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Features Aren't Products

Yesterday, I wrote:

I had dinner last week with a friend of mine who's a Sand Hill VC, who told me about seeing a business plan from one entrepreneur who had implemented a single feature -- the kind of thing a talented AJAX programmer could get up and running in a day or two by hooking into an existing Web service's API -- and was looking for full first-round funding. The feature wasn't a demo of a small slice of what he wanted to build with his funding -- he just wanted to build services around it. Around a feature.
What I didn't write was that late last year, within the span of a week, I had two friends e-mail me asking me what they thought about both the company mentioned above and another company building what appeared to be an identical product. I replied then just as I wrote earlier today, that it sounded like a feature to me, something that could be built on top of an existing Web service within days.

What triggered today's blog entry was reading a commentary by a well-known entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist saying that Web 2.0 companies are massively overhyped (often true) and that the term is basically used to get funding for ideas that don't deserve it (often true). This person then went on to list his investments -- one of which was the company described above, about which he says he's excited. So Web 2.0 is just hype, unless you're invested in it, in which case it's cool?

Everyone repeat after me: features aren't products.

How can you tell when something's a feature?

  • If it can be built to prototype stage by one programmer within 24 hours, it's a feature.
  • If it's completely reliant on an existing Web 2.0 service, and is valueless without that service, it's a feature.
  • If you can imagine it as a single menu item on an existing desktop software application, it's a feature.
  • If, when you show it to people, their typical reaction is, "How cute!" it's a feature, unless you're showing them a picture of puppies, which isn't a feature -- it's just a picture of puppies.
By the way, if someone reading this decides to write a business plan asking for $3 million to build a Web 2.0 service that uses AJAX to serve up pictures of puppies for users, please don't mention that you got the idea from me.


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Features are just a point of view. Remember that when IBM shipped their PC, DOS was a feature.

You're confusing features with options.

Features can be options, it's true. Variable-speed intermittent windshield wipers are an automotive example of a feature that's also an option: do I want them with my car? They're not essential, but nice to have.

But let's say that my automaker offers a choice in engines. Is the engine of my car a feature? No. It's an option, but it's essential to the operation of the product, and it required significant effort to create.

Great post. This idea of building something that is completely reliant upon an existing product owned by another party is familiar to me.

I've mentioned the Second Life online world before in my comments.

Sidebar: I just read recently that Linden Labs is getting something like a 3 million dollar cash infusion to improve and expand their world.

Anyway, someone came to me with the idea of leveraging the Second Life world to build training content within that world. The CDC is funding their own sort of training within SL through universities and freelance SL content authors.

The entire problem with the idea of building and selling training WITHIN this SL world is the simple fact that it exists within someone else's world.

The only way this could be marketed as a true product is if, say, the government invested in their own copy of that world.

Then, it does become interesting to imagine companies coming in to a persistant, government owned virtual world and building training areas. We really start to head into the realm of William Gibson at that point with the possibilities.

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