Dealing with Feature Overload in Web Product Management

Simplify, Simplify Again, and Simplify a 3rd time

Having come into contact with at least 20 different websites and start-ups over the past 2 months, plus having to manage all the features in our new start-up Krowde, I am starting to see the light on the words “Simplify, Simply Again, and Simply a 3rd time”.  Back when we were at Caffeine Spaces in Boca Raton, someone wrote this on the dry erase board.  It has a lot of meaning to me and can be applied to so many aspects of building out a website or mobile app from design, functionality, marketing, architecture and other aspects of these tech start ups.  I am focused on product management in this context.  (but I could write another article on any of those disciplines)

Feature Junkie

It has a lot of meaning to me because I am a feature junkie. Everytime I come up with a new product or concept, I can think of  a million cool features.  This is what we do as creative people and when you combine that with a technologist, more specifically a web developer, you can have a thousand little features that are cool and different and meant to change the world, even a world within a world.  But overall, what you are doing with complexity sometimes, is really showing off your ego.    We all want to show off what we can do, how smart we are, and we are, but not always in business.  Trust me, it’s my downfall.  In web product management too many features and quite often the wrong features can be the death of a product or at least delay it indefinitely before it goes live.

What’s The Delay And I Want It All Now!

Now, if you think about it, how can you produce all these features when your time is limited.  That is not the real question.  The real question is what features are really needed first, and what features can’t wait.  I can’t really expound on the features in Krowde that I am talking about, but I can come up with an imaginary app that I probably will never create.  Let’s call it Park Finder, and let’s say it was being built for iOS and Android.

Anyway,  you have spec’d out the mobile app.  You have come up with a dozen great features from a map with icons, a search of that map, a link to that park’s page, a listing and a small profile per park, the ability to share that Park with your friends instantly via Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, an ability to talk about that park, an ability to upload pictures about that park for others to see, rate that park, a list of parks by ratings, park contact info, park office instant chat.  Wait a second!  Park office instant chat.  That needs to go into the list of “Would Like” stuff.  And that is the issue.  In fact, that list has a lot of cool stuff, but ultimately his park finder app could actually be live and working with just 3 features, a search, a map and a link to the website for that park.  All the other park finder features sound so good in your head and they are, but the customers don’t know what they don’t know.

Customers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I like saying this line and it has come back in many conversations, because it is really important and tied to the simplification concept.   The second issue with product complexity occurs in the mind of the technology founder.  Sometimes they think that more is better.  They think that the value increases with number and breadth of features.  But it is not exactly the same for the customer or customers.  Customers don’t always think the same or use the same features.  When only 5 out of 1000 users used that feature, then of course it was not very important.  Also, from a development standpoint, what about getting the thing finished and out to the market.  That is what is important.


Getting the Park app out into the market, with limited features is the best way to do it.  It is what Fried says in Rework, Brad Feld says in his blog and it makes common sense.  If you want to get your product out there and in the market, only include at first the core features, the features that make your product usable.  It will not fail because it does not have all the final pieces and bells and whistles you envision.  It may be that the park finder app may have been well received and done very well with only these basic features.  You have the time to add new features after that.  Add your sharing, commenting, rating and other features later on.  It is painful, but worth it and the difference in your app making or not making it to market.

What Can I Live Without?

In the end people are the problem, because even I have fallen into the “I want it all” trap.  And then I was the problem. You think you can have it all, but sometimes more doesn’t necessarily sell your product.  Sometimes less does.  Sometimes doing a small thing well is more critical than anything.  There are products and services that are bigger, feature rich, etc, but they are not for the small boot strapped start-up.  There is a cost associated with more, and sometimes those features never amount to anything or any usage.  The people you can’t always control, because they may be in charge and have the purse strings.  But at least you understand yourself what the issues are, and can say to yourself, what can I live without?

How I Joined The e-Reader Bandwagon

Even though I keep up with a lot of technology and innovation going on, I had been in the dust bin of tech history when it came to e-Readers.  This just means I have/had no clue to what is going on, why or how it all worked.  I remember when the Kindle and the Nook appeared on the market, and I remember they were originally hardware that had migrated to software.  That was it.

Early Reader Goes Bust

Now, coming from a habitual childhood reading obsession,  you would think I would have picked up on the e-Reader revolution.  I mean it is true in England the libraries are being shut down!  I used to read 3 novels a week in high school, mostly science fiction, a bunch of magazines, and whatever I could get my hands on.  We had the New York Times delivered daily.  During my MBA years I often read the Wall Street Journal delivered to my home and even subscribed to the Harvard Business Review.  It was like $20 a copy 20 years ago.  Even in my early years while working at the phone company I would read, mainly for my MBA, tons and tons of magazines and books.  Later on, when I met my wife, she was an avid reader as well, we collected a massive amount of hard covers and paperbacks, magazines.

