Product owners don't usually talk about the features that fail — so when you launch something that's a complete flop, it might seem like you're the exception. The reality is that failure is a huge part of making something worthwhile — and something that'll shape your success.
Personally, I can think of some notable features over the past couple of years that have been total failures — and whilst most of them didn't get past the private-beta phase, there's one that stands out in my mind as the biggest... portfolios.
For almost a year, there was a heavily publicised feature in all accounts that enabled you to turn your private library into a public portfolio — basically a public URL containing your work. I can't remember the exact details on why I decided this would be a good idea, but it was likely in response to a host of other apps offering a similar service, and to a select few feature requests. It took months to build, but was fairly well received; with around 2,000 publicly available after just a few months.
Sounds successful, right? Wrong. Not only was the feature impossibly difficult to manage and maintain — it didn't come close to the offering provided by players like Cargo, Behance and TheLoop. I was providing a copy-cat service (and doing it far worse), but importantly I had broken the golden rule:
Stay true to your core values
Prevue is about facilitating private conversation between designer and client — a simple, unobtrusive way way to share work. The day I built something that was contradictory to those values, I failed. Ultimately, the feature failed as a result — and in early 2012 I started a 6 month effort to grandfather and eventually kill portfolios... losing almost 3% of angry users as a result.
This, and the many other mistakes I've made have taught me to pay close attention to exactly how people use the product, and focus on ways to make that process easier. After all, I see thousands of design professionals using Prevue on a daily basis — with a bit of close inspection, it's easy to see the patterns and answer questions before people ask them.
That close inspection has lead to the design of a big new feature due to launch in the next few weeks — the details of which I'll release soon. This new feature, which actually uses parts of the portfolio code-base, would never have existed without the failures I've mentioned here — and serves as a real example of the powers of iteration, failure, and finding the strength to learn from your mistakes. For me, the moral is to focus on quality and useful features, born out of a necessity and a desire to make people lives easier, rather than building for the sake of building.