Steve Jobs famously called Dropbox a “feature, not a product”, as it turned out it didn’t matter. Dropbox was a must-have.

Yesterday, I elaborated on why I see the potential for startups to gain some quick, yet small wins in the energy transition space.

I based my reasoning partially on the sheer number of startups now being funded that will not make the jump from feature to a must-have product.

There are a few questions startups should be asking themselves as they strive to become a core part of their customer’s daily operations.

  • How valuable is your functionality as a standalone application?
  • Are there existing products in the market that should add this feature? Why won’t they or why haven’t they?
  • Is your market bundling or unbundling? More standalone features or products that combine features?

In addition to understanding these macro principles, here are a few tactical considerations for the day-to-day.

Who’s your internal champion?

I’m not talking about your champion on the innovation team who might be your most frequent contact and, depending on the product, I might not be talking about the end-user.

Instead, ask yourself who is the person on the inside that you make a superstar every day? Focus on building that relationship and the sales process becomes much easier as you look to go from innovation budget to OpEx staple. Which leads me to…

How do you get into the OpEx budget?

Are you a nice-to-have that the innovation department is buying? If so, what are the milestones you need to achieve to become a budget line item and a big one at that?

The amount of money a customer is willing to pay you as a percentage of their budget is a strong indication of your importance. Innovation and R&D budgets are a minuscule percentage of the overall budget of OEMs, utilities, and industrial enterprises. They are also vulnerable to market-cycles and whims of the leadership team.

Where’s the urgency?

Is your customer is adding urgency to the sales or product development process? Does the customer or the prospect add urgency on their own? Are they logging in and interacting with the product daily?

Engaged customers who need your product will push you to move faster and jump through hoops to with you if you address a huge pain. They’ll also be the first to tell you when something goes wrong.

Is the stakeholder calling you the minute something breaks? If so, that’s a great sign that you are core to the day-to-day operations of their business. It also gives you a chance to show your responsiveness when things go wrong.


A nice-to-have product provides some value — perhaps being twice as good as doing it by a combination of email, spreadsheets, and know-how.

A must-have product fundamentally alters the way work gets done and once used, companies will rarely go back — especially in energy where the trust bar and stakes are high.

Many startups begin their lives as a feature, the only path to scale and growth is as a must-have.