How to strategically alter your product or app

In this rapidly changing tech world startups need to refine their products’ features constantly. Here, Rameet Chawla shares some tips

Designer drawing a light bulb, concept for brainstorming and ins

Apps, products, and companies evolve over time. As technologists, we seek to improve our product by constantly optimizing one thing and tweaking the next. Although radical innovation will certainly help your product, sometimes little changes, such as introducing new or improved features, can have a great impact.

Mobile app developers often use new features to recapture users’ attention or stay up-to-date with current trends and technology. Many developers viewed the new iOS7 as an opportunity to refresh their products and roll out dramatic new design changes.

Introducing something new can cause headaches for companies and users alike. But whether you’re releasing an app feature or debuting a new product line, a data-driven approach can help you evolve without losing your existing customers.

Also Read: Founders Series: Data driven product development

Why You Should Treat Changes and New Features With Care

While a periodic refresh can help keep your company relevant, instituting dramatic changes without listening to your customers can prove disastrous. Fashion retailer J.Crew, known for its preppy-with-a-twist look, alienated customers when its new collections strayed too far from the classics. This is a good example of a company that confused customers by deviating too far from its fundamentals.

Haphazardly releasing new features can also appear as though your company is losing focus on its core competencies. Imagine if tomorrow Facebook rolled out a Dropbox-like file-sharing system, a professional network, and a video channel. You would probably feel frustrated — especially if the new features weren’t up to Facebook’s standards.

Here is a simple guide to how you can use data to drive the introduction of new features and keep both your company and your customers focused on what you do best.

  1. Gather as much data as you can. You should use real customer data to inform most decisions, particularly when rolling out new features. Every time you add or change a feature, you should gather information about its effects on customer behavior.
  2. Determine goals and conversion metrics. For app development, this usually works by determining a set series of “paths” you’d like your user to go through while using your app. For example, a Facebook-like application could read something like this: “Open the app, go through friends’ photos, ‘like’ a photo.” Your conversion metric to see if a feature worked as intended would then be the number of photos users “liked.” Ideally, you would also have a set of data to use as a comparison, such as the number of photos users “liked” before the feature was introduced.
  3. Tweak until you hit the success criteria. If the current conversion metric is lower, you know it’s time to go back to the drawing board to pinpoint the problem. Often, it’s a simple matter of tweaking the color of a button to draw attention to it. Other times, you may have to scrap the feature altogether. It’s helpful to determine significant drop-offs in the user’s path and remove any obstacles or explore A/B testing to isolate one variable at a time.
  4. Talk to humans and gather feedback. Although looking at numbers is helpful, sometimes it’s best to actually talk to the real humans using your product. Understanding their pain points will add context to the data you’re seeing. Of course, the caveat here is that sometimes the user isn’t always right. In Twitter’s early days, the most requested feature was private tweeting, but this wasn’t aligned with the vision and goal for the product. Take user feedback with caution, and keep your product vision and data in mind.

While you should always launch with care, a new feature doesn’t have to be perfect when you release it. Rolling out something in beta first allows you to gather useful data on what works and what needs improvement before you introduce it on a mass scale, and your power users enjoy being the first to try it.

At the end of the day, you should consider what’s best for your customers. Allow their feedback to drive improvements, and really listen to their pain points. If you keep customer data at the core of new features, you won’t lose them along the way.

Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, a mobile design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 35 startups in downtown Manhattan. Combining a decade of experience architecting web and mobile applications, Rameet has created apps for a wide-range of industry clients from high-end fashion brands to successful tech startups. He is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

This post first appeared on StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme by Citi and Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).

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