Investors often dismiss startups with the refrain, “That’s a feature, not a product.” I do the same. They usually mean that the feature, by itself, will not be adopted by consumers — the value proposition is too simple or narrow.
But sometimes the feature is the product.
Was Twitter a feature or a product? Google? PayPal?
They’re obviously products now. But before they were adopted by millions. Feature or product? Isn’t Twitter “just” the status message feature from Facebook? Isn’t Google “just” the search feature from Yahoo?
Sometimes the feature is the product
This isn’t surprising if you know a little bit about Eric Ries’ pivots:
“In a feature pivot, we select out a specific feature from our current product and reorient the whole company around that. A good example is Paypal realizing that their customers were gravitating to the email-payments part of their original solution, and ignoring the complex PDA-based cryptography solution. In order to do this kind of pivot, you need to pay close attention to what customers are really doing, not what you think they should do. It also requires abandoning the extra features that make it hard for new customers to discover what’s really valuable about the new, simplified solution [emphasis added].”
Or if you know about Sean Ellis’ gratifying experiences:
“The majority of our project focus at 12in6 recently has been helping startups find their core user perceived value and exposing it in messaging optimized for response. Your objective should be to remove complexity from the initial user experience and messaging in order to highlight this core user perceived value. Often this means burying or even completely eliminating features that don’t relate to this gratifying experience [emphasis added].”
How can you tell if a feature is really a product?
You can wait for customers to start adopting it, see if they love it, and then try to jump in as an investor or an employee.
What if you don’t want to wait for customers to love it? Then you’ve got two options:
- Invest in lots of startups like Y Combinator or Ron Conway — expect most of them to fail and a few to succeed wildly.
- Work with a team that knows how to implement the theories of Eric Ries, Sean Ellis, and Steve Blank. Bet on the team and plan to pivot your way to product/market fit. Needing to seem certain about the future, so you can recruit and raise money, works against this approach.
Those are the only ways I know how.
What other features were really products? Posterous comes to mind.
Image Credit: Jack Dorsey