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When Lloyed Lobo and Alex Popa co-founded Boast.ai, they knew there was a massive opportunity to help innovative startups navigate the complex web of tax credits in the US and Canada.
But with that massive opportunity came the need to prioritize how to build the company from idea to validation to product-market fit and scale. When you bootstrap a company, you have limited resources, so you need to be ruthless about prioritizing what problem needs to be tackled and de-risked first.
Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Lloyed shared the framework he uses to prioritize product features to ensure they are always helping customers succeed.
- Founders need to understand RICE – Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Ease – when thinking about new features.
- The goal of any new feature is to become known for delivering a specific, valuable outcome.
- A good feature not only delivers value, but it does so in a smooth and intuitive way for customers.
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When Lloyed Lobo and Alex Popa co-founded Boast.ai, they entered the complex world of tax credits. With thousands of available credits and no shortage of work to be done, they had to be ruthless about prioritizing what problem needed to be tackled and de-risked first.
Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Lloyed shared the framework they use to prioritize which features to build.
The framework is called RICE, but it’s not the one you’ve been told for injury care. In this case, RICE stands for: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Ease. Each concept is critical to identifying which features should be built now, put on the roadmap for later, or scrapped entirely.
The concept: How many people can you actually help with this feature?
This is another way of asking market size, but from the customer perspective. Any new feature must first pass the test of being big enough to be worth it, though “big enough” depends on your target market and growth plans.
In Boast.ai’s case, the startup market was huge: thousands of startups claim tax credits in the United States and Canada annually and don’t have in-house resources much of the time, so a focus in this area made sense.
“You need a reason behind every new feature, and that means understanding how many people it can help,” said Lloyed.
The concept: What benefit does it offer customers?
Benefit comes in a lot of ways. Lloyed recommends founders use a customer-centric process to identify potential impact:
- Learn about customer challenges.
- Learn the steps customers currently use to solve their problem.
- Learn about obstacles, hacks, or irritations in those steps.
Once you’ve done this work, you can talk about your feature in terms of the steps it removes or accelerates or the challenges it alleviates or improves.
For Boast.ai, the concept of impact helped them focus their efforts. They decided to focus on SR&ED in Canada and innovation tax credits in the US because those credits were widely claimed, difficult for startups to navigate themselves, and more essential to helping businesses grow than many other types of tax credits.
“You need to understand your customer’s jobs-to-be-done,” said Lloyed. “Then learn about the steps they follow to get the job done. Your job becomes to reduce or eliminate steps and delight them with your new feature.”
The concept: How much you believe the feature will deliver the impact you hope it will.
Confidence in whether a feature can deliver on impact depends on two things:
- The size of the pain you alleviate or value you generate.
- The ease of the process customers must follow to get the impact.
In the case of tax credits, the size of pain is large: SR&ED and innovation tax credits can easily hit millions of dollars per company. And even at smaller amounts, it’s usually a large portion of the company’s annual expenses so it’s still critical.
The next step becomes process. A big part of the impact customers need in the tax credit space, for example, is not just getting the money but making the whole process easier and less time consuming. This insight helped Boast focus on automation features early on that integrate into a company’s financials, automatically identify which expenses qualify for credits, and automatically fill out some (or all) of the required forms to claim the credit.
The concept: How easy it is to build the feature.
There are a lot of worthwhile problems to solve, but startups have limited time and resources to start generating customer value.
Ease is based on three factors:
- Overall capabilities of technology.
- Team capabilities.
- Team resourcing.
The first question every startup needs to ask is whether technological capability has caught up to your idea. For example, no solution requiring light speed travel is possible at this point because that’s beyond the capability of all current technology.
Assuming the goal is within the realm of feasibility – such as building integrations to business bank accounts and automating analysis against tax credit requirements – the next question is team capabilities. Put simply: does your team have the skills (or ability to learn the skills) necessary to build the solution?
From there, feature prioritization sits in the context of the whole company: if the team is available to work on the feature now, what other work might need to be shelved to make capacity, etc.
“You need to balance vision with core architecture to make sure there’s no technical debt,” said Lloyed.
TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF RICE
Lloyed said building a successful product is fundamentally about one thing: becoming so good at delivering a specific outcome that your customers come back every time they want that outcome and they tell other people who want that outcome to go to you.
The RICE framework is built with that end in mind. By starting with reach, you better understand how many people might want your solution. With impact and confidence, you understand how valuable the solution can be. Then ease brings everything to the ground level to ensure you can actually deliver on your promises.