It can be tough to wrap your head around those things in the abstract. What counts as a specific need? What marks the point of minimum viability?
And even big, successful tech giants sometimes land on the wrong side of those questions. But they've left plenty of lessons behind for the rest of us. Here, a deeper look at a few cases.
1. Microsoft Band: Design is everything.
Most of us don't associate Microsoft with failure. But for every Windows XP, Microsoft has also had a miss.
Microsoft's biggest blunder in recent memory? Microsoft Band. Band was Microsoft's attempt at a smartwatch, equipped with a heart-rate monitor for fitness tracking. Released in 2014, Band actually beat its rival, Apple Watch, to the market by a full year. But in 2016, Microsoft ended sales of the product.
Arguably, Band was a better product than the Apple Watch. Band tracked a user's exposure to UV radiation, included solid fitness tracking features, created personalized workout plans, and had a battery life of three days.
So why did Band go bust? It couldn't compete with Apple Watch's sleek, customizable design. Critics compared it to a house-arrest bracelet. No number of sensors could overcome that stigma.
The lesson is that even a superior product from a big-name company can be doomed by bad design. Tech products that people wear are a particularly dangerous place to get a product's look or feel wrong.
2. Firefly Mobile: Uncool is untenable.
In 2003, Firefly Mobile debuted as "the mobile phone for mobile kids." Firefly's GlowPhone headsets were small, in part because they lacked a keyboard.
Firefly user controls were as simple as could be: a button for mom, a button for dad, and a button for 911. Other numbers could be programmed into the phone, but it wasn't an easy task, even for parent-owners of the phone.
The toy-like design of the GlowPhone was ridiculed by both parents and children. Nobody, especially not kids, wanted to be seen carrying a phone that looked like a Barbie accessory. The price didn't help, either: Unlimited talk and text cost $65 per month, with no data options available. Without issuing refunds, Firefly closed its doors in 2012.
Firefly rightly spoke to parents, who ultimately purchase products for their children. But what it forgot is that parents ultimately want happy children. Today's kids want "real" phones.
3. Apple MobileMe: Bundling is easy to bungle.
MobileMe, preceded by iTools and succeeded by iCloud, was a collection of mobile software services rolled out by Apple in 2008. It was nothing short of a stunning failure for a tech giant known for design.
Despite going through multiple iterations, MobileMe was almost impossible to use. It never settled on a clear use case, its interface was terrible, and it lost users' data. After plenty of user complaints, Apple canned MobileMe and released the improved iCloud in 2012.
Bundling software services into a single interface is almost never a good idea. In contrast, think of EasyRedir, a URL redirection service that doesn't try to be every web service under the sun. It specializes in link redirection and analytics and website migrations. Its management dashboard features a simple design, and specific use cases are listed on its homepage.
When in doubt, keep it simple like EasyRedir does. Between MobileMe and iTunes, Apple seems to have learned that lesson the hard way.
4. Pono: Late is worse than never.
Back in 2012, musician Neil Young took on a pet project: Pono. To Young, iPods and MP3 music players simply couldn't match the sound quality of vinyl records and CDs.
Young may have been right about that. What he got wrong was his timing. While Young heard listeners' call for higher-fidelity music, he ultimately didn't understand the market he was entering. Free music-streaming platforms with curated playlists, such as Pandora, had existed since 2000. Spotify launched in 2008.
Neil Young's name was enough to secure crowdfunding for Pono, which launched in 2015. But after a year on the market, it folded. Consumers simply weren't willing to pay for better sound if it meant going back to the days of MP3 players, higher prices, and the inability to stream.
One bright spot to Pono's story? It caught the attention of Amazon, which filled the need for high-quality sound that Pono had identified. Amazon's high-fidelity Music Unlimited service, which allows desktop and mobile streaming, was actually praised by Neil Young himself.
Those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. It turns out that's as true in tech as it is anywhere else.