A long time ago, I evaluated a software tool for simulating systems that I quickly realized was built by a small company when I asked a few questions. The guy had developed the tool for over ten years and seemed to have all the functionality I was looking for, but it was hard to use. I asked for how to set things up and he lead me to a configuration panel for one object. The panel had stadium style tabs – like when you look in a filing cabinet and there are multiple rows that overlap, so that was a lot already. I then realized that each tab had multiple pages!? Most of the options I had no idea what they meant and decided that this wasn’t the product for me. What did become clear is that every time a user asked for a new switch or option, he simply added it.
In a consumer driven culture, companies don’t make money by selling something everyone needs only once and never again. Like razor blades or printer cartridges, they want to sell something that requires us to buy more. Think about the challenge the food industry has: People really only need to eat their daily calories and call it good, but business wants to sell more, so we find ourselves at restaurants with our entire daily allowance represented on a single plate.
But more isn’t the only answer to adding extra value, we can also develop products that do the same features, but do them better than before. This is the philosophy of 37 signals with their basecamp product. They notoriously say no to new features, but instead every 4 years rewrite the software from the ground up, similar feature set, but allowing the creativity and capability of the designers and developers to make it better. No one is forced to migrate, but the new platform is even more attractive to new customers.
This is one thing I enjoy about writing software in a large company: often you can write software to solve a problem and it’s done. There is no need to upsell the end user, just solve the problem and call it good.
Wouldn’t it be great if instead of companies trying to shove more down our throat, they made what they provide better?