By Bob Walsh
When you start planning your micro-ISV’s desktop app or web service, you’re first impulse is going to be throw in every neat sexy feature you can think of. After all, you’re the head of this micro-ISV, you can code this baby just exactly the way you want, so why not make this the best, biggest, most robust app anyone has ever seen, right?
Wrong.
What you want to be thinking about is what are the fewest features you can release with, or as Jason Fried over at 37 Signals says in his Epicenter Software Design post recently, you want to find the vital few core things that matter the most. In other words, you want to apply the 80/20 principle to your micro-ISV software design.

“The feature set epicenter is also where you’ll find most of the value. Once you’re able to add events to a basic calendar, you’ve created 80% of the value. You can use it right now. Everything else is nice to have, but adding events to a calendar is a must have. Without that, you don’t have a calendar,” Jason said.

If you haven’t heard of the 80/20 principle, it’s a simple idea: about 80 percent of the value comes from about 20 percent of the inputs. For example, 80% of a company’s profits comes from 20% of its products; 80% of productivity comes from 20% of your activities. And 80% of your app is nowhere near as important as that key 20% of the feature set.
The 80/20 Principle has all sorts of implications for micro-ISVs, notably the Long Tail. But right now, we are talking about product design. Your job here is to define the key 20% of your planned app that delivers 80% of the value and differentiation your customers want, and get that built first and right.
Here’s an example – take RSS readers. There’s something like 2,000 of them out there. What’s the value? What differentiates them? I recently decided to get with the times and start reading RSS feeds instead of checking umpteen dozens of web sites (I know, I know, you all have been doing that for years – but I’ve been busy!). I bought Feed Demon 1.0 a year on impulse, but didn’t really get into the app until 2.0.
Nick Bradbury, the creator of FeedDemon, whiz programmer and “graduated” micro-ISV focused, in my opinion, on the two most important features for a desktop RSS reader – helping the customer pay attention to the feeds that have the most value to them, and the “secret sauce” of synching with NewsGator Technologies, the company that acquired his micro-ISV about a year ago.
There are a ton of other features Nick could have included in FeedDemon, and I’m sure when he sat down to scope out the 2.0 product, he had a list a meter long. But he focused on the key features. You should too.
If you want more info on 80/20, check out Richard Koch’s site, http://www.the8020principle.com/ or his new book, Living the 80/20 Way. He’s the guy that has been really working this for years. You’ll also find two other applications of 80/20 I’m posting today at http://codesnipers.com and http://ToDoOrElse.com.
[tags]micro-ISV, 80/20 principle[/tags]

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