Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ten Commandments: Product, not Feature

This sounds obvious, but it is surprisingly hard. Technologists often start with a “wouldn’t it be cool if…” approach or they just fall in love with a particular piece of technology or maybe just an algorithm. Nothing wrong with that.

But now you have to switch your focus to the customer. Which product will your technology (we’ll call it a feature, because that’s mostly how things start out) be embedded in? And a product is something that usually has a price and some kind of description. And some kind of competition, either direct or via a substitution scenario. 

Useful exercises include drafting a product sheet that describes features and benefits and a price list that describes how the product is paid for. The Product Box exercise is also particularly useful to find out how to position various features and benefits with respect to each other.

Note that this is relevant even if you were not to build the product yourself, e.g. because you license the technology to somebody else. They will then have to answer these questions as well.

Ten Commandments: Thou shalt be a rockstar. Or have lots of experience

At the beginning there is the team. And nothing else. And if you want to get people to invest in you or buy your early product or come and work for you then those decisions will be dependent on the team and not much else. The team can be remarkable by having found unique talent that can be found nowhere else and/or by assembling deep individual or collective experience. Think hard about what makes you remarkable and why people will not meet the same type of talent at every street corner. 

In most cases the technical talent is at the center of this discussion. Can your engineers develop stuff that other people cannot? Do they use tools or methods that give them an unfair advantage? Or do they just work ten times harder than everybody else in the industry?

Experience obviously can go a long way. How far depends on your business. Think about founder-market fit, i.e. about how deeply you understand the technology and the market that you’re engaging in. Identify deficits and address them, by hiring, partnering, or by bringing on domain expertise in the form of some kind of advisory board.

Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Have Secret Sauce

This one is simple. You need to have some kind of technology or business model or marketing approach or all of the above that sets you apart from the rest and that is not easily copied.

For most software people this will most likely be in the technology. Ask yourself:

  • Can I do things that most people think cannot be done? This could be because I have invented some unique and prize-worthy algorithm. More often it will be because I am using new tools and technologies that were not available until recently. Or because I have done the grunt work to build a complex solution for an inherently hard problem. 
  • Do I have what people call an unfair advantage? E.g. 10 better, feaster, cheaper than existing approaches.
  • How hard would it be for somebody else to come up with an equivalent solution? 

If so, then your job is to turn what is probably a feature into a product. By identifying the customer problem that your approach addresses and then defining the product that delivers your technology. MVP first, whole product later.

The Ten Commandments

I have spoken a couple of times about the lessons I learned as an entrepreneur and also working with others. Which I packaged into ten commandments of things you should do and things you shouldn’t do. I’ll elaborate on this in the upcoming posts.

On a side note, now that I’m off starting another company, I have a newfound appreciation of how hard it can be to follow all the sensible advice people give you. So feel free to smile if you catch me not following my own commandments at all times…

Here is the list, status 2011. Updates will come later. I’ll explain what these actually mean in the following posts:

  • Thou shalt have secret sauce.
  • Thou shalt be a rockstar. Or have lots of experience. Or both.
  • Thou shalt build a product, not a feature.
  • Thou shalt know thine customer.
  • Thou shalt find a parade and jump in front of it.
  • Thou shalt not be German.
  • Thou shalt have one lawyer.
  • Thou shalt have a board of directors.
  • Thou shalt not require venture capital.
  • Thou shalt honor thine founder.
  • Thou shalt respect thine biorhythm.