The Technium

Feature, Product, Company


When an entrepreneur is pitching venture capitalists an idea, the VCs are asking themselves several questions. One is: is this idea a feature, a product, or a company?

As a consumer I find myself asking the same question, but I hope for an answer the opposite of an entrepreneur’s.

The VC and entrepreneur want to know how high up the hierarchy this innovation will settle. It may be novel, useful, desirable, and marketable. But how big and autonomous will it be? Is it big enough to sell as a product in itself, with all the necessary support that requires? And is that product big enough to be able to sustain a company and all the overhead an organization demands? Maybe the invention is simply an idea that should be added as a feature in a existing product. Or, if it is strong enough to be its own product, maybe it is a product that can’t support its own company, and should simply part of an existing company.

Most entrepreneurs, especially those starting out, dream of creating a company around their successful idea. And most VCs want to fund a company and not a mere feature. Features can easily be replicated by incumbents.

These are the kind of questions funders were asking when Twitter came along. Is it a feature, product, or company? Despite its current success, the answer is still undecided. Is geolocation a feature, product or company? In the history of computing there are endless examples of features that were outfitted as products and companies, but in the end wound up as features. Little companies selling say a plugin for Photoshop that later winds up as a built in feature out of the box. Or, an early-adopter navigation device that ends up as a built in feature of cars. Or ad tracking service that becomes built into a search engine.

These are not horrible outcomes for the inventors, but the drive for most creators is to move an idea up the hierarchy to the company level.

The problem is consumers want the opposite. As an user I don’t want to have to deal with another company, another product. In an ideal world, cool new stuff would arrive as new features on things I already use. I don’t want to go to another website, register again, remember another password, learn new commands, store another device, carry something else, have another number to call for help, download another app, install another engine, remember to visit another website, when, in theory, that new service or product could just as easily, and probably much better, be delivered by the old service I am now using.

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I completely understand the costs of bloat, and the penalty against innovation exerted by incumbents, but despite those downsides, I want features, not products, and not companies.

To tell you the truth, even features are too big. I’d like to be completely unaware of features, and have them disappear out of my consciousness; I just want functionality and benefits. I don’t want more companies.

The tension will remain: creators want their features growing into products and beyond, while consumers want products shrinking to features or smaller. That’s life in the technium!




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