Since founding a company, I have been a fan of 37signals and their books, particularly ‘Getting Real’ and ‘Rework’. I appreciate their ethos and principles. One concept that surprised me was their perspective on user feature requests when building a product.
When developing a startup, the typical strategy is to be in touch with your customers, conduct customer development, and adjust your roadmap based on received feedback. At first glance, this seems reasonable because users are the ones who pay. However, 37signals (and I now am aligned with this thinking) have some doubts about this approach.
Every product has a creator. But what drives a good product? It’s the creator’s vision. The vision is what differentiates products since almost every idea has already been implemented. However, every vision is unique, making it a core differentiator.
When customers request features, they are skewed by their current experience with your product. They are not aligned with your vision of the product. Moreover, fulfilling one request could detrimentally impact other users’ experience. Customers have no vision; they require a product here and now.
Naturally, it’s easier to yield to customer requests as they could potentially dictate the roadmap for years to come. However, will this make your product better and more popular? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, adhering to the creator’s vision can be risky because it’s easy to lose sight when one person (or even a group) decides what to do. You risk losing your existing clients. That’s why I firmly believe that it’s vital to listen to customers. Listen, though, don’t just blindly fulfil their requests. There’s a significant difference.
This topic can also be reviewed from a psychological perspective. If a creator fulfils users’ requests, responsibility for the product is implicitly transferred to the users. It’s an effortless way to delegate decision-making to others. But what is the final result? If something goes wrong, can the creator assert that she did everything possible? I guess that, in this case, the answer would be no.
In summary, if you wish to launch a successful startup, listening to users’ feedback and requests can be useful. However, I encourage you to invest more time and effort in fine-tuning and driving your vision for your product.