Last week I attended a planning meeting, where I heard the term Feature-itis! Not something you hear every day however it sparked a thought, could feature-itis indeed be the disease that culls numerous technology start-ups every year?
Feature-itis is a disease that's rife in technology start-ups, symptoms begin at an early stage and can be difficult to diagnose until it's too late. Many start-ups, in my experience, seem to begin around the idea/vision/capability of one person, this in itself is not a bad thing. We only need to think about the multi-million dollar empires built around Richard Branson's and Sir Alan Sugar's ideas and vision, for example. However the problem starts when this vision does not follow the basic marketing principle of creating and delivering goods and services that meet and exceed the needs and wants of the consumer. Creating a particularly acute case of Feature-itis as it means you are creating, building and deploying features, and in some cases products, that no clear demand has been established for.
One of the first symptoms is when you hear phrases like 'we can create/build/deliver that feature, so we should someone will want it, I would!" These words are enough to strike fear straight to the heart of any crusader against this pandemic as it means the occurrence of a nasty symptom, that of 'direction infection', where the suffers lose direction in what they are building and who their target audience is. Recovery is possible although rare.
Is there a cure?
The good news is feature-itis is treatable with the right marketing intervention, although the path to recovery can be a rough one. It's critical that the marketing influence in these start-up organisations realises the symptoms of Feature-itis and intervenes quickly to avoid further infection.
The development of new products/services/features needs to be assessed not only in terms of internal capability but also, and in some cases more importantly, in terms of end-user demand and established behaviours.
Critically, the question needs to be asked 'does this development fit/compliment the organisation's core proposition?' if the answer to this question is No or at best maybe then market analysis should be conducted immediately and processes need to be developed to make sure a consumer/market need is identified before the product/feature is completed and presented to marketing to do something with.
Prognosis Even though the future for a start-up with Feature-itis is not always bright and can lead, at worst, 'direction infection', this is not always the case. There are some instances were innovation has been disruptive enough to change behaviour, we only have to look at cases such as the iPhone, Twitter, MySpace etc. Twitter and MySpace are especially good examples as they did not have the large brand backing that the iPhone did. There is no doubt that there are exceptions to the rule, as with everything, however in order to avoid a Feature-itis outbreak in your start-up business you need to stock up on marketing expertise and vitamin C!