Startups Overcomplicate Their Product

Overkill (album)
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Technology startups, especially ones with strong technical skills on the co-founding team, have a tendency to overcomplicate their product and the necessary pieces to launch. There are several reasons why this is the case:

  • As a developer it can be fun to experiment with the most fancy of tools, even when they are overkill (premature optimization is the root of all evil).
  • There’s no code debt, so it is incredibly easy to add more features, even before a prospect has validated that there’s a need for the existing features.
  • It is more fun to innovate and add functionality, due to the immediate sense of satisfaction, as opposed to doing sales and marketing with potentially little results.
  • Without a deadline, or timeboxing the minimum viable product, there’s a normal perfectionist tendency as the product is a representation of the developers
  • The minimum viable product often slips into the minimum respectable product, which is fine only in limited circumstances

My recommendation is to continually ask yourself if you are overcomplicating the product and necessary pieces to launch and start developing relationships with prospects.

What else? What are some other reasons startups overcomplicate their product?

3 thoughts on “Startups Overcomplicate Their Product

  1. Product features can become a scape goat for not following the steps in customer development/sales.

    Instead of concentrating on an efficient process of customer development followed by getting checks written. A startup will rationalize that the product could use more attention. As you said, its better than an embarrassing meeting. I would guess this is especially difficult for true engineers as opposed to architect/product types.

    I WILL say that when a customer development pivot involves changing the MVP it can lead to some interesting decisions about features and codebase.

  2. This is right on the money! Get the product out the door. The quicker you do that, the quicker the customers interact with it, the quicker you learn, the faster you will be able to incorporate the learnings into the next version.

  3. Fantastic post, as usual, David. As someone who has done this plenty of times myself, this is a tendency that is hard to fight.

    I’ve also found that sometimes we overcomplicate the product when we try and “think through” what our users will want, instead of just asking, or watching! The “what if’s questions” are a culprit. Just nail the 80%, and worry about the 20% later (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle).

    Shameless plug: Over at http://highgroove.com/ we have processes in place to prevent this kind of over-complication, and help launch the minimum viable product as quickly as possible!

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