Startup Resources

By Nina Zavrieva, Co-Founder and CEO of Channelkit & oDesk’s Moscow-based Community Development Ambassador

My two co-founders and I started working on our company, Channelkit, in mid-2012. We had known each other for ages before then, having worked together on various small projects. During those projects, we found ourselves constantly discussing issues of global importance that we could jointly solve.

One of the biggest problems that all three of us struggled with on a daily basis was wasting time switching between platforms and services to fetch the links we saved or liked. The information we actually needed was not necessarily found in platforms where we spent most of our time browsing—readers were overloaded, Google displayed only what was popular, and our Facebook friends shared stuff we didn’t really need to know about (or didn’t want to know about!). We decided to develop a solution.

We designed the product, mapped the logic, and hired a development studio. By February of the following year, we had the prototype for Channelkit and started meeting investors.

Then we got a wake-up call.

We met with an experienced investor who “diagnosed” us with what we now know as Featuritis. He tried our prototype but couldn’t figure out what to do with it—it just had too many features, not all of which demonstrated obvious value. It turned out that only the three of us could understand how our product could actually help make one’s online life more structured rather than more convoluted.

This investor was not alone in his opinion; after several more meetings we started to recognize a pattern. So we decided not to hold on to the over-complicated product we’d developed, but instead to reach out to our potential users and figure out what they actually needed. And if you are serious about the success of your startup, I recommend you do the same.

Here are the steps we took over the course of several months to course-correct—which we hope can also serve as your roadmap to avoid needing course-correction in the first place.

1. Do your homework

We identified the core customer groups we were targeting and conducted as many prospect interviews as possible to better understand their needs. We asked about how people save content online (including what existing products they use or have stopped using, and why), and tried to identify what pain points still remain unsolved.

2. Revise the product accordingly

Based on the information we learned in the prospect interviews, we completely revamped the product and made sketches of the interface. This was an iterative process—we showed sketches to our test group, tested whether these were clear, sketched again, tested again, etc.

3. Get your priorities straight

After we had these sketches, we asked our future users to evaluate the importance of the many features we decided to include in the product. We printed out paper cards that explained each product feature, and asked our testers to sort them based on how badly they needed each of these features. By doing this, we understood what the very basic functionality of Channelkit should be, and what features we could leave out altogether.

4. Start fresh

We archived our first product, rolled out a new landing page, and decided to start development from scratch. We now needed a developer to bring the new Channelkit to life. We wanted someone with a flexible mindset and schedule, as there was still a very large degree of unpredictability. We found Greg on oDesk and he has been with us ever since; we employ him full time so he’s part of the team in the truest sense.

When you’re creating a prototype and constantly testing, hiring a developer through oDesk is a great solution—you don’t have to commit to a long-term engagement and can make the development work an iterative process. What’s more, you can find someone really brilliant and available, often just because that person wants the challenge of doing something new and different.

The current version of Channelkit is very simple, but users enjoy the Featuritis-free version a lot more. So don’t forget to get feedback early and often from your users to get a healthy, blossoming product!

Has your startup struggled with ‘featuritis’? Share your experience with iterative product development in the comments section below!

Nina Zavrieva

Co-Founder and CEO of Channelkit

Nina Zavrieva is Co-Founder and CEO of Channelkit, a web tool that helps you organize your web. Nina, based in Moscow, also serves as oDesk's Community Development Ambassador, helping other entrepreneurs find success on oDesk.