Building products for yourself

I'm a reasonable human being. I say that with a lot of confidence because I don't think I've ever wanted to build an Uber for squirrels (and I hope that in the future, I may never want to).

I say this in the context of "building things". You're a bright software developer. One day you notice that you have a personal itch that you want to scratch. And then you realize that scratching the said itch could actually help a lot of other people. So you decide to spend your evenings and weekends working hard to build something.

We all know that feeling of pure excitement. You spend hours looking for a project name (and ensure that the .com domain is available). You mkdir -p a new directory, run git init, and take a screenshot of the root commit (just in case your product ends up making you a millionaire). There's nothing like it.

Validating ideas

While all that is exciting, the only problem is that you don't know if someone else really would find your product useful. At this point, you only have an idea, which by itself isn't worth much unless you find someone else who would like to use it and potentially even pay for it.

This is why the indie software circles stress on "idea validation" so much.

Before you commit to spending the next 6 months working on something, it makes sense to check if there's even a market. Besides, it's possible to validate ideas quite cheaply. You can search online for similar products or post on online forums asking your potential customers if they would be interested in your product. You can put up landing pages and collect emails. Some people go even one step further and ask for pre-payments to make absolutely sure that this is something for which people would be willing to pay.

While validating ideas is definitely good advice, I feel that too much of idea validation can also sometimes get in the way.

Solving your own problems

A different approach is to focus on solving your own problems.

Going back to the fact that I'm a reasonable human being, it's very likely that the problems I face are also legitimate. This in turn means that people who are similar to me might be facing a similar problem, and hence might benefit from the solution I build.

This approach makes things slightly easier. Instead of going through a formal idea validation process, you can just bounce it off of a few friends of yours to do some basic sanity checks. And if that goes well, you can proceed directly towards the "building" stage.

What's also nice about this approach is that since you're building for yourself, you're essentially going to be a customer. This means that you'll have access to constant customer feedback to help you shape the final product.

Note that we didn't completely get rid of idea validation. We're still validating ideas, but there's no formal process. We're not spending time setting up landing pages or collecting emails (and if you're in the EU, worrying about the privacy aspects of collecting emails) or other such activities. We're essentially trusting our gut feeling to be right.

This post is not an attempt to make blanket statements in favor of or against idea validation. Most of the times you should definitely validate your ideas. You don't want to spend 6 months of your time and all your savings, working on a product that has no market.

Instead, the message I want to convey is that setting up landing pages is sometimes advertised as a rite of passage of sorts. Sure, you do want to make sure that your product would have customers willing to pay for it. But at times, it's also OK to just trust your gut feeling, do a basic sanity-check on your idea, treat yourself as the customer, and then immeditately get to work.