How to build successful products without Feature Creep

September 15, 2022

My junior year, I took some time off Stanford to work on a consumer startup with my girlfriend.

It started out AMAZING, but ended in a SHIT SHOW.

Here’s what happened. So we interviewed users, built the MVP, and shipped the product — a chrome extension for co-studying with friends (over video call!).

As more and more users joined, we collected more and more feedback.

We asked people what they wanted. They said:

  • Statuses
  • School Year Badges
  • Messaging

And so for the next few months, we coded in all these features and more. Statuses, messaging, badges, updates, search by school, onboarding redesign, etc. etc.

Product

6 months after launch, we noticed retention started to decrease and I FREAKED OUT!

Like holy shit! I just spent these last 6 months adding all these features, and I have no idea if they were helpful or not. I did what people wanted, but did I actually make the app worse?

It was insidious. Feeling like I wasted the last 6 months, or made the product worse.

This time around, I wanted to know how to actually validate assumptions.

NOT fall in the product death/feature trap.

So I took a 1 month break and talked to Stanford product professors, read product books, and watched a LOAD of product youtube videos.

Here’s the biggest takeaway:

Design products by derisking the riskiest assumption

That should be the GOAL, pre-PMF.

Not increasing engagement by 20%

Not increasing users by 20%

When I pivoted, this was the first thing I made:

Riskiest Assumption Chart

It shows you the riskiest assumptions in top right.

After I found what my riskiest assumptions were, I made it my goal to derisk the top 3 riskiest assumptions as fast as I could.

Riskiest Assumption 1: Founders have this problem of isolation/lack of community

To derisk this, I talked to 40 founders. Asked them about their biggest painpoint, and if they’ve tried anything to solve it. People told me they paid for

  • $20–50/mo for co-working solutions
  • $30–200/mo for mastermind founder solutions
  • even $4k+ for communities like OnDeck and WeWork

But were still unsatisfied. They craved intimacy, and what they got were loose ties.

Problem validated.

Riskiest Assumption #2: Founders find value in co-working together

I invited YC + Harvard + ex-Berkeley founder to co-work on a custom video call. They retained for over a month!

Solution validated.

Riskiest Assumption #3: Founders will pay for my solution

I sent out an email to the top 12 founders from Stanford, YC, & more, asking them to pay to join our community.

BOOM! 10/12 of them PAID!

Willingness to pay validated.

The biggest shift is this:

Before I thought “How to increase growth/engagement by 20%”

Now I think “What is the riskiest assumption I should derisk”

Instead of spending time getting signups, adding features, or coding products…

I spent all my time derisking GAME CHANGING assumptions:

✅ Does the problem exist? (40 interviews) — took 2 weeks

✅ Validating solution (1 month playtest) — took 1 month

✅ Validating payment (10/12 people paid up) — took 1 day

After that, I just interviewed more founders and got another 30 paying customers.

Result: 40 paying customers in 2 months!

After 1 year, I hit 10k MRR using this method

I don’t run into this feature trap stuff anymore

I hope this helps you design better products :)

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Resources:

Riskiest assumption video (really good, like 30 seconds long 😉)

Figma Assumption Board (Duplicate it 😜)

Founders Cafe (this is the community I run 😃)

Maddie Wang founders of founders cafe solo founder
Maddie Wang
Gay / Solo-Founder / Stanford Dropout

I'm building Founders Cafe because as a solo founder, it can be very isolating. Last year, I lost 4 co-founders and a best friend on a previous startup.

Previously built a Minecraft Server ($61k), Amazon Store ($120k), and Queer Chart, where I met my girlfriend & close friends.

If you're interested in joining the Founders Cafe, let's talk and if it's a good fit, down to invite you!
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