I’m a software dev and founder of Hotels.ng and HNG Internship. I also dabble in embedded systems and hardware projects.

Simplifying your product

Whiteboard Scribbles

We spent two weeks designing and creating an iPhone app. I sent an email to my mum with the name and the one line description of the app. She wrote back a single sentence: “I don’t get it.” We threw out the code and the product and started over.

The most important lesson that we have learned in the app store and the majority of failed app store developers have not discovered yet is this: if my mum understands it instantly from the title and 1 line description, it will sell more than 30 copies a day. If my mum has no idea what it is about from the title and description, it will sell less than 5 copies a day. Unfortunately, other app store developers don’t have access to my mum or her delicious bagels, so we will continue to retain that particular strategic advantage.

The core principle of success in software is this: Make sure that the fundamental property of your software is instantly understandable. If it is not, then simplify.

When you do this, you will discover one of two things:

  1. I have no product
  2. I have a product that people want

It’s like Microsoft Word. If you were to really really simplify it, what you would have is notepad. And notepad is still a useful product. I can describe notepad in one sentence: it allows me write, save and print documents.

If you cannot describe your product in one sentence, you cannot sell it. People don’t want to listen to you explain, they just want a simple and clear answer to the question: What does it do? If you need two sentences to answer that, then you are in for trouble.

What happens when you put aside all the extra-layers that your imagination has come up with is this: does my core attribute really have any value to people? If your core attribute does not have any value and it’s mostly the features you want to sell, you’re in for trouble.

Customers have two questions:

  • What does it do?
  • Aha! And how is that better than something I am already using?

Answer those two in one sentence and you will make money. For example, if I wanted to sell Microsoft Word to Notepad users, I would answer the questions like this:

  • It allows you write, save and print documents
  • You can make the text bold, italics and add pictures

The steps to simplification

  1. First of all, write down what the most important single feature you are building is. No, not two, not three, just a single feature. What is the core of your app? Yes, there are other apps that have this, but that should not be a problem. You want to discover if people want your core feature, and if there are other apps that do this, then it shows that people want your core feature.

  2. Describe this feature in a single line in terms of benefits to the user. That is, what problem will this feature solve for the user if he did not have any software that does this.

  3. For the particular market you are entering, if you told a novice user this single line as an answer to “What does it do?”, will he say “Aha!” and proceed to ask you a question about it? If not, then change item 1 and item 2 till this is the case.

When you have your simplified core concept ready, then build that core concept very quickly and cheaply. You want to have a very simple prototype out there to test on real users before you waste time building the features. Design this prototype to work very well, and to be tested with friends, family and your twitter followers. Get feedback and get ideas.

Then build the features based off what you observe! After you have your simple prototype, make your final decisions on how you will proceeed, or IF you will proceed.

You keep your life simple this way, maximise your chances of success, and minimize your loss if your initial guess was wrong. And that’s how successful business is done, is it not?

Last Modified: Dec 26, 2020