Don’t scratch too hard

As kids, we’re told not to scratch if it itches, since it will just make it worse. As entrepreneurs searching for problems to solve, we’re told the exact opposite. We could build better products by solving our own pains, since we’ll know the problem better than anyone. Paul Graham calls this organic ideas. Besides, how convenient would it be to be your own target market.

In plain sight, this strategy seems to be what worked for several companies whose founders merely wanted to solve an annoyance they had. It’s easy to assume that, that’s all they did to validate their idea, but it’s probably not the full story. Hence, many people use this thought process to skip what could be considered uncomfortable and redundant: talking to others about their problems, and making sure that they are feeling the same pain points you do.

People that build stuff aren’t “normal”, because they’re usually power users. Whatever solution is in the market for a particular problem is probably not good enough for us, for any number of reasons. So, we revert to going out of our way and building a new product outright, in the hopes that other people will find it valuable like we did. Why wouldn’t they, right?

Here’s where things go sideways: by not validating properly, we end up building a more complex product than what people actually need. More importantly, we’re blind to see the workarounds which people use to cope with the problem we’re solving. Most of the time, their workaround is good enough for them not to need our super sleek, elegant app.

While doing potential customer interviews, it’s important to find out if the problem is important enough to get people excited by a brand new solution. If your results are ambiguous, or they don’t really care, either way, you’re probably not hitting the right notes. When this happens, stop! It’s a slippery slope from there.

I’ve fallen into this trap before, and, without realizing it, I’ve been blinded by the lure of finding the best solution possible, when, in reality, nobody cares about it at all. It’s hard to escape this habit, but, it’s one we’ll need to drop in order to build products that can grow considerably. Simple apps should be easy to use, but, more importantly, your users should be able to explain what it does to others without much difficulty.

There are dozens of examples of power users that have created simple, yet powerful products that have had massive adoption.