Don’t scratch too hard

As kids, we’re told not to scratch if it itches, since it will 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 these organic ideas. Besides, how convenient would it be to be your target market?

In plain sight, this strategy seems to work 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 whole 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 they feel 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 many 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 as we did. Why wouldn’t they, right?

Here’s where things go sideways: by not validating correctly, we build a more complex product than people need. More importantly, we’re blind to see the workarounds people use to solve the problem we’re solving. Their workaround is usually 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 significant enough to get people excited by a brand-new solution. If your results are ambiguous, or they don’t care, 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 we’ll need to drop it 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 who have created simple yet powerful products with massive adoption.