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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

The Negative Value Rule

👷🚢👷🚢👷🚢 Build, ship, repeat. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a good founder (at least according to Twitter). But I think most Twitter experts have no idea how expensive a new product feature actually is! Let’s calculate the fully-loaded costs

  • Engineering time itself is far more valuable than money - you can’t simply exchange money for good dev hours like a vending machine.

  • Each new feature adds ongoing costs to document, QA (with every subsequent release), support, and maintain forever (so it works on every system upgrade, iOS update, etc.). Simply put, you’ll need to hire more engineers.

  • More features will make your product more complex. Complex products are harder to use and CS to support. This can diminish customer value and narrow your appeal to a handful of power-users.

  • A complex product translates into a complex proposition that’s harder to market and sell. This forces you to focus on product marketing which pulls marketers away from demand gen activities.

Think about it like this: If your idea is a good one, somebody will eventually make a big business out of it. So you’re in a race. And as a startup, speed is one of your only advantages. Every new feature saps away that advantage, slowing you down. The negative value rule So, when you’re debating what to build, start with “no.” Assume negative feature value, and let each new idea fight its way onto the roadmap with validation. How to validate potential “features” Most ideas are based on an implicit (unproven) assumption that the new feature will boost acquisition and/or customer delight. Make that assumption explicit and draft it as a hypothesis — an “if-then” prediction with a measurable customer behavior outcome. Find a way to validate that assumption before you build the feature using a simple experiment such as a landing page test or a false door test. You could even try selling the feature to new or existing customers. If you’d like help thinking through your experiment, here’s an experiment doc template we use to help teams clarify their thinking. A Simple Next Step Look at your backlog, take out your knife, and apply the negative value rule. Now, who needs to read this? Sare it with them with my compliments. Thanks to Mo Syed for pushing my thinking on this point!

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