Henry Ford famously said: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” In the startup world that is an often cited example of what stance to take with your customers, telling them what they can have rather than indulging whims of irrelevant fancy. And that is true, to an extent. But it all depends on your product and market maturity.

Early in your product’s life, while you are still trying to get Product/Market fit, you absolutely should take an almost draconian stance on what does and what does not get put into your product. People are going to ask for all kinds of things. If you take every input as something you need to have, then you will potentially be chasing many features before their time. It all depends on how mature your product is, and how mature the market is.

What do I mean? Let’s go back to the Model T topic. The “market” for autos was “expensive and unreliable”. Ford redefined the auto market by making an car that was reliable and affordable. He had no real competition in the lower price point. However, he was still refining his product. He was trying to get the real defining features to a level he felt was acceptable, such as reliability, power, comfort, and perfecting the assembly line. Adding something such as color choices before perfecting those things might have driven sales, but it also could have placed the company in a weaker position to the competition in the long term. You cannot focus on everything at once.

Having said that, once those defining features were at an adequate level of maturity, adding the choice of colors allowed him to move up-market. Not only that, by the time he added multiple colors, there was competition in the affordable market. He needed to add colors to compete. The market was maturing.

The point is that you have to gauge multiple things when deciding what and what not to put in your product to be successful. If you are entering a mature market with established products, the bar will be much higher than if you have created some product or service that did not exist prior.

Saying that out loud seems obvious, but in the trenches it is easy to get caught up in what to spend your limited time focusing on day to day. Don’t be reactive, be proactive and deliberate on what your priorities are.

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