How to avoid the “swiss knife”​ product trap

Zigmars Rozentals
6 min readAug 13, 2020


Swiss knife — Wenger 16999*

What is the “Swiss knife” product trap?

Individuals love universal products — you purchase it once and then you can use it for hundreds of tasks and scenarios. A typical example is the “swiss knife” which will get you out of almost any situation where you need some sort of hardware tool.

We as individuals love these products. They are great.

Let’s load our app with tons of features and market will live it!

And if you are a product owner, you know the temptation out there thinking the same about creating new digital products, such as apps. The sentiment adding more features often also is alive among product stakeholders — let’s load our app with tons of features and market will love it!

To make things worse for product and feature owners, there are such examples. I mean everyone knows about Fortune 500 companies that have products with hundreds of features that make us falsy perceive, that it’s a way up to the top. Look at Amazon Web Services — is not it a real “swiss knife” providing such a range of services?

Also, see the Facebook app with stories, feeds, groups, marketplace, pages, jobs, payments and more. Is not the large collection the reason why Facebook is so successful? Doesn’t it sound like a formula for success?

Wait. Not so simple.

Although individuals love these products, the market itself is a tricky place.

In my examples above both Amazon Web Services and Facebook are well-established brands with enough capitalization and market share. Their current product strategy is very specific to their current stage of growth and product development. If you as product owner are planning to launch a new product or feature in the market, their current strategy is not the best blueprint to copy.

Sure, you may catch a few customers loving an “all-in-one” app or product, usually, this will not be enough to build decent traction.

Without a “use case” and purpose in place, conquering the market and reaching the critical mass with your product could be a problem.

I usually call it — the “swiss knife” trap.

How to avoid the trap?

Steps for building a product from scratch are universal and unique at the same time.

They are unique because your customers and your product are unique.

At the same time, these building steps are universal, because they always start with the same questions.

  • Do you know WHY customers will use your product or service
  • WHAT do they want to accomplish by your product or service?
  • What are their pains they want to relieve using your product or service?
  • Or what pleasure they gain by using it?

These are the questions you, as the product owner, should ask every day, again and again, working with your product.

Let me help you to see this better from the customers perspective.

Think in this way.

Why the car was invented?

What is the main purpose of a car? Although cars can be used as collectable items for some, or for showing up their status for others and even as a place for living to someone else, the main purpose for the car is getting from one place to another. Cars are used as vehicles and that is their main purpose. So if you would be back in time 135 years ago inventing the first car, only one use case should trouble you — how it will get ahead. Back in 1885, there were no worries about all bells and whistles, status symbol proof or how comfortable the seat was.

Similarly, what’s the point of a chair or a table? Again, although chairs can be used for sleeping and a solid table can serve as a shelter in the earthquake, the main purpose is clear for each of them.

The digital world is the same.

In the same manner, we should think about the digital world.

When I am opening my Waze app, I am not so much concerned if the app includes the most extreme off-road trails, or if it allows me to access my drive history for last 5 years, or gives me tips on how to save better petrol. Not at all. My only pain and concern at that moment are how I can quickly get to the meeting on the other side of the town. That is the “killer feature” of Waze and it does its job perfectly.

Likewise, when you’re opening your Podcasts app, you not planning to watch the latest trending cat videos, read car reviews or share your vacation photos. The purpose of the Podcasts app is unmistakable — listening to the prerecorded audio files which are easily browsable and searchable by topics and producers.

When we are thinking about our digital product or service for the customer, we should find out WHY the customer uses the product in the first place. WHY the customer uses the product.

What is that “one thing” that he/she is planning to accomplish opening your app or website?

That’s true both for an advanced artificial intelligence platform and a simple WordPress website. The customer is using them all as tools to accomplish some particular goals.

So, before starting to create product requirements, drawing flowcharts and wireframes, the crucial task is to find and define the main purpose of the product or service.

Even if it is already used by thousands of users, you have to ask this question again and again — “why” my product is used.

“killer feature”, “main user story”, “core use case”, “product vision” — call as you want it, but the reason WHY the customer use your product should be defined.

If you will do your job great providing the main “killer feature” perfectly, your customers will love it. All the rest “nice to haves” are good and often necessary, but they are no the reason why market starts to adopt a new product. So, never lose the focus on the core problem that your product solves.

The problem, the customer is solving using your product or service is the main “user story”. Something it can be the same as “product vision”.

No matter how you call, it should be clear, formulated and communicated will across the teams in your organization.


*Post Scriptum:

R.I.P. Wenger 16999

Thanks for asking about the product in the top photo. Yes, it is real, no Photoshopping.

It is Wenger 16999 — the biggest Swiss knife the world has seen.

Needless to say… …the product was discontinued and is no longer available.

Are you asking the reason? That’s the “swiss knife” product trap.



Zigmars Rozentals

Product Management. Customer focus. Impact. Consulting.