If you’re building a product to sell for a profit, then your first objective should be to produce something that people are willing to pay for as soon as humanly possible. This requires launching your product the moment it solves the problem well enough that someone is willing to pay for it. This is called your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once you have customers, you can ask them what they need and want from your product and get started on adding new features.
How To Choose Your “Must-Have” Features
Before you can get started, you need to know which features are the most critical to launching your MVP. In order to know that, you need to fully understand two things:
- Your Target Customer
- The Problem You Are Solving For Your Target Customer
It’s best to choose a target customer that you have some experience with, especially if you have a large network in this industry. It will accelerate the MVP testing period because you have existing contacts that you can ask to try out your early product. Better yet, you can ask your trusted network for honest feedback and ideas on the problems they are facing and what would make their lives easier, reduce costs or make them more money.
During your brainstorming, you’re going to come up with hundreds of bells and whistles that will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for your target customer, but the challenge is to limit yourself to the 1 or 2 most critical features that solve the problem in question. Follow the KISS method: Keep It Simple and Strategic.
You and your team might feel somewhat embarrassed about your launch. That’s good. If your MVP does not embarrass you (at least a little), you launched too late. There may be a dozen features that you feel are missing, but no one else knows that. Launch and promote your product as it is TODAY. Don’t make excuses. If your target audience exists and your MVP solves a real problem for them, you should be able to sell it.
One of the advantages of launching early is that you can now test whether all of your hypotheses (guesses) are true before spending anymore time or money on unwanted features. Assuming that your customers have purchased and are using your early product, they’ll very quickly begin offering suggestions and making requests for more features. In many cases, they will be for features you did NOT have in the initial plans. Customers have needs and pain points that you won’t know about until this stage.
Be careful however, not to oversell yourselves. Make sure that your marketing is aligned with your product in its current stage. People won’t be disappointed with your MVP because they don’t share your same level of high expectations. Furthermore, your initial users will be thrilled when you begin adding new features based on their feedback. In fact, these early adopters will be your evangelists promoting your product to other people.
Money Talks: Listen Close
The people who have spent real money to buy your early product are the most important and have earned the right to share their opinions with you. Listen to them. When you pay for a product or service the relationship between the user and the company changes. As a paying customer, they are now entitled to ask for specific services or features based on their expectations from their purchase.
The Needs Of The Many Outweigh The Needs Of The Few
After successfully launching your MVP, you’ll quickly begin to receive feature requests from your early users. Accept them graciously and ensure them that you and your team are hard at work improving your product, however it’s critical that you don’t make any promises or offer any specific timelines.
This stage can be very overwhelming. Your earliest users can be particularly demanding and feel entitled to personalized attention. It’s important that you make it extremely clear that you intend to prioritize the features that will have the biggest impact on the largest number of users.
How To Gather Use Cases
The requests from users for additional features will seemingly come from everywhere. Twitter, email, comments, forums or even in person at a dinner party, you’ll be getting feedback constantly. This is a good thing, but it poses the problem of how to sort through it all and measure it’s value to the core user base.
In order to add context to all of these suggestions, you should ask your customers to explain the general use case for their proposed new feature. It’s important to understand the problem they are trying to solve instead of how they believe it should be solved. By digging a little deeper into their problem you’ll begin to open the possibilities of a solution to a wider audience, thereby making it much easier to rank the new feature on the list of priorities.
Once in a while, a user will suggest a feature that is fairly quick and easy to develop and doesn’t compromise the core product. In these instances, it’s great to be able to introduce the new feature in the next release and then let them know that it’s there. This is one of the most satisfying moments of developing your own product. You get to make the rules and delight your early users.
Silence Is Golden
A happy customer is a quiet customer. If you’re tracking your customer support or ticketing system, take a look at the statistics compared to the overall user base. How many of your users have come back for product support? If it’s less than 50%, well that means that the majority of your customers are satisfied enough with your original product that they don’t feel the need to request new features.
While this may boost your confidence a bit, be careful not to lose focus and remember your ideal customer – the one whose problems you set out to solve when you started. If you’re getting a lot of flak from users outside of your ideal customer, you can take refuge in knowing that the product wasn’t ever really for them in the first place, so resist the urge to add new features for squeaky wheels outside of your core target audience.
Speaking of squeaky wheels, your most outspoken users can make it seem that EVERYONE is requesting a certain feature or alteration. If these loudmouths are requesting a change that will alter the course of your product, then make sure that you do your due diligence with the happy, silent customers as well. If your usage stats can be separated by user, than you can see who your most active customers and contact them for feedback. Typically, the happy, silent customer will be glad to provide their feedback on your product for which they are finding so much value. During the feedback sessions, try to be as specific as possible, instead of simply asking them what they think of the product so far. If you’re planning a major update or pivot, be prepared to explain your reasoning with a compelling argument for doing so.
Guarding Your Core Value Proposition
Never forget why you started building this product in the first place. The initial problem or problems you set out to solve are critical when deciding what to build next to make the product even better. If a proposed new feature will take away from the core value proposition, there better be a great reason for adding it. Sometimes there’s a workaround. Go back to the general use cases your early customers provided and see if there’s another way to solve the problem. You should be honest and upfront with customers if you cannot or will not build their requested feature and be prepared for some of them to go elsewhere. It’s okay. Trying to please everyone is the recipe for pleasing no one.
New Features ≠ More Sales
Adding new features typically does not yield any significant spike in new sales. In fact, they’re usually not even worth including in your marketing plan, other than communicating the update to your current users.
However, this is not to say that adding new features is not important. It’s incredibly important. It proves to your existing user base that the product is actively being worked on and that there’s a team of people consciously trying to improve the lives of their customers. Just don’t get your hopes up that a major product update is going magically triple your user base. Instead, spend your time and energy on proven marketing activities and locating new users based on your core value proposition, as well as adding new features.
In the end, starting small and launching early with a crystal clear idea of who your target customer is and which core problem you are solving is the most effective way to bring a new product to market. For anyone bootstrapping their MVP, this is also a great way to get the cash flow train moving at an early stage. Furthermore, it ensures that any new features you add to your MVP will be truly valuable to your customers.
Keeping the lines of communication open with your ideal users and remaining upfront and honest in your decision-making will keep you on track to serving your target market. By continually adding new features in a thoughtful manner, you will retain your early users, become useful to a wider audience and, most importantly, raise the minimum standards for a competitor’s MVP trying to enter the market behind you.
If you ever want our expert opinion or simply advice on defining and developing you next MVP, please contact us and we will be happy to answer your questions. To learn more about our work, our full range of services or the projects we’re currently involved in, check out mobilejazz.com.
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