Don’t Help Your Users, Keep Them

Are you dying to help customers?

The best gift a great product can give to its customers is surviving long enough to continue serving them.

There is never enough time and always far too many great ideas when building a product. Good teams are able to use heuristics or basic reasoning to weed out unworthy features. But this isn’t enough.

Beneath these clear decisions are trickier ideas I’ll call “convenience features.” These kinds of features masquerade as valuable and low cost. But, in fact, they are unnecessary and costly to maintain.

These features merely help users while adding bloat to your codebase and shortening your runway. What do I mean by that? Well, the question you’re answering is, “Will this feature benefit the user?” Absolutely! But…

That’s the wrong question.

A great dev team will instead ask, “Will the user leave if this feature is never built at all?” Can we leave it out and still keep the user? If the answer is not a resounding “no,” the feature is unnecessary.*

Here are simplified examples:

a. Form enhancements. These are pretty straightforward to dream and build. And forms are always painful for users. But users expect them to be painful and tolerate them as long as they aren’t broken or reset unexpectedly.

b. Animations/transitions. No-one stopped using an app because it didn’t have clarifying animations. But when animations aren’t perfect they say something very specific (and not good).

Many real-world examples are more insidious but are still easy to unmask with, “Can we leave it out and still keep the user?”

I’ll admit that there is a case for adding maturing layers of polish. And sometimes teams or loyal clients need a morale boost — something cool to build. Still, know a feature’s true character even if spending to build it represents a concession.

It is common for startups to squeak by to their next round or their next big client. Build only what is necessary to keep users and not what will help them. The resources saved might be the difference between long-term success and failure.

*My belief is that the world doesn’t need more software but instead the right software.

Mark Ovaska is a long-time business leader and turn-around artist with deep experience in technical SaaS products. Recovering journalist with contributions to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, TIME, and many others.

Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.

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