Are your features "valuable" enough?

Blog Post created by Florian_Cheval Employee on Jun 13, 2016

Last time, we looked at a formula to evaluate the effectiveness of a piece of software to complete a particular task/solve a problem.


It was basically saying "amongst 2 pieces of software, the best one is the one that will get the more users to complete the task. In case of a tie, the fastest alternative wins."


So now you're going to come and tell me that you've developed this piece of software, that does exactly the same thing as the leading product in this problem space, except that you can do it x% faster.


According to the Good Software Evaluation, you have a superior Product and you can rightly expect to become the new norm and get ridiculously rich.


But you don't. You've shown your thing to many a customer of Leader's Product, they all tell you nice things and that it would certainly be appreciable if they could solve this faster than they currently do.


Apparently, If you're working for an Israelian or Japanese company, you're waiting by the Fax machine for the order forms to come by, but it remains awfully silent. Don't panic just yet. Tis not the fax machine that's broken: you're just not revolutionary enough.



Some would say you're not "innovating" or "disruptive" enough, but these are just buzzwords and I hate buzzwords, so let's try and explain what's happening here just using normal people everyday words.


Think of a product you have to use every day of your life. Your toothbrush. Your soap. Your boiler. Your micro-wave. Your shaver. A pen. Your car. Whatever.


You've got one firmly pictured in your head? You can just see yourself interacting with this product?


Good, now I'm going to come up with a "superior" product to the one you currently use.


I'm going to create for you a faster toothbrush. A safer micro-wave. A closer shave experience. A cheaper pen. A more economic car.


Will you buy it?


- It depends.


How much faster? What do you mean safer? I don't care about being shaved closer, my current shaver is perfectly fine. How cheaper can it get? How much will I save?


Let's take some examples.


Your dentist tells you that you have to brush for 3 minutes. If you're anything like me, after 1 minute you really have no clue where to go next, even your gums and possibly your nose feel really clean and your arm is sore.


My new toothbrush will get your teethes spotless 2% faster!


You're probably not going to run to the store to get a new one for such a negligible increment, right?


Let me come back with version 2.0, it's now 10% faster. Still not rushing to the store now, are you? This starts to seem like a modest differentiator, like all these toothpastes who claim to make your teethes whiter/shinier.


My Engineers have discovered this amazing way to intertwine the molecules of the brush, and it's now 50% faster! I sense to perceive a genuine interest? You may even be considering buying it next time you go to the store while you just bought a new one. Imagine that, instead of wasting 1-3 minutes of your life thrice, *cough* twice a day, you can divide that time by 2 for the same effect!



We've added some cleaning nano-particles to the fabric, and the latest generation is 90% faster than a conventional toothbrush. That means you can spend 18 seconds brushing and get the exact same effect as in 3 minutes with a regular toothbrush. Something you just couldn't do before now becomes a breeze! All things equal, I'm pretty sure we have a killer product here.


Toothbrushes are cheap and renewed frequently. Let's take the car next.


2% more economic: okaaaay...

10% more economic: that becomes a significant selling factor

50% more economic: You are going to have a hard time convincing both your wife and your wallet not to buy my fuel saving car and buy a conventional one instead.

90% more economic: This car is now pretty much the only game in town, it is considered socially irresponsible to buy the conventional ones, and the legislation will soon evolve towards much drastic carbon emission limits to match this "new normal".


Learnings until now: A 10% improvement in a toothbrush isn't very interesting, while a 10% improvement in a car really is.


Corollary: The more money is at stake, the smaller the improvement percentage has to be for it to become viable/interesting.


If I can improve by 1% a process that costs you 1 Billion dollars, I just saved you 10 Millions dollars, nothing to be frowned at, which explains why banks spend so much money on tuning their algorithms and try to place transactions as fast as possible in high-frequency trading, because a ridiculously small improvement yields huge amounts of money.


So to conclude, if you're not working in Finance, aim for 90% improvements over the current solutions, and if you can make it, you're pretty sure to transform the world in some way, even if it's just toothbrushes. Even if you fail, a 50% better solution is still a very compelling product...


Here's what Larry Page thinks about "10x" innovation: Google's Larry Page on Why Moon Shots Matter | WIRED


Ok, back to sofware now.


You are considering a new feature for your product. That means you are going to spend time, energy and money researching, designing, implementing, documeting,  testing and supporting it, there is no small feature.


How will it change the game for your users? Will it fall into the "negligible improvements" category? In the "mildly interesting" one? Or will it be so good that your users can't understand how they could suffer the previous solution?


Next time you're considering changing anything in your product, don't settle for the safe/modest improvement. Take 10 seconds and do me a favour. Ask yourself: Can I take this opportunity to improve my users lives by at least 2? Chances are it's not that much more expensive than the small insignificant enhancement your were considering...


Conclusion: Your new product developments will be "valuable" when they improve the existing alternative solutions by at least 50% (unless you work in Finance and you can save the 0.5 cents that get lost in the system).