Focus on needs, not features
Back when I used to help run the Matter Ventures accelerator for media startups (which I really miss doing!), Pete Mortensen ran the program in San Francisco while I ran investments. (Over in New York, Josh Lucido and Roxann Stafford were our counterparts respectively.)
I think it was Pete who introduced one of my favorite examples of checkbox development: when product developers try and add as many features as possible instead of figuring out what the user’s core needs are and focusing on that. It’s always a terrible approach that leads to a spaghetti mess of code and features, which makes it hard to provide a focused message or even to maintain your code over time.
Anyway, rather than try and argue the point, as I might have done, Pete simply showed them the video for the Pontiac Stinger:
Who is this car for? Why is there a garden hose?
Focus on needs, not features is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a developer. After all, for me and people like me, writing software and adding features is fun. As a people pleaser, I intrinsically want to say “yes” to every new ask. But the trick is always to build the smallest, most focused possible thing that deeply serves the people you’re building for. And of course, the first step is always to know who they are, and get to a holistic understanding of them that is better than anyone else’s. Otherwise, how can you possibly build something for them?
The Pontiac Stinger is a great example of what not to do - and one that’s far more memorable than any argument.
Oh man am I happy! People that hadn't written on their blog in a long time are blogging again. Websites that hadn't been updated in many years, some over a decade, are being spruced up and published to again. And popular news outlets are publishing articles about blogging.
Do I wish we had founded Known the startup in 2023 instead of 2014? Yes, I do. Being early (in this case by eight or nine years) is the same as being wrong. I’m glad for all of the opportunities it opened up, and all the people we met through the process, but the startup was never going to be a success at that time.
If we started it now? Well, that might be a different story. But, of course, I’d do things differently, because I’ve learned a lot in the interim. And I mostly learned those things because of the startup. So it’s a futile thought experiment. What happened happened!
Known the open source project is available and easier to install than it has been in years. I’m grateful for that too. And I wish everyone who is building a service to make it easier for people to write on their own site all the best. We need you. Keep going.
The next The 19th Live event is happening on Thursday, Jan. 26. We'll hear from a group of experts about the state of reproductive rights on what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wade.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta: Chair, DOJ’s Reproductive Rights Task Force
Jurnee Smollett: Actor and Activist
Rebecca Walker: Author, To be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism