One feature to rule them all

As product managers we are always looking for the next “killer feature” for our product.

You know the one, that feature that will become the magical thing that will have customers flooding to subscribe to our product because nobody else has it.

That feature that makes something that is complex, so simple that your mother or father could use it.

A Xero example

In the initial days of building out Xero, the team worked on a feature that made bank reconciliation easier than the manual process accountants typically did, using excel spreadsheets.

This feature was truly magical, it “game-ified” what was a tedious and complex process.

First it gave a visual recommendation of bank statement transactions you might want to match to accounting transactions in Xero. Secondly, when you match the transactions there was a visual transition that made you feel good, that sense of “knocking the bugger off”. Last but not least, once you had matched or created a new transaction Xero remembered that action and when a similar bank statement transaction appeared next month it would recommend the same action.

As well as being fun, the bank reconciliation feature saved the user time compared to the previous excel heavy technique.

Overtime Xero have added more advanced algorithms to enhance the ability for the machine to guess and recommend what action you might want to take for a new bank transaction, even when you haven’t seen it before.

In the early days it was always amazing how many times the bank reconciliation features was referenced as the key reason a customer adopted Xero.

A Zoom example

Zoom has been around as a video meeting product for a while. It had lots of competitors, the legacy incumbents such as go-to-meeting and webex, embedded options such as Microsoft Teams as well as ‘freemium” options such as Google Meet.

Under the covers there are lots of reasons why Zoom is better than the alternatives, but when talking to people during COVID 19 two features always came to the top as key reasons they used Zoom.

It wasn’t that Zoom was more secure than the other options (there was a problem with people crashing Zoom meetings, so it was actually less secure), it wasn’t that it was more reliable than the other products, or that it was cheaper.

The two features that people mentioned to me the most were, one you could add virtual backgrounds when you attend a meeting, and two you could see everybody in the meeting in a gallery view.

These features were fun, but did they add any addtional value?  Maybe.

The backgrounds allowed somebody to hide the shit-tip they might have behind them if their virtual office was co-located in the spare room, which also provided a place to store all their unwanted furniture.

When using Zoom for virtual training I did find the gallery view gave me a quick insight into the engagement of the attendees (when they had their cameras on of course).

I would classify these two features as more in the gimmick camp than the time saving or reducing complexity camp, but as we all know “sex sells”

Magical features will be copied

If we take the Zoom example, it wasn’t long before Google Meet and Microsoft Teams added similar virtual background and gallery view features.

So even when you find that magical and killer feature, it often won’t be long before competitive products try to copy that feature.

As they say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.

Magical features still add value and fun to a users daily life

So while you competitor may copy your killer feature, as long as the feature:

  • adds value to your users daily life
  • saves them time
  • makes something complex simple
  • and is fun for the user to use

Then it’s still a killer feature.

Just not a unique one.

And thats ok.

Don’t focus on the fact you have been copied, focus on creating the next simply magical feature.

Magical Game-if-acation

10 years (or so) after the team at Xero created the bank reconciliation feature I was attending an online session where Phil Fierlinger who was one of the original Xero designers was presenting.

Phil mentioned the inspiration that drove the development of the bank reconciliation feature. He was playing a card matching game with one of his kids and thought, what if they used a similar technique for matching bank reconciliation in Xero.

So who knows where the inspiration for your next killer feature will come from.