Build solutions, not software

I am a software engineer, I’ve always been and I love that. I love writing code and adding more interesting features on the software and apps I work on.

I know that I am not alone, a lot of developers are like me. I add a feature, then I add another one. I am sure the users will love them.

Sometimes, I am so busy adding new features that I almost forget that I should ship that new version to my users.

I want my app to be complete and ready before I ship it. Yet, it is difficult to know when an app is complete.

There is always something on the roadmap that can be added, and it won’t take too much time.

What’s worse is that even when you ship, sometimes your users or your boss or your clients are not happy. Not that the features don’t work, they do, perfectly.

It is that they don’t seem to want them. You spent so much time crafting them carefully abd now you are frustrated, that your work is not appreciated.

The truth is that countless services have failed this way. Great stuff that nobody uses.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your users loved and appreciated everything you did for them?

Wouldn’t it be nice if your app helped them become better at their job, life or business?

Build solutions not apps

You have to change a little bit your thinking. You are currently thinking that you are building applications, but that is not what users and customers see.

They see solutions. They look for solutions. They want solutions to their problems.

Start with the problem

This is where you start. Not with the solution but with the problem.

You have first have to listen and find out the specific problems that your clients or potential clients have.

This is not so hard as it sounds. You don’t need any super power. In the age of the internet, most people readily talk about their problems online.

What’s more they often look for solutions to them online, too. Asking questions or posting workarounds.

A few great places to start are Reddit, Quora and Amazon.

Reddit and Quora is where many people go to ask questions and provide workarounds to problems they have. It is not just the direct topics and questions, but also the large number of comments.

You can find all the information you need to better understand their needs.

Amazon is another useful place, altough it might suprise you. You have to first identify products which have similar to your audience or even identical.

Then you get the most popular products and you read their reviews.

You are looking for 3 or 4 star reviews. 5 star reviews are overly optimistic and 1 and 2 stars are usually too hateful.

3 and 4 star reviews are ideal. This is where people talk more accurately about their problems.

Now that you have all that useful information, you have two harder tasks.

First, you have to select the most common patterns amid the tons of information that you have. This is where you identify what problems your users have.

Second, you then need to select the features that you will have to build to solve these problems. However, not all possible features, just the bare minimum.

Build the minimum amount of features you can get away with

This is critical. With all the researching that we talked about, you will be back to square one if you just build one million features right from the start.

You will not only waste tons of time and other resouces, but then your users won’t know what to focus on when using your app.

Basecamp is a great company that creates simple solutions. They even say that they “underdo” the competition by putting fewer features than everybody else, and that is why millions of people love and use their products.

Freckle is another great web app by Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs. They didn’t try to add all the features their competition had.

In fact, they have less features than other similar products, yet they charge more, and their customers pay happily.

How can this work?

It works because people don’t care for the amount of features you have. They care for the problems you are solving for them.

Actually, if you can solve them in a simpler way, with less features, they will be happier.

Next

If you don’t have a product yet, you know where to start before building your app. Research and only build the minimum features your users need.

If you do have a product and you haven’t done your customer research yet, now is the right moment to do so.

You can start with your current customers and then gradually use the sites I mentioned above (Reddit, Amazon and Quora) to find what they really need.


Technology Cartoon #6254 by Andertoons

Cartoon by Andertoons

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We are Stefan Fidanov & Vasil Lyutskanov. We share actionable advice about software development, freelancing and anything else that might be helpful.

It is everything that we have learned from years of experience working with customers from all over the world on projects of all sizes.

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