Lessons In eLearning No.1: To Make Your Product Successful, Keep It Simple
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How To Make Your Product Successful According To Lessons In eLearning

Edtech is big business. In 2017 alone, there have been close to 100 investments in edtech companies, with the value of those investments hovering around the 1.8 billion dollar mark.

However, this is still just scratching the surface. The edtech market is growing rapidly. Yet, in spite of the appetite for new software and ways of learning, edtech vendors face a major problem – how can they make their products stand out from the crowd when the crowd just keeps growing?

It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s extremely difficult, which is one reason it’s so surprising to see so many eLearning companies opting to build products that try to do everything, for everyone.

The truth is that this simply doesn’t work. Trying to be all things to all people just makes your product look generic, artless, or, worse, untrustworthy. How often do you think prospective clients hear pitches from companies that over-promise and under-deliver? How many paying customers will you lose because of over-the-top expectations?

Bluster will be ignored in the end, so your product needs to be inspired.

Stick To The Knitting (Or KISS, If You Prefer)

A product doesn’t need to be perfect from the get-go, but it does need to have a clear focus if it’s to outperform its competitors. That means keeping things as simple as possible, to begin with, and focusing on the things that will add the most long-term value (a lesson that even well-known entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have had to learn the hard way). There are a few ways of committing this to memory such as "stick to the knitting", but I like the old design mnemonic "KISS" – "keep it simple, stupid".

But sticking to basics is easier said than done.

There’s always the temptation to reduce any competitive disadvantage by incorporating competitors’ features alongside your own. Yet, it’s worth bearing in mind that any competitor’s features you’d like to emulate most likely took them years to develop, meaning they’ll have a head start in terms of both development and market share. Besides, few complex products ever enter the market and achieve success. It’s always better to start simple and evolve over time, as stated in Gall’s Law:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

If you try to make your product do everything from the get-go, then you’re going to overburden your team and create superfluous features that your customers may never need, use, or want. Every unnecessary feature also takes up precious resources to develop, fix, refine, and maintain.

Provide A Specialized Solution For A Niche Need

The answer is to find a niche and make it your own.

This can take some time, but the best eLearning products manage to successfully zero in on a previously unrecognized customer need and provide a solution to it. Having done so, the goal should be to evolve your product so that it does so much better than anyone else.

Another way of putting this is "going a mile deep and an inch wide". Having the freedom to really dig into the detail and understand the nuances of your product are important benefits to starting out simple and focusing on providing a genuine solution to a genuine need.

By perfecting the basics and continuing to develop your product into the de facto standard in your niche area, you’ll create a crucial competitive advantage over the countless products that fail to provide customers with real benefits that have a genuine impact.

Make Your Product Better, Not Bigger

Every stage of your product’s evolution should be about improving the core offering. Complexity tends to creep in as features become more elaborate, and there are calls to add others (this is often referred to as "feature creep"). It’s hard to resist requests for new features from paying customers, especially when they’re a major source of your revenue.

This is only natural, but it’s important to learn how to turn down requests if they serve no clear purpose. In evaluating them, consider the value they add versus the complexity they require. If they add enough value while not overstretching resources, then synthesize client ideas with internal company ones, and add them to the product roadmap.

Otherwise, there are always other important considerations: What are the obstacles you will need to overcome to make your product better? How will you bring your solution to scale? Can you leverage other technologies to get more from your product’s core features?

Simplicity isn’t easy, but it leads to a deeper, more sophisticated offering. If your product solves a genuine need, then it should be a better fit for users’ lives and the constantly evolving eLearning ecosystem.