Fuck features you “have to have”

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Photo Credit: eric Hews

When we ran BaconBizConf, here’s just a smattering of the “crucial features” we left out:

  • badges
  • goodie (aka junk) bags
  • a conference hotel
  • multiple tracks
  • a green room
  • a hallway track (or even a hallway)
  • a stage
  • projectors (we used a big TV)
  • wifi (yes, really, we offered no wifi)
  • more than 2 free drinks
  • the circus of related “fun” events

We sold out, and lots of people told us it was one of their very favorite events ever.

We did have an “after party” (on the first day, to save money) — but that was sponsored 100%. If we hadn’t had our lovely sponsors, we would’ve just rolled up to one of our local bars & it would have been pay as you go.

When we launched Freckle Time Tracking, here’s just a sampling of what we left out:

  • password recovery
  • invoicing
  • a timer
  • reporting, except the barest of bare (pathetic) functionality
  • a freelancer plan
  • permissions
  • a back end for us
  • a way to cut off people’s accounts if their CC didn’t work
  • … a way to automatically bill the credit cards people gave us
  • special support channels

… among many, many other things.

The greed for “features” is a psychological trick:

If I don’t know what’s important, ALL THE THINGS MUST BE IMPORTANT.

Corollary: If you don’t deliberately do the work to find & set priorities, it’s your fault and yours alone.

It’s nice to blame customers… or imaginary customers… or competitors… or imaginary competitors… It’s nice, to be able to say, “We have to have this feature, our competitors have it” — but it’s just not true. That’s just the post-hoc justification.

So, what matters for a conference? It varies, but for us it’s:

  • focused, actionable talks
  • lots of opportunities to meet & learn from each other

That’s it. Anything else is a nice bonus (or maybe even a distraction), but far from necessary.

That’s why we spent tons of effort on coaching speakers — assigning topics, giving feedback on focus, ordering talks in a ‘narrative’, demanding slides ahead of time — and zero time on “fun.” That’s why we catered meals, instead of letting people go out — so they’d stay, and chat.

That’s why we told our attendees: DO NOT BE LATE. The door will be locked.

What matters for people who fucking hate their time tracking?

  • to enter time without pain or stress
  • … to kinda see where that time is going

Bam. Done.

That’s why I spent 95% of my interaction design time working on making the time entry process the most friction-free, fastest anywhere. That’s why we had so many fanatical early customers, even though Freckle wasn’t even “half a product.”

That’s one of the very real, boring secrets to success:

Know what matters. Two to three priorities, max.

Ruthlessly drop everything else.

And the best thing is… people often complain about what’s in front of them (“The wifi doesn’t work! JEEEEEZ WHAT IS THIS, AN AIRPLANE?”) but rarely complain about what they don’t have at all.

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  1. Thomas Fuchs

    I’d like to point out that we still don’t have business cards. We honestly tried several times, but we ended up never using them. :)

    Another thing to add to the things you don’t need.

    • Amber Gohn

      When will it be acceptable globally to just hand out business cards because they’ve got funny memes on them?

      That is the point at which I will demand business cards.

  2. Robert Williams

    Hey Amy,

    Can’t tell you how much sense this makes to me right now. Since launching my first post-30×500 product, I’ve never replied to so much email in my life.

    Feature requests are rampant, and I’ve felt myself begin to succumb to the thought that this extra stuff is necessary — EVEN-THOUGH I purposely launched and created my product with the least amount of stuff as possible (and planned to keep it that way for as long as possible). To this point I literally haven’t written any code besides the html/css for my landing page and blog – and it hasn’t mattered to anyone.

    Was even able to make the two main apps I use, campaign monitor and gumroad, talk to each other via zapier yesterday.

    Instead of thinking about what I can add, I’ll now go back and think about how I can make what I’ve started better… thanks again.

  3. Adrian O'Connor

    Great post as always :) I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, several times over, and it still catches me out every time. I am far better at noticing feature creep now, and I’ll happily chop the unnecessary features – often I’ll create a list called ‘features for the next phase’, and dump them in there… that helps me feel like I’m not just ignoring what might be good ideas, and that I might got back to them one day.


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