Every product has a core—a feature that is the heart and soul. Everything else is secondary and is supported by the core. The product would not exist without the core.

Parse => remote object storage
DropBox => files
Facebook => friends
Netflix => movies
YouTube => videos
WordPress => blogs

Successful products and startups hone and keep a tight focus on the core of their product. This may sound obvious, but it’s something that a lot of failed startups forget as the product matures and the core gets occluded.

1. Make sure the core is valuable

As a product grows and adds more features, the core is at risk of becoming sidelined. Keep the core the core of your product. This is a fine balancing act, because rich features on top of the core can make the product better.

From a UX perspective, The key is to avoid complicating core user flows. For example, uploading a YouTube video shouldn’t require that you understand video annotations.

Most likely, 100% of your users will come to use the core. Don’t make them think about any other features until they’ve mastered the core.

2. Maximize the value that the core provides

Most users will use your product just for the core feature. If it doesn’t provide that much value, then it’s time to rethink your product. A user shouldn’t have to understand every feature of your product for it to be valuable.

A great product is one where users are happy just using the core.

3. Onboard users slowly, especially for complicated products

I do a lot of thinking about this because Parse is a developer platform, which is inherently more complicated than your average consumer product.

The way to onboard users for platforms is to have a quickstart flow that teaches users how to use the core. Nothing else.

For Parse, which provides an SDK to add backend features to your mobile app, the core is saving a single object from a mobile app. The quickstart flow methodically guides the user to the point where they can save an object. If you’re a mobile dev, sign up and check it out.

Even though Parse offers much more, it makes no sense to clutter the flow for new users. When you’re new, you need to learn the core, then slowly digest the rest of the features.

This is important for consumer products, and crucial for developer products. You can apply this to any kind of product.

Are you building a new document editor? Your onboarding should get users to write a few sentences and save a document. Nothing else. I took this to the extreme with QuietWrite.

Are you building a photo sharing site? Your onboarding should have users upload a single photo, then show it to them with a success message. Nothing else. Instagram did a great job at this.

4. Give users feedback as they complete tasks

A successful product is one that constantly teaches users how to use it. At the end of the Parse quickstart guide, we have a button that lets users test whether they’ve successfully saved an object. We give direct feedback, and users can immediately course correct if they’ve made a wrong turn.

This gives users the confidence that they understand the core feature of your product. From there, they’ll be able to explore everything else, and hopefully become a power user.

At the end of the day, a product that is trying to be too many things at once is going to just confuse users. People want products that solve specific problems well. And the best way to do this is to focus on core features and teach users how to use them. Everything else is secondary.