We’ve all seen or even put together a presentation that included some version of the following slide:Compare6




(FYI, I found these slides on slideshare, I’m not commenting at all on the quality of the overall pitch or the company itself . . .  I’m just using them as an example)

Evidently, entrepreneurs love putting these competition matrix slides together cause it took me all of 5 minutes to find a few examples.

Well, I hate it. I hate these slides and everything they represent. They are completely meaningless and ultimately an excuse for entrepreneurs to lie to themselves about the (lack of) whitespace they occupy. He who has the most check boxes does not win. He who has the most harvey balls does not go to heaven.

(Taking a deep breath . . . )

There are a few problems with thinking that any company can “out-checkbox” their competitors.

  • Not all check boxes are created equal. I.e. not all features matter to the end user or customer. In fact, most users only uses 20-30% of any given feature on a website or app.   Having the most air conditioning vents probably does not help (in most cases) sell more cars.
  • The Frankenstein effect.  Putting the best of everything together into a product does not automatically make it the best .  (“We’ve got foursquare check-ins AND twitter messaging AND instagram photos AND Snapchat disappearing messages!”)   Instead, any given set of product features needs to work coherently to deliver and re-enforce a small number of core value propositions. (Not the other way around)
  • Steep usability / learning curve.  Especially in the consumer space, users have extremely steep learning curves when it comes to new applications. In a world where attention choices are infinite AND manuals have become a relic of the past – nobody wants to have to figure out how to use all the crazy features and wrinkles you’ve put into your app.  If facebook was launch as it is now (packed with random features), I guarantee you it would have been a dud.  (By luck or skill, they’ve slowly added more and more features as their users got used to old ones.)
  • The Tivo problem.  Tivo was revolutionary when it was first invented. (Side note, how many technology products/services can we use the world “invented” ? . . . too few) The problem was that it did too many things too well, and everyone had a different way of explaining what exactly it did and why it was great.  (DVR was not a word back then.) It was impossible for Tivo to establish a consistent brand positioning through word of mouth despite the fact everyone was talking about it.  Don’t fall into the same trap of overloading your product with too many features and thus value proposition. Only the Swiss can sell Swiss army knives.

What to do instead you ask?

  1. Pick the right features for your product (easier said than done).
  2. Focus on making the couple core features easy to use, valuable, and easily discoverable.
  3. Stop going to competitors or just other popular websites/apps for feature inspiration – go to your existing/potential users instead – survey them or just pick up the phone and call.
  4. Really understand the Achilles heels of your competitors – talk to their customers/users.
  5. Discover truly differentiated value proposition first, than build features that re-enforce those value propositions.
  6. Feature matrix like above are actually fine (I’m just being dramatic), but make sure to have another slide that proves through 1st (ideally) or 2nd party research that users/customers actually care about the features you have over your competitors.  That the marginal difference in value proposition actually overcome the switching cost to your app.
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