Three Things (AKA Your Core Value Proposition)

I just came across this post by Paul Buchheit. In it, he talks about
how you should focus on doing three things extremely well. If you can
succeed at that, people will use your product, and you can build the
rest later.

I've been working on a new startup with a new team (more on that
later), and we're trying to nail down the product. When I came in, we
started talking about getting out the minimum viable product. One of
my cofounders has been working on the product for quite some time, and
he already had a demo up, but for various reasons, we essentially
started from scratch. So we mapped out the "minimum viable product,"
and started building.

Sounds good so far, but there were some issues. The first was a lack
of customer development (I need to talk about that more later), but
more importantly, the minimum viable product was defined in functional
terms. So, for example, if the product were a task list (it isn't),
the MVP would be:

1) add task
2) check off task
3) edit task

The problem with this is that we didn't define the MVP in terms of any
sort of core value proposition. When I thought about it (after about a
month of hacking), I realized that what we were building differed
significantly from the original stated vision. We were building
something that didn't really accomplish any of our key goals (as I
understood them). Sure, it was usable, but it seemed like a
compromise. To be completely honest, I was unconvinced that people
would want to use what we were building (this became more obvious once
we started talking to real customers).

So we started talking about our core value proposition, and how we
were going to deliver on it. I came across Paul's blog post later, but
it actually simplifies a lot of what we have been talking about. You
have to focus on defining and delivering a few key features. These
features should differentiate you from everything else that is out
there. If you trying to be all things to all people, you don't make
anyone happy. I have heard nerds gush about all of the features that
Archos puts into their media players. The problem is that I don't know
anyone who actually owns an Archos (whereas most people seem to own an
iPod or iPhone). I don't want an Archos. It fails to create a
compelling core value proposition.

So three actually seems like a good number of core features. It is
enough to give your product some definition, but not so much that you
try to do everything. It is actually an interesting exercise to limit
yourself to three features, especially if you are an engineer "but it
would only take ten minutes to add one more thing".

So what would be a compelling core value feature set for our
hypothetical task list product? (I'm actually building this as a side

1) Makes it super easy to enter your tasks from anywhere
2) Uncluttered and simple interface that is accessible from any device
3) Bugs you relentlessly to complete the things that you put on your list

Now that I think about it, I accomplished goals 1) and 2) relatively
quickly, but didn't focus on 3). The interface became cluttered with
features, but not the one that mattered. Recently, I have slid into
not using my own product. I'm going to refocus on my core value
proposition, and hopefully I will get back to creating something that
is useful for me.

I would actually argue that, of your three features, one has to be a
draw, one has to become immediately obvious once people start using
it, and one functions to keep users coming back. With the iPod, people
bought it either because it was easy to use (simple interface, easy
syncing with the mac) or because it had a large capacity. Once they
started using it, the other features became obvious ("wow. I can store
all my music on this" or "wow. this is easy to use"). I would argue
that the stickiness was that it was small. You could effortlessly
carry it with you (especially the iPod mini and Nano). Unlike a
portable CD player (and the hard drive-based mp3 players of the time
looked like a CD player), it fit in your pocket.

What are your product's three features?