Thoughts on Product and Feature Development

The post is a listicle on product and feature development in no particular order.

There are three rules for creating a successful product. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.1

If the success of your product depends on changing a deeply ingrained habit, it is going to be challenging. Your product should be attractive enough for people to overcome the inertia associated with behavior change.

For example, Uber changed a deeply ingrained habit of how one hails a cab. Initially, it was cool; hence, people did it. Now it is convenient. Before launching such a product, list down the motivations for someone to use your product.

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Sometimes, the most crowded markets are ripe for disruption. Example—Dropbox. Dropbox was a late entrant in the file-sharing and storage market, but it worked flawlessly and conquered the market.

Competition may not always be harmful, especially when you are trying to create a new category. Category awareness is crucial, and if a big guy does it for you, you can piggyback on it.

If a startup had launched a smart speaker like Alexa or Google Mini, they would have two challenges. First would be to educate users on what a smart speaker is. The second would be to convince people to buy their product. Competition brings awareness to a category so that you can concentrate on selling the product instead of educating consumers.


Think about product ownership and usage asymmetry. An online payment solution for schools is the perfect example. Parents want this but the want is not strong enough that they use this as criteria for picking schools. Any product that exhibits asymmetry like this needs to have powerful incentives for both sides.

Every time a customer reaches out to you; it is an opportunity for you to make your product better. Product enhancements should stem from customer service requests.

Users will find unique ways to use your product, which you would not have thought. Go with the flow.

More features are not always better. Be ruthless in culling features. New feature addition is a tug of war between simplicity and complexity. Irrespective of how small a feature is, it makes your product more complex and the complexity compounds over the long run. Even though adding a new feature is appealing, think twice before doing this. On the other hand, culling features is counter-intuitive. Be on the lookout for nixing features and simplifying the product.

Do not get attached to a feature based on the amount of effort you put, the technology used, or the uniqueness of the idea. Usage is the only benchmark for a feature’s success.

Customers do not always know what they want. Be careful while actioning on user feedback. Look around your house to see the plethora of unused stuff you brought thinking you need them.

In a consumer study, testers alternatively played French and German music in a supermarket selling French and German wines. Frech music resulted in more French wine sales while German music did the reverse. When quizzed, buyers were clueless about the music influencing their purchase.

Mix your product insight and intuition with customer feedback before acting on them.

You need something, does not mean the entire world is craving for it. There is no sure shot way to assess this but be aware of this.

Another corollary of the above.

You spot a problem does not mean others are looking for a solution to the problem. People are happy to live with minor inconvenience than change their habits.

Do not look at product features from your point of view. You might have a refined sense of UI, but your customers may not. Always assume a customer-centric viewpoint.

Assume no one reads anything. Figure out ways to make instructions implicit in product flows. My car displays a message on the dashboard when the service is due. It does not rely on me keeping a tab on this. If at all, you have to provide instructions, figure out what will make a user read it. The manual that comes with the Dyson vacuum cleaner has infographics familiarising the user with the product.

Treat customers differently based on their lineage. Someone new to the product needs more hand-holding than one who is used to the product.

New features may not pick up on their own. Figure out ways to incentivize a user to try out a new feature.

Do not be drawn to complexity. A simple feature trumps an overly complex one.

Figure out all the metrics to track before launching a feature. If you do this post-launch, it becomes a shifting goalpost where you are trying to prove the success of the feature rather than figure out whether it met the intended goal or not.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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