone or truly understand what to do with your product is the Aha moment majority of the products fail to achieve.

I rule the peak!

Now you have daily users and you can measure your monthly active users and look at retention rates. Keeping the wave going takes a lot of hard work and involves providing users valuable content thats easy to understand and quicker to digest.

Users will increasingly be more active and will give feedback to your questions and engagement will be on the rise. They will feel a sense of accomplishment and will come more often and build a routine to use your product.

Time to concentrate on retention and nudging your early users towards what power users are doing.

Also around this time is about right to look at acquisition channels and optimise the funnel. How you prioritise Acquisition and Retention and at what stages, will define long term sustainable growth.

There are many schools of thought around retention & acquisition — But I believe: get that first mile sorted, get users to understand the Aha moment, get to product market fit, focus on retention & acquisition, move towards growth.

There’s not a bullet proof way of doing this but skipping the steps will not take you far.

Study how the user actions are now aligning with your product’s core value proposition. You can see a rise in a certain action that most users are now doing within your product. And this is something that you want to measure with your new users — are they able to perform this action and at what rate?

Remember, Facebook 👍 wanted its new users to invite / add at least 7 friends in 10 days, to have understood the usage action. Similarly if a new Twitter users followed 20 or so people, there was a high chance that they will stick around.

Is there a user manual?

Lean — I personally swear by that word (Even though I have missed the gym on quite a few occassions). Keeping the product deliver one key value and solving that major problem for the user is a herculean task.

Building a product that was validated, tested and accepted by early users is a goal in itself. You have seen traction, reached product market fit, scaled and are on your way to $1m ARR.

Time for more pain - The hardest phase - From Initial Traction to $10m ARR, by Jason Lemkin

This gets real now - you have real customers, competition has taken notice of you, your product and your team, you have a small sales team (if lucky) but you can’t take a hit at this moment. This is the most crucial moment in your startups life, when things can vanish overnight. Founders are ultra busy and too many things to handle but resources are scarce commodity.

You would have eager customers, engaged users and power users demanding more from your product. Chances are things will fall through the crack and some nice to have feature will find its way into your product.

Product managers (hell, the whole team!) should be ruthless in stripping off features that don’t add 5x value to users and move the needle on the revenue.

I am not suggesting features creeps happen once you reach $1m ARR, they can happen way before achieving product market fit, when, in the race to gain traction, more features get added thinking that this will add value to the users.

Unwanted features can creep at any stage. A bigger story on this by Andrew Chen - The Next Feature Fallacy

Adding more features because someone needed it, is a rabbit hole you should avoid like plague. The user journey is a fragile thing inside a product and any feature that adds friction is a sure shot way of increasing churn. Period.

Where the F*** did they put that?

Typical in so many products we use everyday.

Why the **** does a simple thing like a TV remote control has to make you go mad. (There are other things in life to do just that).

If you think you are the user, you have lost it completely. You are not the user, so stop behaving like one.

3 Things

  1. Can I switch on / off my TV
  2. Can I control the volume
  3. Can I flick through channels.

Why can’t a remote have just these three things - Remember the first mile.

Now I can’t do even one simple thing with this…

Be a nice-to-have-feature terminator (Similar to the bad idea terminator).

Seriously, most of the times users end up using only a small percentage of your app / product. The rest of product is just a bad list of features or mostly stays hidden due to crap UX. Don’t try to be that application that can solve everything. There’s no such thing.

Another things that gets teams all charged up is looking at the competition’s features and trying to out do them. Really? Do what matters most to your users and to your bottom line.

A really good piece on Minimising complexity in products by Smashing Magazine

Most churn happens when users lose the way around a product (same for the first mile — If they can’t find value in those first few moments, they will vanish)

Don’t make it hard for your users. They will eventually say -

“Get me out of here!”

If you liked this post, pls clap… 👏 👏


References: Kathy Sierra’s Featuritis Curve — http://bit.ly/2sIHtLd

Does it fly?

Talk to them first.