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The danger of building a business around a "feature"

It's the sort of warning that makes sense but doesn't seem serious until you're on the receiving end of it:

"Don't create a business that your competitor can easily kill by adding a feature to their product."

With Markfolder I made that exact mistake: created a business around a feature that Twitter can easily add.

Markfolder is a tool for bookmarking and organise tweets with folders or collections. It's a solution aimed squarely at the problem where Twitter users are unable to organise their Twitter bookmarks.

Markfolder launched as a free tool last August and has been growing steadily. And I'm planning to launch a PRO version this month.

Yesterday, it was leaked that Twitter is working on collections for its bookmarks:

This essentially will render Markfolder obsolete. That is if I stick with the same basic features that Twitter is building. Markfolder will be redundant.

This is one of the perils of building on top of a platform, with better resources than you. If there is enough demand for a solution to a problem that exists on that platform, it's more than likely that the platform will create a solution for it. Or buy you out.

It's a lesson learned for me, but I'm also seeing this as an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and work out how Markfolder can provide more value to its users beyond being an "add-on" to an existing platform.

Twitter may still take its time before releasing this feature, so I may have time to think about adding more value to Markfolder beyond being a Twitter "feature", or pivoting.

It's not that I haven't been expecting this to happen (just had my head in the sand), so there's already been a few ideas floating around to extend the idea of a basic bookmarking service into something more substantial, such as:

  • Opening it up to bookmarking other social media content too, or any content on the web (just like Pocket).

  • Target curators and content creators by turning it into a curation and publishing tool rather than just a place to collect links (like @AndrewKamphey's Tiny Sends Tool idea in this writeup).

  • Target a specific content niche and create a bookmarker that works well for that niche, e.g. crypto, artwork or travel.

  • Turn it into a collaboration tool for teams, so that groups of people can curate and share links with each other.

  • Turn it into a universal bookmarker for any destination, by building integrations to popular platforms, starting with Zapier.

It's disheartening to see something I've worked hard on potentially being replaced by one feature, but it's a lesson learned, and potentially an opportunity to explore better business models and services.

(I'm actually up writing this because this is actually keeping me up tonight, so excuse the brain-dumpy format!)

I also look to guidance from any of you who have been there or have thoughts on how you would handle this. Any advice appreciated!

Thanks.

  1. 2

    Hey Farez,

    I'm so sorry to hear that, I'm glad you found the lesson at a time like this.

    For what it's worth, if there is one thing I learned building products at risk of overnight duplication, it's that these large tech companies may always steal features, but the one thing they can never steal is a network.

    Networks built by strong network or flywheel effects tend to have users that are very embedded into the product, which will make something like all of your users leaving much more difficult.

    Have you tried taking a look at angles of attacks that involve using these effects? One example you may find useful is linktree, a company that simply allowed users to have a single page that held all of there social media links, so that listing them on different social media profiles wouldn't be too much of hassle.

    I can totally see your product having something like being able to share bookmark folders to a feed or with friends, or having a feed of folders a user might like based off of an off-the-shelf recommendation engine. Ideas like these might also enable you to punch up and hijack existing networks hosted by twitter or any other platform.

    I love brainstorming these different things so please let me know what you think and hit me up if you need help with ideation!

    1. 1

      Hi Mohayat,

      Thank you for that reassuring comment! I agree that the network would be hard to steal.

      However, in my particular case: 1. the users are already on their platform (I'm the one trying to steal them) and 2. I assume that they are rolling out this feature for free, while I'm looking to actually charge for it. Cards are stacked against me :)

      Thanks for the suggestions there. As I mentioned, there are already a few ideas on the roadmap which I think can make a difference to the product.

      What I really need to do this week is to go back to basics and work out the customer pain points that I want to solve, and these pains would need to be out of Twitter's scope or interest to solve.

      And thanks for the offer to brainstorm. I may just take you up on that offer, sir!

      Farez

  2. 1

    Don't be sad. Get into the direction of swpely.com

    1. 1

      Thanks Falak. Nice find - that looks like a useful product too.

  3. 1

    Hi Farez,

    Thanks for sharing, and I feel your pain. I am in a similar situation with my own product. However, I wouldn't lose hope.

    From what I have seen from the screenshots of Twitter Blue, it seems you can only create collections and add tweets to those collection. It says nothing about being able to search within those collections.

    Lets wait and see what "Blue" looks like :)

    Regards,

    Ross

    1. 1

      Thank you. No hope lost :). In fact it's the kicker I needed to start understanding my users better and provide the value they need. And not be in direct competition with Twitter.

      How are you dealing with your challenges?

      1. 1

        For now its business as usual for me - until I see what Twitter Blue actually looks like. My feeling is that they will see all the negative feedback and will hold off on releasing it for a while yet.

        I'm working on some new features, and adding a new pricing plan (moving away from a yearly subscription to a once-off payment).

        I have my sights on another product idea, so I may just put more of my energy into that.

        1. 1

          I didn't realise yours also works with Twitter.

          Yes I think it's worth considering other ideas if the risk from Twitter Blue is high.

          1. 1

            Yip, mine works with Likes (as opposed to Bookmarks)

            1. 1

              My next project is a product is going to be B2B. Very difficult to make money from B2C. Everyone expects everything to be free.

  4. 1

    Well, it looks like the feature that's competing with my product is going to be part of Twitter's subscription service, Twitter Blue.

  5. 1

    I've done something similar with a blogging platform.

    It was based on three ideas:

    1. Source your articles from a git repo, not someone else's database.
    2. Write your articles in your code editor, not someone's web gui
    3. Don't build your blogging environment, just start writing.

    Things like Gatsby cover the first two, but require you to build your blogging environment too.

    Hashnode only covers the third. But they have a beta feature which now covers the first - which implies covering the 2nd one too, hence all three. They may have opened the feature up to everyone now, but I haven't checked.

    1. 1

      Ah, yes. Sounds like you will have competition from Hashnode there.

      At least you're not building on top of someone else's platform, and then that platform builds out those features.

      This could happen if, say, most of your users are using your platform along with Github, and then one day Github releases exactly the same features that you have. and make it free.

      This would be something you need to look out for.

  6. 1

    Maybe it's worthwhile to talk to some of your power users / early users to find out if they have specific use case than just bookmarking for their personal use?

    As a thought exercise, you have been - in a way - competing with browser bookmarking and excel (though unlikely people would actually do that), and your users choose you (over the hassle of signing up etc) over those tools . So you may have something there you are not aware of.

    Anyway, good luck!

    1. 1

      This is really good advice. I do plan to talk to my current power users, as you rightfully put it. But you're right to say that Markfolder does compete with these existing "solution" and I should really talk to them to find out why they chose Markfolder over those.

      Thank you!

  7. 1

    I still think you did good, the lesson is not to not do so, but to be ready and prepare for it , you leveraged twitter and you have users which is the most important, do you think some standalone tool would have done better, now you have to pivot, even a better / different UI it could be enough, twitter has to cater to all people, you could make your target a niche etc.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the reassurance, Mark.

      You're right, it is about being prepared for it. I think anyone building on top of other platforms will need to.

      Yes, I will be looking at the option of focusing on a niche. This will allow me to solve a more specific problem for a more specific customer segment, which Twitter will not be able to.

      Thank you!

      Farez

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