Newspapers End For Me

But alas, about 1999 I stopped ordering a newspaper.  So did a lot of you too, right?  I think about 2006 we tried the local Sun-Sentinel, because it was like $10 bucks for the entire year.  That bad boy piled up all around us. I will never get a newspaper delivered again.   Because I was evolving into a programmer around 1999, I really did not want to put my eyes on the computer after hours.  And then finally the nail in the coffin was having kids.  That time of finding a moment with a book alone became so rare, that I hardly would read one book a year.  I was mentally dead and I knew it!  In fact, the only reading I was doing in the past years was the guide in Japanese Suduko puzzle books.  When I say Suduko, I mean Nikoli, hand delivered from Japan.

Rework by Friedman Get’s Me Started in eBooks

I had been carrying around Jason Friedman’s “physical” book called Rework, the second book on start-ups he had written, and maybe I had started to read the first 4 chapters.  I probably read and reread those chapters like 3 times.  I never seemed to get through the book, nor could I remember where I had left the book.  Between work, kids, and everything else going on, the physical book Rework was not going to be read.  I was determined to read it though.  So that is the first real eBook I was determined to find a way to read online or on my mobile.  So, first thing I realized (I know I am late the game on this stuff, but apparently so is most of the world) is that if I could put it on my smartphone I would probably be able to find a way to read it.

iPads and Samsung Tab 3

You probably are saying to yourself, if you had 2 ipads and 2 Samsung Tab 3 tablets in our house, then how did I miss the whole eReader bandwagon.  Well, first off the two little boys we have at home would instantly grab any tablet we had in our hands and run off with it, and I was not exactly in a position to say no.  Then, like in a lot of families, the iPads started to get broken.  One broke and we got it fixed at the Apple store.  Then the second one broke and it could not be fixed (iPad v1).  So we ended up getting the boys their own Samsung Tab 3 tablets, each with special unbreakable covers.  I have a Galaxy SII, which is an antiquated smartphone.  Trust me, my nice LG and Galaxy 4 were both dropped in a fishtank.  But even when I had them I was not into eReading.  I was still traumatized by my years of programming and fear of staring at a computer.  At least that is one answer why I strayed from reading in general.

Rework Goes Digital

So at some point, somebody in my household, I won’t say who, finally said to me, hey you want an eBook, I can get them pirated at (whatever-whatever) site.  I was like, really, you can get me an eBook I want.  And she did.  I was able to put Rework on my Android phone and use UB Reader, which I believe came with my Android device, and life was good.  I set the font to 20+ point, so I practically would not need my reading glasses and went at it.  I found that turning the page with my thumb, skimming this zoomed in version, to be very doable.  It was the first time I went and fully read a whole book in years.  Trust me, I purchased 200 books in the past 15 years, I just hardly ever read them.  So once I had finished Rework, I went back to that special person and asked her if she could get me book x, book y, and book z.  In fact, she was able to get me a lot of the books I wanted to read, and books that I did not ever think of reading.

Travel, Live, Read

On the road you find eReading to be quite useful.  I rarely travel for business, but now when I do I know to load up on my smartphone.  So, what I am telling most of you (any one of you) who read my blog, is eReading is not just better than a physical book, it is the physical book with a ton of features you don’t get when reading a real book.  I am able to grab a section of a book, a quote, copy it and send it off to my colleagues with my comments.  I am able to bookmark digitally.  I am able to read a book on my smartphone, pop it down from my Dropbox and plop it on iPad or Samsung Tab 3 and continue reading there.  On UB Reader for instance, I am able to not just read this format called .epub books, but I am reading .pdf format as well. Suddenly I was able to get back into reading novels, self-help, magazines ( I got a copy of national geographic on my smartphone).  I was able to reconnect and start reading again.

The Non-Reading Future Ahead Of Us

I am hearing more and more that the future for younger and younger people is less reading.  I was believing this, but now that I have become an eReader myself, I think that this is not necessarily what will happen.  I think access and speed of reading may actually increase.  What is happening is you can digitally get any book from the past or present within seconds, and that has created an opportunity for those who want to read more to be able to get and read what they want, wherever they are.  So if you have not yet tried an eBook, give it a try, and like me you may have rediscovered reading.