I have a confession to make.
There’s something that’s never quite sat right with me about Lean Startup.
It’s so focused on what other people want.
Which, I get… if you don’t have a market, you’ve got nothing. And if you don’t understand that market’s burning desire, they’re never going to give up their hard earned cash for a never-before-heard-of product by a completely-unknown company. And… again, nothing.
But what about what YOU want?
Isn’t that the joy of entrepreneurship? That you can say f*ck what everyone else wants to do/say/be/have. THIS is what I want to do.
Isn’t that the burning passion that you need to keep yourself going through the 25 hour work days? Through staying true to your vision despite all the naysayers. Because, let’s face it, if you don’t have any naysayers – then you’re not being very innovative.
In fact, let’s examine that thought right there for a moment. If the “right” way to do a startup is to look to other people… but the only way to innovate, by definition, is to come up with something that no one else has ever thought of before. Well… how exactly does that work?
“What fun is it building something that nobody wants?”
This is a quote from Lean Startup’s creator, Eric Ries, that I’ve used myself in numerous lean startup presentations where I warn developers against the dangers of creating things with an if-you-build-it-they-will-come mindset.
And… okay, let’s just lay it all on the table.
Despite having said that line many times.
To rooms full of hundreds of people.
I actually think it’s really fun.
I mean, maybe it’s not fun because nobody wants it. But it’s just freakin fun to build shit that you want to build.
There. I said it.
This ain’t no field of dreams, honey
Okay, so what about all the startups – you know, the 9 out of 10 startups (that I also dutifully include a slide for in every one of my lean startup presentations) – that failed because they weren’t able to build something that others wanted.
Okay, well. First I want to make a distinction.
Innovation != Startup
For all you non-devs in the room, this means that innovation and startup are not the same thing (people keep telling me that normal people can’t read code, so I’m trying to do better at using my words – you’ll have to tell me if it’s working).
As devs/techies/hackers/engineers, a lot of us love the thrill of making shit that’s never been made before. And THAT is the very definition of innovation.
A startup, by contrast, is defined as “a newly established business” – one that’s built to scale very quickly. I suppose, if you want to get technical about it, a startup doesn’t even have to be innovative.
But if you build it they won’t come… or will they?
Here’s what Phil Libin, Co-Founder of Evernote, thinks about that in this video titled (spoiler alert) Build Something For Yourself:
If you were starting a business even 5 years ago [ed: said in 2013], it would have been stupid advice to say build it for yourself. If you’re starting it now, it’s stupid advice to do anything else.
If you build something for yourself, if you build something that you love, that you think is sufficiently epic, there’s probably another billion people in the world that love it as well. Unless you’re like a spectacular weirdo. But, even if you are several standard deviations away from the center of the bell curve on weirdness, there’s still probably 10 million people that love something just as weird as you.
… if you’re making it for yourself, if you’re making something great, you’re at a huge advantage over somebody who’s making something for somebody else, because you can at least tell when it’s something great. You know. You’re making it for yourself. You can be an honest critic and an honest judge of your own products. And if you’re not doing that, it’s just much harder.Phil Libin, Co-Founder of Evernote
The video then confusingly cuts, without any explanation, over to other successful startup founders talking about why they created their startups for themselves.
For the record, I wouldn’t have picked Ben Silbermann for this since his target market is, like, soccer moms – a fact he really struggled with getting Pinterest off the ground precisely because it wasn’t twenty-something-male-techies like himself. But, I digress.
Several standard deviations of weird
Who I would have used is Drew Houston from Dropbox.
When Dropbox came out, I was So. Freaking. Excited. about it. I’d try my best to explain to others why it was the most amazing thing ever, but I couldn’t ever seem to get anyone else as excited as I was about it.
And now I understand why.
Drew Houston created Dropbox because he kept finding himself with the problem of needing files on one computer, but realizing they were on another, different computer. A problem I struggled with a lot. So when Dropbox came out suddenly it was like my entire life got easier. My less-techie friends would be like “no, it’s cool, I’ve already got backups.”
I don’t know, maybe normal people only have one computer??
When it came out, I think I had 40 computers in my house at the time. And, ok, perhaps that’s several standard deviations from the average number of computers that people have. But! Here’s the thing. It wasn’t just me and Drew. When he posted his idea to Hacker news, he got 75,000 signups. Overnight!
Now, 10 years later, Dropbox has 500 Million users.
Do what you want to do
Even if you’re not convinced – I still think you should do what you want to do. Because… it’s what you want to do!
Life is too short to waste it trying to make other people happy.
Fuck that. Go read some Ayn Rand and get selfish (I know I’m going to get some haters for that but boo on you! I love Ayn Rand. And, uh, talk about several standard deviations of weird).
Rand’s philosophy is that the only way we will really do great work and create great things is if we’re doing what we want to do. And therefore, the only way to have wonderful things in this world is for us all to be selfish and do what we want.
Not what we think others want.
Now go build something that you don’t give a damn if anyone else wants.