Why We Chose To Disaggregate Our Product, And How It Revolutionized Our Business
When you’re building a product, there’s a strong temptation to believe that “more is more.”
The conventional wisdom is that the more features you have and the more it does, the broader the potential audience for your product.
I certainly bought into that fallacy early on at BodeTree. At its peak, the original version of our financial management system had upwards of twenty core features and was a popular yet unwieldy beast.
Though we found strong traction through a mix of persistence and innovative marketing, managing such a complex system became problematic.
That’s why in 2016 the company adopted the strategy of disaggregation, systematically breaking down our product into more manageable pieces.
It was a risky move, but in retrospect proved to be the single best decision we’ve ever made.
Here’s how adopting a philosophy of “less is more” revolutionized our business.
Creating a more agile product offering
Historically, BodeTree worked with banks and other large financial institutions to provide our platform to their small business customers.
In many respects, this was a wise move on our part because it enabled our company to piggyback on the trust-based relationship financial institutions have with their clients and gain scale rapidly.
While successful, this strategy was not without its challenges. Financial institutions - and banks, in particular - may seem to be a homogenous group, but that is far from the truth.
In reality, banks have wildly divergent processes, goals, and areas of focus. This didn’t prevent us from gaining scale, but it did require us to make numerous concessions and adjustments each time we brought on a new client.
This small-time customization strategy worked for a while, but ultimately it ended up slowing down deals.
One bank wanted our automatic accounting feature, but not our loan platform. Others wanted our content dashboard but weren’t too comfortable with providing business valuation information.
The result was an offering that was full of conditions, toggles, and other workarounds designed to help meet the specific needs of each client.
As you can imagine, this became a nightmare to maintain.
We realized that we needed a more agile product offering, one that could enable us to offer our clients an a la carte menu they could tailor to their specific needs.
What we didn’t realize at the time was just how big of an impact this strategy would have on our overall business.
The task of deconstructing our gargantuan application forced us to embrace the concept of essentialism.
We had to ask ourselves the tough questions about how people used our product, and examine the intrinsic value of each component.
This process helped us to break up aspects of the system and eliminate numerous under-utilized features.
Such a hack and slash approach was far from comfortable. After all, product bloat is a function of fear: the fear that someone would use the product only if they had “that one” feature.
Our efforts resulted in three core technology products: Insight (formerly BodeTree, our automated accounting tool), Vault (an education and compliance tool), and Seed (a streamline lending platform).
Within each of those product verticals, we eliminated up to 40% of the previously existing features. The result was a portfolio of streamlined products that each did one thing exceptionally well.
The refinement that accompanies essentialism also had an unexpected benefit: it opened up new markets.
Discovering new markets
As we dug into the core value proposition of each product, we realized that they could be applied to industries beyond just financial services.
Around the same time, our experiment in franchising was taking off, and the two initiatives converged. Unlike any other time in our history, we were prepared to take a new market by storm.
The flexibility that we now had on the technology front was freeing. No longer were we constrained by the customizations we had to make for the banks. Instead, we could offer a lightweight and agile solution that struck at the very heart of the pain that small businesses felt.
Ultimately, the resulting success led us to disaggregate our company as well as our product.
Instead of being one organization that tries to do everything for everyone, we created verticals that could focus on particular channels.
Our banking channel shifted more towards a fully white-labeled solution that was no longer centrally managed.
The rest of the organization, along with our newly acquired franchise development company continued to operate under the BodeTree banner, but with a focus on bringing tech-enabled services to the world of franchising.
An ever-evolving process
Entrepreneurship is about evolution. Companies must continuously be experimenting, changing, and pushing boundaries if they want to survive.
What began as an attempt to make our product easier to manage ended up being an exercise in essentialism, which in turn opened up new markets and strategies for our team.
Without our strategy of disaggregation, we would never have been able to get to where we are today.
At its core, our disaggregation journey was a matter of examining the intrinsic value of our products and finding the most elegant ways to bring those value propositions to market.
While each business is different, I firmly believe that other entrepreneurs can benefit from the process that we experienced.