It’s Not About Features

Bearer of bad news

Recently, I’ve been asked to give a talk to new and/or aspiring entrepreneurs.
The truth is, I almost resent talking to them, as I hate being the bearer of bad news.
And boy, there are many. I usually start with: “It’s going to be harder than you think, it will take longer than you think, you will lose health, friends and money in the process, and you probably won’t succeed in the end.”

But there is a good news. Especially valuable in the startup community, but not only.
This good news makes the conversation worth having, because so few people are aware of it:
You don’t need to have more features than your competitors to successfully launch your product.

Case study – Steve Ballmer vs iPhone

Steve Ballmer, January 2007, on the newly announced iPhone: “You can get a Motorolla Q phone now, for $99; it is a very capable machine, it will do music, it will do internet, it will do email, it will do instant messaging. So I kinda look at that and I say, I like our strategy, I like it a lot.”

Ballmer obviously failed to understand that users actually do care about the way they use their device, not just that it “does it”.

Yes, you couldn’t install apps on the original iPhone (can you believe it?). Yes, you couldn’t use the 3G network. And there was no camera. And on top of that, it was crazy expensive.
So why did it prevail? Where was Ballmer wrong?

He just made the common mistake of many entrepreneurs, upcoming and experienced alike: Users actually do care about the way they use their device, not just that it “does it”.
The iPhone then went on to become the gold standard in the smartphone industry.

Three years later, difference device, same story.
Remember how the iPad was decried for being pricey, while having way less features than its competitors? No USB ports, no camera, no multitasking, no Flash…
Phil Schiller (Senior VP of Worldwide product marketing at Apple) dismissed these criticisms in a very simple way:  “It’s not about the features — it’s about the experience. You just have to try it to see what I mean.” (source).

Not just for big companies

This approach works especially well for young startups, and you still don’t have to be first. Just more focused than your competitors.

Google didn’t invent search engines when they released Google search.
37signals didn’t invent web based project managment softwares with Basecamp.
Dropbox surely didn’t invent concept of online backup services.

Being focused on the core of your product is a big part of the “Lean Startup” methodology.
You can watch the case studies of startups like Dropbox or IMVU here.

Conclusion – “Just do it”

There is still room for innovation everywhere. It will always be hard, but never impossible.
Always remember, to not just work harder, work smarter.

This is a guest post written by Christophe Maximin (@christophe971 creator of

For more startup news follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

  • JonnieFort

    Christophe, how do you sell an experience? It seems like features would be easier to sell.

    • You try to explain, or better, to show to your potential customers why they don’t need most of the features your competitors are offering;

      and why, at the same time, the basic features your product/services are more pleasurable to use, because you spent more time thinking about what’s important than having a bunch of stuff few people will actually use.

    • @9f20aa20bd90d5591a26fc139673ef0e:disqus , the user experience begins at the very first contact the user has with your application. And that may be precisely what makes the user buy your product.

    • Sid

      You don’t need to sell experience, it sells itself via word of mouth.
      Apple reinvented the smartphone market by understanding user
      frustrations, which I have to say Google and others are still failing to

      • Gemma Weirs

        Apple did not understand user frustrations at all. I recall well enough many customers complaining about the old iPhones. People don’t complain like that for no reason. 

        A great experience isn’t all that’s necessary. It’s all very well having a sleek UI with flashy this and that, but it’s not a good experience when the thing doesn’t perform well or breaks easily or has a serious flaw. That’s what happened with iPhones and iPods in the past. 

        Apple doesn’t really provide a greater experience than any other company. They got rich and successful off the back of people’s egos. The only reason why people often recommend the iPhone or an Apple product is because in their minds it’s the best – based on how easy it is to use and how nice it looks, until something goes wrong.

        • “based on how easy it is to use”

          duh…why would someone recommend a hard to use product?

          • Chris Giddings

            Something can be easy to use and still have a piss poor experience.

            Experience is a really ephemeral topic. A real study of each feature and creative discussion on how to implement that feature and interact with it help to craft unique and easy experiences.

            Not everyone can conjure a unique experience right away. It takes talent and creativity to to be able to think outside the preverbal box. It takes a lot of practice thinking of new ideas to hone your creative genes to get this right.

  • Satyam Dorville

    @9f20aa20bd90d5591a26fc139673ef0e:disqus The question have to be : ” How do you recognize a good experience ? “The answer is : “It is the one that you don’t have to sell…”

  • Christy

    I’m seven years into a start-up non-profit. Last week I met with someone who wants to start yet another non-profit in our heavily saturated area of non-profit organizations. Your point about selling the experience is just right on. I continue to meet many people who have an idea for this or that non-profit. But what we really need are not more organizations that provide “features,” so to speak, but “experiences” that actually catch people’s hearts & imaginations. If it captures our imaginations, then the future is being formed, vision spreads, and the organization begins to take on a life of its own. That’s what we want!

  • Anonymous

    Thing is, the people that read this here will be well aware of it not being about features, the others will carry on not listening and making the same mistake.

    Regarding the iphone, well i dont think that its about the experience for some of the users, a lot of people have bought an iphone because their relatives or friends have one, my sister, her husband too have one, they dont know what they have though, they definately didn’t buy it for the experience.

    People i know that are looking at getting an ipad dont know why they want it, i dont know how people think in the US, but here in the UK i would say that half of iphone and ipad users couldn’t explain properly why they bought one or want one. 

  • i agree tell the average person who owns a iphone that it does not have flash on it and I bet you they will reply whats flash?!

  • Now that the iPhone 4S has a better antenna, I’m kissing my iPhone 4’s death grip goodbye

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