Adding appeal. Super tempting thing to do when you’re building a product. Add features, communicate benefits, make it look visually beautiful. “Of course we need to make our products appealing.”
But since most products fail, since most products don’t address a hard enough struggle, since most products compete with “I’ll just” statements, no matter how many attractive features you add, you won’t sell.
But, if you do have something that has a shot, you’re better off reducing anxieties before trying to add appealing properties.
Anxieties? Appeal? What exactly do we mean by these?
Story: Anxiety with an Expense-Tracking App
Let’s say you’re thinking of building accounting software. A bookkeeping app to be precise.
What attractive properties would you add? More importantly, what anxieties should you reduce?
Here’s a story I went through.
I was struggling with having a lot of small expenses I had forgotten I had made in the last business year, and when came time to do my taxes, I realized I missed out on an opportunity to document my costs.
So I set out on a journey to find a good business expense tracking tool. Something that would allow me to quickly upload receipts, track amounts, track the sales tax I had paid each time.
So far, you’re thinking: “great, I’ll add the following features to my app”:
- Add a way to upload scans of receipts
- Add separate fields for the amount paid and another one for the sales tax amount.
You’re hoping those will add appeal. Make the sale.
Here’s the thing: I had found an app that had those features, and I didn’t buy it.
The reason? I had the following anxiety:
If I stick all of these receipts in this software, I’ll have to keep paying to keep my receipts in that app forever, even if I change to a leaner method down the line.
That “my data will be stuck in here” was my main anxiety.
And so I said to myself the following “I’ll just” resolution:
I’ll just put together a separate receipts@domain email address, and send myself snaps of my receipts. I won’t have too many to review at end of year, so so long as I have the pictures, and they’re not in my Photos app on my phone to fish out or have to remove, I’ve got a solution.
That anxiety pushed me back to my “I’ll just”.
I’ve been using that approach ever since, and each time smiling about all of the money I’ve been saving.
So what should we do with that new-found anxiety?
An Expense-Tracking App Without That Anxiety
How about a product like this:
- Start with an app that charges a small annual price just for storing expense receipts. Something not too expensive, something annual, not a monthly bill (which would need to be tabulated on a tax prep spreadsheet, another anxiety). A small app that might sit beside a bigger bookkeeping app.
- You make it smooth to snap and upload receipts for that year you paid. Just the pictures, not the amounts. No AI needed. Just promise an end of year report.
- You add the ability to generate a PDF with all of the receipts neatly laid out to maximize legibility and minimize whitespace. The tax year printed on top.
- At the end of the year, you ask if they want to renew. They got 90 days. Otherwise their receipts are deleted forever. No sweat.
- You tell them you got them covered with full bookkeeping by upgrading to a bigger app.
That’s it. This mini struggle-solver sits alongside your main bookkeeping product. You’ve sowed trust one year at a time. No anxieties.
In many ways, this is an example of a “worse” product. It has almost no fields, it does almost nothing. And yet, it solves a struggle, it’s something you can charge for. More importantly, it’s pretty-much anxiety-free.
Other Examples of Products and Their Anxieties
Let’s say you’re building a new blogging service. One surprising anxiety:
Will this be around for a long time?
Blogging is a growing niche right now. Maybe you’re aiming to attract people based on how simple it is to just start blogging, or how simple the default template looks, or how it’s integrated directly with paid newsletter publishing.
You’re thinking about appealing features like custom domain support, SSL by default, fast lighthouse scores.
But first, there’s going to be anxiety about whether this thing will be there for a long time.
Visitors might look for answers for these questions:
- Is the author’s own blog built with this platform?
- Is there some way to know how to extract all of my posts if I want to leave?
- Is there some way to pay for a full year, one shot? Maybe that’s going to be well-received by your buyers. Make them feel like there’s a full year guarantee.
- Is it going to help me produce a list of URLs of all of my posts so I can create redirects if I move my domain?
Help them feel you’ve got them covered, to start something brand new with you, and that you’ll be around for a while.
Let’s say you’re building an online course. Here’s one big anxiety:
This is going to take a lot of effort to change myself in the next year, based on this new material.
Maybe you can make it super progressive. Make sure “Module 1” will fulfil the majority of the course’s value very quickly. And there’s going to be more learning material when you’re ready.
Or maybe cut your course down in length. No FOMO. Just deliver on that one thing they’re trying to get movement on, and no more.
Or maybe don’t make a course. Maybe it’s all about surpassing that aversion to change. Maybe make a checklist, or an accountability system (email accountability checks with a real person), or something real small to be repeated periodically.
Let’s say you’re writing a book.
I got a story about this. I interviewed a guy who purchased not one, but two ebooks. His purported pushback was about the price. But when pushing for more context, he laid out his real anxiety:
Reading this book will take time away from other things I want to do. Other books I had committed to read. Time with my family.
The real cost of a book is not its price, it’s the cost of the time to read it.
Demonstrate that time disappears when people read it, or make it short, and people will buy it and tell others about it.
Maybe you’re selling access to hard-to-find information to give people an edge.
I’m probably going to be too late to the party. Everybody else will have used the information to get the edge.
Maybe you could show how most people don’t use that information because it’s all in the execution, that most people don’t put in the work, etc.
Other Surprising Sources of Anxiety
- “I don’t want to learn all of these features. I just want to do this one thing, not be an expert in all of these things”.
- “I’m going to have to change the way I do things if I use this.”. Maybe first educate those users about the new process you suggest. Maybe make that educational material into a paid book, for those who are ready to change their process for the better.
- “Am I going to have to keep maintaining this after I buy it?”
- “Will I have to give this any attention or is it just going to run?”
- “I’m going to have to get this expense approved with my boss. (My spouse will ask me about that expense next time she does the finances.)”
Pricing, Not the Main Anxiety
You’re proabaly thinking “he didn’t mention the price as an anxiety”.
This was on purpose, because pricing is an anxiety, but you were probably too quick to reduce it.
In fact, there is one still unaddressed anxiety about price:
The price is too low. How will they sustain themselves? What am I missing?
Don’t fall into that trap.
So address anxieties, then discover the surprising product that will emerge. You’ll be surprised of how many features you didn’t have to build, of the healthy price you’re able to charge, and the raving fans you’ll be creating.