Is your idea a product or a feature?

The median consumer downloads zero new apps in a given month; however, we’re spending more time on our phones than ever. What does this mean? Likely, consumer services are going through a period of consolidation — people are getting tired of a fragmented native experience and looking to the apps they already use to fill more, varied needs.

So, is your idea likely to buck this trend? Are you going to be the 1 outlier app that a consumer downloads this month? Or are you better served building within an app people already use? Here’s a framework for thinking about it —

In general, the more frequently you solve a problem for consumers, the more willing they will be to adopt your service. Pretty intuitive, right?

To make this chart a bit more helpful, let’s put some examples on the line —

The products that currently dominate the App Store all solve a high frequency problem. And this makes sense — the more frequently you solve a use case, the more frequently people will be downloading your app, and the more popular your service will be.

Taking this one step further — this framework also implies that it’s much easier to attract consumers if you sit higher on this line. In fact, the cost of acquiring new users increases exponentially as you move down. For instance, social networks historically acquired consumers at almost no cost; whereas P2P payments apps literally have to pay people $5 to invite friends, and $5 for those friends to sign up — that’s extremely expensive. And that’s the cost difference between solving a daily and a weekly need!

Given the usage frequency and customer acquisition hurdles, if your app doesn’t solve a daily problem, you better have a really f-ing good reason for asking people to download something new (and you better be willing to pay up the nose for these users). The requirements for creating a standalone product have increased dramatically in the last 2 years and will only continue accelerate. Despite using Lyft 5–6 times per week, I wouldn’t be surprised if I deleted the app in 6 mos and solely used their service as a feature within a messaging platform. Moreover, you can already see payments (Messenger), travel (bots), and news (Instant Articles) making this shift — in a year, you’ll probably delete most of these standalone apps.

So, taking this framework one step further — if you dont solve at least a daily problem (but more likely a 2x+ per day problem), you’re probably best suited to build a feature within an existing platform.

So, where does your idea sit on this engagement line? If it’s in the Feature territory, you’d be best served optimizing for engagement via another service. And even if you think you must create your own app because complex engagement or interactions are required, you’ll greatly benefit from creating a ‘basic’ version of your service that can live within a bigger platform and benefit from the ecosystem’s distribution and lower adoption barriers. On the other hand, if your idea is in the Product area, you’ve now got to figure out how to gain those first users and start your growth machine!

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