Prioritisation for ‘preneurs

Overloaded with Opportunity, too much creativity and too little progress?  Our simple product planning matrix will help you focus.

Your startup resources are naturally limited, and despite your passion and creativity you’ll never be able to do everything and neither should you – at least not without testing with customers along the way!  As a mentor to the China AXLR8R program I was grateful for the opportunity to speak to the current batch of founders at last weekends 10×10 Beijing event.  I chose to talk about product planning and prioritization as this is an area that often gets overlooked because it’s so fundamental and basic, yet for the very same reason it’s an area entrepreneurs can’t afford to get wrong!

While crafting my slides for the talk I set about trying to verbalise and visualise my intuition, and ended up thinking about the classic Important / Urgent matrix – an awesome tool for any kind of time management need.  If you haven’t seen it before, I suggest taking a quick look at any of the awesome results on Google.

So – how could we use this to decide what features of our product we should build first?  Well, please allow me to introduce our ‘product priorities for ‘preneurs’ matrix.

ikuramedia's Product Priorities for 'preneurs

Common FeatureDifferentiator
Hard*aaS / outsourceElephants

Similarly to the classic matrix we have a 2×2 matrix and split our features into two dimensions:

  1. How easy is it to implement & test (with customers!) this feature?
  2. How much of a differentiator is this feature?

That’s it – two simple to answer questions and now each feature sits in one of four different regions in the matrix.  Each of these areas then have a simple strategy:

  1. Easy Non-Differentiators
    • Firstly, consider whether you can make this a differentiator by not having it!  Simplicity and clarity are great differentiators in crowded markets.  Take a look at our article on Zince for a great example of how cutting out a standard feature can improve the overall utility of an App.
    • If you still decide that you really need this, then “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”  Go visit Stackoverflow or Github and grab someone else’s code – it’s been done before so don’t reinvent the wheel.  Nobody will care if your pull-to-refresh or slide-to-reveal implementation is better than someone else’s, you’re not in the API business so just go with the best in class or easiest to use.
  2. Complex Non-Differentiators

    • Again – consider if you really need this… but assuming you do – then here’s an area with two simple answers.  Firstly – outsource it to someone else so you can focus on the differentiators.  Odesk or Elance are your friends here…
    • If it’s not suitable for outsourcing, then look for someone providing this feature as a service (*aaS).  In our previous articles on MVPs and Mobile Backends we’ve looked at Parse and other backend providers as a means to launch quickly and efficiently.  Other opportunities in this area are twilio if you need SMS or other communications hookups, Google Analytics for analytics and (coming soon!) Splitforce for A/B testing.
  3. Easy Differentiators
    • Now we’re talking – you’re on to something that could have the potential to change your life and delight your customers.  So why the hell are you reading this blog post?  Go make it, get it in front of your customers and make hay while the sun shines!  Just F-ing Do It already.
  4. Complex Differentiators
    • The risk with the easy differentiators is that they quickly become easy non-differentiators for your competitors… The real gold lies underneath the Complex Differentiators quadrant.  So why do I call these elephants?
      • Q: How do you eat an elephant?
      • A: One spoonful at a time…
    • That’s right – these are the features we need to be plugging away at on a daily & weekly basis and get them built.  If we’re not spending time working on these, then we’re falling on the wrong end of the entrepreneur/wantrapreneur spectrum…
    • BUT!
      • Q: Who wants to eat an elephant anyway?
    • The risk here is that you spend forever building something that nobody wants…  So try to break down this elephant into coherent parts that you can prototype, fudge together or smoke & mirrors demo in order to see if people really want / need this – and refine as you go.  Get your target market involved in the creation of this elephant and you’ll have something really special, and very investable-in.  A ready-market, a barrier to entry / unfair advantage, and a great product.

So, in short, that’s it – don’t build stuff you don’t need to, get the easy stuff done quickly, find your elephants and make sure there’s a market for them while you develop them further.  If you’re an early stage startup and don’t have the in-house capability to develop your differentiators, then drop us a line as our Angel Development program might be a great fit for you.

As always we’d love to hear your feedback so drop us a comment below and let us know what you think.  What are your favourite elephants?  What standard features would the world be better off without?

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