The one about feature creep (pre-product-market-fit)


There is a common pattern among early startups that haven’t hit product-market fit yet. I’ve done this myself and seen it over and over again. We keep building more and more stuff to our product, thinking that users are not happy yet because they don’t have this one thing…if we just build one more thing…THEN. Then they will pay, or subscribe, or retain, or do whatever you want them to do. For some reason that seems to be the natural thing, just keep building more things.

*This beautiful image from Intercom explains this whole post in much less characters.

I have once joined a startup that had some early glimpses of product-market fit, but it wasn’t there yet. Some people were kinda using it, but nobody was fighting over it. I distinctly remember how excited the whole company was about this big thing they were building and how it was going to change everything. A month later it was launched….and nothing happened. Literarily, nobody cared.

The team ignored this and got to work on the next big thing. 3 months later…same thing. I spent a year at this company and as far as I know, they never escaped the viscous circle. I assume that’s how most companies run out of money.

What to do instead 
Features don’t save companies. Starting from the group up does, I think. When you build something and then ask “What else could users want”, you end up building a feature. But if you scratch your idea completely, Spend 1 hour talking to 10 ideal users that are experience the pain point you’re addressing (assuming that you are addressing a pain point), you will probably learn some very interesting thing.

I think this is so hard because we overestimate our ability to anticipate what people might like. The type of people that start companies probably like to build and create things. Building features feel productive. Talking to people doesn’t because it directly produces 0 lines of code, no design, nada.

Throwing away all previous assumption after 6 months of working on something, is also an admission of defeat (not really, but that’s what it feels like). If you have a team, it can be a bumper having to tell them that we’re starting from scratch.

Another reason why it’s hard is because it feels like you’re so damn close. Every week feels like you’re just about to break through, like if you only had one more month, you will see insane traction. Unless you do something fundamentally different, you probably won’t.

How to avoid the feature trap? I only did it by being humble. Realize I know nothing and keep going back to users. Listening what they say, watching what they do and trying different solutions, not adding features to a an insufficient solution in the first place.

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