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We Don’t Care About Your Features (Create Value Instead) | The Discipline of Innovation

We Don’t Care About Your Features (Create Value Instead)

Over the past few months I’ve seen a lot of pitches from people with ideas for new stuff.  One thing that I’ve observed is that people tend to be obsessed with the features that they’ve come up with for their new product, or service, or app, or whatever.

Here is how it plays out: someone is explaining the market gap that they are filling, and they say something like: “Facebook is great for sharing, but it doesn’t let you share one particular type of data in the precise way that this feature in our thing will.”  And that’s the justification for their business opportunity.

It’s great to see their enthusiasm, but there’s one big problem with this:

I don’t care about your features.

No one else does either.

What we all want is for you to solve our problem.  One feature that I would love to have in Facebook is something that would map out my friends as a social network, with data that I can download into Social Network Analysis software.  And I want it not just for me, but for anyone.

You can build a social network that has this feature, but even though I’d really like it, it’s not enough to get me to switch from Facebook.

Why not? Because Facebook does a bunch of other stuff that your social network probably won’t do as well.  On top of that, all my friends and relatives are already on Facebook, and I don’t think I can get them all to switch over to your new social network.  So you may have come up with the one feature that I’d really like, but you still won’t win.

I don’t care about your features, I care about getting problems solved.  Tell me about that.

Alex Osterwalder addresses this problem with his Value Proposition Canvas:

Value Proposition Canvas

 

This is a great tool that I think all startups should be using.  The first post that I linked to explains what each of those six categories are, and what questions to answer to help decide what your value proposition is (download the pdf to get all of this on one big page).  Osterwalder followed that up with a post explaining how to use it.

Here are the advantages he sees:

Firstly, the VP Canvas gives you a simple and practical way to rapidly sketch out WHAT you are building and how you believe this will create customer value/benefits, as well as WHY your are building it: which customer jobs, pains, and gains you intend to address.

Secondly, the VP Canvas helps you distinguish between Product/VP and Customer assumptions. If you “just” build an MVP to measure and learn, you won’t know if a negative outcome of your experiment is related to your MVP or to a lack of customer interest.

In other words, it helps you sort out what problems you’re solving.  Once you’ve done that, then you can think about features.  But when you’re pitching your idea, we only care about the value you’re creating, not the features.

At one of the events, I had a guy ask me “What do you think about apps?”  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but after we talked a bit it became clear that he was wondering if I thought his startup should be building an app.  Once we got that sorted, I told him that was the wrong question.  The thing that he should be thinking about is what problem he is trying to solve, and for whom.  Once he has answers to those questions, then he can figure out if the best vehicle to use is an app, or a website, or a door-to-door salesforce, or whatever.

This isn’t just for startups either.  Word became a big, bloated memory hog because Microsoft became obsessed with features too, instead of creating value.  This is a great approach to take any time you are interested in business model innovation.  Of course, if you do use this approach as a startup, it does improve your chances for becoming an innovative firm.

If you’re pitching, you should be using Guy Kawasaki’s 10 Slide framework.  He says:

If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about are:

  1. Problem
  2. Your solution
  3. Business model
  4. Underlying magic/technology
  5. Marketing and sales
  6. Competition
  7. Team
  8. Projections and milestones
  9. Status and timeline
  10. Summary and call to action

The Value Proposition Canvas gives you the information you need for the first two slides.  If these are good, then you’ll have an innovative business model on slide three.  Slide four is the only one where you might mention features – but even here, we don’t care about your features.  We care about the bigger picture – how will you solve this problem?

So please don’t tell us about your features.  We’re much more interested in learning how you’re going to create value.  If you have that figured out, then you have a shot at changing the world.

 

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About Tim Kastelle

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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16 Responses to We Don’t Care About Your Features (Create Value Instead)

  1. Stewart 4 November 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Great reading thanks Tim. BTW did you know your subcribe link isn’t turned on? :(

  2. paul4innovating 5 November 2013 at 12:35 am #

    I think this ‘features’ obsession also is partly to blame for the ‘rash’ of alternative Business Model Canvases. The “oh, this is difficult to really fit in one of the nine building blocks, I know I’ll add some more” The issue is not adding more ‘features’ but focusing on describing the problem and solution you are wanting to fix.

    For some reason, something that is initially intuitive, easy and useful gets ‘layered’ and made more complicated. Why are we obsessed with this?

    • Tim Kastelle 5 November 2013 at 5:10 am #

      I really don’t know Paul. That’s a good example of where it happens though – and it seems to happen in pretty much every area. Part of it is that it is hard to take features away (see this from xkcd: http://xkcd.com/1172/ )…

  3. Ganesh Natarajan 12 November 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Hi Tim, this made for a very interesting read. Thanks. This is commonplace in India as well. I work in a Product consulting firm and our first advice to our clients is to focus on the ‘Consumer Problem’ and not on the features or technology.

    • Tim Kastelle 12 November 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Ganesh – I’m glad that you liked it. It sounds like your approach is good – I do think that what you’re doing is the right way to attack these issues.

  4. Hans Peter Bech 16 November 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Osterwalder’s customer value proposition “engineering” approach is still somewhat immature. It actually only works if you also do the business model and business model environment exercise. I often use the NABC approach (introduced by SRI in 2006) first and then move to the business model and business model environment exercise next.

  5. Dr Shawn Cunningham 28 November 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Dear Tim,
    This is a great post, thank you. I agree that even though I don’t like Facebook much, I would still not switch easy because of all the sunk energy that I have put in uploading pics, etc. So features won’t make me switch.
    Actually, when I purchased a new car, I knew what I wanted. I just used some of the features to brag afterwards, but really, I did not buy it because it had electric windows. Somehow, getting the basics right is also important, and very few “unique” features will make up for the fact that the product must also deliver some pretty standards and often comparable functions. A new feature (electric motor) will not make up for the fact that I am always leaving home late for meetings (although I arrive on time ;-)), so I am not interested in the feature (save the planet by not using fossil fuel, rather recharge more regularly using power from the grid) until the overall value will work for me.

    • Tim Kastelle 28 November 2013 at 7:42 am #

      Thanks Shawn – those are good examples, and they definitely support the point.

  6. deliberateselling 19 December 2013 at 3:26 am #

    is there an alternative? imagine if you will featureless innovation? ……..We made it better / different but added and changed nothing – what am I missing?

    better design can and will be packaged as a feature, even if it represents no specific functional capability shift. why did we like the mac / ipod back when mp3 players really sucked (the life out of christmas gifts for your kids).

    imagine creating value without changing anything – how would you do that? really, I have no idea….

    if your talking about presentations to VCs and the Investment community, the biggest thing to remember is that Greed is Sexy, and Sex Sells. If they can’t hear/see/smell marginal risk + maximum upside, then no deal is possible. If its sexy enough, enter Irrational Exuberance – ah good old Greenspan. Where is he when you need him?

    what ever value your adding must be expressed in terms that create an Aha moment for the investor, consumer, manager, etc. – Inspiration as Value!

    Value must also represent a surplus of Transactional Value + Transitional Value (risk) that is greater than the Value of the Status Quo.

    And Value.like Beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Its not rocket science. Actually its much more difficult.

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