Building a product and saying no to features

Building a product and saying no to features

Building and launching a SaaS is not an overnight project. Typically there’s a lot of planning and time involved upfront. During this time (if not before) you develop a vision for how your product should look, feel, act, react and fit into the lives of it’s users.

However, somewhere between idea and a successful business, reality rears it’s ugly head and your vision slowly warps into something unexpected.

Yes, I’m talking about Nusii

Michael and I have a pretty clear vision for Nusii. While this vision isn’t set in stone, (you never know what the future may bring) it is however our guiding beacon.

But what happens in one’s mind often doesn’t pan out as expected, especially when building a product.

There are so many unpredictable elements that get thrown into the mix, things that your product vision didn’t account for:

  • Having real customers
  • Customers interacting with your product
  • Personal insecurities
  • Competition envy
  • A lack of conviction

This last one sounds harsh, but having the guts to stand firm behind your vision is actually very challenging. And that’s really what I’m writing about today. Standing up for your product and saying no, when needed.

a no uttered from conviction

What’s Product Vision?

Product vision sounds grandiose, but it’s simple. It’s the vision you have for your product, in it’s purest form. It could almost be considered your mission statement. In fact I bet every startup in the Valley has theirs written down, framed and pinned to every wall in the office. But product vision is fundamental to the success of your business.

Why is this?

Because, without it you’ll be lost at sea. You’ll head wherever the winds blow you and inevitably you’ll end up a wreck!

Having real customers

So if there’s one thing guaranteed to derail a great product, it’s customers.

We dream of building something that attracts customers in their thousands, but when one actually turns up, we crap ourselves and bend over backwards to keep them around. As you should.

But a bootstrapped business is a special kind of business. It’s 100% you. If the wrong kind of customer get a foot in the door, you could find yourself developing a product you never envisioned. As signups begin to creep up and to the right, this same situation repeated over and over can get more difficult to handle and suddenly you no longer recognise your Frenken-app.

You can’t please everyone, but sometimes, and to our detriment, we try.

sometimes I'm very impatient

Customers interacting with your product

No product ever survives first contact with its’ customers.

Unless you’ve done some serious field testing (and even then) you’ll discover that your customers will regularly invent new ways to use your product, usually after a feature request or two. Even customers who fit your “ideal customer profile” will inevitably request “just a little tweak”. Things you’d never considered, or things you had considered but have no intention of developing.

As a customer, if you need a product to do something and it’s 99% there, what do you do?

  • Request a feature?
  • Find a work around because you love the product?
  • Quit?

Depending on how big the problem the product is solving, and the level of competition, you may pick any one of those three options. Of course, it’s on us, the founders to help them choose which route they take.

sometimes no is the hardest word

Personal insecurities

Creative people are great at insecurity, we truly excel!

Having a customer ditch your product is a failure, right? They’ve cancelled, you’ll never reach your monthly goals and the last two years of your life have been for nothing… At least that’s what you’ll tell yourself. And you’ll do everything in your power to stop this from happening.

Insecurities can lead to bad decisions. Learning that churn is part of business can be an important step on the road to product and personal maturity. But damn it’s hard when someone goes, even when they go for the right reasons.

Competition envy

When I was a kid I had a mate who always had the latest skate paraphernalia. He’d turn up with new gear and I’d be stuck with my bargain bin crap. I was envious. I felt that if I had what he had, I’d be a better skater. Of course it wasn’t true, but it’s what I chose to believe.

Trying to keep up with the Joneses is a losing battle, especially if you believe you’re doing something unique. Why would you create a unique product, only then to be concerned with what the Joneses were doing? It makes no sense.

Sure, it’s important to look around and check out what others are up to, but it’s even more important to leave it at that. If you become obsessed with adding features just because your competitor has them,  you’ll end up on a long road to nowhere.

A lack of conviction

Bending in the wind, caving to peer pressure, being a crowd pleaser…Which ever way you choose to put it, doing something because others want you to is really just a lack of personal conviction.

I’m see things as very black and white, just ask Michael. I have pretty strong opinions on most things, but can I bend instantly given the right circumstance.

“You asked for this over a month ago and we still don’t have it live yet? Let me look at that for you”.

This is typically where I’d say to Michael, “Stop what you’re doing, jump on this!” But no more, we can’t survive this way.

Every time Michael stops to build another “Mini” feature, it throws us off course, our schedule goes to pot and we waste time getting back into the flow once more. We’re too small to fuck around!

the customer is always right

Enough with the hippy startup vocabulary!

So, having a vision (pretty hippy, right?) for your product can be all that stands between success and another Swiss army knife. (While every Boy-Scout on the planet coveted this near legendary tool, it wanted to be too many things, to too many people, subsequently failing to be of much use to anyone at all)

To my mind, there’s only one thing that can get in the way of our success, well two…

  1. Our customers
  2. Our inability to say no

Of course, I don’t blame our customers at all. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here at all. The real problem stems from an inability to execute on number 2, when it comes to number 1.

Any product that receives feature requests can consider themselves blessed. It means that someone actually gives a fuck about what you’re building. And generally speaking, a disinterested party won’t make feature requests (bear in mind we request a credit card on signup). If a customer is willing to help you improve your product then you should take note. But, if their vision doesn’t fit with your own, you have to say “NO” (Just not in capital letters).

Stand firm!

And that’s the hard part. For me, saying no always feels like I’m sending out a big Fuck you!

You want your product to succeed, and for that you need your customers to succeed. But sometimes, goals don’t coincide and someone has to gently say goodbye. Not being able to help someone who has believed in your product (albeit for a short while) is a hard pill to swallow.

There is a flip side however, explaining that something doesn’t form a part of your product vision can also be very powerful, and in more ways than you might think.

  1. It solidifies your own vision of your product
  2. It puts pressure on what you’ve already built. If the customer still stays, give yourself a pat on the back
  3. If you keep hearing the same request, and everyone cancels after you keep saying no, maybe it’s time to reevaluate

Both Michael and I continue to struggle with saying no. We want to please our customers, we want Nusii to thrive and yet we know we need to stay true to our vision. If you’re constantly adding little (requested) features and you’re a one-dev-operation then it won’t take long for your app to start going lopsided.

For those of you who remember Zammo McGuire, Just Say No!

If you’d like to see a far more articulate, and amusing summary of saying no to customer requests, check out this awesome talk by Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom. He’s making it his mission to make it everyone else’s, to say no.

2 Comments

  1. Wes Wilkins

    Truly excellent article, which sums up the hardest part of product development, in my opinion. Saying “yes” can be such a slippery slope, especially in the early days of the life of a product.

    It’s a challenge of reconciling the desire to please your customers on an individual level, with the long-term best interest of the product and the user base as a whole.

    • Nathan Powell

      Thanks Wes.

      It’s not like we have it beat, it’s ongoing. You want to please your customers, but you also want whats best for your product. It certainly is a challenge.

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