Feature building at startups

In the world of startups, deciding which features to build can be a daunting task. With limited resources and a need to move quickly, startups need to prioritize features that will have the greatest impact on their business. In this post, we'll explore strategies for deciding which features to build and best practices for building them. A tl;dr of what you're about to read:

  • Decide what to build - is it valuable to the customer? Is it viable to my business?
  • Commit to finish it, and build - is it usable? Is it feasible?
  • Ship and measure - did this solve the problem?
Prioritizing Features

One of the biggest challenges for startups is deciding which features to build first. It's important to focus on building features that solve a real problem for your customers. Start by identifying the key pain points that your customers are experiencing and then prioritize features that address those pain points. In Marty Cagan’s framework, this is the step where you prioritize value to the customer.

Another important consideration is the potential impact a feature can have on your business. Will it help you acquire new customers? Increase engagement from existing customers? Drive revenue? This is Marty Cagan’s viability step: prioritize features that will be (financially and value-aligned) viable for your business.

Building Features

Once you've prioritized your features, it's time to start building. What’s key here is sticking to the plan. Build and ship what you’ve decided on; the worst case is a bunch of features that are 80% complete because things keep changing. If your iteration cycles are small enough… decide, build, ship, measure. Those are all the steps you need and you can revisit new priorities in the next iteration.

Start with only the core functionality needed to solve the customer's problem. This allows you to launch quickly and start gathering feedback from real users. This summary condenses the usability and feasibility steps (we can talk more about this in another post), but this is where the team works together to iterate on a solution that is usable and feasible to build.

During the build iteration… Engineers - this is your chance to ask the product/customer-facing team members any clarifying questions as you build. Customer-facing team members - keep talking to customers! Understand them better; empathize with their pain points; figure out what else bothers them.

Once you've launched the new feature… it's important to closely monitor user feedback and iterate quickly based on that feedback. This means building features in small, incremental steps that allow you to test and refine your product as you go.

Testing and Refining

Testing and refining your product is a critical part of the feature-building process. Start by setting up a feedback loop that allows you to gather feedback from real users. This can include user surveys, customer interviews, and user behavior analysis.

Based on this feedback, make small, incremental changes to your product to improve the user experience. This might include tweaking the design, adding or removing features, or improving performance. The key is to make changes that are driven by user feedback and that have a real impact on the user experience.

Final thoughts

Building features at a startup is a challenging but rewarding process. By prioritizing features that solve real problems for your customers and building in small, incremental steps, you can create a product that truly resonates with your users. It’s easy to fall into a muscle-memory rhythm where you’re iterating on the same features forever, but remember to start each feature-building iteration with a fresh mind. Look at the feedback you’re getting from customers. Look at the pain points they are feeling. Identify what will bring the most value to them; it’s not always the the most predictable next step.