During the last month I’ve cut 75% of the content that I planned for my upcoming product. And… I’ve done that while still keeping the core content that makes my product unique and valuable. So I’ve had some serious time thinking about what makes a minimum viable product.
“What all can I cut and still keep my baby product viable?”
Because even when minimal, the product still has to be viable to be… viable.
The product I envision is the version 3.0
I dream of a world-class analytics tool that helps you run a SaaS business without a business degree or a CFO. Its dashboard keeps you on top of what’s happening and it follows the trends of key metrics for you. The weekly and monthly mail reports with analysis findings and overviews make sure you are doing the right things at the right time - for the right customers. And like a real CFO, it will analyze your data and notify you on opportunities and problems, in addition to making sure you don’t run out of cash.
It will integrate to payment gateways, server logs, support systems and bookkeeping to make sure all the information is accurate with minimal configuration work. My customers will have that happy confident feeling that their data is right. They don’t need to install tracking codes and then wonder if they set up everything right - they can just trust that things work.
And there’s just one “but” in all this…
But… I can’t build all that right away
Building the full product takes several man-years. And there’s just one little ol’ me. Well, I do have my real-time data-analysis guru of a husband, but he’s not touching the keyboard. “Here’s the specification, where’s the code?”, he says.
The only way to go is to build a minimum viable product (MVP) first, with the single most valuable core feature. That will validate my business and it’s also something that I can charge from right away. But it sure hasn’t been easy to find that core.
Cut… cut, and carve out the MVP
The trouble with cutting the features is that if you aren’t careful, you are going to cut away the thing that makes your product unique and valuable to your customer. Then you’ll ship something that doesn’t have much added value to the customer - and fail to charge from it.
When we turn that around, we can start by cutting everything that doesn’t provide immediate added value to the customer. Amy recently wrote a great article called ‘Fuck features you “have to have”’, listing some of the features that the first version of Freckle didn’t have.
But even after cutting all the “have to have” features, we still need to find the core value.
What’s the core of the product?
The method that I used to further cut the content was to stick to the key pain point that my tool attempts to remedy. The Virtual Financial Officer started from something that my bootstrapper friend said:
“It [certain dashboard] was nice to look at, but it didn’t do much for us”
Why aren’t the dashboards helping people to run their businesses better?
I studied business owners and found several reasons. The dashboards that fail:
- Aren’t designed for recurring businesses’ needs
- Have no priorities or focus
- Show erroneous/irrelevant data (this is more common than you’d think!)
- Don’t tell how the metrics were calculated, so you can’t trust the data enough to make business decisions based on it
- Don’t adapt to changing needs, so you grow out of them fast
But there are also other challenges:
- People don’t know how to analyze and use the metrics data
- And even when they do, they are too busy to systematically run such analysis
So where to start?
When I think of my upcoming product, I think of it as a new CFO coming in - helping the CEO to run the business better. What would be his most urgent task?
He’d be eager to get the analysis & reporting cycle started, but the reality is that you need to have the data for the analysis first. And that data needs to be calculated right.
The very first priority is to make sure that the CEO has a good overview of the business for decisions-making purposes and that the finances are all right. All that fancy analysis stuff isn’t going to save you if you run out of cash.
And that’s it
The first version will tackle just 2 things for the business owners:
- Get a superb overview of your business
- Be confident that your data & metrics are calculated correctly
It hurts me that I had to cut the customer analysis and related email reports from the first version - they’ll eventually be killer features. But making sure people have the basic data right is a priority.
1. Business overview
The first version will have the basic revenue figures, available both in cash- and accrual-basis, showing also deferred revenue. Just being able to see the deferred revenue removes some cash-flow problems in itself.
Deferred revenue is the revenue paid in advance, before the actual service is delivered. Most small businesses prefer cash-based accounting for tax reasons, but accrual figures are superior for planning.
The first version will also visualize monthly recurring revenue (MRR), split to its components of new, renewed, lost, upgraded and downgraded subscriptions. I also want to offer plan- and cohort-based views as soon as possible, hopefully already in the first version.
I’ll start by integrating just with Stripe and as I fetch the data from the payment gateway I can also show historical data. So I’ll be able to show the trends from the whole time that my customers have been using Stripe.
2. Data Confidence
You’ll have access to formulas, but that’s not enough. A drill-down will show the elements that are included in the calculations so that you can easily see what is included in the figures. Like, for example, if you need to quickly find out who were the people whose subscriptions you lost last month - it’s right there, down to the actual Stripe transactions.
I’m glad that I have competitors
If I wouldn’t have any competition, I’d freak out right now: “Did I cut the content too much?”, “People could just calculate these metrics themselves…”, “What if everyone hates my product?
But it just happens that I’ve been following Josh, the creator of baremetrics.io.
Baremetrics pulls its data from Stripe too and it currently just shows a bunch of metrics in a grid view. And people love it and happily pay for it - which means that just offering the data seems to be enough to get started.
Of course our products are different, and will appeal to different people. But seeing him succeed makes me confident that I have picked features which people will pay for.