A collection of features makes it a solution, which we call a Product—solving for the customers’ needs. A product, typically, has several features performing a workflow. A workflow tackles user problems in different situations. Having a concrete understanding of Feature vs. a Product helps you in positioning and designing the best product.
What if my product has a tiny set of features? Do you still call it a product? Well, I’m not here to pass along a new formula on how many features you should have. That’s not the point. Every product starts with a small set of features. Then aims to find the product-market fit and grow the customer base. As you do that, your backlog of requested features grows. You will prioritize the next set of features, build them as quickly as possible, and test them in the market. Repeat.
Note: Being feature-rich and avoiding the bloat is the balancing act for all product people out there—hone the skill of building the right things.
Let’s use a couple of examples for further investigating.
Is Dropbox a Feature or Product?
Steve Jobs is quoted as saying that Dropbox was a feature and not a product. He was both right and wrong about that. If Dropbox was just about backing up files on your desktop computer and /or sharing them across your devices, yes, it’s a feature. However, that isn’t the job that Dropbox does. Dropbox’s job is to make all your digital content (images, videos, books, documents) easily accessible across different situations spanning different people (sharing and collaborating) to places and technologies (Apple laptop -> Android mobile).
The key aspect of a product, as described above, is addressing the needs spanning different situations, people, places, and technology.
While Dropbox has expanded and matured its core capabilities, the space in which they’re competing is crowded with the offerings from Microsoft (Office 365) and Google (G Suite). There’s broad enterprise adoption of these competitors for various reasons for their office suites, email, and video conferencing. So, it’s relatively easy for them to provide Dropbox functionality and provide tighter integration with their product suite. Of course, that’s precisely what they have done.
Dropbox responded with their own effort with limited success with Dropbox Paper and ventured into document editing and collaboration. Not easy to shed the tag: a-feature-and-not-a-product.
(Full disclosure: I’m a paying customer of Dropbox.)
Is Clubhouse a Feature or Product?
A friend sent an invite to Clubhouse, a drop-in audio chat app, recently. I like the low friction way of bringing speakers and listeners together. Listeners can join and leave quietly. You have notifications for any topics and people you’re following. All that is good, but that’s where the experience ends too. That’s a minimal set of feature functionality.
So, is Clubhouse not useful as a product? I’m sure it is. I liked it for many sessions I hopped on. They will soon get into a quantity over quality concerns with the rapid growth in the number of rooms. I’m digressing.
The problem with Clubhouse is the major tech players can clone their functionality with relative ease. They have no economic moat. The barrier for entry for the new participants is low as:
- There is no technology advantage: the tech seems accessible, especially for the big-name companies who already operate at scale.
- The switching costs are low: For the likes of Twitter (which already launched Spaces, a clone of Clubhouse), LinkedIn (working on their own version), and several others, they already have a huge network of users. So, it’s not such a big shift for them to use their existing tools and get the perceived benefits of Clubhouse.
- No cost advantage: At least not yet. Can Clubhouse make it cheaper to operate or offer? No indications yet. For the cost advantage, it will be a race to the bottom.
Clubhouse is not an example of winner takes all because they’re early to the market. While they’re figuring out the kinks, others leverage their networks to provide this feature into their products.
To the positioning: knowing what you have can help position on how to market, what’s marketable. There’s news that Twitter was in talks about acquiring Clubhouse. The acquisition is one way to go about it. Until Clubhouse builds other competitive advantages, I tend to see it as a feature-not-a-product.